Are we modeling kindness for our children?

“Use kind words, gentle hands, and find someone who needs a friend today,” I said to my son as I dropped him off at the gym day care.

“I will, Mommy. I will be kind today. I will share,” he replied as he bounced away gleefully.

Kindness with our children
It is so important to me that my kids are kind; in fact, sometimes I think I place a little too much emphasis on it. In a world that so desperately needs more kindness, I want to make sure I’m raising boys who love God and love others unconditionally.

For as much as I give verbal reminders, true kindness is shown by modeling the behavior—seeing kindness in action. So when my son reminded me, “You need to be kind, Mommy!” when I was asking him to do something, it made me stop in my tracks.

How often am I really modeling kindness for my sons?

“Don’t do that.”

“Hurry up!”

“Get your shoes on, NOW!”

Commands that are often heard throughout our day blare like sirens in my brain when I lay down at night. Am I nurturing my boys and showing them kindness?

Kindness with our spouses
Recently my husband and I—just the two of us—went out on our first date in more than eight months. We have an eight-month-old baby at home, so I’ll let you do the math. To be honest, it felt like a chore to get that date planned. It seems the longer you don’t give a relationship proper nurturing, the harder it is to get back to that baseline foundation. Once we were out, we had a blast, but it’s the getting out that is hard right now.
At one point during our date, I found myself apologizing for not expressing gratitude enough. The truth is he works really, really hard so that I can stay home with our boys. We both work hard to make our home what it is, but stress can take its toll on each of us.

Jesus quoted words from Genesis, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

When is the last time we felt we were a united front or on the same exact page? When is the last time we were truly “one”?  I wondered.

Like most couples with young kids, we are sleep-deprived and overscheduled. Many evenings and weekends are jam-packed with obligations, home improvement projects, grocery shopping, cleaning, bathing our children, and keeping them alive. I admitted honestly to him, “You know, I wonder what our marriage would be like if I spent as much time working on being a better wife as I do trying to be a better parent.”

Just like my kids feel they can be sassy and defiant to me, I often feel I can be sarcastic and harsh with my husband. That’s never easy to admit, but the more and more I think about the example I want to set for my children, I recognize that I need to start with me.

Power in our weakness
This admission may seem like I’m airing out a vulnerable weakness, and if that’s how you see it, you’d be correct. The truth is there are many days I wonder if God picked the right woman for the job. Raising kids in a sinful world is no joke!

In her book You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons says, “God demonstrates his power through our frailty. In fact, this is the only thing we can boast in: His power is made perfect and on full display in our never-enough-ness. When we are weak, we are actually made strong in Christ Jesus” (see 2 Corinthians 12:9,10).

God nurtures us in the most perfect way. First, when I’m falling short, full admission of my weakness and asking God for forgiveness helps me seek forgiveness from my husband, my kids, or anyone else I’ve wronged. His forgiveness sets me back on the path he created for me.

So, while modeling kind words, gentleness, and love is extremely important in raising empathetic and God-fearing boys, so is admission of sin and forgiveness.

Recognizing that I’m not a perfect wife and mother doesn’t make me want to give up, but rather helps me recognize that I need God more than ever and makes me want to try better next time. A heart full of thankfulness for Jesus’ love on the cross motivates me to display that love in all my relationships.

It’s not always easy to admit weakness (sometimes the list feels so long that I don’t know where to even begin), but I’ve regularly been asking God to show me areas of my life that I need to work on, areas that could use a little nurturing. My son pointing out that I wasn’t using kind words could have made me angry, but it didn’t. I believe God was using that sweet boy to kindly point out that Mommy needs to remember that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).

Lyons also writes and reminds us to take action, “God delights in us. He doesn’t want us to live in bondage. . . . He comes and says, ‘Let’s nail this thing. Let’s not dance around it, perform around it, or seek validation to make it feel better. Let’s just go after it.’ ”

Strength from God
So now, instead of just repeating my mantra when I drop my son off to play with other children, we speak it every morning, together, as a reminder for us both: “Today we will try our hardest to use kind words, gentle hands, and to be a good friend. With God’s help, we can do it!”

God’s calling to nurture and love my husband and these boys doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, but he has fully equipped me with Christ’s example and his promise that we are in this together.

Nicole Smith and her husband are raising two young boys in Sussex, Wisconsin. This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com, a blog for “imperfect women spurred on by God’s perfect grace.”

