Over the course of my years of parenting, I have picked up advice from a hundred different sources. Like most parents I have read a few books on parenting, some of them general works and some of them targeted at specific joys or challenges. I have read a lot of blog posts and other articles addressing one angle or the other. Of course I’ve been challenged by the Bible through personal study and sermons. And then there are those personal one-on-one conversations with other parents where I have asked them questions or they have volunteered counsel. I remain a firm advocate of saying to people, “I’d like my children to be like yours. Tell me what you’ve learned along the way.”
One of my most formative conversations came when my oldest child was seven or eight. I was speaking to a friend who was both older and more experienced in parenting—his oldest child was already into her late teens. The counsel this friend gave me was as simple as it gets and just about as helpful as any I’ve heard.
He told me about the various conversations you will need to have with your children as they grow and mature. Those simple and direct talks with seven-year-olds eventually give way to much deeper and more nuanced ones with seventeen-year-olds. And then he offered advice on two different ways to have such conversations.
The first is the face-to-face conversation. This is the one you have when sitting on opposite sides of a table at Starbucks or of a booth at Denny’s. In this setting both you and your child can look each other in the eye and enjoy all the relational directness and intimacy this affords. These are occasions that will at times arise serendipitously but ones you should also be deliberate in creating by inviting your children to go out with you or by finding times you can be alone in the home. This is when you can ask about school and work and family. This is when you can ask about faith and church and devotion. This is when you can enjoy simple and free conversation and follow it wherever it goes.
The second kind of conversation is the side-by-side conversation. This is the one you have while driving together—you in the driver’s seat and your child in the passenger seat—or perhaps when working on a project or activity together. In this conversation you will not be looking one another in the eye because the setting makes it difficult, and this is exactly the point. As you converse you will both be able to keep your eyes fixed on the road ahead or on the task at hand. As you reduce the intimacy of your posture you can increase the intimacy of your conversation. You do this out of kindness to your child, knowing that it is easier for him or her to express or confess certain matters when not being forced to stare into the eyes of mom or dad. This is when you can ask about love and romance and matters of the heart. This is when you can ask about lust and purity and matters of sexuality. This is when you can discuss matters that would otherwise be awkward and uncomfortable. And again, these are opportunities to take when they unexpectedly arise and opportunities to generate when you know a particular conversation is due or overdue.
From the perspective of an inexperienced parent with young children, this counsel was both timely and valuable. It was counsel I’ve heeded and counsel that proved to me the necessity of mature, experienced Christian friends.
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