Parenting With The Goal Of Being Lifelong Friends
Lisa and I have two married, adult daughters, Anna-32 and Alex-30, and we consider them and their husbands some of our closest friends. Having the vantage point of looking back at how we raised them, we now believe that it is no accident that we have such a great adult relationship with our daughters and their spouses. There are four pillars from our parenting that we believe contributed to our successful transition.
Parent First, Friend Later. Along with our own parenting experience, we have had almost 25 years of working with families as we pastored our church here in Louisiana. One thing we have noticed that led to a lot of difficulty between adult children and their parents was an attempt by parents to be their children’s friends over being their parents when they were young, especially during their middle school to high school years. We believe that until a child becomes a young adult and begins to grow into their own maturity, the parent’s job first and foremost is to parent, which means setting boundaries, providing an atmosphere for learning and growing and providing discipline and nurturing with an even hand. When this model is followed, it is amazing how a young adult will ultimately grow into a mature, adult friendship bond that is now healthy because they understand why their parents did what they did for them.
Model Integrity, Build In Values and Practice Transparency. Through the years of raising our daughters, we always attempted to model what we asked of them. Of course, we are human, so we failed at times to live up to that standard, but that didn’t stop us from continuing to “practice what we preached.” We also found that when we were transparent and admitted our own faults and mistakes, our children grew to love and respect us for our honesty and our attempts to show them a better way. In our book, A New Season, we are very transparent about a lot of our mistakes as a young couple and the only way we could write a book like that is that our grown children would not be surprised by what we wrote, but supportive of why we wrote it. We are Christian, so the Bible is a big part or our value system, but no matter what any family’s beliefs are, parenting will always include building in their family’s value system to the next generation. Integrity, character and honesty will always lead a child to being a better adult and the best way to achieve that is by consistently trying to live and lead your family in that direction.
Exasperate Less, Educate and Encourage More. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes a short challenge to both children and fathers about their relationship. He asks children to honor their father and mother and he challenges fathers “to not exasperate their children.” (Eph. 6:1-4) That word means to irritate, annoy and vex to the point to anger. One of things that we noticed has that effect on children/teens is to over regulate them. In an attempt to build structure and discipline, many parents exasperate their children to the point that they think they can never measure up. This leads to anger, frustration and sadly, resentment towards one or both parents. This seems to be one of the leading examples that we’ve observed of estranged adult relationships between parent and child. Of course every family needs boundaries, but don’t over do it by majoring in minors. Teach your children and encourage them through both success and failure and simplify your family code.
Explore, Have Fun and Build Imagination. Because we did a lot of mission work around the world when I was a full time pastor, our family was able to travel and see so many cultures around the globe. Lisa and I took every opportunity to teach our girls about the world and also have fun while doing it. To this day, our adult children love traveling with us and will tell you how much fun we had together as a family while they were growing up. We also spent a lot of energy allowing our children to exercise their imagination and artistic side as well as drilling them with education and the realties of the world. Alex and I love to read and we share many book series back and forth. That process started when she was young because I read a lot of children and young adult series along with her when she first got into books, in other words, we were Harry Potter fans together! This has given us one of many great tools of friendship now as adults. Anna and Lisa both love houses and real estate and to this day love watching these home renovation shows together and it has become a great shared passion as adults. I’ve encouraged my son-in-laws to get into golf because this gives us another place to bond and build friendship. Laughter, shared interests and travel are great ways to have great adult relationships with your adult children, but that spirit starts when they are young.
These are but a few things that have helped us and things we have noticed missing from families, but we encourage you to think seriously about what your future relationships with your children will look like when they are adults and married. Some of the greatest blessings our children have give us is our 6 grandchildren. Because we are all close, we get to spend a lot of time with our grandkids. We are now doubling down on how we assist our children with them to have more great adult relationships with them in the future.
Alan & Lisa Robertson