What’s the best parenting advice you have received?

Years before I became a mother, I wrote a news article for Forward in Christ in which I interviewed a dad who described his nightly ritual of blessing his young daughter before she went to sleep. He noted, “Blessing your child is not hocus pocus. When I bless Kayla, I am asking the Lord to keep my daughter in the faith forever. It’s another tool that I can use to demonstrate my love for Christ and for my child, based on the love that Christ showed for me.”

That idea resonated with me, and after my daughter was born, I began blessing her each night. I’ve continued the ritual with my sons as well.

Do you have a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with you through the years? If so, please share it with us! Send your advice to fic@wels.net.

And that dad I interviewed? When I started compiling authors for this column, I knew I wanted him to be a part of it. So, you can find his advice below. He’s contributing author Dan Nommensen.

Nicole Balza is staff editor of Heart to heart: Parent conversations, Forward in Christ magazine’s monthly parenting column. She and her husband, Rob, have three children ranging in age from 5 to 13.


There have been a number of people in life who have either demonstrated or shared this important piece of parenting advice that I have kept on my heart.  In our confessional Lutheran understanding of Scripture, we treasure a right understanding of the importance of God’s law and gospel. Yet I must admit that my tendency is to lean on the law side of my parenting approach.  The encouragement that I have received, and try to pass on to others, is not to neglect the importance of the gospel.  The pure understanding that I am forgiven, a saint, a new creation through the work of Christ is what sets my heart looking for ways to demonstrate my love for God—not because I have to, should, or must, but because I can’t help but look for opportunities to be thankful.  This is our treasure!  Don’t leave it to a chance understanding for your kids.

Live in joy with your children and be intentional in sharing the gospel with them so they too can be motivated by Christ’s love.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son.


Sam and I have given this some real thought. Independent of each other, we both wrote down the same  parenting  advice my father gave us early  in our parenting journey:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and pretty much everything is small stuff.”

Such a seemingly simple saying and yet so full of wisdom!

Mary Clemons and her husband, Sam, have three children and seven grandchildren.


Here’s mine. I got it from a priest named Zechariah (Luke 1).

Take your child in your arms every night and speak into their heart the truth.

Don’t be afraid to tell them what this world is really like. It’s dark and deadly outside, Zechariah said (cf. Luke 1:79). Then show them God’s Son who has come to dispel the darkness. His love arises for us like the sun each day, bright and warm. Say something like, “Tomorrow, my child, you will awaken to a bright new day in God’s love.” Let it be the lullaby of their life that wraps them up secure each night no matter what the darkness.

I’m borrowing metaphors and images from Zechariah’s great canticle and imagining the scene there where he sings by the Spirit, saying, “You, my child” (Luke 1:76). Luke marks it in Scripture as a truly Spirit-led parenting moment.

Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter.

What’s the best parenting advice you give?

I have two pieces of advice.

First, I encourage young parents to cultivate a spirit of empathy and service in their children.

Start early by finding a cause that your family is passionate about and volunteer for that cause regularly. Help kids to understand the motivation behind serving others (1 John 4:19) and the joy it brings to all involved. Send a clear message that serving others doesn’t need to come with compensation or reward—we do it out of love for those around us and for the God who created us. In serving, we also come to appreciate all the blessings that God has showered upon us!

Then, I encourage parents to teach children the value of work and how to work, starting at a very young age.

As soon as they are able, give children age-appropriate chores, then add responsibility as they get older. Teach them that all members of a family need to contribute to keep a household running smoothly. Once they are old enough, encourage them to secure a job outside the home to help them learn the value of work and responsibility with finances. After all, one of our main jobs as parents is to raise our children to be productive members of society!

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three 20-something sons.


My favorite advice: “Say yes first.”

My toddler wants ice cream right before dinner? “Yes! That sounds yummy. Let’s eat supper as fast as we can so we can have ice cream!”

My over-stretched middle schooler wants to take on a paper route? “Yes! That sounds great. What are some factors to think through before you sign on? Can you foresee anything you wouldn’t like about it? And you do know I won’t be getting up to help you, right?”

My high schooler is thinking about studying art or music at a pricey college? “Yes! How could we make it work? And what will you do with your art or music degree?”

When we say yes first to our kids, we’re shifting the responsibility to them.

