Conversation about Conversations – Part 2

Resources for the Home

In my last post, I promised to share resources that help parents encourage conversation in the home.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to get back to this post, between a major milestone, demands at work, and a household of sickness.  In the midst of all that, circumstances led to private conversations with each child about an important issue in their life. Then there were the usual conversations about the minutia of life, with a few brief moments of intentional connecting with each child.  And through it all, there is me, living with the nagging feeling that I am too busy, and not spending enough time with my kids!

Still, setting the guilt aside, I realize that these moments of conversations are for me some of the most enjoyable parts of parenting. More importantly, I know my children feel cared for when I take time to really listen and engage with them.

Conversation goals with children and teens

I have always thought of conversation as a learned skill, and see honest conversation as a gift we can give our children. Scripture talks about God knowing our innermost being, of God hemming us in ‘behind and before.’ (Psalm 139). There is nowhere we can flee from a God committed to loving us, just like the bunny that is unable to escape his mother’s love, in Margaret Wise’s well-loved children’s story, The Runaway Bunny.

Scripture tells us God knows us.  And that is comforting, intellectually. But how do we come to experience ourselves as known, and loved?  For me personally, the experience of being known and loved by God has come through prayer, which is of course conversation (talking, listening, focus on mutual presence and through it all: honesty).

Most of my conversation goals with my children come from my experiences in prayer.  Also influential is a book I read by Toronto-based child and family therapist, Jennifer Kolari, called Connected Parenting.  The book describes, among other things, how to build loving bonds between you and your child through empathetic conversations.  I read it ages ago, but it continues to subtly shape my thinking and practice.

Here is a rough description of how I would like our children to feel in conversation with me.  Namely that:

  • Mum genuinely is interested in what I think and how I feel
  • Mum is willing to talk with me about hard things
  • Mum is willing to listen
  • Mum values me
  • Mum and I can heal do healing and constructive things through conversations
  • Mum is proud of me and thinks I am a cool person

My hope is that our children will not only learn how to have conversations, in general, but that experience of being loved through conversation might also open them to experiencing loving conversation with God.  Whether or not I am succeeding in any of this, I have no idea. Regardless, I am committed to trying!

As a Christian mum, another one of my goals is to introduce faith as one of the many things we talk about as a family. Just as I want my children to gain the words to talk about their feelings, about their problems and about ideas, so I want them to acquire a language of faith.  One of the way that language acquisition happens is through conversation with a parent or close mentor who already speaks the language.  And, as mentioned in the last post, learning to speak about faith is part of the acquisition and development of faith itself.

Aside from the conversations that happen organically over the course of the week, here are some of my intentional practices:

Resources:

Encouraging dinnertime conversation:

We are lucky to be able to eat all our dinners together.  Our longtime practice has been to do a simple review of the day, each person sharing the best part and hardest part of the day.  When they were younger, to get things going and to learn about emotions, I would ask the kids to pick cards that described two to three emotions they felt during the day. (You can find that post here.)  We also have conversation cards, to broaden the topics we speak about as a family, and to build bonds by learning more about one another.  Some of the sample questions we have asked are as simple as “What is your favourite food that grandma makes?” to more obviously spiritual “If you could go and witness any moment in Jesus’s life, which would it be?” to downright revelatory: “If you could ask God any question, what would it be.” If you google “conversation cards Christian parenting,” a ton of free resources will come up such as this and this.  It’s up to you as parent to figure out which questions to ask in your home.

Using guided conversations around faith:

So, Christian devotionals.  Nothing revolutionary here. And it is not always effortless. We are are 24 entries into a new one right now, and it’s just meh. Our kids have loved the Adventures in Odyssey table devotional, and we have several of those. Overall, our experience with devotionals have been really hit and miss.

What is important to me is that there is a least some time in the week when we are having a family conversation about faith, no matter how brief, or, occasionally, how bored or confused.  The scintillating discussions are awesome, but I suspect the mundane and brief ones might matter too.

And to be perfectly up front: it doesn’t happen every day.  Sometimes we have been weeks without it, especially when we are running off to other activities.  But we always come back to it, and keep trying.

Seizing ordinary opportunities for conversations about faith:

This is really just about remembering to pay attention. If your kid asks a faith related question, don’t disappoint them by failing to engage!  This might unintentionally communicate that questions about faith don’t matter.  If you don’t have time, acknowledge the importance of the question and agree to find time later to pick up the conversation.

And if, of course, your child asks a question that stumps you (happens all the time around here), try not to close the conversation before it starts by only saying: “I don’t know.”  How about: “I don’t know.  What do you think?”  Or: “I wonder who might be able to help us find the answer?”  Wondering questions are always good. And it’s okay not to have all the answers.  I sure don’t have all the answers, and I am supposed to be a Professional Religious Person!

Creating extraordinary opportunities for conversations about faith:

Is there a parent/child Christian retreat at your Church or at your child’s summer camp?  Seize it. Is there a learning event that would interest your child, that you can attend together? Grab it.  Is there an opportunity to invite your tween into a conversation with other adults on faith?  Invite them in.  Recently, I took our eldest to a convent for a spiritual retreat. I thought she would be bored to tears; instead, she really welcomed the experience of silence.

When we move outside our comfort zones during these liminal moments, God sometimes does surprising things. Certainly, I am learning not to underestimate my offspring. Or God.

This desire to create extraordinary opportunities may be more important during the teen years, as the cognitive capacity of  your child grows and there is the desire to verbally and intellectually make sense of life, the world and faith.

Inviting others into the family conversation:

This is important for teens.

This is a new idea that we are trying on in our household, so I don’t have much insight to offer!  But the research suggests that for faith to “stick”, teens benefit from 5 Christian mentors investing in their lives in some way.   That person might be a youth pastor, a godparent, a trusted friend who is a regular feature in the family.  I will share more on the research on this one in a later post.