The third parenting ethic – intimacy – is made possible by the first two. A growing, intimate relationship between you and your child is nurtured in the soil of love and discipline.
Love— this is what we by nature feel for our children. We are hardwired as mothers and fathers to love and be loved by our children. Love is the ‘umbrella-ethic’ above all other parenting ideals, and these exist to help us know the “how” question. How can we love in the very best way – in a way that it can be received, in a way that does justice the natural affection we have for our kids.
Discipline— this is what popular parenting culture shuns, and it is one of the single best things you can do for your child. It doesn’t always feel that way, for your child or for you, but wisdom is vindicated by all her children. We parents must teach what is right and wrong. How to treat ourselves and others. Our children are humans and, like us, they will resist good. For good isn’t natural: it is the opposite of “survival of the fittest”. If we truly love our kids, we will discipline them towards the goal of self awareness and heart change.
When walking down the road of disciplining your kids, don’t feel alone and in the dark! God knows what it’s like to love someone so completely yet be spit at in the face. God knows what it’s like to be humbled by his children in public. God knows how to be a patient judge, enduring hatred and acts of defiance while never giving up on his beloved people.
Intimacy comes next.
If someone walked up to you and told you to stop what you were doing and follow them to their car, NOW, you would run away as fast as you could. Or if someone saw you looking at a book in a bookstore and told you, “No!” and grabbed the book away from you you’d think, “who the heck are you? you can’t tell me what to do!” That’s because these are strangers – you do not know them and therefore you do not allow them to have authority over you.
Intimacy is a place where your kids can find rest. It is closeness, understanding, comfort, honesty, commitment, and happy forgiveness. Intimacy begets security, and secure kids are well-behaved because there is a deep, stable love at home that goes all the way down to their bones.
We have one parent whose name is Love. He understands and empathizes, comforts in painful and scary situations, approaches with an aim to discipline sin and purify our hearts. He is 100% committed to his children, he will never leave or forsake us, and his love always contains enough power to truly put our sins behind us. We can trust that he is for us. We can draw near.
God is the only right and true model of parenting. So I want to always take my cues from Him.
God became Jesus in the flesh in order to know us better. Because of this, we must know, really know our children. And every kid is different.
By nature, we starve for intimacy. When it can’t be found easily, we’ll go looking for it. If we don’t know exactly what it is we’re looking for, we’ll mistake ‘intimacy’ for something else entirely that will at best disappoint us, and at worst, destroy us. May God help us give our children the intimacy they need to sustain themselves, and later on in life – others.
Closeness requires an assurance of forgiveness and understanding. Children need to know what forgiveness is; they need to experience it. They need to know that their feelings, thought-life, and judgments are perceived and understood. And are also totally forgiven!
Now – just because their feelings are understood with respect to how much they want those cookies in the pantry – that doesn’t mean they are going to get the cookies. But we must know what they want in order to talk about it, to demonstrate love even when they can’t get the cookie right now.
I like lists – a lot. I make them for myself all over the house: on dry erase boards, on little notepads, and even on my son’s IKEA chalkboard. Here’s a list that I run through in my mind: it gives me practical ideas of how to actually grow in intimacy with my kid. I hope it does the same for you.
1. Talk to them – about everything! About yourself, about their interests, about your expectations, about what makes you happy and unhappy, and about what makes them happy or unhappy. Talk to them about things that matter, about God and their hearts and minds. Talk to them about being tired or hungry. Talk to them about what God provides for us. Talk to them with a loving, patient tone…always. It can be stern, it can be playful. It can be serious or it can be light-hearted – but it must be loving and patient. Yup, it’s pretty impossible to do this all the time, with anyone, but that’s what God expects of us. If we expect anything from our kids, we must first humble ourselves under God’s expectations.
2. Spend time with them – you can’t make up for not being around by buying them something expensive or sending them to some cool activity with the babysitter. Yes, you have to work. And yes, you need to spend time with your husband. And yes, you are your own person! But your child, whom you helped make and whom you love, craves your attention and your time. Give them some of it! Being in the same room doesn’t cut it, nor does watching TV together. Kids are smart; they know the difference between a true listener and a smile-and-nodder. Wonder why our kids are so obsessed with technology? Because we are.
3. Touch them – every child needs to be reassured of your love through physical touch. Kids that seem to be uninterested have probably already developed distrust or are just not used to it. Granted, there are different personality types. Some are like myself – where i’m pretty much good when it comes to touch, i’d rather not be, but i’d LOVE it if someone wanted to hear me rant for an hour (hm…guess that’s why i have a blog). I want to be listened to more than I want to be held. But I’d never pass up a massage! So, touch may not be their primary love language, but it’s still a need.
So far we’ve covered love, discipline, and intimacy. There is a reason why ‘Intimacy’ comes after ‘discipline’. When you discipline, it is vital to be intimate immediately afterward. If you give your child a stern warning or “no”, if you put them in time-out, if you give them room-time, if you spank them…you must must initiate and set the expectation for intimacy to follow. Their apology should be worked on together. Their understanding of what went wrong (how they disobeyed and why that matters) should be discussed. And you should hug, or kiss, or hold, or rock, or whatever! Just show physical affection so they know you hold them dearly despite their sin! You forgive any transgression. Always.
The reason why God is ready and willing to forgive, accept, and embrace us upon repentance of sin is because he has already forgiven us. He’s established an unconditional acceptance of us on the basis of our status as his sons and daughters, on the basis of the blood he spilled (the means by which we become sons and daughters), and on the basis of his love (the reason why he spilled his blood).