They have to weigh the ramifications. And if they choose unwisely, they have to live with the consequences. That’s what growing up is all about.

And the best benefit? Saying yes means they’ll keep coming to us with all their schemes and dreams. They know we’re not the dream crusher. We’re the cheerleader! We’re excited to watch them decide how they’re going to take a big bite out of life and make a mark on the world.

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her adult daughter and son and his teenage son.

Silence or counsel?

My mother hardly spoke of it. But when she did, even in old age, hurt haunted its telling.

On a Sunday morning, right after worship, Mom took my two brothers and me to visit her parents. I was in second grade. One brother was in kindergarten, and the other was three.

The Adams’ farm was our Disney World. It thrilled us with live acts starring chickens, dogs, pigs, and cows. Its mud and muck, ladders and lattices were playgrounds. Adventures always awaited in the barn, haymow, machine shed, and an assortment of outbuildings.

But not on this day. Mom warned, “Do not leave the house. Do not get your good clothes dirty.”

Of course, my kindergarten-age brother and I chafed under being tortured in my grandparents’ living room by adult conversation. When we realized that Mom was fully engaged with her parents, we tiptoed toward the door and eased into the backyard.

We were escapees for only a few minutes. Transformation to ragamuffin doesn’t require longer. Our shoes were caked with mud. Our pants glowed with grass stains. Our white shirts had smears of something unspeakable. Mom’s voice shattered Adventureland. “James Allan! David Dean! Get in here this instant.”

Punishment should have been swift and painful. But Grandpa stepped between Mom and us. “Fran,” he said, “you should have realized this would happen. If you didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty, you should have had them change.”

An instant later we were on our way home. Grandpa saved us from the hurt of a spanking, but Mom experienced the hurt of feeling disrespected and shamed by her father.

Mom’s story urges me to evaluate how well I show respect for my daughters’ parenting. My daughters are great parents. I admire their wisdom, commitment, and sacrifice. However, from time to time, I do feel I have advice to offer. Then I struggle with choosing counsel over silence. I know my Savior’s advice about “speaking the truth in love” and saying “what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:15,29). Gratitude for his grace prompts me to honor his words, but applying his advice is challenging.

Several questions help with that challenge.

  • Is there a risk of significant harm? (By the way, I’ve never answered that question with yes.)
  • Is this the right time and the right situation for sharing my “wisdom”?
  • How can I give advice in a gentle way that shows love and respect?
  • Have I put the best construction on the situation? Do I understand the backstory?
  • Have I asked, “Is there a way I can help?”
  • Is this a difference in parenting styles or is this a parenting problem?
  • Have I taken my emotional pulse?
  • Have I asked Jesus for advice? Have I talked this over with my wife?

Now it’s your turn. Parents and grandparents, have a conversation.

James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their 10 grandchildren.

Oops! Grandma gave Garrett a sucker.

You’ve decided not to give your children any sugar until age three. Your friends get it, but your parents—not so much: “Is this a millennial thing? You ate sugar when you were little, and you turned out all right.”

You chuckle at the teasing, but you give a gentle reminder when you leave little Garrett with his grands one afternoon: “No sugar, remember?”

Still, Grandma gave Garrett a sucker. Sugar on a stick. The telltale artificial coloring is still on his lips when you get back. Now what?

You could blow up on the spot: “What did you do?”

You could go all passive-aggressive: Say nothing and never ask the grands to babysit again.

Or you could wait a couple days and then have a little talk, having the spouse whose parents did the deed take the lead. (If that spouse is afraid to stand up to Mom and Dad, you might have bigger problems than Garrett’s sugar intake.)

Here’s one way this conversation could go.

Set the scene: “Mom, Dad, can we talk about something a little difficult?” (This preemption gives your parents the chance to be noble, to be big. It also sounds serious—Do you have cancer? Were you fired?—which makes the real topic almost a relief.)

Say what happened: “Garrett ate a sucker at your house.” (A little gentler than “You gave Garrett a sucker.”)

Explain how it made you feel: “That disappointed us so much. This sugar thing is important to us. It’s not the end of the world that he had a sucker. We’re not mad. But we want to go back to our no-sugar policy.”

Make a request: “Can you back us up on this, even if you don’t really agree with it?”

Notice what’s not happening in this conversation:

  • You’re not attacking them: “How could you do this? You just don’t respect us.”
  • You’re not patronizing them: “We realize you don’t know as much about sugar as we do.”
  • You’re not arguing the policy: “We’re right about this. Sugar is bad.”

