The following story is shared anonymously from a parent who had not had open conversation modeled in her home, and as a result, was struggling with communicating with her kids and with her spouse.
My parents never argued in front of us kids. And even though we had some firm rules in the house, as we grew and developed, and as our “issues” became more potentially awkward, it was as if we lived a separate life from our parents. We had curfews, but our parents did little else to check up on us as we were dating and exploring puberty and all that entailed. In college, I became a Christian, and soon after, I met my wonderful husband who grew up in a similarly closed-off home environment. As a couple, this meant we would go long stretches of time without ever talking about anything that troubled us… we struggled to dig below the surface, and both of us were pretty good about appearing calm, cool and collected on the outside, even when we had deep sorrows, fears, disappointments and frustrations brewing under the surface.
Some of that changed as we expanded our family. The exhaustion and stress of parenting combined with not being “seen”, “heard” or “understood” started causing me to act bitter and resentful. I would keep things bottled up until I couldn’t bottle them up anymore. Once we had our kids, it was as if all of the frustrations from our dating life and early married life started boiling over. Additionally, as my husband and I learned (in very dramatic ways) how to argue well, we unearthed a lot of hidden struggles, heartbreaks, fears and failures that we had brought into marriage. I had never told my husband that I had been date raped in college. He never told me about his long-fought battle with pornography addiction. We started to rise above our broken communication patterns, and with counseling and the help and support of our friends, we were growing—spiritually and emotionally. Things were beginning to go well between the two of us, but through that time of focusing on our relationship, we were overlooking, to some degree, our relationship with our kids and the communication patterns we needed to establish in order to do better for them than our parents did for us.
I remember my daughter telling me when she was in second grade, rather innocently, that her friend Tabatha liked looking at silly pictures online. My original reaction was to ignore what she said and bury it, even though something about the way she mentioned it troubled me. Time passed, and Tabatha was over one day, and I walked in on my daughter and Tabatha, fully clothed, acting out a scene that appeared rather sexual. I immediately defaulted to the behaviors that my parents had displayed towards me: I didn’t say a thing, and I tried to forget what I saw. I felt so ashamed and confused. But after a day passed, I knew that I needed to do something. I didn’t want our daughter or son to end up like my husband and I had—I wanted to do a better job of helping them process life’s struggles and better protect them from the trials of life. I told my husband what had happened and asked him his opinion. He also wanted to shut down, and his immediate reaction was that, since it was our daughter, I needed to be the one to deal with it. He was frustrated that I hadn’t intervened on the spot, but it was clear that, in his sin, he also didn’t want to be the one to wrestle with a complicated situation. I didn’t argue forcefully with him or disrespect him, but I did give him the space to process our conversation. A few hours later, he came back from a long walk and asked my forgiveness for his reaction and told me he wanted to be a better partner in this.
We didn’t really know what we were doing, but both of us had a sense that we needed to be on the same page, take a moment to get our acts together, and then talk with our daughter together. It wasn’t easy, but we both realized, once again, that we not only need work towards unity and communication in the way we talk to one another, but we need to work towards unity in our communication with our children. No parent wants to have difficult conversations with their children, and no parent wants to acknowledge when awkward moments arise, but it’s really important that we act like grownups, work through our own issues as best we can, and figure it out together, for the sake of our children’s purity and healthy spiritual development. Sometimes that takes persuasive arguments, sometimes it takes providing space, sometimes it takes prayer, but in our family, it’s critical.