As parents, we all want to express love to our kids in various ways. We try to figure out what really communicates love to them, and then we try to show that love to our kids in specific ways that they seem to respond to.
Still, as much as we tell our kids that we love them, spend plenty of time with them, and try to bless them with our words and actions, as Christians we also must address sin and dole out consequences for bad choices. It can be sort of harrowing to try to teach our children that sin hurts them and others, that it displeases God and is disobedience. After all, calling it sin sounds so much worse than calling it “acting up,” yet it’s imperative to their spiritual formation that we help identify the problem of sin and that we all need Jesus. It’s important that we think through the best ways to approach this topic with our kids so that we don’t create an environment that suggests that they are only acceptable to us when they are behaving perfectly. So, how do we teach our kids about sin without making them feel like our love is conditional? How do we keep from sending the message that good behavior produces parental love?
First, we need to try our hardest to be humble. As parents sometimes we get into high and mighty mode, lecturing our kids as if we have never had the exact sin problem we see in them. Chad is so good at showing humility when he talks with the kids. I always learn something when I watch him deal with them. He approaches them tenderly and with understanding, pointing out their errors in love and admitting that he has struggled with the same things. He doesn’t panic or freak out. He just talks to them, calmly and always with a spiritual lesson in mind.
Secondly, we need to remind them that this faith isn’t about acting the right way. It’s about having a heart and mind that’s tuned in to the things of God, even if we still mess up sometimes. We don’t ever want to give our kids the impression that salvation is dependent upon what they are or aren’t doing. Instead, we want to emphasize that God’s love is constant, no matter what we do, but if our hearts are turned toward Him, then we will want to follow Him well and we will be grieved when we aren’t.
Finally, we need to spell out our unconditional love. I often do a little question and answer session with my kids. When I would normally just say, “I love you,” instead I ask, “Who loves you?” They answer, “You do.” Then I ask, “Can you ever do anything that will make me NOT love you?” They reply, “No.” This seems like a small thing, and maybe a little hokey. But, I want to constantly be planting the truth in their minds that I am never, ever going to quit loving them over sin. That my love is completely without condition. That they never have to be afraid to come to me to confess a sin issue or ask for help. Maybe someday when they are in a bad situation and they are afraid to come to me, those words from their childhood will ring in their hearts: nothing will ever make me stop loving you.
And, because their parents are their first glimpse of what the love of the Father is like, I pray they are also getting the message that His love, too, endures.
I thank God that He gifts parents with a miraculous love for their children. I pray that we will be able to show our kids how deep and strong that love is and, even more miraculous, how much more complete and perfect God’s love for them is. He is so faithful and good.
I would love to hear from you, parents. What are your best tips for expressing unconditional love to children?