You don’t need to convert them. It doesn’t matter whether they agree with your no-sugar rule or not. Because the real point is this: You’re the parents. God gave Garrett to you to train up in the way he should go (cf. Proverbs 22). While you’ll always honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and be open to suggestions—my parents gave me tons of excellent parenting advice, and so will yours—you’re allowed to determine your own parenting procedures.

Chances are, at the end of your 30-second speech, they’ll agree to respect your wishes. Then you can quickly smooth the rough edges by offering a face-saver: “On another topic, do you think we have to be worried about Garrett’s rash?” Or maybe even wrap it up with a little comedy: “Glad that’s settled. Let’s all have some cake!”

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it? Please share your thoughts at forwardinchrist.net.

Stand firm, even if it’s not popular

“You sure make parenting hard!”

That’s the statement I heard from another parent as I finished explaining to my young child that we were running to the grocery store. My child didn’t want to stop playing, but we needed to go. My friend insisted that a child should not have to do something he didn’t want to do if it wasn’t fun for him. I calmly replied that a quick run for milk was just one of those things we sometimes do as part of a family. No surprise that as we were walking to the car, my son screamed, “You’re not a fun mommy!” Wow. Pop that aspiration!

This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that my parenting would be undermined. While the circumstances were not terribly important, the principles were. I have seen firsthand that sticking to principles in the early years has payoffs in the later years. It was important for my son to hear and learn some important lessons.

He needed to know that how other people’s families run was not his concern. He did not need to hear his mother pass judgment on someone else’s parenting. Whatever I may have thought privately was not the business or worry of children. As a classroom teacher, it was often evident when children heard gossip from their parents’ lips. What my children needed to know were the rules for our family and our house. Other kids’ parents were quite often more fun and less strict than my husband and I were. Entering a parenting popularity contest ensures somebody is going to win at the cost of somebody else losing.

Dealing with contrary forces outside our home was at times difficult as well. Many times we found no need to address the undermining with our children because our stance was clear and consistent. Our children were smart enough not to waste their breath. Sometimes we did find it necessary to affirm our rules to other adults in light of their questions or actions. We tried to point out what we did without becoming defensive or critical. Again, our concern was with our own family, not theirs. On occasion, it was made clear that the house rules of another family were in direct or dangerous conflict with ours. This passive form of undermining sometimes resulted in limiting exposure to these homes or children. It meant opening our home to social interaction with our children’s friends. This had the unintended reward of getting to know and love our children’s community.

People are more receptive with your parenting choices when you show love, especially to their children. When we were asked why our children got along or why they were respectful, the door was open for a joyful testimony to the goodness of God’s love and forgiveness.

Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Sam. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

“It’s time for camp!”

“It’s time for camp!”

These four words are the highlight of our family’s year every summer. I have had the privilege of serving as a camp leader at Camp Bird in Crivitz, Wis., for many years. Camp Bird is a weeklong Christian youth camp for kids in fifth to eighth grade. This year my son Josh will be in his last year as a camper and my daughter Kayla will be in her third year as a camp counselor. For nearly 30 years my wife and I have been volunteering at Camp Bird. We have seen kids create memories and friendships that last a lifetime.

We are blessed to have a great network of Christian youth camps in our synod. As thousands of families prepare for their children’s camp experiences, this question comes to mind: How can parents help prepare their kids for a youth camp experience so their kids can have a terrific time? Here are a few things I have noticed over the years as I have interacted with families and seen some excellent examples of encouragement:

