Mack Strange (with the gracious tolerance of the good folks at Trinity Church in Spring Hill, Tennessee invited me to sit in on their service over the next several weeks as Mack talks about the importance of the home as a place of safety, training, trauma recovery and spiritual growth. My role was to say some things about what parents can do to foster each of these important functions. (As I mentioned during the service, the only other experience I have of talking in church was accompanied by my momma reaching over and pinching a piece out of my arm while whispering “Jimmy, you better keep your mouth shut!” And that was when I was 25. I had phantom pinching pain in my arm as the service started.)
This week the topic was Home as a Safe Place. Mack’s jumping off place was John 8:3-11 with an emphasis on the importance of compassion, respect and a second chance. Here are some of the things that occurred to me.
Safety starts with an absence of abuse, both physical and emotional. That should go without saying. But the sense of safety we were talking about is not what parents don’t do but what parents DO to make their home a safe place for their kids.
When it comes to feeling safe, kids need clear structure. That means a home where things are predictable, where people can be trusted to treat each other well (despite nagging and arguing), where kids are protected from things they aren’t prepared to handle (and from themselves) and where they are given direction about important values, behaviors and purpose in their lives.
Kids also need to have respect in order to feel safe. This includes feeling accepted for who they are, having their gifts and talents recognized and validated, experiencing grace for mistakes they make (with the knowledge that forgiveness and redemption is possible) and a sense of optimism for the future.
Finally, kids need love. It is the foundation of a solid sense of self. Love is support. It is affection. It is caring. It is compassion.
So what’s a parent to do?
- Create rituals and establish routines that are woven through the fabric of the family. Family dinner. Movie night. Nightly scripture reading. Holiday traditions. Family time and family activities (no matter how miserable it makes you).
- Establish rules and consequences. These keep kids in bounds for their own safety and clarify for kids what is important for their well being.
- Assign responsibilities. Kids learn that they, also, contribute to the family and have a role to play.
- Encourage independence.
- Require (and provide) respect.
- Ask. Treat your kid as though their opinions matter (even though yours matters more)
- Instill hope.
- Love them. Say it. Write it. Show it.
[/list] While we can’t completely protect our children from the harsh realities of the world (or, from our own failings as parents), there is much we can do to make our homes a safe haven, a harbor in the storm. More than anything else, it is love that makes the difference. It is the light in our darkest hour. It is the touchstone at the core of our being. Start and end with love.“But the greatest of these …” 1 Corinthians 13:13