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Parenting - Unconditional Time

I spoke with a boy once who told me that his father would always come to his baseball games. He and his father would ride home together after each game. If the boy had a good game, his dad was like a "Chatty Kathy" doll on the way home, and their conversation was positive. However, if the boy had a bad game, there was absolute silence on the ride home. What did the boy learn? To hear him tell it, he was loved if he played well, and he was not loved if he did not play well.

Many of us can recount situations similar to this from our own childhoods. If you received a report card that had one B and the rest As, your parent may have said, "What's the deal with the B." Sadly, many of us can recount stories like this from our own experiences as parents. In our fast-paced, fast-food world, as parents we feel like we are constantly putting out fires. We don't seem to have the time to give freely to our children. What ends up happening is that we have a largely conditional relationship with our children. They learn that they are loved for what they do, not who they are. Certainly, we get excited as parents when our children do well. There is nothing wrong with that. However, we cannot solely get excited when our children do good things.

How do we address this issue? There is no substitute for time spent with our children. My counsel for parents is that they need to carve out some time that they are going to spend individually with their children that is not dependent on the behavior of the children. For instance, I recommend going out for breakfast, lunch, or even coffee with our children once per week. As they get older, especially through their teenage years, we continue to do it, even if they do not show up. We can tell our teenagers, "I'll be at the coffee shop every Thursday at 5pm, whether you come or not." If they do not show up, we have some time to ourselves (which I know is also in short supply). However, we cannot make this time contingent upon whether they come every week or not. This is one of those times as parents, that we cannot afford to have hurt feelings. Our children need to know that some part of our relationship with them is not conditional.

I would welcome other ideas and posts about what you have done to foster this type of unconditional relationship with your children. I would certainly welcome questions and also ideas for potential topics for future posts. Perhaps in the sharing as a community, we can all be encouraged to face our fears of rejection and our hurt feelings. In doing so, we can extend the grace (unmerited favor) of God to our children.

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