• Go with a friend—This is perhaps one of the best ways to help kids feel comfortable with a new camp experience. Knowing just one other person can help them not feel alone and make it easier to meet others.
• Know the camp—It’s easy to be afraid of what is unknown or unfamiliar. Review the camp website or printed materials with your child. Look at the pictures and videos. Check out the daily schedule. Review information on the staff. Find out what to pack, etc.
• Talk to others—Talk to parents and kids who have been at the summer camp in the past to find out what their experience was like and what to expect.
• Meet the staff—Before you leave the camp at drop-off time, introduce yourself and your child to some of the staff. This can not only help you feel more comfortable leaving your child with others, but it can also help the child know exactly who he can go to if he has questions.
• Focus on the experiences your child can have—Talk about all the fun experiences the camp has to offer! Swimming, kayaking, basketball, hiking, ropes courses, campfires, archery, kickball, singing, crafts, and all the other activities.
• “But what about . . .” —Acknowledge the things that may be concerns for your child and reassure him that you will find answers to the “what about” questions. Your child may be worried if he has special dietary needs, medications, or other concerns. It’s helpful to get specific answers so your child knows what to expect.
• Communicate—It is helpful to have boundaries and expectations set regarding communication with your child while at camp. There may be limits on the ability to communicate with phones, but maybe cards, letters, postcards can be used. Find out the recommended communication procedures and let your child know how you will use them.
• Stuff—What’s one of the simplest ways to make sure your child has a great time? Make sure she packs the right things. Get a supply list from the camp and go through it with your child. Packing itself can be a fun experience, but make sure she has the essentials like mosquito spray and sunblock.
• Food—What’s top on the list of the best parts of a camp experience? The food! What’s on the menu at camp? I remember one child who came to camp worried about what he would make himself to eat! Not too many camps I know would ever expect a fifth-grader to make his own meals! He was pretty excited to hear the meals would be all prepared for him. But this was a concern that he never expressed to anyone until arrival.

Parents, these are just a few ways to help your children prepare for their summer camp experiences. Separation from our kids can not only be anxiety-provoking for our kids but also for us as well. Seeing them prepared and excited can help alleviate some of our anxiety. You also might want to ask the camp if there will be Facebook posts or other updates so you can see how things are going at the camp.

Take advantage of the opportunity to see your child enjoy a Christian summer youth camp. Consider using some of the techniques above to help her prepare for her time away as she expands her experiences with new activities and meets new friends. Use this time of preparation to communicate with your child and be understanding, encouraging, and reassuring.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son.

Preparing for summer camp

I love camp! When I was a kid I went to soccer camp and basketball camp and Camp Phillip, a Christian camp in Wautoma, Wis. My love for Camp Phillip grew as I got older. I became part of the junior staff (high school volunteers) and then paid staff. It then moved into my full-time job when I graduated college. As a camp counselor, I saw hundreds of children get dropped off at camp—some for the first time and some who kept returning.

As familiar as I am with camp life, it was a crazy different perspective to be the one dropping off her child. As a mom, I have been dropping off my children at camp for the past ten years. Every year comes with excitement and anxiousness. How do I prepare myself? How do I prepare my child? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Let him help pack. Go through the list so you don’t forget anything. And let him pack it so he knows where everything is.
  2. Make writing to you easy. Pack paper and self-addressed stamped envelopes. That way it is easy for her to write to you if she would like to. Also know that she might be having way too much fun to write, so give her permission not to write. After all, we want our children to focus on where they are and enjoy that!
  3. Write a letter to him. I’ll be honest, I always think about this one too late. But maybe this can help you. Write him a letter and send it a day or two before camp starts. That way he gets a letter right away (see point #5 when writing).
  4. DON’T LINGER! When you drop her off, introduce yourself and your child to the counselor. Help her get situated (make her bed, etc.), give her a hug, and go.
  5. Leave your child with confidence. As a counselor I could pick out the kids who would probably be homesick.

Why? Because their parents gave them permission to be homesick by saying things like, “If you get sad, you can call me” or “I am going to miss you soooo much!” or “I can’t wait until I see you on Saturday!” Instead say, “You are going to have such a good time” or “I can’t wait to hear all about the fun you’re going to have this week.” Put the focus on why they are there instead of “missing” them, even though you are going to miss them. Cry after you are gone.

I truly believe in the camping ministry. It allows children to be who they are. It gives them the opportunity to see young adults model loving Jesus and loving others, including your child. It also gives your child a small piece of independence. After all, our goal as parents is to teach our children how to fly.

Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, currently have six children in their clan ranging in age from 10 to 18 as well as their crazy dog.

Helping your child navigate the dating scene

I remember when my oldest son went on his first date as a high school freshman. It was hardly the stuff of romantic legend. Since neither he nor his girlfriend could yet drive, their “date” consisted of sitting in a corner booth at Culver’s while I parked myself in a booth nearby and tried to be inconspicuous. I think the date may have ended with an awkward handshake. If only dating could remain this innocent! But as our teens get older and their relationships become more serious, what’s a parent’s role as a child dates? How much—or how little—do we get involved?

