Today’s family has lost something and it’s a huge loss. Not to worry though; it can be found. The members of today’s typical family have lost their connection to each other. They have little in common other than the same address. Unfortunately today’s family members have unplugged from each other.
To meet a natural need to be plugged in somewhere, today’s children are plugging into the outside world and working desperately to stay connected. I don’t even think they know why. The answer, however, is that it’s the only connection they have.
Texting, Twitter, Facebook … all were meant to be informational rather than a relationship substitute. It turns out that these social media venues are now filling the family relationship vacuum. Today’s children desperately need their parents to pull the plug on the family substitute and work at re-plugging the family connection.
September is the beginning of the family year. Even though school begins in August, that’s just a dry run as families get out of the summer routine and reorganize for the school year/activities regimen. As children do what comes naturally – reconnecting with friends – parents must choose to be intentional about being family.
When does your child “own you” … have your full attention? I can already hear a parent saying to themselves, “My child doesn’t want my full attention!” Is that because every time you and your child talk it’s about a problem? Instead of talking, is it a lecture?
Plugging into your child’s heart is not about making a child listen to you. It’s about helping your child feel comfortable talking to you. Have you ever heard your child say, “Mom, would you just listen for a minute?!” One way or another every parent has heard their child shut down with that frustration. Eventually, that child pulls the plug on their parents and plugs it into someone who will listen.
Reconnecting with your child begins with choosing to make this a priority. This has to be a big enough priority that the parent will rearrange an already busy schedule to make time to be with the child. Difficult as it sounds, the parent has to be the one to be flexible with the scheduling. Today’s child is already overly booked into a ridiculously rigid lifestyle.
“What if my child doesn’t want to spend time with me?” Why should they? Look at time spent together in their past. Was it pleasurable or painful? When a parent reaches the point where the child has taken his communication plug someplace else, a parent has to work patiently to get that plug back.
Be patient and be persistent. Set a daily time to reconnect. Work hard at not doing all the talking. Work even harder at not lecturing. Work much, much harder at looking the child in the eye and act like this is an important conversation … because it is. Yes, you might even have to fake it at first.
Establish those small daily regroupings. For many that means a meal together. Next put a weekly family night on your calendar. Don’t view Culture on a screen – be the Culture. Go for a walk and ask open ended questions then let them talk without interruption. Sit somewhere together and work at starting a conversation.
Some reading this are thinking, “Wow! Do the Barnes’ really have that much free time?”
No, we didn’t. But this was important. Family night was important. We watched our teens start to make outside connections more important than their family connection and we knew we had to get intentional about getting them re-plugged into our family.
Why is this important? Helping your teen find the plug for a family relationship will change their current lives and help them be successful in their future relationships. Today’s child and teen desperately needs to get information from a source that loves them and also has the right answers; from a place that has the best answers as well as a listening ear that will let them process information. To get the privilege of being listened to by your teen, really listened to, is a privilege that the parent has to earn. Your teen might hear you because they have to but they won’t come to you for answers unless you have spent the time re-plugging.
Giving your child the right place to plug back into the heart of the family will nurture the child today and it will also train your child for adulthood. It will help their own future family. That became evident once again this past month when I heard a weeping wife say, “My husband has no idea how to talk or listen. Unfortunately there is a man at my office who does … and I’ve messed up big time!!!”
Now, as we begin another family year, make sure each family member is getting plugged into the right place for the healthiest relationship. Be intentional about being a safe place to plug into. The effort done now will bless everyone in the future.
Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues. To learn more about Pastor Bob Barnes, go to www.sheridanhouse.org.