Last week in Part Two of my blog, A Meaningful Christmas, we began talking about the building blocks of a healthy relationship and how relationships are the only things that lead to fulfillment in life according to a 75 year Harvard study. Since the best gift we can give our kids is healthy relationships let’s step back into the building blocks of healthy relationships with Block 5 Transparency.
(This series is also available as a podcast click here to listen)
5. Emotional Transparency
We cannot have healthy relationships without emotional transparency. When we’re trusting and forgiving each other, it allows us to be transparent; we can walk in the light with our weaknesses, our shortcomings, our feelings, and the things we need help with.
If we stop and think back to when we started dating the person we married, I’ll bet we’ll find we were pretty open and transparent with each other. If you’ve been married a long time, I think you’ll notice that transparency with your spouse has decreased markedly. Transparency begins to diminish in a marriage due to unresolved issues, personality differences, or just developing assumptions about each other regarding why we think, react and behave as we do. As a result the emotional understanding underneath what’s going on begins to dissipate.
This is why research shows that the longer we’re married, the less we understand each other. We’ve stopped communicating openly and honestly with one another. Perhaps our transparency diminished because a sense of a lack of loyalty, trust, or forgiveness has crept into our relationship. Transparency is essential to any healthy relationship and it not only needs to exist between husband and wife, it needs to exist between parents and kids as well. This requires that we become a safe place for one another and our kids.
I have found that far too many kids fear any type of transparency with their parents. They fear transparency because they think it’s going to lead to their parents’ seeing them negatively and holding whatever they did wrong over their head. They fear breaking the trust with their parents and as a result, they shut down. They hide in their rooms, they give short or one-word answers, and they don’t open up with how they’re really doing on the inside. This is the reason kids end up miles apart from their parents without anyone realizing it. It is why trust and forgiveness are so important to build the essential relational block of transparency.
As we move towards this Christmas we want to see something different in our families. Sit down and making some promises to our kids that:
- We’re going to be a safe place; we’re going to respond rather than react.
- We will listen and seek to understand their feelings and perspective.
- We will have their back no matter what is going on in their life.
- We want to begin sharing at a deeper level so we understand each other and don’t grow apart.
I’ve found that this type of transparency builds trust between parents and kids. Kids reconnect emotionally and are willing to share what’s really going on inside, and how they were feeling when they made a mistake. When I facilitate these conversations in a coaching context, parents are truly shocked yet pleased by how their kids are really viewing things like their behavior, decisions, and even their friends. Parents are always blown away and say, “Wow, my child is understanding and processing things better than I thought they were.”
Transparency is vital for the next component of a healthy relationship, clear and constant communication.
6. Clear and Constant Communication
Clear and constant communication rely upon trust, transparency and forgiveness. When one or more people in a family are not feeling supported, communication will break down. Often I find deeper issues and feelings aren’t even being talked about. Hidden hurts, unresolved issues and misunderstandings are rampant and distort everything.
Develop regular times when family members agree to talk and share transparently. They may be awkward at first, but they will lead to openness and better communication, which become a habit overtime. They will transform the way the family relates in amazing ways. However, compassionate hearts, listening spirits and a Shepherd’s soul are definitely required.
To develop a deeper level of communication we must be a safe place for each other. This means we:
- Listen to understand.
- Ask questions to draw out.
- Don’t judge or react.
- Help each other process by listening.
- Reflect what we hear to allow each member to hear themselves.
Next we can seek permission to share gentle insights. We ask, “Hey, do you mind if I share my thoughts on this? “ Avoid coming across with a lecture and statements like, “You can’t do this.” Rather use language like. “Here’s some things I would consider if I were in your shoes.” Then ask:
- What are your thoughts about those things?
- How does that factor into where you want to end up in life?
- Will this help you succeed now and in the future?
This type of interaction leads to kids’ making better decisions because they are not frustrated, feeling controlled or hurt by us, which motivate them do the opposite.
Transparency leads to the next building block understanding.
