Teaching the Gospel to Children: Foster Intimacy, part 1
On February 12, 2020 | 6 Comments | Bill, children, family, parenting, parents, Uncategorized |

This is the third post in a series meant to be preceded by an introductory letter. Please read that here. 

 

Foster Intimacy

 

“Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations.” ~ Brene Brown

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13: 12

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.” ~ Mister Rogers

 

I took a psychology class in high school in which, among other things, we studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Perhaps you know it? It’s illustrated as a pyramid stratifying needs for human thriving.

I’m not sure where Abraham Maslow’s work stands today in the world of psychological theory, but his pyramid makes some sense to me. At the base: physiological needs. They must be met. A starving child will die no matter how much her devastated mother loves her. A person must eat, sleep, be clothed and sheltered in order to live.

simplypsychology.org

simplypsychology.org

The next level is the need for safety. In order to thrive, a person requires a measure of security and stability. We all do better with a fundamental freedom from fear.

Third is the need for love and belonging. This goes beyond mere walls and protection. This is what we hope to get from a home. 

Interestingly, the home that protects us physically, that provides shelter from the elements and a secure residence, actually opens us to vulnerability in a new way, one based on proximity. We live with each other. We know one another’s weaknesses.

And this is why Maslow’s third level, love and belonging, makes sense to me as such. Within the physical safety of the home, one is safer still if one is loved.

Vulnerability and Love

The desire to be loved is fundamental.

And, in that context, the need to be known is essential. After all, if someone says they love you but they don’t really know you, then they love a projection, an idea, a notion of you. They can’t really love you at all.

So in order to be loved, we must be known, which means we must be vulnerable.

Again, a home and a family naturally provide us with some measure of vulnerability. Mere proximity exposes us–and our weaknesses. We know whose shoes stink and who farted during the movie, who scares easily and who gags at the thought of tomatoes.

What we want and need is to be safe within that vulnerability.

Sure, we could hide our shoes and avoid tomatoes, but how much better to be welcomed into the house along with our stinky shoes because we are so much loved and wanted at home that the shoes don’t really matter?

Being known and loved for who we are: that’s what we long for.

Home, Vulnerability, Safety

And that’s what the family should provide. Because we know one another so well–stinky shoes and all–we should love one another well. We may have a front-row seat to farting, but we have that same view onto sensitivity and sense of humor, and the penchants, habits, moles and freckles we talked about here.

Where we are truly and deeply loved, we don’t have to fear our failings and weaknesses. We can live in an honest familiarity that allows us to express our joy and own our guilt. It’s healthy intimacy.

Children reared in this kind of intimacy thrive. They have open communication about their thoughts and feelings without fear of shame. They are honored and protected as individuals. Their home becomes a source of strength even when they are not physically at home. Their confidence in themselves grows, and they can more readily accept and love others.

Intimacy is one of the most powerful and important parenting tools we get. In strongly intimate parent-child relationships, parents can help, support, and guide their children invaluably. This becomes even more profoundly important in the teenage years (blog series on that upcoming). And intimacy is best and most easily established by parents during childhood.

Vulnerability and the Gospel

A beauty of the gospel is that it is built on intimacy. The wise and omniscient God, creator of all life, knows every person individually. He revels in each one’s uniqueness. He knows each one’s faults. And he loves each one relentlessly.

He knows us intimately. By giving us Jesus, he made a way for us to know him, too.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our faults, guilt, or weaknesses because he knows them already and he loves us anyway.

We are all utterly vulnerable to God. In the grace and mercy of Jesus, we are also utterly safe.

Intimacy at Home

In light of these truths, a fundamental way to teach the gospel to our children is to foster intimacy in our homes.

There are lots of ways to do this, and enjoying each other is chief among them: we all feel safer with people who like us. But a few other specific ways also come to mind.