From the outset, be very clear about dating parameters. Ask where, when, and what questions. Give firm expectations about rules and curfews, and enforce consequences when rules are broken.

Meet your child’s date, and connect with his or her parents, if possible. Even if you can’t meet in person, connect via phone call or text and communicate often. It’s very important for both sets of parents to be a “team” when it comes to dating expectations and guidelines.

Have THE TALK with your child—again. Sorry, I know it will be cringe-worthy and awkward, but your child needs to learn about sex from you, not the Internet or peers. Look at what God says about purity in relationships (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), and read together Galatians 2:20 to remind your teen that Christ lives in him. Discuss the very real consequences of a sexual relationship outside of marriage—everything from STDs to pregnancy to emotional and spiritual impacts.

Be your child’s “brain.” It’s a scientific fact that the brain isn’t fully wired until about age 25. So . . . the developing teen brain + raging hormones = the opportunity for some very poor choices. Parents can help be their child’s surrogate brain during the teen years. Although teens have to learn to make their own choices and understand the consequences of their actions, we can help guide them through the dating minefield.

Model healthy and loving male/female relationships in your home. Dads, cherish your wife in front of your daughters. Moms, hold your sons accountable by teaching them to respect you and respect women. Also talk about what is and is not acceptable in a dating relationship. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse are NEVER OK. If your child is uncomfortable or injured in a relationship, teach him to speak up.

Be realistic about your teen’s dating journey. Are you married to the first person you dated? It happens, but it’s not likely. Keep in mind that dating for our teens is about exploring who they are and what they are looking for in a future spouse. Don’t push too hard or encourage your child’s dating relationship to be more serious than it should, yet don’t be so hands-off that you are unaware of what is happening.

Pray continually. I recently told a friend, “I will pray for you. It’s the least I can do.” She gently corrected me, “No, it’s the most you can do.” She’s right. We forget how powerful and effective prayer is. Bring your child’s dating relationship to God in prayer. Ask him to help your child remain pure, make wise choices, and stay safe. Also pray for a God-fearing spouse for your child someday, if they choose to marry. Finally, pray for patience and understanding and to be able to lovingly keep the lines of communication open with your teen as he navigates the world of dating.

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.

One dad’s guide to surviving the dating years

I’m a parent of 2 boys and 2 girls ages 15 to 22. I have a front row seat to view the corn maze called courting. I admit to thoughts of electronic surveillance, homing devices, and background checks. Making it more complicated is that the way my kids date is as unique as they are. They open up to my wife and me in different ways and to varying degrees.

Along the way, I have learned a few things:

  • First crushes are an innocent way of saying, “I like you and want to spend time with you.” Young teens are practicing their dating legs. They are learning social skills. The early years are building the skills they need for future and more serious relationships.
  • You can never prevent them from getting hurt. Sometimes a parent sees and offers caution such as, “Does the person to whom you’re giving your heart make you a better person or bring you down? Liking someone is one thing, but if he makes you feel worse about yourself, ditch him. I don’t care how good-looking he is.” Yet they still get hurt . . . and your heart breaks when your child’s heart breaks.
  • Take their feelings seriously. I never joke or make light of their feelings. I may view it as puppy love. But when seen through the lens of a teenager, those feelings of the moment are under a magnifying glass. They are huge and all-consuming. Validate that their feelings are real . . . and realize that they may change at any moment.

I’m still learning:

  • To know when to quit talking so I can be a better listener. A good listener will be able to repeat everything back. A deep listener internalizes it, mulls it around, and empathizes with a child. A note of caution—being a listener doesn’t qualify you as their “relationship fixer.” Parents can’t fix relationships. I may want to offer advice on every conversation point. But more important than getting my point across is allowing them to share. Which means your tongue may bleed from biting it.
  • Not to be afraid to ask the hard questions: “Does your boyfriend drink?” “Are you getting in the car with him?” “Will there be parents supervising that party?”

Sometimes, a boyfriend/girlfriend can be controlling, like when you see a child with ONLY this one person and no longer with his friends. But differentiate between a red flag and a child who is just private. There’s a difference between hiding things and not wanting to talk about things.

Finally, I believe that the best way to model dating for your children is to treat your spouse well. It’s like the map that helps them through that corn maze. . . .

Donn Dobberstein and his wife, Beth, have four children ranging in age from 15 to 22.