Melissa and I married and became parents at a very young age. We had no clue what we were getting into with marriage, and adding a child on top of that…we were utterly lost! Thankfully, I think we were just ignorant enough of how much we didn’t know that we didn’t completely panic. With a lot of help from family and friends, we were able to find our way through a maze of relationships, school, work, and everything else that we encountered.
Our goal early on was to give our son freedom.
I knew early on that I wanted to give my son freedom to figure out who he was and BE who he was. As parents of a young boy that was absolutely full of life, we got some pushback at times from others. He has always been energetic and has not met a stranger yet. Of course, there were times that others just wanted him to settle down. With needed discipline, of course, we allowed him to live out his excitement for life and his love for others.
My goal changed due to fear.
Something happened in high school that changed my perspective, and it led to the darkest days in my relationship with my son. I realized he was not doing some of the things I truly felt he should have been doing. At first, I could let it go. However, as I saw him going further down a path that I disapproved of, I became more and more anxious. Fear took over, but I’m not sure I realized that at the time. I feared what would happen if I didn’t do something to change his direction. That’s when it happened.
Fear leads to control issues.
I went into full-on control mode. I began checking up on him constantly. I made sure that I did not miss an opportunity to hash something out with him until I felt he would do what I wanted him to do. I told myself (and others) that I was doing this for his own good. I said I was “protecting him”. I think I may have called it “tough love”.
Attempting to control others costs us the most valuable thing we can have in relationships.
I lost something during that time that was invaluable, but I didn’t realize it until later. I thought I was pursuing what I really needed to be a good parent: my son’s compliance. It took me a very long time to reacquire the precious thing that I exchanged for the pursuit of compliance.
What I lost was my son’s trust. Before I went bat crap crazy trying to get him to do what I felt was best, he would come to me with questions about life. He trusted me with struggles he was having. He knew I would listen and respond with direction. However, after fear took over in my life as a father, he knew he couldn’t trust me with himself anymore. If he told me something that was not in line with my new goal of compliance, instead of listening until I understood, I might would flip out on him with an hour long lecture. Whether he realized it or not, my love for him was stifled by my drive to control him. My view of him had changed from me being able to see who I knew he really was at heart to an opponent to tackle and force into submission. That may sound harsh, and I did not see it that way at the time, but it’s sadly true.
When we lose sight of who our children really are, we treat them as if they are someone else.
Looking back, my perspective was very warped by fear. I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t jump in and control things. I no longer trusted who I knew my son to be…that loving, spirited boy who could light up a room…that boy who truly cared for others…that boy who could break from routine in order to enjoy life in the moment. Yeah, he wasn’t acting like himself at the time, but instead of remembering who he really was, and coming along beside him in order to invite him into that identity, I treated him like he was none of those things. I treated him like he needed all the bad strained out of him in order to force something good back in.
Trust is the basis for all that is good in relationships.
I eventually realized the error in my approach to my son. Like I said before, it took a long while to build back the trust I had lost. Now that it is reestablished, I would take NOTHING for it. There is nothing more valuable than trust in a relationship. There is nothing better than trusting my son with me, and inviting him to trust me with him. From trust, everything good about relationships begins to flow naturally.
If my son has an issue, he can trust his father to listen and understand before responding. I might mess that up sometimes, but I can trust him with me by owning it and talking out how my own fear gets in the way sometimes. That trust maintains and strengthens what we both cherish more than anything…loving each other.
God’s reflection can be seen in our relationship with our children.
I believe the parent-child relationship to be a wonderful illustration of God’s relationship with His children (us!). Nothing is more important than trust. He wants no part of us being coldly compliant, or fearfully obedient in order to keep Him off our back. What He desires is for us to trust Him with ourselves so that we can experience the love He has for us. We especially need to trust Him when we are NOT acting like ourselves and getting ourselves into trouble. He puts much effort into cultivating that trust by offering endless grace and love to us. He guides us into the opportunities in life to be who He created us to be. He doesn’t want us to be anything else, and trusting who He says we are is key. He wants us to trust that we are loved, accepted, significant, and secure in Him. If we don’t trust these characteristics of who we are as His child, we will try to do things in order to be loved, accepted, significant, and secure…which are things that we already are in Christ!
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