Growing up, I hit the normal ruts and bumps of the teenage years just like most kids, struggling to think for myself and own for myself what I’d been taught by my parents. And just like most adolescents, I withdrew from the two people who could have helped me process and talk through my inner confusion. However, 2 things stand out in my mind that my father initiated in order to cultivate the belief in me that it was safe to be real, safe to be transparent and truthful when I felt like my world was coming to an end:
1. He Became Vulnerable
In my work with troubled youth throughout the country, I am continually interacting with parents who want their kids to talk to them, be real with them, and tell them the truth – parents who admit that they have not been open themselves with their kids. While no parent should glorify sin by sharing the graphic details of their past failures, every parent should endeavor to be truthful; to meet their child where they’re at, not in condemnation, but with discipleship in mind.
One of the ways my dad did this in my life was through what we called “book meetings.” We would choose a book on a spiritual topic, agree which chapter to read up to, and then set a coffee or lunch date over which to discuss the material. The most important part of these meetings was the questions I was told to bring, questions that dug into my dad’s life and required him to be ruggedly honest with me, questions that allowed me to learn from his mistakes. I asked him things like, “What is your biggest struggle with sin right now?” and “When is a time in your life when you felt like God wasn’t there? What did you do?” Not only did he push me to ask these questions (and patiently wait for me to get comfortable doing so – a process which took months), but he purposed to answer them truthfully. My dad never forced me to reciprocate. He simply made himself a safe place, a person who I knew was flawed and sinful, and therefore someone I could trust with the truth about my own flaws and sin. Through these meetings, I learned that there was nothing to be ashamed of as long as I was telling the truth. The truth sets us free.
2. He Made Vulnerability Easy for Me
Especially in the beginning, being vulnerable was not natural for me. Is it natural for any of us? Something I have learned from working with delinquent youth is how much they struggle to say the truth about themselves out loud. They feel ashamed and rejected merely from having to verbalize their reality.
For years now, I have told teens that the truth on paper is better than lips full of lies. During my own dark night of the soul, my dad met me where I was. He bought me a little blue journal to write notes to him in, honest notes. Looking back, some of the things I wrote in there I would never have had the courage to say to his face. But I knew I could write it down in a moment of emotional turmoil, that he would read it, and that later on when I had calmed down, we could discuss it. My dad bridged the gap that I wouldn’t have crossed by encouraging vulnerability in me, by making it feel doable when I would have rather lived a lie.
Every parent will struggle to communicate with their teens and even younger children from time to time. Are you setting the bar of vulnerability at an unattainable height? Or are you modeling transparency that will be attractive, safe and inviting? If we do not have the courage to be vulnerable with our kids, how can we expect them to “man up” and spill it with us?
Parents, lead the way in transparency, and watch it pay off!