How to Love Your Kids Unconditionally
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2013 2 Apr
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Brenda Garrison's new book, Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don't Agree With (Thomas Nelson, 2013).
No matter how hard you work to be the best parent you can be, there’s no guarantee that your kids will make good choices. Your children may end up making many choices with which you disagree. Some of those choices may break your heart, because you know they’re contrary to God’s will for their lives.
But the good news is that nothing – not even the worst mistakes – can ever separate your kids from God’s love. God loves your children unconditionally. Unconditional love is the key to cooperating with God’s work in your kids’ lives. If you trust God to teach you how to love your children as He does – no matter what – you can maintain healthy relationships with your kids in any circumstances and support the work God is doing in their lives.
Here’s how to love your kids unconditionally:
Don’t expect your kids to think like adults. Keep in mind that your kids simply aren’t able to make wise decisions as well as adults are because they’re still immature. The area of the brain that regulates decision-making skills, the prefrontal cortex, doesn’t fully develop until people reach 25 years of age. So expect that your children and teens will make more mistakes than you do as an adult, since they’re still maturing. Give them grace.
Base your response on what’s best for your kids, not yourself. Even though you may be suffering greatly because of your child's poor choices, it’s crucial to remember that the crisis you’re going through isn’t about you – it’s about your kids. Your response needs to focus on what’s best for your kids, not on your own hurt feelings. If you base your response on your own needs, you’ll only distance yourself from your kids. But if you respond consistently with your child's best interest in mind, you can cooperate with God’s work in the lives of your children. So grieve your losses, pray for healing, and shift your focus off of yourself and onto your kids. Ask God to help you keep your heart open toward your kids no matter what.
Distinguish the differences between personal preferences and moral choices. Recognize that some decisions your kids make aren’t either right or wrong or good or bad, even though they may be different from what you would have chosen yourself. So choose your battles wisely, focusing only on decisions that truly have moral implications. Ask God to give you the wisdom you need to discern which decisions those are. Then establish a list of nonnegotiable ground rules for living in your home (such as rules that relate to lying, respecting family members, alcohol and other drugs, and premarital sex) and clearly communicate those rules to your kids. Give your kids the freedom to exercise their personal preferences, and pray for the self-control you need to refrain from arguing with your kids about their personal preferences.
Look at the choices you’re modeling for your kids. Before judging your kids for the sinful choices they’re making, take an honest look at the choices you’re making in your own life that may reveal sin that you need to confess to God and from which you need to repent in order to serve as a good role model. Ask God to show you any kind of sin your life – from how you conduct your relationships to how you manage your money. Turn away from your sin and toward God so you can set a good example of faith in action for your children.
Take responsibility for mistakes you’ve made in your relationships with your kids. Reflect on how your own poor choices about how to relate to your kids in the past may have contributed to the difficult relationship you have with them right now. Have you neglected to spend enough time with your kids, or to pay enough attention to the details of their lives? Have you been too lenient when you should have provided more guidance and boundaries? Have you failed to communicate your love to them in ways they can understand? Whatever you may have done to contribute to current relationship problems between you and your kids, know that God can redeem your mistakes if you honestly acknowledge them and seek to learn from them. Be sure to apologize to your kids for your mistakes, too, because doing so will help strengthen your relationships with them.
Aim to treat your kids like God does. Consider the way God treats people: He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, loving, kind, patient, and always available. Then, every day, try to follow God’s example as you choose how to relate to your kids.
Pray for your kids consistently. Persist in prayer for your kids, praying specifically about each of your concerns. Listen to the guidance and encouragement that God has for you, and trust Him to handle your concerns much better than you could on your own. Remember that God loves your kids even more than you do, and He will never stop working in their lives. Keep in mind that God’s plans for your kids aren’t always the same as your plans for them; pray for God’s will to ultimately be done in your kids’ lives.
Tear down walls and build bridges. Pray for God’s guidance every day to tear down relational walls between you and your kids and build relational bridges between you. Overlook the annoying yet minor things your kids say to push your buttons so they don’t escalate into arguments. Keep critical comments to yourself unless they’re truly constructive and helpful. Ask your kids regularly about their friends, school, work, and interests, and make positive, encouraging comments in response as often as you can. Give your kids your undivided time and attention as much as possible. Involve your kids in making family decisions when you can. Hold loosely to your expectations for your kids, remaining flexible when the unexpected happens. Let your kids experience the consequences of their poor choices whenever possible, so they’ll be motivated to make better decisions in the future.
Take care of yourself. Don’t let your children’s struggles define you, and don’t neglect taking care of your own needs while you’re trying to help them with theirs. Make healthy choices like eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise. Invest time and energy regularly into activities that you enjoy. If you’re married, spend time regularly with your spouse doing something enjoyable together to relieve the stress that your children have put on your marriage. Give yourself permission not to talk to people outside your inner circle about your kids’ problems; only open up to those you know you can trust.
Get help from caring, trusted professionals. Enlist the help of professionals you trust who may be able to help your kids in ways that you can’t: counselors, clergy people, teachers, coaches, doctors, attorneys, police officers, social workers, etc.
Keep turning your kids over to God. Since healing is a process, expect that it’ll take time for your kids to learn how to make better choices. Establish a habit of turning your kids and their lives over to God in prayer every day.
Adapted from Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don’t Agree With, copyright 2013 by Brenda Garrison. Published by Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Brenda Garrison is an enthusiastic and authentic speaker and author. She ministers to women in all stages of life but especially to moms – encouraging them by keeping it real and based on God's Word. Brenda speaks at retreats, workshops, professional groups, and government agencies that work with families. She has appeared on FamilyLife Today, Moody Radio, and The Harvest Show, as well as other media outlets. Brenda and her husband, Gene, have three daughters.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: firstname.lastname@example.org to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.
Publication date: April 2, 2013