7. Developing Understanding
Understanding requires transparency and clear communication that breaks down assumptions, mistrust and builds trust. This is essential because it’s so easy for our kids to misunderstand our motives and our message. Too often they perceive them differently than we do, leaving them hurt by those perceptions. Parents often have no idea because they are not asking questions when we see their faces get a little dejected. We need to stop ourselves, observe and say:
- Hey, what are you feeling right now?
- How do you understand what I said?
- How did I come across to you?
If we are not asking questions to understand our kids, over time issues and assumptions build leading to bigger miscommunication, reactions and emotional distance. We may want to do a quick diagnostic with our kids. Ask them on a one to ten scale, one being you have no clue and ten you understand me completely.
Do you believe I really understand:
- Your thoughts?
- Your motives?
- Why you do the things you do?
Make understanding each other a priority in your marriage and between you and your kids in 2020. This will lead to close relationships, which will make Christmas more meaningful because we’ll actually want to spend time with each other. All of this requires the eighth building block, patience.
The eighth element of a healthy relationship is vital but a bit daunting. Researching patience was rather humorous. It indicates that patience is often very challenging for parents because we often expect instantaneous results, expect the people around us to behave the way we want them to or simply desire to have things the way we want them. This comes across to our kids as control, which research has proven is perceived as the most unloving thing in our culture.
What I find amazing about Jesus is that He walks on the planet with all this power and his complete authority and He never controls anyone. He never forces anyone to do anything against their internal desire and decision. Jesus was the inverse of controlling in spite of all of His authority and power. He was loving and so patient.
Why is patience so important to healthy relationships? Patience is what enables us to create a safe place where reactions, harshness and anger do not push our kids away and lead them to fear being transparent with us.
There is so much patience in Jesus for his disciples as well as the crowds. Even after three and a half years with His disciples, they scatter in fear and Peter denies Him three times. He does not become frustrated, angry or upset. He does not criticize them and say, “You’ve lost the privilege to lead my church.” How can He be so patient with his soon to be leaders? How can He when on the cross say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I believe it is because He is emotionally healthy. He’s whole on the inside.
Jesus has a healthy heart that does not carry wounds, hardness, numbness or doubts. In addition He doesn’t expect us to be perfect, He expects us to sin yet has covered it all. This is so important in our homes. If we’re going to have patience, we’ve got to stop:
- Expecting one another to be perfect.
- Being hurt, and frustrated by imperfection and misunderstanding.
- Getting upset when someone lets us down or doesn’t perform to our expectations.
We need to:
- Expect failure because we’re all imperfect.
- Believe that we all have good intentions.
- Believe we do not desire to hurt each other.
- Have humor in our lives with our own failures as well as the failures of our kids.
We need to approach problems in a lighthearted, non-fearful manner and a bit of humor like “Hey, Pinocchio, how many inches did your nose just grow?” It’s amazing how much more open and honest our kids will be. We will gain more access and influence in their lives. Then we can help them figure out why they lied, what they’re afraid of and why lying won’t help them in their future.
Patience is the bedrock of creating a safe place where open communication, transparency and trust rules our family culture. This draws us closer together and really protects kids from outside influences because they don’t need to seek understanding and acceptance elsewhere. When our kids feel this way with their brothers, sisters, and especially their parents, we end up with influence that far exceeds anything the world can throw at our kids. In the not so distant future, I’ll do a series on developing patience. Patience helps develop our next building block, Mutual Respect.
9. Mutual Respect
Respect is a watershed issue for many parents. I know this from doing so many events in churches and talking with thousands of parents. My son or daughter does not respect me is a phrase I often hear. It is easy as a parent to slip into the mindset that we are owed respect. We can begin to demand respect from each other and our kids. but nothing destroys mutual respect and a safe place faster than demanding respect.
Think with me for a moment. If a boss or friend of yours often got frustrated or upset with you and began to demand respect, would your respect for them grow or die?
