As those of you who follow my podcast already know, my year started off very intentionally with a two-week fast, seeking God’s direction for our family. And direct He did! I felt a strong sense that I needed to pull back and refocus on my family, as it is so easy for me to become unbalanced and focus too much on secondary ministries. I am not a multi-tasker and when I get excited about a project I’m working on, I tend to chase it full speed!
One of the specific things He showed me was the need for intentional times of deep focus on our individual children by getting away on a “retreat.”
So a few weeks ago, I did something with my 14-year-old daughter that I have never done before. I took a special bonding trip away just with her…and it was amazing!
Now, I would be lying if I said it was easy 100% of the time. After all, we’re talking about two sensitive, emotional, creative types…one being a teenager! Yikes. But I would also be lying if I said we didn’t both learn a whole lot about each other through the emotional ups and downs, and that every rough patch of the trip was absolutely worth it.
So, what did I learn?
Don’t Force it Too Hard
Well, first of all, I learned that my goal of strengthening our relationship was great, but sometimes saying, “Hey, we’re going on this great trip and we’re going to do a bunch of reading, Bible studies, and serious talking” can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating! I learned this the moment I shared my big, fabulous idea with my daughter and she said, “I’m a little scared.”
Not the reaction I had hoped for.
So, I backed off. I decided there was no point in pushing my agenda if she felt uncomfortable with it.
And then I pushed again.
And backed off.
And pushed again some more.
And…you get the idea. Okay, so I’m pushy! But I think by the end of the trip, I learned how to gently nudge without violently shoving. All that violent shoving was done in love and for her own good, but I guess it wasn’t coming across that way. 😉
Bite Your Tongue when you want to Let It Flap
Listen. Just listen. It is a skill that is sometimes very hard for those of us with more life experience and wisdom. We see the problems as simple and sometimes, let’s face it, downright trivial. But to our children, they are complex and big. In their eyes, their world is sometimes crashing down around them and when we minimize their problems, we inadvertently minimize them.
Sad to say, I do this a lot. I am often too quick to speak and slow to listen (James 1:19). I have an eye roll or sigh at the ready. Perceived teen drama: cue eye roll and equally dramatic sigh!
I may have just the right Scripture and just the right solution, but sometimes I’m really just being a big, clanging gong (1 Cor. 13:1). Sometimes what my daughter really needs is for me to simply control my flapping tongue and involuntary sigh, and only listen, or say, “I understand. I was there once.” Funny that we women so often expect that of our men, but then it’s sometimes difficult to give that same treatment to our daughters! Perhaps it may give us some grace for our poor husbands, who also often feel they have the solution to everything that is wrong with us and are probably doing all they can to control their own sighs and eye rolls!
So, about the 43rd time that I began pushing my daughter in the direction of deep conversation on the drive up to the Shenandoah Valley, she again pushed back, and I again remembered that I am overbearing and obnoxious (until I change by God’s grace, I’m just gonna own it! 😉 ), I glanced over and said, “Okay, Elleina, I want you to know that I am just going to focus very hard this trip on listening. I want you to think of me as a big ear. I’m a big ear!”
We had a fun little laugh at this, as her younger brother has had this very odd obsession with ears since he was learning to talk. “I’m a big ‘eaw’!” became our little running joke. But as silly as it may sound, having that phrase to hang on to over the weekend really helped as a reminder to me to keep my mouth shut more than it was open.
Make Fun Memories, Even if They Give you Fall-Out-of-the-Chair Muscle Cramps Later
Yes, really. The morning we were getting ready to leave, I totally fell out of my chair trying to get up and walk after all the bike riding we did those few days! (Okay, truth be told, we only biked on the street a short distance a few times).
Pathetically out of shape? Why, yes.
But this was Elleina’s trip and I wanted to do the things that she wanted to do. In the busyness of day-to-day life, we so often don’t take the time to truly get to know our children and just share in their world, experiencing with them the things that they love.
So, we also took time out to visit the American Shakespeare Theater in Staunton to see their production of Hamlet, since Elleina has a love for acting. (In fact, she has a role in an upcoming move, Like Arrows, showing in theaters May 1st and 3rd (</end Mom-brag moment>).
Side note: If you ever get a chance to visit the area, definitely try to make the effort to see a play there! My only caution is that there were a few bawdy jokes made and you never know exactly what you will get, especially during what they call “Renaissance Season.” This is when the actors are given the script with very little time to prepare and they do a lot more improv. Overall, it was excellent and the acting was amazing! But I would wait until your children are teens.
Enter Her World
If you truly want to bond with your daughter and understand her better, then don’t be afraid to enter her world and become a teenager again! It is amazing what seeing through her eyes will do for your own perspective. Plus, it’s just fun to laugh and be a teenager again sometimes! Throughout the weekend, we tried to laugh at ourselves and make a point to remember the funny moments and memorable one-liners, like “I’m a big ear” and “Gollum is delicious”…you’ll just have to ask us what that second one means. 😉 We plan to create a photo book of the trip and add those quotes in various places throughout the book so we can look back in years to come and remember all the fun we had.
Intentional-ity Breaks Bad Habits and Helps Start New Ones
(It seems legitimate to me, but my spell check keeps underlining “intentionality,” so I threw a hyphen in there just in case I accidentally coined a new word. Who knew!)
Anyway, the last thing I want to mention is that taking time out specifically to be more intentional really does make a difference in the daily interactions. The entire trip I was focused on my daughter. I did not have laundry, dishes, homeschooling my youngest, cleaning, etc. etc. to distract me. Taking ourselves out of the normal routine changed the normal interactions because everything in the environment was different.
It is amazing how we can slip into habits, not just in our daily actions, but also in our relational interactions, as well. We can have a habit of responding with certain phrases and tones, and perhaps not even be fully aware of how we come across and are perceived. By spending intentional time together outside of our home and usual routine, we were able to connect on a different level. I was able to recognize more easily all the ways that I inadvertently shut my daughter out, just because of little reactionary habits I am in.
I have no idea if I am making sense or just babbling here! But I think it is one of those experiences that maybe you just have to go through yourself. So, do it! That is my encouragement to you!
I am so grateful that the Lord impressed this idea on my heart! I feel closer to my daughter than I’ve ever felt, and I know she would say the same. As the saying goes, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Don’t let them slip by.
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Love this Danielle! What a good Mom!
Thank you, Lorre! 🙂 That is sweet of you to say.
I have so much trouble keeping my tongue still. It definitely wants to flap.
It takes a lot of self-control sometimes, doesn’t it? 😉 God is really helping me in this area!
I think God moved me to read this- what you wrote has been stirring in my heart for a few months- to refocus on my children, slowing down to listen instead of reactionary speaking.. to set aside ministry to really focus on my 1st ministry to my family more. My life had become hurried and I parented out of “leftovers”- what energy was left. He has been calling me closer lately and I’m moved by His goodness to me. Thank you for writing your experiences- I’m in the same place w my oldest who is 12. She just needs me to listen half the time. I want to be an ear.:)
Wow! Thank you for sharing that, Kristi! I am so glad that this spoke to your heart and God led you to read it. So often we need reminders to set us back on a straight course. You are certainly not alone in that! I pray right now that God will help you refocus and get to your children’s hearts. Those middle years can really be so tough, but God will get you all through!