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Are you a SAFE parent?

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by Jamie Roach

In the March edition of YF Family, I wrote about how to HOLD your kids during times of stress and anxiety.  Kids are always looking to their parents for assurance, especially when they feel scared, sad or bad about themselves. 
Did you know that there is absolutely no research telling us that kids need perfect parents?  What we do know is that our children are looking at us and wondering, “Will you be there when I need you?”  Kids need to experience their parents as being safe before they will trust parents to HOLD (honor, open, listen, delight) them and comfort them.  Faithful parenting is not about being perfect but being fully present to the heart of your child.  This essential task is less about what you do and more about the kind of person you are becoming.  Every child needs a parent who is SAFE (secure, accepted, free, engaged)
In order to be present to our children in a way that feels safe to them, we must be present to God, who is the one who gives us the gift of being SAFE.  It is only as we experience ourselves as being held by God that we are able to HOLD our children. When we consent to the God of love, we are transformed by love into the tangible presence of Love to our children.  In other words, love makes us SAFE.  As the beloved disciple understood, first we are loved and then we love (1 John 4:19).  
There are four qualities to being a SAFE parent.  These four qualities are not things you can achieve or earn by direct effort.  Instead, these four qualities are gifts to be received. You do not achieve them, you accept them.  They are gifts given by God. 

Are you SAFE?

Secure

To be secure is to be held by a power stronger than yourself. Being secure is being strapped into a roller coaster. It is knowing that if you let go, something will still be holding you, keeping you safe. In Christian language, it is living by faith; it is the conviction that God has got you when you have lost all strength and can feel your fingers slipping.
To all the ancient church communities gathered throughout Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing, absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”  SAFE parents live by faith. We parent like trapeze artists with a net below, taking necessary risks, knowing if we fall, God will catch us.  This is why our relationship with God is critical to our relationship with our kids.  This gift of being secure is what enables us to parent out of love rather than fear. When we are secure in God’s hands our children are safe in ours.  In other words, because we are held fast by God’s love, we are able to take the huge risk of loving others, starting with our own children. Knowing God is holding us allows us to let go of our own (false) selves so that we may hold our children safely. For example, when our two-year-old throws a temper tantrum in the check-out line, do we hold on tightly to our own reputations, overly concerned with appearances, or are we secure enough to let go of our reputation in order to be fully present to our child’s needs in that moment?  

Accepted

Knowing we are accepted enables us to accept our children as they are, with no strings attached.  Before we can fully love our children, we must love ourselves.  Perhaps this is the single greatest challenge of parenting — loving ourselves as we are.  We tend to beat ourselves up and speak very harshly to ourselves. 
Our acceptance is rooted in God and God’s love for us.  God loves you as you are.  The truth God speaks over you is that you are chosen, holy and dearly loved (Ephesians 1:3).  Loving ourselves begins with seeing ourselves as God sees us.
Consider how much you love your children.  How much more must God love you?  We are accepted, not because we are good but because God is.
We will be much better parents when we learn to practice self-compassion and accept our core identity as God’s beloved, rather than wrapping our identity around our role as parent.  Our precious baby who made us feel so loved and needed at first will grow up. They reach middle school and begin to push us away, which is a normal part of discovering their own identity.  If our identity is at stake, we may internalize their natural tendency to create space for their own identity formation as something being wrong with us.
If we are not secure enough, we may become wounded by their actions and feel inadequate and look to our children to make us feel loved. That is not their job.  No child can fill their parent’s need for love and acceptance. Only God can do that. On the other hand, knowing we are already accepted, loved and valued will give us the core strength to be what our struggling and confused teenagers need us to be. Helping our children discover who they are begins with us knowing who we are: God’s Beloved.  

Free

Jesus famously said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  When we know the truth of who we are, God’s Beloved, we experience an amazing amount of freedom. We become free from the harmful habits we have used to numb our pain.  We become free from the defenses we have used to protect our hearts but have also kept loved ones at a distance. 
Another sign of being free parents is that we are actively doing the work to heal from past wounds.  For some this means dealing with pain from childhood or other past experiences.  For some, it is about forgiving ourselves for past mistakes.  In both cases, parents experiencing freedom have done the hard work of acknowledging their pain. By bringing it into light, they are able to experience healing that brings about freedom. As it has been said, we either transform our pain or we transmit it onto those closest to us.
This looks like being more patient with our children rather than reacting out of anger and frustration. Rather than being ruled by anxiety and unregulated emotions, free parents are able to parent in ways that are consistent with their values.  Their homes enjoy the pleasant aroma of peace, love and joy rather than the rancid smell of a critical spirit, harsh words and angry behavior.  The children growing up in these homes take in the fresh air being produced by their parent(s) and are able to thrive with one another.   

Engaged

Parents are well connected to God in and through human community. Because God is a relationship (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) we experience God in relationships with others. When we are doing life together, God’s love becomes tangible.  Parenting is hard work and not meant to be tried alone.  As the proverb appropriately says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Belonging to a community of people who care for one another provides parents with much needed support.  Every parent experiences times of darkness. Faithful friends take us by the hand in such moments and walk with us.  Another benefit of belonging to a faithful community of friends is that your children have other trusted adults to talk with when they won’t talk with a parent.  These added voices, speaking love and truth into their lives, are of great value.  Kids who grow up experiencing genuine community not only hear about love, they experience it.  Love is contagious; it is caught, not taught. 
Like being Secure, Accepted and Free, being Engaged with others is a gift from God.  These qualities are not things we achieve or accomplish, they are gifts already given. Our part is to accept them and make them our own.
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