Since I posted my first piece on "The Christian Post" four weeks ago, the news regarding girls and teen girls continues to be tragic. I have no idea who knew what, when, or who/how these young women were failed. I am not attempting to address their situations or pose a solution to this far-reaching situation. But their stories, and actually every kid's story, always drive me want to once again appeal to parents regarding the importance of being active in their kids' lives. Parenting is not something we do from the bleachers. We need to lean in and realize how much influence we have. Even when our kids push us away, they want us to push back in a healthy, non-helicopter-parent way.
But the thing is—there are no guarantees in parenting. Things happen. Kids make their own choices. However, parents can do many things in order to have lifelong influence and relationship with their kids.
Below are a few ways you can be in your kid's life:
Be Available. Be home. Be at their activities. Put away your devices and be accessible. Our presence, physically and emotionally, speaks love to our kids in a way that money or material things could never do.
Listen whenever they want to talk and for however long they want to talk. No judgments. Compassion first. I love how Brene Brown shows us compassion in a story from her book, "The Gifts of Imperfection." She shares how her sister was there for her when she experienced her "2007 Breakdown Spiritual Awakening. "She listened and responded with total compassion She had the courage to tap into her own struggles with worthiness so that she could genuinely connect to what I was experiencing. . . She didn't try to fix me or make me feel better; she just listened and had the courage to share some of her own vulnerabilities with me."* She further explained, "She was just with me—as an equal—holding my hand as I waded through my feelings."**
When we start by listening with compassion, we will be in a better position to help, guide, and even discipline our kids when necessary. No one wants to be fixed or shamed. We all want to be understood and heard.
In the process of listening, give your child the benefit of the doubt. Research their concerns, fears, and the information they give you. Always pray for God's discernment. If your child seems uneasy, scared, or hesitant to go back into a situation, make one hundred percent sure it is safe before sending them back. If you can't be certain, make other arrangements.
Listen even when they're not talking. Who or what don't they talk about? What friends don't she talk about any longer? Is his favorite subject no longer a topic he eagerly discusses?
Set aside family time and then do something together. Watch a movie together. Play a video game together. Hike. Bike. Even a simple backyard wiener roast is a wonderful opportunity for not only fun but nurturing relationships. Again, no devices.
Share your stories from your growing up years, college, first job, learning to drive, first date with your spouse. They may act bored, but they love to hear about what you were like before you were a parent.
Get in your kids' business when appropriate. Don't snoop for the sake of being nosy, but when you're gut tells you something is not right with your kid, dig around. It's your job to protect your kids. Today our local news reported a story that is too common. A teen girl meets a "guy" online. He offers to meet her and take her away from her situation. They meet. Guy kills girl. I'm not saying her parents could have prevented this; but the more we know what is going on with our kids the better chances we have to help them.
Have appropriate safeguards in place for your kids' technology and online presence. Here is an excellent piece on how to keep you kids safe and appropriately engaged in social media without being addicted.
I am a firm believer in the power each of us has to affect change in our circle of influence. If you are a parent, your most important circle of influence is your family. It is every parent's responsibility to pour everything they have into their kids. And while there are not guarantees in parenting, if we give our best to our kids we will have few regrets no matter how they chose to live their lives.
For more on ideas on building and nurturing a relationship with your kids, especially in trying times, check out Brenda's book: Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don't Agree With.
Brenda Garrison is a speaker and author of four books including , Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don't Agree With, Princess Unaware: Finding the Fabulous in Every Day, and Queen Mom: A Royal Plan for Restoring Order in Your Home. She has spoken to audiences in Eastern Asia and throughout the United States. Brenda has been a guest on "Family Life Today", "Focus on the Family", and Moody Radio's "Midday Connection" with Anita Lustrea.
Brenda and her husband, Gene, have three grown daughters, three son-in-laws, and one amazing grandson. They live near Metamora, IL.