Today’s Table Talk is by Mary DeMuth. Mary is not only a prolific author, but an endlessly encourager to those with whom she crosses paths. Thanks, Mary for encouraging us today! … check out a few of Mary’s books on The Pantry or her web site when you have a chance, they’re terrific: marydemuth.com.
Thanks for walking the road with me.
Recently a mother of a baby and a toddler tweeted me: “I’ve heard younger children = physical exhaustion. Teen years = emotional exhaustion. Is that true?”
I tweeted back my happy disagreement. “Yes, but if you raise them well, it’s different. I adore my teens so much. They’re actually life giving.” How could I tweet such things? Like any mother I feel insecure about my parenting. But I have found a way that has helped me engage with my kids as they moved from their elementary years to adolescence. It’s called conversational parenting.
What is conversational parenting? It’s a way of discipling your children that invites discussion, opens the door to two-way conversations, and helps launch them into adulthood. What does conversational parenting look like?
In keeping with the idea of discipleship, we simply need to observe Jesus as he interacted with his disciples. He embodied a conversational approach when he walked along the road with His disciples, asked questions, listened, and told compelling stories. The common Greek word used for this type of hanging out is peripateo. We see this type of coming alongside encouraged in the Old Testamant as well: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
Peripateo has two meanings, however. The other way it’s used is the manner in which we choose to conduct our lives. Paul used this word often: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Philippians 3:17, emphasis on peripateo: live). Conversational parenting encompasses both nuances of the word. We walk with our children, talking about life along the way, and we show them how to love Jesus by the way we walk.[i]
We must become the kind of people we want our children to emulate. Our insides must match what we say on the outside. That’s the hallmark of authenticity, a high value in the world our kids live. Our willingness to be open, broken, real will spill over into our kids’ lives, encouraging them to open their hearts to us.
My husband Patrick is an intentional father. He loves his kids. But sometimes he loses his temper. On one such occasion, he told our eldest daughter, “Hey, I blew it. I lost my temper. Will you please forgive me?” The next day she blew up in anger, then slammed her door. We decided to wait and see what would happen. A while later, she came to our room, her voice low. “I’m sorry. I lost my temper. Will you forgive me?” Her father’s very real words became her words because she saw genuine authenticity and repentance modeled. This opened up a conversation about anger and appropriate ways to vent that anger.
Some worry that showing our weakness to our kids undermines our authority. On the contrary, it invites them into our hearts. It proves to them an important truth: those who truly follow Christ aren’t perfect. They don’t create elaborate facades to look more Christianly. They fall down, then reach for Jesus’ hand. Our vulnerability reveals our need for Jesus.
The simple, elemental act of eating together as a family is one of the most important things you can do—not only to foster lasting relationships, but also to prevent bad choices later. A 2010 survey reveals the family table’s importance. “The magic that happens at family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the conversations around it. . . The more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs.”[ii]
Around the table our family plays high-low where we share a high and a low from our days. This gives us a snapshot into their lives and often sparks great conversations and laughter. To deepen our time, I typed up questions that I printed, cut into strips, then placed in a box on our table. Each child took a turn on subsequent days to draw a question. This simple exercise, guinea-pigged by our family, became a book you can use around your table.[iii]
I love what author Marjorie Thompson writes about the family table. “The Jewish faith has been characterized as a ‘table spirituality’ in which the central feasts and holy days are celebrated around the altar of the family table.”[iv] May it be that we emulate this “table spirituality” where we actively celebrate milestones, victories, defeats, and the usual bumps and bruises of daily life. May our tables become an altar where we worship God and love each other.
We must take seriously the needs of our kids to have genuine conversation with us—time to walk alongside us, to speak with authenticity, to do life together around the table. As our family has experienced, the teen years have become life giving, not life draining—all built on the foundation of many conversations.
10 Discussion Starters to Get Your Family Chatting (from 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking)
1. What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
2. Describe the ideal spouse. (Parents: How would you have answered this question before you met your spouse?)
3. Describe a time when you were jealous of a friend. What happened? Why were you jealous?
4. What was the best thing that happened to you when you were five? (Change the age if another one works better.) The worst?
5. What toy did you want that you never received? Do you still want it now?
6. If you could be amazing at any sport, what would it be and why?
7. If you could write a letter to anyone in the world and were guaranteed he or she would write back, who would you write? What would you write?
8. How would your best friend describe you?
9. If you were to design housing for the homeless in your city or town, what would you include? A restaurant? A gym?
10. Who is the funniest person you know? Why is he or she funny?
[i] This is further discussed in the book You Can Raise Courageous and Confident Kids (Harvest House, 2011).
[ii] Califano, Jr., Joseph A., “Accompanying Statement: The Importance of Family Dinners VI.” (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, September 2010), p. i-ii.
[iii] 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking, Harvest House 2011.
[iv] Thompson, Marjorie, Family the Forming Center (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1996), p. 25.