  1. Practice apology. Along with those of our children, our faults are exposed in the proximity of home. Even very young children are wise to right and wrong at some level, and an unkindness or wrong from a parent cuts more deeply than that from a peer (more on that to come). When we apologize, we honor our children, showing them that their feelings and perceptions matter. We acknowledge that we are weak, too; that all people are flawed and in need of growth. We teach them that reconciliation and healing are possible. And we underscore that life isn’t about striving for impossible standards, that everyone is just a person: imperfect and priceless, worthy of love and needing to grow. This gift of the apology is one of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me. They are wonderful people, but every time they failed me–be it with impatience, a cross word, a lost temper–they apologized. Every. Time.
  2. Practice forgiveness. When your children apologize to you, forgive them and say so: “I forgive you.” Of course, in the gospel truth of Jesus, forgiveness means that the fault is erased, even though consequence might linger. But for human beings, forgiving doesn’t always equal immediately released resentment. We have to practice that part, too: forgive and let go. Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to people (me) a lot of the time. It takes practice. One of my greatest regrets in mothering Will is a sometime failure to forgive immediately. I think (hope) it only happened a handful of times, but it doesn’t matter how many: it was terrible. He would apologize for something (“I’m sorry, Mom”) and I, full of frustration, answered, “Me too.” Not meaning that I was apologizing also, but agreeing that his behavior had been regrettable. Ugh. Even now, it grieves me. I apologized to him then and I have again apologized to him as an adult, but I know my frustrated, selfish adult self wounded my little boy. I’m still getting over it.
  3. Prohibit unkindness. Being a sibling is difficult, and siblings can be relentless in pointing out and rehearsing one another’s failings. As parents we might find it easy to excuse or overlook this for a variety of reasons, but we mustn’t do it, because everyone needs to be safe within the vulnerability of home. Teasing comes naturally, and children can excuse an unkindness with, “I’m only joking,” but a policy I tried to practice at our house went like this: If it isn’t funny for everyone, it isn’t funny. A seminal moment for curtailing unkindness came when our only daughter, the youngest, was trying to tell her father and brothers something. She may have been only six, which meant her oldest brother was at the edge of adolescence, and for some reason, he was impatient with her effort to express herself. He kept interrupting her, making corrections and criticizing her, when suddenly my husband had a clear view onto what was happening. He turned to our eldest and stopped him. “Nobody talks to my daughter like that,” he said. We look back on that moment as vital for shaping Emma’s place in our family and her sense of self. She was and is just as worthy as anyone (everyone) of respect.
  4. Encourage the truth. In order to have real intimacy, children must feel safe to tell us the truth. If their honest revelation–no matter what it is–is met with rejection, dismay, or any of a myriad of negative emotional reactions, their honesty with us in the future will be challenged. This can be incredibly difficult because of what we said earlier: everyone is just a person. Can you help reacting strongly (and negatively) to your child’s honest (and–in your view–bad) news? But here is a place where we are the grown-ups: we have to see to the whole child here, and not just the nature of this confession. Yes, they may present with what seems to be alarming behavior. Yes, they may have done something we specifically told them not to do. But let’s not allow our personal feelings about it color our response. Our gentle, respectful, loving response to an honest admission will enable our children to tell us other, potentially more difficult things in the future. We can best be good parents–guiding and helping our children grow–when we know what’s going on with our children. And this comes best through honesty. Early on, my husband instituted a policy that surprised me at first: our children wouldn’t get punished if they told us the truth. So if we came in from outside and a lamp was broken and a child said it was because they were playing ball in the house (they were explicitly told not to play ball in the house), they weren’t punished because they told us the truth. This was hard for me sometimes: it felt like some other rules were being overlooked, that behavior-and-consequence wasn’t being established. I was wrong: those things were certainly taken care of. But what we were also fostering–very deliberately, with the real wisdom of my husband–was the value of honesty. The safety of being honest was elevated in our house, because honesty is essential to open, intimate relationships, and that’s what we valued most. 

As I said earlier, intimacy is one of the most powerful and important tools we get as parents. In every way, it underscores the fundamental beauties of the gospel. And it lays groundwork that, maintained, can be priceless in helping your children navigate adolescence.

It is also one of the greatest potential gifts of being a family: to know and love deeply, to be deeply known and deeply loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please follow and like us:
error0
Comments 6
James Mansfield Posted February 12, 2020 at9:22 pm   Reply

Wow- that is such a beautiful framework of communication and openness. I so hope to foster a space where everyone feels valued, seen for who they are, respected and loved. As my partner and me start to look at buying a house and are beginning some prayer and reflection on starting the process to potentially foster in a few years, I have realized that while I know some obvious things, there are a lot of things about kids I don’t have a reasonable perspective on. The age I was thinking kids could go off alone, bathe themselves, etc. is apparently way off. I want give my children everything I craved so deep in my bones my whole childhood plus a whole scoop of stuff I didn’t even know people did! Reading these makes me feel like perhaps I won’t ruin my kids- or at least I’m doing my homework to be the best I can. Thank you thank you for sharing your experience strength and hope <3

Rebecca Brewster Stevenson Posted February 12, 2020 at9:38 pm   Reply

You are so right: there is a ton to learn when becoming a parent, and there’s a ton you learn as you go! You will be wonderful at it! You bring a lot of wisdom based on your experience, even if is teaching you what you *don’t* want to do. I’m so grateful that this post is encouraging to you. You encourage me to write and say so. And keep me posted on these home/parenting/future developments. I’m excited for you! Being a parent continues to be one of the greatest gifts of my life. Love you!

Michelle duBos Posted February 12, 2020 at9:54 pm   Reply

Love your insight. Love you and your family too!

Rebecca Brewster Stevenson Posted February 20, 2020 at9:50 pm   Reply

Thank you, my friend. I love you and yours!

Meghan Posted February 20, 2020 at6:21 pm   Reply

I think this post gives a link between “live” and “thrive” (asked for in your recent newsletter)— maybe “enjoy”?

Rebecca Brewster Stevenson Posted February 20, 2020 at9:50 pm   Reply

Oh! Interesting…. I will think on this. 🙂

Leave a reply