May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so here at Church Comms we’ve been focusing on all things mental health for church leaders. This includes our virtual event, Thrive & Cultivate: A Mental Health Summit for Church Leaders. Our presenting partner for this event, Medi-Share, has shared this insightful article with our community, focusing on ways we can be a safe space for our children.
[As appeared on medishare.com]
They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. As a parent, this one speaks volumes to me…
Parents are the kissers-of-boo-boos, the protectors-from-scary-monsters, and the ones who make everything better, so help us God.
I also want to be the one my child runs to when she’s 10 and struggling to figure out her homework and looking for some studying advice. I want to be the one my kids run to at 16 when they’re having trouble making new friends and they need a hug from Mom. I want to be the one my daughter turns to for dating or career advice at 21.
I want to be their safe space for all the highs and all the lows, praying with them, loving on them, and helping them navigate this crazy life.
So how can we do that? How do you build a safe space at home for kids and ensure they know they can run to you while still being the authoritative figure they need as they grow up?
With a 7- and 5-year-old at home, I am definitely still a work in progress. (Praise God, He’s not done with me yet!) However, here are some truths I’ve learned along the way from a number of Godly examples in my life that I pray are laying the foundation for many years ahead of being that safe space for my kids.
I’m not going to lie (pun intended), there have been plenty of times, as I’ve shoveled some of my favorite foods in my mouth, I have replied to their curious looks with something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s spicy. You wouldn’t like it.”
I am not proud of this. Ok… maybe I was at the time. Busted.
Food-hoarding aside, one of the greatest things we can do for our children is to set an example of truth-telling. Age-appropriate truth, of course.
How can we expect our kids to tell us the truth if they constantly catch us in “little white lies” or worse, blatant falsehoods? If I’m lying to my spouse about where I am when I’m away from home, how can I expect my future teenager to be honest about who she’s hanging out with and where they’re going on a Friday night?
“Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart,” Proverbs 3:3
Admit when we’re wrong
“I’m sorry, I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
I remember the first time I had to say those words to my oldest who was probably about 2 or 3 at the time. I remember it being hard to look my toddler in the eyes, admit my fault, and seek HER forgiveness. But you know what? She freely gave it. And never held the offense against me again. Just like that! Kids are amazing that way.
Now, when she’s 18, she may not be as quick to forgive… IF I’m not careful to set a pattern for repentance and forgiveness now, in the early years.
I firmly believe our kids need to know we mess up too. They also need to know what to do when they mess up. “Do as I say, not as I do,” won’t cut it as they mature into young adults. We can’t expect them to run to us as parents to come clean if we don’t model and encourage that behavior from the start.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,” James 5:16
Yes, when our kids are young, chances are they need and even want us to solve their problems. However, as they grow older, I’ve realized and heard from others that it’s even more important to simply listen whenever they come to tell you something. Listen with a discerning and empathetic heart rather than always having “the right answer” on the tip of your tongue.
I’ve had to set aside my mama bear instincts at times in order to just sit and soak in what my daughter was telling me happened at school or what was said about her among “friends.” When my instinct is to react to what she’s said in a less than stellar manner, God is working on me to give me the ears and the heart to sit still, listen, ask questions (typically around how she feels about whatever the situation is), and then pray with her that God would show her the right way to handle things if appropriate.
That doesn’t mean as parents we don’t get involved if something warrants it. But, we also have to disciple our kids in how to handle certain situations so they can grow in these areas. We won’t always be around to fight their battles for them. We can, however, always be there to listen.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20
I’ll be the first to admit this is the area I struggle with the most. With so many things vying for our attention these days, it’s incredibly important to be intentional with the time we get to spend with our kids.
If our children come to us with something they deem important, or simply want to snuggle up in our laps, what message does it send them if we constantly tell them “not now” or have our heads buried in our phones or worse, ignore them altogether? They’ll start coming to us less and less until we scratch our heads one day, wondering why we can’t get their attention.
I have one kiddo who craves quality time and one who needs physical touch like she breathes air. When I’m not intentional about meeting their needs in these areas, I can see the ripple effects. They mope around, beg me to watch TV (more than normal), and their overall attitude changes.
I know full well that if I want both of my kids to spend time with me when they’re older, I need to be intentional about the time I spend with them in the here and now.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
Why is a safe space important? Because although I’m their parent and not trying to be their best friend, I want them to feel like they can come to me with anything this life throws at them. I want to be the one “with all the answers,” even if I don’t have one in the moment.
The reality is, if you’re not a safe space they’ll find one elsewhere. As they grow older, life will get messier and more confusing. With God’s help, we need to be reliable beacons of truth and love in their lives, even if that means just listening well.