YOUR ODDS OF HAVING A POSITIVE IMPACT on your son or daughter rise or fall on the strength of your relationship. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s often why an injured child usually runs to one parent instead of the other. One is known for extending sympathy, and the other for barking, “Shake it off! Nothing to cry about here.” Call it a kid’s sixth sense. They know who to run to when they’re hurt. And it’s usually into the arms of the relationally strong parent.
For years I’ve heard the saying, “Rules without a relationship lead to rebellion.” Just thinking about that freaked me out when I was raising my kids. I’m naturally a rules person. I can do rules, no problem: “Eat your green beans or no dessert for you.” But tapping into the huggy-feely dimension of my life – well let’s just say I can be relationally challenged. But having worked with families as a Youth Pastor before I had my own kids, I heard more than my share of rules without relationship horror stories. They all elevated my commitment as an imperfect dad to work really hard at building a strong relationship with my three children.
When our oldest son, Brent, got into High School, things were going pretty well in our relationship, but I knew the days were coming when my influence over his life would depend on the strength of that relationship. Knowing that Brent was looking forward to getting his license as soon as he turned sixteen, Bernice and I talked to him about buying a car that he and I could fix up together. I figured it would be a good way for Brent to get the car thing off to a good start and it would give us some quality time together as we worked on it.
Brent thought it was a good idea so we located and purchased a classic convertible Kharmann Ghia for $600. The two of us went to pick it up and we brought it home on a trailer. When Bernice saw it she thought I’d lost my mind. The car had no floor. It was literally like a Flintstone car, where they sit inside and hold it up and run. The engine didn’t work. There were dents and rust everywhere. The cloth top of the car had disintegrated a long time ago. The upholstery was a torn up mess. An appraiser would have said the car was totaled. That’s probably why we got it for such a great price!
For the next sixteen months Brent and I worked to bring that old Ghia back to life. Building our relationship while rebuilding the car wasn’t without its challenges. I discovered more of my flaws. I’m more of a “Let’s get this done!” kinda guy, while Brent was excited about doing it, but didn’t want it to consume his time. So I learned to back off and be patient while Brent learned how tough taking on a project and actually finishing it can be.
During those sixteen months there were definitely moments when we both said, “What the heck were we thinking when we decided to do this?” But in the end it turned out to be a good thing. When I asked Brent if he was okay with me sharing our experience, he said, “I’d say fixing the car up was one of the highlights of my upbringing. It was way more cool and significant than I realized at the time I was experiencing it. I’m so thankful and wish I could go back and do it again just because I’d love to!”
That’s enough to put a big smile on the face of a relationally challenged dad. And it’s a good reminder that parents need to keep working on their relationships with their kids. Good relationships don’t just happen by accident. They take intentional thought and time and effort.
Without a solid relationship with your kids, your input, influence, and impact on their lives will be limited at best. If you’re not good at the relationship thing, that’s okay. But don’t let that be an excuse for not working hard at building a growing relationship. Find a way to take whatever the next step is with each of your kids. That could mean an admission that things need to change. It might mean rearranging your schedule and planning time to simply hang out together. Or maybe you have some apologies to make. Just take a step toward doing something that will bring you closer to your children.
Whether it comes naturally to you or not, make it a priority to get the relationship thing right with your kids. Keep strengthening your connection with them and pray that the Lord will continue to use you in positive ways in your son or daughter’s life.
Now it’s your turn. Thinking about each of your kids individually, what’s something you could do with each of them that would move your relationship along to a deeper level?