“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.”
Many adult problems stem from unresolved childhood trauma. When I say that, two things happen. 1) Parents rush to defend themselves: “I did the best I could! My children never wanted for anything! They had it so much better than other kids!” 2) Adults rush to defend their parents: “They did the best they could! We never wanted for anything! We had it so much better than other kids!”
Let’s all take a deep breath.
This isn’t about blame or shame. It’s about self-awareness. It’s about recognizing what happened or didn’t happen in childhood and how it affects us today. Our parents’ intentions have nothing to do with how we were affected. Good intentions granted, we still hurt. To those with children, you can significantly lower trauma with these 3 things every child needs to hear.
1) “I love you.” The old joke goes, “I told my kids I loved ‘em once, and I’ll let ‘em know if I change my mind.” Of course it doesn’t work that way. Others think, “I don’t need to say the words ‘I love you.’ My actions show I love them.” Certainly, actions speak louder than words, but children need the words too!
We need constant reaffirmation we’re loved. Even Jesus, at age 30, when He emerged from the waters of baptism, was greeted by His Father’s loving voice from Heaven: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11). Jesus knew He was loved because His Father told Him.
So many grow up feeling unlovable and unworthy of love because their parents rarely or never said the words.
What’s more, some kids only heard “I love you” when they did something great, which ties love to performance. Then when they become Christians, they think they have to earn God’s love by their perfect accomplisments, which is disastrous.
Your children need to hear “I love you” even when they fail — especially when they fail.
2) “I’m proud of you.” “In you I am well-pleased” (Mark 1:11). God was proud of the man Jesus became. Luke 2:52 says, “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” In other words, Jesus grew mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. His Father was proud of that and told Him!
Children need to know you approve of what they’ve done and who they’re becoming. When a child brings home a finger painting, if Mom and Dad say, “Hmmm, strange,” then toss it aside, it crushes the child’s spirit. The child believes his accomplishments don’t matter or that his parents are disappointed in him.
If, on the other hand, the parents say, “Wow! What a great drawing! You did this with your own fingers?” then hang it on the fridge, it sends the message, “We’re proud of you! We approve of what you’ve done!”
Love isn’t based on performance, but parental pride and approval is. If your child does something wrong, you can still love him or her despite the mistake, but you aren’t proud of them for messing up. That’s where teaching and discipline comes in. Discipline (whether in the form of instruction or punishment) teaches children to live a life they can be proud of, you can be proud of, and God can be proud of.
When they do wrong, teach and/or discipline them. When they do what’s right, let them know how proud you are for what they’ve done and who they’re becoming!
3) I’m so sorry, will you please forgive me? “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (James 3:2). Many adults find themselves depressed or emotionally trapped because they’re angry at their parents but aren’t allowed to feel it. Why? Because anytime they ever expressed anger toward their parents, they were rebuked. “How dare you question us?” “Who’s the adult here?”
The child learns to keep his hurts to him or herself. He learned if something is wrong, it must be his fault because his parents are never wrong.
Some parents think apologizing is a sign of weakness; that their kids will lose respect for them. Nonsense! It takes much more strength and garners way more respect to admit you’re wrong. Your child needs to know you’re not perfect. He needs to know you care how your actions affect him.
By apologizing when you mess up, you’re telling your child, “You’re important to me and I never meant to hurt you. I did hurt you and that’s a huge deal, please forgive me and know that I will try to do better next time.”
Your child may say, “It’s no big deal, no need to apologize I understand.” But it is a big deal and yes, you did need to apologize. Your child says that because A) they don’t want to be a burden on you or cause you stress or B) they don’t understand it’s a big deal to have our boundaries violated, even by our parents.
Apologies send the message to your child early that “Your boundaries matter and your feelings matter,” and it pays dividends for them in adulthood.
One final point: you’re never too old to start. Parents may think, “My kids have moved out and have a life of their own. None of this stuff matters now, it’s too late.”
Please don’t believe this lie.
Even as an adult with a successful career, your child may be hurting so much inside but he or she is too afraid to talk to you about it. They’re afraid you’ll freak out on them for bringing it up; that you’ll get defensive and throw it back on them.
If your grown-up children express that they were hurt by you in childhood, try to listen, validate, and apologize. Let them vent their pain, accept that you’ve made mistakes, and help them see how much their feelings matter to you.
Knowing and validating their pain will repair more than you can possibly imagine between you.
If your adult children haven’t approached you, why not approach them first?
The words, “I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’m so sorry, will you please forgive me?” can still change your child’s life and yours.