Ephesians 6: 1-4
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’– which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 11: 18-21 (NLT)
So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.
Proverbs 22: 6
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
“The family is both the fundamental unit of society as well as the root of culture. It represents a child’s initial source of unconditional love and acceptance and provides lifelong connectedness with others. The family is the first setting in which socialisation takes place and where children learn to live with mutual respect for one another. A family is where a child learns to display affection, control his temper, and pick up his toys.” (M. E. Neifert)
George Burns once said: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” Creating close family relationships isn’t always easy. There is no magic formula that instantly bonds family members, rather it is an ongoing investment at many levels. It is a price worth paying though, as children develop their own relational skills through watching, experiencing, and participating in the different ways family members relate to one another and to others.
There are three primary relationships in most, but not all, families. Each one can help to teach children how close, loving relationships are built and sustained.
1. The Parent - Child Relationship: A parents’ unconditional love gives their children a sense of security, self-worth and significance. Ross Campbell, a professor of paediatrics and psychiatry, says this about the importance of not making our love conditional upon our children’s behaviour: “If I only love my children and convey my love when they please me, they will not feel genuinely loved, they will be insecure; it will damage their self-image and actually prevent them from moving on to better self-control and more mature behaviour.” From the earliest months of our lives, we construct a picture of ourselves based on what we think our parents think of us. As we give that unconditional love to our children, they will have the confidence to let others get to know them and build good relationships.
2. The Mother - Father Relationship: Our marriage acts as a role model for our children and for their relationships. A strong, loving relationship between parents is one of the greatest gifts children can receive. The knowledge that their parents will stay together through thick and thin, working through difficulties and resolving disagreements, gives children a deep sense of security. Children observe how parents speak to each other, whether they are rude or show respect, whether they are appreciative or critical of each other. They notice the physical contact, or lack of it, between parents. They see how anger is expressed and conflict is resolved. Parents also model what passion for Jesus and Kingdom living look like.
Children whose parents are separated or divorced still have a deep longing to see their parents getting along with each other. It can make a huge difference to a child’s happiness and well-being if they are able to work at their relationship with each other.
If you are parenting on your own, spending time with two-parent families can be invaluable in helping your children to experience a healthy marriage relationship close-up. Another great example can be grandparents’ marriages.
3. The Sibling - Sibling Relationship: Siblings build relationships with each other through playing, sharing toys and adventures, fighting, settling disputes, teasing, and learning to take care of each other. Dealing with sibling clashes is one of the most common and challenging of all tasks in parenting. Most brothers and sisters do not always enjoy each other’s company, and learning to live together will include plenty of shouting, stomping and sulking. While they can choose their friends, they cannot choose their brothers and sisters. However, siblings who have learned to appreciate each other as children will often be a source of great strength and friendship to each other as adults. Margaret Mead, speaking of her own family, said this: “Sister is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship.”
No family is perfect, but whatever our circumstances, our family can be a place of unconditional love where our children have the opportunity to experience what relating well to others is all about. In the ups and downs of family life, they learn what love looks and feels like. Joyce Maynard says this about setting an example for our children:
“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell me children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.”