This past Saturday was an ordinary Saturday morning. I was drinking coffee and reading a book. Steph was enjoying the one morning a week when she is able to sleep a little later than normal. It was calm. Peaceful. My how things can change in an instant.

My kids were in one of those moods where nothing could be communicated between them quietly. There were giggles, then bickering, and then more giggles. What seemed like sharing in one moment quickly turned into fighting the next. I was doing my best to keep them quiet so Steph could sleep – but I wasn’t succeeding too well.

After yet another uncontrolled, blatant disregard for the reduced noise expectation by my son, I had had enough. As I had promised for anyone who couldn’t keep their voice down, I sent my son back to bed to calm down for a few minutes. Wow. You would have thought I took away his birthright. He stormed to his room, buried his head in his pillow, and let out one loud cry after another.

I think parenting is like one long marathon series of “one shining moments” all strung together. It’s as if time slows down and we are given the option to pick what type of parent we’ll be. This was one of those moments, and one thought stuck out to me above the rest:

Fight for your son’s heart.

In those moments of frustration it’s the last thing I want to do. After all, my coffee was hot and my book was good. He should be able to pull himself together, right?

Not this time.

After 5 minutes or so of cool off time I went to my son’s room, sat on his bed, and asked him to talk about it. With a grimace on his face and tears on his cheeks, he said something that summed up all of our hearts: “Dad, I don’t understand why you get to be the one in charge and not me.” Well said, son. Well said.

As parents we are constantly given choices. We can choose to play the power card and squash the rebellion in our kids, or we can use moments of their blatant disobedience to lead them to the heart of God. Quite often we choose squashing. Why? Because it is quicker and easier. Fighting for your kids’ hearts takes time, though. And if we aren’t careful, we fall into the rut of efficiency and simplicity, and rarely get out.

I asked my son if he remembered Adam and Eve in the Bible. He said he did. I asked him what was the only thing God said they couldn’t do. Not knowing where I was going with this, he continued on, “Don’t eat from the other tree.” Sure, close enough. I gave it to him.

Adam and Eve’s sin is the same sin we are all born with. You, me, my sons, my daughters, and all of your kids. We are born with a propensity to be our own god. To call the shots the way we think they should be called. But just like with Adam and Eve, that road leads to death.

And I love my son too much to let him walk down that road without a fight.

We talked about our desire to be our own boss. We talked about God’s design for the family. We talked about the freedom of following the one in charge. But more than anything, we talked about God’s love for us, and how he fought for our hearts by sending his son, Jesus, to this earth to rescue us.

It wasn’t a quick conversation. Good, real, intimate connections with someone’s heart takes time. This was no different. He cried. He asked questions. He confessed. He apologized. He asked for my forgiveness. And then…we laid together in his bed. He and I, for about 10 minutes.

My son didn’t become a Christian. The conversation didn’t end in fireworks. It was just another ordinary Saturday morning, but I was given the opportunity to fight for my son’s heart – and this time – I took it.

So what does this look like on a daily basis? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Approach all teachable moments with your kids as a dialogue, not a monologue. You might enjoy hearing yourself talk, but after just a few words, you’ll be the only one enjoying it. If your child is at that age where they don’t really enter a conversation with you, but only grunt or sigh, meet them there. Cut the conversation short and instead look to engage them at a time when emotions aren’t running high.

2. When in doubt, ask questions. Over the years I’ve counseled thousands of high school and college students. I’ve asked questions and hit brick walls with no response. What do you do in that moment? Ask a different question. At some point one of the questions you throw their way will peak some interest. Years ago I was dealing with a kid who had a horrible attitude. He was sent to me as a last resort. After 30 minutes of getting nowhere, he made some small comment about a dog. So I asked him a question. “Do you know how to train dogs?” Now that was a question he was interested in. We ended up talking for an hour or so about dog training. What did that accomplish? It helped me build a relationship with him.

3. Take the time. Your kids are worth it. Raising your kids right takes time. There is no “quick fix” or 3 step process to follow. Every child is different. It will take discernment from the parent to know what to do in each situation.

4. Consider how your child feels at the end of the conversation. I could tell my son was still grappling with what we had talked about, so I just laid with him. I wanted him to feel secure in my love at the end of our time together. It might mean playing basketball, or playing a different type of game with him or her. The last thing you want is them walking away with tension from the interaction.

5. Maintain a posture of humility. Being parents doesn’t mean we are always right. It’s just as important that I show my kids how to admit when I’m wrong and ask their forgiveness. Anything else only creates more distance between us when the inevitable clashes come.

What would you add? How do you fight for your child’s heart?

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