By Dennis Rainey
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,
and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:7-8
For most of us, it’s found in the lifelong relationships at home in a marriage and family.
Of course we love our adult children, but do we show that love in the way that communicates love to them?
And if you don’t know what communicates love to them, why don’t you ask them? Have you ever asked your adult children:
“What are two or three things that we can do to communicate love to you?”
I did ask this question to our six children and their spouses, and their responses begin this list of ways to communicate love to your adult children:
1. Spend time with them. Not surprisingly, all our kids mentioned this. With our children living in other cities (five in other states), this has been a real challenge. At times we’ve felt like losers because we haven’t visited as often as they’d like.
I once had a very busy executive, as in the Governor of Arkansas, tell me, “Dennis, to say you don’t have time is not a statement of fact, but a statement of values.”
But we also had some hard lessons to learn about how time with our kids is measured in more than hours or days. It also means presence … which means being all there when you’re with them. Repeat after me, “When I go visit, I must seek to be all there!”
For me the basic problem was working too much when we visited our kids. Over the past two decades we’ve had more than a few hard conversations with our kids about their expectations when we came to visit. I admit being frustrated because there were times when I really did have work that had to be done.
But there’s something about having the same conversation with several of your children that finally got through to me, and I finally repented! After a lot of discussion we curtailed 90-95 percent of the work.
It meant leaving my phone in my pocket, not making calls, and not sneaking peeks at emails and texts. And when I do need to work, I usually try to do it either early in the morning or late at night. Sometimes it helps to be honest and just say, “I have a crisis that only I can address. I’m sorry, but I need to spend some time today on this.”
And one more application: Time with your children may mean no time with your friends who may live nearby.
2. Create a “SAFE” relationship. Inscribed in Barbara’s wedding ring is 1 John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” It’s a fundamental of our marriage and a non-negotiable for relationships with our adult children.
Your kids and their spouses may be intimidated by you, by your accomplishments, by your family’s reputation, by your perfect Christmas cards, by your status in the community, by your unrealistic expectations. The bottom line is that they may think they do not match up and will never match up.
Let your kids and their spouses know … repeatedly … that your family isn’t perfect. Share your struggles with them. Let them know how God has redeemed you, your marriage, and your family.
Your family and ours is a MESS. It’s broken, so stop pretending that it’s perfect … and welcome them to your family. Divine love welcomes broken people to the family and to “safe” relationships. Say to them, “You can be REAL here. We will not reject you!”
3. Spend time with their children (your grandkids). Our adult children and their families almost universally endorsed this one. Focusing on their children … playing with them on the floor in the living room, taking them on a walk in the neighborhood, ice cream dates at “Sweet Cow” in Boulder, and reading to their children … will score relational points!
Our kids beam when Barbara curls up on the couch with two grandchildren in her lap reading a great book by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien, Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, etc. Or when I tell a bedtime “Speck People” story to their children. These stories (made up out of thin air, contrasting wise choices with foolish ones) are about incredibly tiny heroes and heroines who are the size of a period.