Being a parent has sometimes felt like I was carrying a dining room table on my back, up a mountain, in the dark, during a mudslide.
On a good day, it’s not dark.
Despite the challenges, I hold in high esteem the role of “Mom or Dad” and wouldn’t want to be climbing any other “mountain.” Although I picture myself to be only halfway up, my 21 years of being called Mom has taught me that it is really not about me. It’s about my children. That realization compels me to ask, “What contributions can I make to their life?” or “What do they need from me?”
These 5 “gifts” are the answer to that question. Regardless of how old your child is or what their personality is like; in spite of any circumstances they are in, all children can benefit from and desperately need these things from you.
1) Gift of Undistracted Attention (Eye Contact)
I admit it. I am easily distracted by the countless demands that come into my life each day. My “To-Do” list usually is too long, and with 10 people coming and going in our home, this is more often the norm than the exception.
Early on in my parenting, I noticed that when I was trying to get the attention of one of my children, I needed to make sure they were looking at me.
I remember, that this was particularly effective with my youngest child who was, unfortunately, accustomed to several people (older siblings) telling him what to do and how to do it. Because this occurred so regularly, he began tuning out all that unwanted “noise.” Unfortunately, that included me. When I required him to look at my eyes, however, it seemed to capture his attention. Usually, the conversation that ensued produced better results.
When my 13-year-old daughter comes to me while I am in the middle of my “work at home stuff” and needs to tell me about some drama that occurred between friends, I could easily pretend to listen. But what an impact I can make by just stopping for a few moments, making eye contact, and truly listening.
This seemingly small gift can pay large dividends in the relationship bank account.
2) Gift of Grace
My father-in-law, a retired pastor, told me of an easy way to remember the definitions of grace and mercy. He said, “Grace is God giving me what I don’t deserve, and mercy is God not giving me what I do deserve.” For some reason, that has always stuck in my mind, and it can apply to our human relationships as well.
On numerous occasions when I am particularly frustrated with the behavior of one of my kids, I have had that internal conversation. You know, the kind that goes something like this. I should probably reach out. I need to resolve this, but he/she doesn’t deserve it.
Here enters in grace.
Our kids are going to mess up… they have learned from the best, right? When grace is required in any situation, remember it is probably not deserved, so it usually is hard to give. But in a world that can be very unforgiving, our kids especially need this gift from us. The best way for them to learn to give grace to those in their lives is to have experienced receiving it in their own.
3) Gift of Prayer
When my daughter came into my room late one night, trying to hold back the tears, I knew that the recent break-up with her boyfriend was weighing heavily on her heart. There was so much unknown, and regrets were threatening any chance of a peaceful night’s sleep – for her or me. I quietly listened to her recount her doubts, concerns, and heartbreak, and then I gave the expected “Motherly” responses.
However, at the end, neither of us could really predict the future of this relationship or any for that matter. I realized that I had no “magical” formula that would replace the hurt with hope.
So I offered to pray.
If faith is already a regular component in your parenting style, I probably do not need to say any more to convince you of the value of this gift. But for those who are starting to tune me out at this point, hold on. Even if faith is not foundational to your belief system, science supports the benefits of prayer. According to Clay Routledge, Ph.D., in an article published in Psychology Today, one such “bene” is that it improves trust between those who are praying together.
Child/parent relationships can go through seasons of mistrust. Praying together, whether that child is 3 or 13, can help to build a pattern of trust.
4) Gift of Laughter
I remember when I was a young girl my father used to play a type of hide-and-seek game with my sister and me. It would happen after dinner, and we would shut off all of the lights except for the one over the kitchen sink where my Mom was cleaning up the dishes. We would sneak around the house trying to avoid being found by my Dad. But sometimes the quiet expectation was too much, and we would blow our cover with a somewhat muffled giggle. He inevitably would find us, and laughter would break out as we recounted the ways in which we had outsmarted him or he had somehow narrowly missed us. Those are particularly fond memories.
Laughter between a parent and child forges a lasting bond, especially when it is a reflection of genuine enjoyment on the part of the parent. I think many of us can recall giggling uncontrollably because we saw our parent laughing hard at something with us. Or even better is when a parent can laugh at themselves.
There is merit in the proverb that a “cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Not only is it fun to laugh with our kids, but it also can heal hurt feelings, lighten a bad mood, and show that we are secure enough to admit our faults… and laugh.
5) Gift of Being Pursued
This last one has probably exacted more from me than all four of the other gifts put together. Two of our 6 children were adopted as teenagers, and in their struggle to adjust, they initially rejected our family. Pursuing them, even though their rejection felt like a slap in the face, has been the most challenging place I have found myself as a parent.
Adoption aside, all children potentially will go through seasons where they either make it difficult for you to want to pursue or they actually fight against being pursued. The message they receive when you relentlessly pursue their heart, despite all circumstances, is that they are valued by you. In time that realization will hopefully grow into the confidence that they are valuable and lovable, which will affect all of their other relationships.
There isn’t really anything on this planet that can replace the security a child can gain from a mutually respectful, enjoyable, and healthy relationship with his/her parents. Although we will all make mistakes on the parenting journey, these five “Gifts” – Undistracted Attention, Grace, Prayer, Laughter and Being Pursued – are necessary for filling in the gaps and building the kind of bond that will flourish and inspire the next generations.
We would love to hear from you. Is there a “gift” that you would add to this list? Share below in the comments.