What if everything you hope for your children has less to do with all the amazing experiences of school, sports, music lessons, hobbies, trips, community service, and church, and has more to do with the closeness you have with your children?
When we think about providing a high quality of life for our children, we tend to think about the activities associated with happiness – the experiences and accomplishments we strive for. Those are not bad goals, but it’s actually our ability to be present in our relationships with our children that make the most difference in their development.
The Struggle for Significance
Significance is the quality of “being worthy of attention” – and if you didn’t already notice, we are all struggling for significance. But there’s good news. What the world has to offer cannot even come close to replacing what the family was designed to provide: safety, closeness, and warmth. As our children explore and discover a big, bold world, filled not just with incredible opportunities and good things, but also pain and evil as well – it’s their relationship with us that matters the most.
Recent suicides and study after study from across the spectrum tell us to take a closer look. A recent article by Suzanne Venker, titled, “Broken Relationships are at the heart of the suicide epidemic,” states that the latest CDC Report can be linked back to broken relationships. She writes,
“As the CDC chart explains, people can have more than one experience that leads to the choice to end their lives. But at the core of the problem is a broken relationship. Broken marriages, in particular, have a domino effect that never seems to end. Not only do they lead to depression and bankruptcy, they often result in broken parental relationships.”
Other studies targeting cell phone and social media usage in teens, shows higher rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Another study shows that almost half of parents are guilt-ridden over the fact they are not a “good enough” parent and many would describe that our kids get the short end of the stick when it comes to what they need from us. Studies are also showing that teens are not the only ones struggling with cell phone “addiction” which is leading to higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness. It appears that parents are suffering from “technoference” – which is impacting the quality of the relationships we have with our children.
The very things that are designed to enhance our lives are destroying it. Why is that? Because I don’t think families are actively involved and engaged in evaluating THE WHY or PURPOSE OF THEIR FAMILY. How can we answer the questions of significance when we are just busy, but not really present?
For six years I had the honor of working for Focus on the Family. I didn’t always agree with their stances on issues but the people and legacy of that organization is incredible. Many marriages and families have been strengthened through that ministry and it was an honor for me to grow and develop my leadership there.
One of the things I was tasked with as the Director of Parenting and Youth was developing the 12 Healthy Traits of Thriving Families that would then influence much of the messaging and content strategy within the ministry. This process took months of research and we finally landed 12 traits we felt captured the heart of a thriving family:
- Strong marriage: Research indicates that a genuinely thriving marriage is the result of practical progress in several key areas of marital life (see 12 healthy Traits of Marriage) that models for children key aspects of a healthy family.
- Commitment to family members: A strong sense of commitment is the foundation for a strong, fully-functional family.
- Shared spiritual foundation: The family fosters a shared spiritual relationship.
- Communication: Communication is a vital and critical aspect to a healthy family.
- Connected/togetherness: Connectedness is defined as the degree of closeness/warmth experienced in the relationship that children have with their parents. (child emphasis)
- Honor: Placing high value, worth and importance on each role in the family.
- Resiliency: Family resiliency is the family’s ability to cultivate strengths to positively meet the challenges of life.
- Consistent expectations (rules) and discipline: Healthy Boundaries and Consistency are critical for the family to know and experience success:
- Shared responsibility By working together, family members can build and maintain close relationships during periods of normal family functioning as well as during times of stress.
- Healthy Individuals. A healthy family allows each person to grow personally within the context of their roles and within the context of Christ’s calling on their lives.
- Community Minded & Worldview: Strong families are connected to the community and they are involved in community organizations.
- Life/Social Skills: Families are intentional in passing down the critical aspects of skills needed for success in interpersonal relationships, work and Christian ethics, leadership and calling.
The combination of these 12 things produce not a perfect family but a resilient and gritty family that knows how to thrive despite the circumstances of life
As you glance at the list of twelve, many of the things that help a family thrive, are centered on strengthening the connectedness and warmth the family was meant to provide. It starts by being a healthy person yourself who then in turn helps produce healthy individuals, who then produce healthy marriages, and then healthy children. The hope in starting this cycle is that it will then continue on through generations, with healthy children becoming healthy individuals becoming healthy families. Families are the bedrock of our society and unfortunately it appears that the only legacy we are leaving our children is lots of activities that produce little of significance…and too often, brokenness.
Please don’t get me wrong. My intention is not to place family as an idol to worship. That being said, the gospel is powerfully shared when our families, despite our weaknesses and failures, are able to to demonstrate the power of his grace by thriving in the midst of the challenges life brings.
Do you long for your family to be strong despite the challenges? Is your home a place where you would hear the sounds of love or fighting? Is it a place of refuge or anxiety? Our families can find hope and significance in the Gospel. Our families can be strong. We believe this so powerfully that it is reshaping the way we approach ministry and discipleship. Join us on Sept. 22 for a one-day off-site event called, Family Strong that will encourage you to keep fighting the good fight of faith and significance.