More than twenty-five years ago, I read an article written by Edith Schaeffer, in which she described her lifelong goal of becoming a best friend to her husband and children. Having three little children at the time, I was quite startled by the novel idea of my children being my “best friends.” My husband had been one of my best friends since college days, but my children were, well, children. How was it possible to build friendship with those I was parenting? I mean, can you imagine telling a dear friend, “Brush your teeth and go to bed right now”?  It seemed slightly ludicrous. However, some years prior, Edith’s book, What Is a Family?,1 had given me a profound glimpse into what it means to have a Christian family. I had learned through my own experience as a wife and mother to trust Edith’s perspective, so I began to consider what changes I must make in my parenting if I were to build a deep and lasting friendship with my children—one that would extend through the years into their adulthood.

Proverbs 18:24 tells us, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly. . .”2 This is a concept we accept, simple and succinct. But what does it mean? If we were to search out the essential elements of being “friendly”—a true friend—our list would certainly include these elements:

- Spending time together
- Being an active and engaged listener
- Finding similar hobbies or areas of interest that can be enjoyed together
- Respecting one another, even if there are differences of opinion
- Being vulnerable and honest with the other
- Knowing we are all safe to be ourselves with the other, accepted and beloved for who we are
- Valuing the other deeply, which leads to loving actions and words
- Learning what communicates love to the other, and then doing it
- Giving sacrificially of our time, our money—even our own desires—in order to benefit the other

Though we might agree with the list (and wish someone would befriend us in this way!), we are left with the question of how we can actually do this within our own very human and imperfect families, especially with the added pressures and extraordinary demands on parents who homeschool. Fortunately, every forward step we take on this list will actually increase the joys and decrease the stresses of parenting! So let us take a brief look at a few of these critical elements and consider practical steps at implementing them.

Spend Time Together 

It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? If you are homeschooling, you may be thinking, “We are always together!” Yet this time is not the normal “make-your-bed, did-you-finish-your-homework, who-left-the-milk-out” kind of interaction that fills our days. I’m speaking of special time together, the kind that requires thoughtful implementation. What you are seeking is to create environments and opportunities for building friendship: laughing together, doing interesting stuff together, sharing together.

Discover the different activities that delight your spouse and that delight your kids—and one of the best ways is to ask them! Sometimes you will focus on home—host a “family fun” weekend when you fix fun food, read fun books out loud, play fun games, perhaps watch fun DVDs, and no work allowed! Go on some adventures away from home too. For example, go to the zoo, laugh at the funny antics of the “characters” in the zoo, and then discover which animal each one likes best and why!  

It is vital to also have some “alone time” with each member of the family, when you and your spouse or child can share deeply. In order to experience deep sharing, we must carve out a time, a place, and an environment where it is safe to share, where we are free from distractions and secure in knowing we are each valued. It is time well spent, because hearing each other’s thoughts, concerns, dreams, fears, hurts, and joys lays a foundation for trust and connection.

Become an Active and Engaged Listener  

One of the most valuable and important relational skills to learn is listening. Make no mistake—becoming a good listener is hard work! If you are not a good listener, improve: read books on listening skills, or ask someone who is a good listener how he does it. The impact will astonish you.

To get you started, consider these steps:

- Give your children (or spouse) time to speak, even if it means waiting patiently during a period of silence as they collect their thoughts.
- Make eye contact when they speak to you.
- Be an active listener, interacting with what the other is saying, rather than jumping in to tell your own story.
- Don’t assume you know what they mean, but instead, gently ask questions that indicate you are listening and seeking to understand.
- Be willing to listen to their ideas and insights without trying to control their words or responses.

When I recently asked my 30-year-old son his thoughts about this subject, he replied: “The times you and Dad listened to me—really listened, without prescribing what my words ought to be—were times I felt most befriended. Controlling children’s responses doesn’t encourage relationship, but rather, performance. And, a performance-based relationship isn’t love...”

Learn How to Express Your Love Effectively

Finally, one of the most helpful tools in building healthy friendships within the family is learning the five “love languages” as described by Dr. Gary Chapman.3 Many, many people have benefited from his research on the five different ways we express and receive love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Find out what love languages you have, what kinds your spouse and children have, and make sure you are “speaking their language.” An excellent source to engage this is www.5lovelanguages.com.

These are some of the paths I have imperfectly walked with my husband and children, concepts they have helped me learn and grow in. I encourage you to also become intentional in becoming best friends with your spouse and children. Take stock of your relationships right now. Is your home a safe place for building friendships? Do you take time to laugh and play? Have you discovered ways to enjoy each one in your family? Do you have regular time for listening and sharing?

Wherever you are on the path, commit your ways to the Lord, and ask Him to help you in befriending those beloved and unique individuals with whom you live. Believe me, the reward far outweighs the cost!

Endnotes:

1. Schaeffer, Edith, What Is a Family?, London, Hodder &  Stoughton, 1975.

2. Scripture quoted from the New King James Version of the Bible.

3. Chapman, Gary, The Five Love Languages of Children, Chicago, Northfield Publishing, 1997.

Diana Waring, author of Beyond Survival, Reaping the Harvest, and History Revealed curriculum, discovered years ago that “the key to education is relationship.”  Beginning in the 80s, Diana homeschooled her children through high school--providing the real-life opportunities to learn how kids learn.  Mentored by educators whose focus was to honor Him who created all learners, and with an international background (born in Germany, B.A. in French), Diana has been enthusiastically received by audiences on four continents.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: March 29, 2013