I was a shy, reticent and reserved teenager. One day my mother’s friend came to visit and started a conversation with me. I was glad she thought it worthwhile to talk to me. But before I could reply her, my mother cut in, “Don’t ask Goldie those questions. She doesn’t know the answers!” My mother’s intention to protect me and to save me from embarrassment shredded my self-esteem. For years afterwards, I couldn’t get over the feeling of inferiority that prevented me from talking to older people.
Even with the best of intentions, parents may still unconsciously and unintentionally cause hurt and pain. Here are some ways to avoid these pitfalls.
When Wing came home late one night, his dad demanded, “Where have you been?” Wing retorted, “Dad, the question is not ‘where have I been?’. The question is ‘where have you been?’ Where were you when I waited for you late at night? Where were you when I sang in the school choir? Where were you during our family holiday?”
Parents who are always missing in action can affect their children deeply. Childhood years go by all too soon. By the time we are more settled in our careers and finances and are ready to spend time with our children, they may all have grown up and don’t need us anymore. If we have not bonded with them through the years, they may have stored up resentment and bitterness against us. And when we need them, they may not be there for us.
J C Watts, one of the few dynamic black politicians in the US, announced his retirement from the US Congress when his fourth term ended because he wanted to spend more time with his family, especially his adolescent son. Watts was 44 years old, at the peak of his career.
He said, “It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.”
Family is a good reason to let go of many things we hold dear to make time for the things they hold dear.
Once I told my father I was giving a talk at the ladies’ fellowship in church. I was surprised when my dad walked in while I was speaking – it was mid-morning, and he was a busy ophthalmologist, but he put aside his patients to come and listen to me. I’ll never forget the trouble he took to show he cared, even to an adult child.
One day I suddenly remembered an occasion some years ago when I locked my misbehaving young daughter in a dark closet. I realised it could have been quite traumatic for her then. When I brought up the subject with her, she said yes, it probably caused her to be afraid of the dark. I asked her to forgive me for acting in anger. She did, and we prayed together. In the days that followed, she said she was no longer afraid. Surprisingly, I was also not afraid of the dark anymore. Something must have happened to set us free. When parents admit mistakes, rather than being afraid of “losing face”, it makes their children respect them more, along with other spillover benefits, as happened in our case.
My friend complained, “I just don’t understand my son. He never listens to what I say.” I pointed out, “If you want to understand your son, you should listen to what he says, not he listen to what you say.” I heard another friend snap at her daughter, “You don’t have to tell me; the answer is ‘no!’”
When we listen, we show that we value our children – we are giving them our time and attention. So let’s switch off the TV and put down the magazine. Look at them, sit down together. Everyone needs to feel accepted, and listening to what they say shows they are important to you.
Don’t Pick Sides …
Abraham favoured Isaac over Ishmael. Isaac favoured Esau over Jacob. Jacob favoured Joseph and Benjamin. Over three generations, favouritism caused anger, jealousy, fights and murder. Parents should be wary of showing favouritism and realise what havoc it can wreak and the tragic consequences.
… Or Force Children to Pick One
Mei’s parents were advised not to fight in front of the children, so as a child, she never heard them quarrelling. When she grew up, her mother confided in her adult daughter and poured out all her resentment and dissatisfaction with her husband.
Even when Mei went overseas to study, her mom’s letters were constantly full of vitriolic criticisms and attacks. Mei dreaded getting letters from home as they were affecting her studies. Not wanting to hurt either parent, this became an overwhelming burden that could not be shared with anyone.
Parents should realise that children, no matter how old they are, become casualties in any crossfire.
“How come sister can, but I can’t?” “You said you would buy me the iPod. How come you are changing your mind?” “I came home at midnight yesterday. How come I have to come home by 10pm today?”
Rules should be few but firm, accompanied by reasons why they are given. Children are frustrated when rules swing according to the parent’s mood. Unfair treatment and not keeping our word are also inconsistent behaviours that cause exasperation.
Portray the Right Image of God
When a family needed a new car, the father told his children to pray and ask God for it. Four-year-old Seng retorted, “It’s no use. God is too busy reading His papers and drinking Coke.” Wondering where his son’s theology came from, the father suddenly remembered the time Seng had come to him, asking for a new bike. The father, reading his newspaper and drinking Coke, had replied, “I don’t want to talk about it now. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Unconsciously, fathers can give children a warped image of God by their poor example. If we are overly stern disciplinarians with unreasonable standards, are distant or always finding fault, we misrepresent God to our children.
My friend confided worriedly that her husband was retiring from banking to become a pastor. She felt completely inadequate and ill-equipped to play the role of a pastor’s wife. Through counselling and ministry, she realised the root cause of her fear – when she was young, her widowed father had to work hard for a living and she, being the eldest, was left to care for her 10 siblings. The stress and responsibility heaped on a young girl was crushing. Because her father had left her to fend for herself, she felt the same expectation from her heavenly Father. As parents we should be aware that whatever we do, our children may get the idea that God would do the same.
Someone once said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” The prodigal’s father had every reason to shut the door on his errant son, but he didn’t. We believe that no matter whether we have exasperated our children to the point of their leaving us or they have exasperated us to the point that we kick them out, our door should never remain shut. It’s never too late or too impossible for reconciliation. God’s help is there for us to follow our heavenly Father’s example.
Do you have an issue you need advice on? Write to Dear Goldie at email@example.com for her godly counsel. Selected questions may be featured in this column. If you leave an email address, you will have your question answered, whether it’s published or not.