We have forgotten the true definition, which is a sense of esteem held by someone for someone else. When we esteem someone, it is due to how they carry themselves, how they treat others and the way they view and communicate with us.
I am sure you can think of someone that you do not respect. Is there anything that person could do to make you truly respect them other than fear? Likely not! What would they need to do to regain your respect? Would they need to change the way they handle themselves?
Kids respect when we lead like Jesus. They know and feel they are heard, understood, cared for, respected and they return that respect. In homes where Influential parenting or our coaching have led to this, the kids end up acting and interacting with parents in ways that cause us to respect them. It starts with us. We are their shepherds. This becomes a mutual respect circle where we respect one another more and more which helps us become more and more positive and encouraging with each other. This is not possible without the building blocks of unconditional love, trust, forgiveness, and ongoing open communication.
This is not where Deedee and I started as parents; we were demanding respect from our kids. We were rules and consequences and started with Growing Kids God’s Way, which led to our coming down on our kids, finding their faults and correcting them. When we began to really look at Jesus and how he led, shepherded and handled the failures and sins of the people around him, it was convicting and changed everything. At one point we had chore charts and battles over which task was easier or harder. Then the kids would forget to do the chores especially when they moved into adolescence. We also discovered we were doing everything as individuals not as a family. We weren’t emotionally connected or understanding each other. We focused on tasks and duties not relationship. Then we began to talk and ask questions. This helped us see we needed teamwork not individuality.
We needed to be a team where we were all working at the same time towards a common goal. Wow, all of a sudden it became more fun or a race or competition. It became fun because we were serving, caring for and working together as a team.
I often find kids become disrespectful when they are carrying unresolved issues and hurt inside. They do not feel they can not bring them up and discuss with their parents. Over time they build up to the point where they no longer look up to or respect their parents and then the problems begin.
If you sense your kids have lost esteem for you, it’s a good bet they need to share some hard things with you. That’s when we need to reflect and ask ourselves some questions:
- How are we really doing in our relationships?
- How close are our kids feeling to us?
- How loved and accepted are they feeling?
- Do they feel understood ?
- Where are we in our relationship with them?
- How do we view them?
To gain access we will need to assure them we will be a safe place, not defend ourselves, get frustrated or argue, but just listen and then ponder what they have to say. After they know they’re heard and understood, we can reach the point where we can all share feelings. We are in a safe place and the birthplace of understanding, transparency, and open communication.
We need to be able to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes. We need to be able to share “Wow, look at that, I did it again, boy do I feel stupid.” When we have a good sense of humor about our own mistakes and freely apologize to our family members, because we’re not beating ourselves up and feeling horrible, it changes everything. It allows us to see the humor in our kids’ mistakes and even lies. We have all been there believing it is easier or will decrease conflict to lie only to have it blow up in our face. When we can approach our kids with a light heart and even humor it helps them learn from their failures and not come to fear failure, which handicaps them in so many ways.
We don’t have to be perfect. Our kids don’t have to be perfect. We just need to be working on ourselves, understanding why we made a mistake and making it right when we do.
“A gracious environment is a safe environment.” (J. Schadt)
We all have grace or unmerited favor from God. If we extend unmerited favor both to ourselves and our kids, even when we mess up, it will help us be patient and approach situations more positively and with humor. “A gracious environment is a safe environment.” A safe environment leads to an open environment, which leads to transparency and trust that foster mutual respect and teamwork.
There is no way we can have a Meaningful Christmas if we’re not experiencing the amazing grace that Jesus made possible. We all fail and receive His grace. Grace makes possible healthy relationships filled with love, patience and compassion. We have this from the Good Shepherd. If we’re not in the same type of relationship with our kids, problems will arise and we will miss the close, Meaningful Christmas we desire.
Take some time to pray and reflect upon your relationships in your family. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart and seek to make some changes.
Consider participating in our Influential Parenting Program in the New Year and plan to be part of the parent support calls that are available when you finish the program. I look forward to talking with you.