We recently took a trip to Aiken, South Carolina, where the food was rich and the scenery was grande. We had a great time visiting Grammy and Hawpa. The kids threw around piles of leaves (we don’t have many fall leaves in San Diego), climbed trees, and were awestruck by all the critters. I teased with my husband that my interest in critters is about a 2 out of 10. The kids did great on the plane ride, even though it was the longest trip we’ve ever taken with them. We saw the historic homes of Charleston, the riverfront of Savannah, and even squeezed in a date night at the renowned Wilcox Hotel & Restaurant in Aiken. Visiting family was the best part though. The kids bonded with their cousins as if no time had passed at all.
One of the highlights was my husband taking our oldest daughter out to breakfast. We try to be intentional about taking the kids out on one-on-one dates. Our oldest is starting middle school in the fall, and her personality can be hard to crack. She’s quiet, an avid reader of fantasy, and she needs alone time to recharge (like her momma). There wasn’t any notable conversations during the breakfast date, but she thanked her dad about seven times for taking her out. She might not be a young woman of many words, but she made sure to reiterate her appreciation.
We’ve noticed the older our kids get, the more they need to be reminded of their individuality. It becomes important for them not to always be lumped in with their siblings but to have their own unique relationship with mom and dad. We’ve found this intentional one-on-one time fills their cups in a special way. The conversations might not be groundbreaking every time, and their choice of activity might always be our favorite — but this time together cannot be underestimated. The individual time together is a reminder we are on the same team. It’s a reminder that we value them and care about their unique heart, personality and interests. We’ve also noticed our one-on-one time with them grows their level of respect for us. They listen better when our interactions with them are not solely based on us being an authority figure in their life.
2016 was an interesting year. On one hand, it was one of the best years yet for our family. On the other hand, there was an underlying sting as we lost many friends. Our kids asked questions and cried, and we asked questions and cried right along with them. While we were in South Carolina we kept saying, “As long as we have Jesus and each other, I think we could be happy anywhere.” 2016 provided the reminder that people will walk in and out of our lives, but Jesus will remain. Deuteronomy 31:8 says “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” We wish we could shelter our children from loss, but we can’t. We live in a transient city; people move, families get deployed, people change sports or churches or schools. Sometimes we will stay in touch and other times we won’t. We can’t shelter them, but we can try to cultivate an unshakable connection with them and God, giving them a firm foundation to stand on during times of transition, uncertainty or hurt.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says “With children, actions speak louder than words. When we stop requesting invitations into their lives by asking about their day, asking them to tell us about their favorite songs, wondering how their friends are doing, then children feel pain and fear (and not relief, despite how our teenagers may act). Because they can’t articulate how they feel about our disengagement when we stop making an effort with them, they show us by acting out thinking, This will get their attention.”
When I first became a parent, I wanted an arsenal of discipline strategies because I assumed that’s what I needed. Now that I’m in the thick of parenting, I find myself building a treasury of ways to connect. It has become a rhythm over the years, my arsenal dwindling and my treasury brimming. I believe in discipline, but the more time I spend training, shepherding and connecting with my children, the less discipline they seem need (thank you Parenting is a Ministry). One day, I will stand before God to give an account for how I did raising His children. I wonder what that conversation will look like — what questions will God ask me? I picture myself standing in front of Him, words don’t come out of His mouth or mine, but we are communicating perfectly. I feel His presence like an echo, and although His words are not verbal, they fill my stomach and soul. I know what He’s asking: “Did you reflect my heart?”