Loving the Differences in Our Children

Apr 24, 2013

When Chris and I first became parents just over twenty-four years ago, we didn’t know a thing about raising children for the Lord. So we embarked on a literary journey to see what the experts had to say about biblical parenting. We also talked to other Christian families whose children seemed to be content, polite and obedient, in order to glean from their wisdom and experience.

We found a wealth of good information and worthwhile advice and thanked God for His help as we tried to implement much of what we had read, seen and heard. Our children have always been creative, energetic and opinionated, but they have also been reasonably content to go with our flow. I enjoyed the days when our kids were younger, and they let me decorate their bedrooms, choose their clothing and pick the music we listened to.

As our children have gotten older, however, their opinions have changed. They have developed their own unique preferences in styles of music, dress, décor, interests, etc. Thinking back to our experience seven to eight years ago, it took me awhile to accept that my daughters didn’t want to wear jumpers anymore, and that some of my kids weren’t as interested in listening to classical music as I am.

Woven Together by the Master Weaver

I’ve been reading through the Psalms again and recently reflected on this passage from Psalm 139:13-16 (NASB):

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works and my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

As I thought about how those verses applied to my children, I realized that God was starting to prepare mine to go out into the world to serve Him. At home is the place where God is giving them an opportunity to stretch their wings and fly without fear of falling. How was I going to respond to their expressed differences? If they do not think like I do or have the same passions and drives, if their strengths and motivations don’t look like mine, will I not only accept, but also love the way God has made them?

The words of this poetic Psalm describe the intimate way in which God our Creator has fashioned each of us. The phrases formed my inward parts and wove me beautifully illustrate the unique complexity of each individual, forming pictures in our minds of a weaver creating his own distinctive pattern of color and design. And God is just that—the Master Weaver. In His perfect love and infinite wisdom, He made us to reflect His image.

He also equipped us with unique gifts, strengths, motivations and ways of expressing His image. In Different Children, Different Needs (Multnomah Publishers, 2004), Dr. Charles Boyd talks about his research into the meaning of the word “frame” used in this same passage. It refers to “strength” and translates into the concept of “potentialities” or “capabilities.”

Because God designed each of us a certain way, we will feel fulfilled when we act according to our design, and consequently frustrated when we don’t. This holds true not only for us but also for our children.

The Bond Is Tested

Have you ever become exasperated at how slowly your children did their schoolwork? Perhaps you have come to loggerheads with a son who seems to endlessly need to be with other children, when one of the reasons you are homeschooling him is to protect him from negative peer pressure.

I have had my own feelings of frustration over the years with some of our children in these areas. There have even been some moments of anxiety, as I wondered where all this creative expression was heading. I have prayed so often that each of my children would love the Lord Jesus Christ with a single-focused, undiluted passion. I believe this kind of prayer honors God. It is when we expect or desire, however, for all of our children to exemplify the same personalities and strengths that we reflect ourselves that we get into trouble.

When we have those expectations, the first thing that suffers is our relationship with our children. Tensions increase, communication breaks down, and the deep bond we long to have with them is put under visible strain. Are your children frustrated in their efforts to please you? Do they feel like they always fail? Or do they know how much you love them for who God made them?

Do we love our children more when they like us or when they do things for us? I have had to confess that while I love my children just because they are mine, there have been times I communicate my love more clearly when they please me or when they do things like I would do them. I had been deriving a certain amount of personal security from my children liking, doing and thinking in a way that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.

The second thing that suffers when we try to peg our square child into our round hole is our relationship with the Lord. God has an incredible love for each of our children. He is their Creator, their Master Weaver and desires to use them for His glory. We can interfere with His good work in their lives when we struggle to love the way God has made them. I wonder how many times the real conflict with my children has been over my wanting to have control, instead of yielding to God’s control, and out of a lack of faith, have not embraced their God-created uniqueness. I have had to ask forgiveness many times for wanting my comfort and ease or for needlessly fearing for my children when God has merely made them different than me.

Strengthening the Bond

When I read Dr. Boyd’s book, I knew this was God’s way of helping me learn more about myself and my children, so that I might better express my love for them. Some of the conflicts I have had with my children have been over differences, but those differences are partly rooted in how God has shaped them for Himself. Once I was able to understand that I am different than some of my children, it has been easier to accept who they are and how they uniquely express themselves.

For example, one of my daughters has a slow-paced behavioral style. My conflicts with her have primarily revolved around her slower pace because it is the opposite of my own. Another daughter is incredibly people-oriented, and because I am perfectly happy to be alone (and actually need time alone to recharge—try that with seven children!), I found myself wanting to say “no” to every opportunity she wanted to be with friends. Knowing both my own behavioral style and my daughters’ hasn’t eliminated our communication problems. We still sin in our attitudes, words and actions. It has helped us, however, communicate better—to mutually try to understand each other and accept our differences in a way that draws us closer together. My love and appreciation for these precious daughters has only deepened over the years by God’s grace!

Cultivating the Uniqueness of Each Child

What are some things we can do as parents to encourage our children’s individuality and foster a deeper bond with them? First, we can focus on becoming students of our children, rather than students of parenting techniques. My children love it when I spend time alone with them and let them talk or share something they love with me. Showing genuine interest in their interests (no matter how different theirs are from yours) will help knit their heart to yours.

When my son Jesse was thirteen, he was really into baseball. He would memorize baseball statistics more easily than he ever memorized the multiplication table! Even though I thought that baseball cards, games and stat books were a waste of time, I could share in Jesse’s enthusiasm just by listening to him talk about his favorite players. For his birthday that year, I even bought him only baseball-related items because that is what he really wanted. How I loved seeing the smile on his face as I shared in celebrating who God made him!

Spending time alone with your children also helps you know how to pray specifically for and encourage them in their unique gifts and skills. James 1:5 invites us to ask for the wisdom we lack. God’s promise and Spirit are there to remind and guide us as we help our children through situations that perplex them or us.

Next, realize that God may use sins or unpleasant character qualities in your children similar to your own sins to fashion you more fully into the image of Christ. Turning away from your child when he acts in an irritating way could be turning away from the Lord’s loving discipline in your life. Resist the temptation to bear even a little grudge toward this child whose sin mirrors your own. This will only hinder your love and fellowship. God desires to complete the good work He began in you (Phil. 1:6), and He can use your children’s weaknesses for your sanctification and His glory.

Finally, if you are struggling with loving the differences in your children, pray to the Master Weaver! Don’t give up, but keep praying, asking God to help you love them for who He made them. I am in awe of the way God in His kindness and grace has answered my prayers in this area. I continue to grow to love each of my children for the ways they are different from me. It is wonderful to see how one child is moved to compassion for other people in distress and blogs for the end of human trafficking, or how another child feels God’s pleasure when they play drums to contemporary worship music. What treasures each of our children are and beautiful pictures of the bountiful diversity and creativity of God.

Recommended Resources

  • Different Children, Different Needs, Dr. Charles Boyd (Multnomah Publishers, 2004)
  • Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Paul David Tripp (P&R Publishing, 1997)
  • Teach Them Diligently, Lou Priolo (Timeless Texts, 2000)
  • The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian (Harvest House Publishers, 1995)
  • The Way They Learn, Cynthia Tobias (Focus on the Family Publishing, 1994)

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