Someone recently asked me how I was able to establish such a close relationship with my now grown sons. I didn't have an immediate answer because I've never really considered the alternative, not having a close relationship with my sons. After pondering that question for several weeks I'm not sure I have an absolute answer but I do have some ideas that you may find interesting.
BE A GOOD EXAMPLE: Like most mothers I know, I am crazy in love with my children. From birth until present day I've always done my best to think about how my choices, my actions, my reactions, my interactions and my decisions will teach, equip and affect my children. Sometimes I cringe thinking back on the poor examples I set for my children over the years. But, somehow they seem to have picked up on the good examples and choose to do their best to live those out. Thank God.
HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE: One thing I don't do is let them excuse any poor behaviors or decisions they make based on any poor decisions or behaviors I've had in my past. They alone are responsible for their actions. I want them to be adults who own their behaviors without excuse. If I allow them to excuse their behavior or decisions based on mine or anyone else's failures then they will learn that anything is acceptable as long as you can find someone to blame it on. Knowing that, I believe, has made them think through their choices.
LISTEN: Another thing that I've always done is listen to my kids. I've done my very best to hear what they are saying without forming my response while they are still talking. Sometimes that is easier than other times. There have been many occasions when my boys have been telling me something and I wanted to shut them down and not hear the rest of the conversation because it was either too shocking, too silly, too painful or too much information! At those times I've tried to remember that I want them to talk to me about everything and if I want them to talk to me about everything then my reaction to that everything has to be both calm and reassuring.(those who know me are laughing about now, I don't do much calmly) After raising them through their teen years, I've heard some things that scared me to death, some things that made me chuckle, some things that made me sad, some things that made me mad, some things that made me proud and some things that disappointed me. No matter how the conversations made me feel, I think that my kids would always walk away knowing that without a doubt I loved and supported them.
RESPECT: When I decided to get married the second time it was very important to me that I get it right. Not only for my sake and my husband's sake but for the sake of our children. Danny and I had both paid a heavy price for the failure of our first marriages and we agreed that we would do whatever it took to make ours work. In doing so, I set out on a journey to figure out our differences. Our differences as male/female, our different personalities, what made him tick, what made me tick. During this journey and through a series of Bible studies I learned that the most important thing for a man is to feel respected, even above feeling loved. As I began to put that principle into practice in my marriage it began to make a huge difference in my relationship with my husband. At the same time I thought if this is so important to men in marriage, it would have to be important to all males in general. So I began to practice that same principle with my children. Not only did I need to love them unconditionally, I needed to show them that I respected them. I think that is one key element in our relationship today. They know I respect them.
FREEDOM: It would be so easy to scoop our children up under our wing and never let them out into the scary world. Everywhere we turn there are more things to be afraid of for our children. At some point while raising my children I was able to find a balance between being over protective and being an irresponsible parent. I trusted that God loves my children more than I do and that He was the only one who could completely protect them. There was no way, especially once they started driving, that I could control their every move. I taught them right from wrong, had a check and balance system in place for whether or not they were being responsible, continued to be the parent and disciplinarian and then gave them the freedom to make some choices. It wasn't always easy and there were times that I wanted to scoop them back up into the nest and hover over them so they would be protected. They knew this so they would reassure me that they were okay.
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: My love for my kids has never been based on their performance or whether or not they did or didn't do something. I love them just because they are a treasured gift from God. I can't think of anything, and I do mean anything, that would ever be able to make me not love them. They know this and I think that gives them the comfort to lean in close.
None of these things are magical or mystical formulas for my blog readers to try out on their own kids. It is just what seemed to have worked for us. If you are reading this and you still have children at home, I hope that you will try some of these examples and that in some small way they may enhance your relationship with your children while they are still living in your nest and most especially once they fly away.