Choosing to Love Your Kids When It’s Hard

Growing up, I loved the book “Little Women,” and I reread it every year. I especially appreciate the picture of Marmee’s daughters sitting at her feet, listening to her wisdom and sharing about their hearts each day. 

Yeah, that never happens at my house. 

We have five children, and our house is typically characterized by bedlam and overwhelming chaos. Each of our kids have unique personalities and quirks, as individual to them as their names. Admittedly, some of our kids are harder for me to connect with than others. Some of that difficulty is because of my own personality and the things that push my buttons, and some comes from my own childhood baggage. 

Am I off the hook when it comes to interacting with and loving on these kids because it is harder? Clearly the answer is no.

The Why Behind the Lack of Connection

Trying to relate better with my children causes me to look at why it feels harder to connect with a particular kid. I consider what is going on with each kid at the age and stage they are in. Becoming students of our children helps us see what is going on in their hearts. Sometimes it is just easier to ignore the problem hoping that they will grow out of it. But I don’t want to miss any of these critical years before my kids move out of the house.

I am facing two different situations: first, I have a child whom we adopted from foster care. That child experienced significant trauma before joining our family, causing deep wounds that stability and consistency have not healed immediately. I did not rock this child as a baby or even change the child’s diapers. We did not bond from the time this child was born. This background makes the relationship more difficult for both of us.

Then there’s my oldest son, who just turned 16. He no longer thinks his parents are “cool;” instead, he thinks he knows more about life than we do (ha!). His age, and the natural process of growing up and pulling away, has made it harder to connect with him. 

The Motivation for Connection

We don’t love our kids because they give us warm fuzzies by their actions, or because they demonstrate their love for us. Love is more than feelings and emotions; love is a determined commitment to my kid’s wellbeing. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). God loved me when I was not deserving of his love; in fact, I was in outright rebellion against him. We remind ourselves of this when our feelings ebb and flow. 

So love for our children is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps and fake-it-until-you-make-it love. It is a love that comes from the only source of love – God himself. I can love my kids well because I have been loved well by my Father. Because I am his adopted child, God’s posture is always towards me. He knows my frame and weaknesses and shows me compassion. (Ps. 103:13-14.) Out of the overflow of the Father’s great love for me, I can love my children. In doing this I am fulfilling the second greatest commandment by loving my closest neighbors, my children, as myself. 

I can serve as a conduit of this overflowing love from the Father to my kids, even when I am struggling to connect with one of them. We love in both word and deed (1 John 3:18.). 

Loving in Words

Love shows itself in words. Sometimes I realize that I routinely correct my kids without offering much praise or even neutral conversation. I am either asking them to do something, or correcting when they have messed up. Both of these things are necessary in our relationship, but our relationship and connection cannot grow when our only interaction is negative. Connection requires care and concern, demonstrated in part through the words that we say. 

Even if we only get grunts in return, we again and again affirm our love and care for the unique way God has made our children. We look to celebrate them in big and small ways with our words. I can put down my phone and really listen when they talk to me. I can avoid jumping to chastisement or giving answers without knowing what they are asking (or even if they are asking!).

Loving in Deeds

We also show our love with our deeds. We figure out what they like and go out of our way to be involved. For example, my son plays soccer and I have learned so much from going to his matches and having conversations with him about it. I have even gotten up in the early morning hours to watch the World Cup with him. Now, I personally am not that interested in international soccer, but I am really interested in connecting with my son. Sometimes this comes with a cost, even a sacrifice of our time or resources. 

I am a type-A personality who loves nothing more than marking things off my never-ending to-do list. But I can put my kids ABOVE the to-do list and refocus on ways that we can be better connected to each other.

But I don’t do this perfectly. Just this morning I blew it again. My daughter (who gets up really early) came in to talk to me while I was reading my Bible, and I was annoyed to be interrupted. Rather than meeting her where she was and greeting her first thing, I snapped at her. My reaction showed that I valued what I was doing more than her. It would have taken a couple of seconds to greet her and then let her know I was reading instead of snapping at her. 

But the gospel meets me in this moment and every moment when I blow it with my kids, hurting our relationship. I was able to run to the Lord and confess those particular idols (my schedule and my comfort), and ask him to work in my heart to help me love my daughter. I obey his call to love, even when I don’t feel like it. I remember Jesus who always valued the people around him over tasks. 

I long for deeper relationships with all of my kids. I know that this longing is from the Lord, who created us for connection with each other. While I might have imagined that these familial ties would be easy to cultivate and maintain, that is not always the case. But thankfully I have a Savior who modeled how to move towards people by loving them with both words and deeds. Though each day I fall short, I am thankful for God’s grace that meets me as I work to connect with my kids.

For more gospel-centered parenting resources, check out our current Rooted Parent Podcast season: Parenting, Technology, and the Truth. 

Shea Patrick is a former Alabama lawyer, now a stay-at-home mom, living in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She and her pastor-husband currently have five children, including two adopted from foster care.  Shea serves on the National Women’s team for the PCA as the Regional Advisor for the Mid-Atlantic. She loves her church, Trinity Presbyterian, and serves with the kids, music, missions, and women’s ministry. She is a contributor to Hinged: Vitally Connected to Christ and His Church.

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