This past week, our daughter said “yes” to her boyfriend! Her smile at his proposal was even more beautiful than the shiny ring he placed on her finger. Those two are a joy to watch as they’ve knit their dreams, faith, and unique personalities into a loving relationship. As her parents, we’ve done all we could to prepare Emma for life and love as an adult. Yet, it will become even more evident how we’ve helped and hindered her along the way as she moves into married life. As parents, we imprint both strength and “tangles” of weakness onto our kids’ hearts and minds.
Lately I’ve been studying the impact of our childhoods on our adult relationships through a powerful book, How We Love, by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. They explain,
“God designed us to need connection, and our relationships with our parents is the first place this happens—or doesn’t happen. As the old saying goes, more is caught than taught. Your family was like a classroom continually teaching you what to do with your feelings and your needs. And families have their strengths and weaknesses.”
I know you feel just like us. You, too, want to understand the lifelong impact we make on our sons and daughters. You want to be the kind of mom or dad who equips your kids with confidence and self-respect. Real faith and a strong moral compass. Mental and emotional health. Wisdom, security, and independence.
To help us, we welcome Nick Harrison to the blog today. He brings a fresh and motivating reminder to make the most of the precious years we’re given to raise our kids.
How to Untie What Tangles Our Kids’ Hearts and Minds
Parenting these days isn’t an easy job. We try our best and we pray. But even the best praying parents will make mistakes now and then. Our minor mistakes in raising our kids are often easy to overcome. Major mistakes, on the other hand, can turn into what I call “tangles.” Once the child has reached adulthood, these tangles from can take a lifetime to unravel. Most of us can probably think of an adult friend who has spent far too much time and energy—and often money at a therapist’s office—trying to undo the tangles from their childhood. Tangles that may have resulted in a failure to make and keep personal (and romantic) relationships, depression, addictions, aimlessness, indifference to God, bitterness, low self-esteem, and even self-hatred.
I’m thinking now of a friend in his forties who, because of an unstable childhood, has been unable to accept himself as a God-loved person. This, in part, has caused him to return time and again to self-medicating through heavy drug use. I fear he may never fully untangle his ropes.
In truth, we all reach adulthood with some ropes to untangle from our youth. Kids with loving and supportive parents may have only a very few knots in their ropes. They easily succeed at untangling them and getting on with life. But others, who had poor role models as parents, often end up spending a huge portion of their adult years trying to untangle the ropes of the past. In today’s world, even caring and attentive parents may see their child become entangled by forces outside of their control—such as peer pressure, the easy availability of drugs, a media often hostile to Christian values, and more.
We dads have a special role to play when it comes to preventing tangles. A recent poll from the Pew Research Center shows that more than half of the dads surveyed claim they spend too little time with their children.
Absentee dads can be a tangle-producing trend these days. Whereas in 1960 only one child in ten lived in a home without a father, currently one child in four lives in a fatherless household. According to a report from the National Fatherhood Initiative, these children are more likely to experience poverty (four times greater risk), more likely to go to prison, suffer from substance abuse, and experience neglect. Young girls are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen.
These are all recipes for tangles we shouldn’t wish for any child to carry into adulthood. Perhaps some of us dads have our own tangles to unravel. If so, we surely know the value of a tangle-free childhood. Tangles can be at best avoided or at least minimized.
Here are ten hints on how a parent can raise tangle-free sons and daughters:
1. Join with other dads from your church or neighborhood and meet together to share your parenting successes and failures. Plan activities with these men and their children.
3. If you have tangles you need to unravel, begin with Gordon Dalbey’s Sons of the Father: Healing the Father-Wound in Men Today.
4. Establish consistent, intentional time to spend with your child. Don’t let your job rob you and your child of the necessary bonding time you both need to stay close.
5. Accept the child God has given you. Love him or her unconditionally. And let them know it!
6. Learn the interests of your child and participate in them. Allow your child to know your interests, too, and spend time enjoying them with you (but don’t force their participation if they show no interest).
8. Board games can be a great way to enjoy family fun and make memories. The classics like Chess, Monopoly, and Scrabble are all great choices. (Do you have a favorite family game? Share it with us in the comments!)
9. Help your child engage in helping others by volunteering side by side at a local charitable organization. Teach your kids to support these ministries with not only their hands, but also with their money.
10. Show appropriate affection to your child. Learn your child’s love language so you know the key to their heart. Start by reading The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell.
As you interact and get to know your child more and more, you can add to this list as you discover more ways to raise the tangle-free child. Life is too short to sentence our sons and daughters to an adulthood spent unraveling the largely preventable tangles of childhood.
Nick Harrison is a former senior editor at Harvest House Publishers and author of a dozen books, four of which relate to family life, including Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men Seeking Integrity, Survival Guide for New Dads, One-Minute Prayers® for Dads, and One-Minute Prayers® for Husbands. His latest title, One-Minute Prayers When You Need a Miracle, offers hope in the most painful and impossible tangles we suffer in life. Nick lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, an avid quilter.