Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
I’m a minister—a minister who is himself a parent. What makes me, therefore, think that I can give you as young people good advice on communicating with parents? It would seem that a minister is in the wrong camp. He cannot possibly know the difficulties involved in communicating with parents because he is not a young person himself. All he will do is take the part of parents, and as a result young people will hear another lecture on their duty to obey father and mother.
Maybe I am not the best qualified to give all the answers in this regard. But I do know the Word of God, and I can apply it to the point in question. Besides, as a pastor I do listen to the complaints of young people in this regard. (This was a topic at one of our young people’s outings a couple of years ago.) I know what you commonly say: “Parents just do not understand! Every time I try to talk with them they end up yelling at me. I can’t talk to them as I can with my friends because they always seem to be looking down on me and judging me. My parents do not trust me. They are always looking at me like I’m a little kid and cannot make any decisions for myself.” I think that if I were to take an honest look at myself as a parent I would be forced to agree in some of this assessment. Not that I necessarily agree with all of it. You must admit as well as I that there are two sides to the issue.
Maybe that is another reason you should at least hear me out by reading this article. I am a parent and I do see and understand the other side of the issue as well. This does not mean that parents ought not to consider their faults and weaknesses and attempt from their end to improve communication with their children. If they are at all sensitive to the needs of their children they will. That, however, is not the aim of this article. My concern is for the strength of youth! So perhaps, I can offer a perspective on communicating with parents that you have never considered before and maybe, just maybe, this will lead to better communication.
There are several truths the Bible teaches that you must remember when holding a conversation with your parents. The first of these is their God-ordained authority. Does that sound threatening? It ought not. God is a God of order, and He has established a certain chain or order of authority in the home as well as in every area of life. To parents God has commanded: raise your children in the fear of the Lord. Instruct and admonish your children in the ways of God. Parents have no choice but to listen to that command of God. They must obey God in their duty to teach and discipline their children. I know, at this point in your lives you wish to assert your own independence from this authority. You wish to decide for yourselves what is right and wrong with that. But always bear in mind that all of your decisions are subject to the will of your parents. God has placed them over you, and the Word of God in Colossians 3:20 holds true for young people too: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord.”
When a young person addresses his parents out of disrespect, when he argues with them as if they are his peers, or when he challenges their authority, then we can expect the parent to react to this with righteous indignation. The result? Communication breaks down. Whose fault is it?
The second truth that we must remember in our conversation with godly parents is that God has given them wisdom. Solomon, a godly father, writes these words in Proverbs 2, the first few verses: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding…then thou shalt understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” No, parents do not know it all. But, believe it or not, they have experienced many of the same difficulties and problems as you have. They may have taken on different forms, but the difficulties and problems of youth are the same from generation to generation. Having themselves gone through straits similar to yours, your parents have learned something along the way. They have learned where they failed and where they had victories as young persons. Whey they talk to you about your walk and way as a young person, they do that with this knowledge in mind. They do not wish you to commit the same sins they may have. Also, they want you to follow in the right ways that they chose when they were young. They wish you to use God’s Word to keep you in the way of holiness.
“Well, you may ask, “what makes parents think we are not going to be wise in the ways we choose?” It is true, sometimes parents do not give the adolescents in their family the credit that they deserve. Maybe parents are too suspicious or too narrow-minded. When you deserve their trust, they must be willing to give it to you. Is it not true, however, that parents know their children, including you, quite well? What does Solomon write inEcclesiastes 11:10? “Therefore remove sorrow from they heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.” Or again in Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.” I’m sorry! I do not mean this as a personal insult to you! But here is the fact: you as well as your parents are sinners! We all are. We all carry with us the old man of sin. A young person is no exception to the rule.
God has given your parents wisdom to discern that fact. They also realize that adolescents (read the last article written in this rubric) tend to do something before really thinking it over. A young person is a bit impetuous (not always, of course), and will do something and think about its consequences later.
It is true that parents do not always call the shots right every time. Perhaps that is because the many temptations in the world that seek to lure young people into sin, at times frighten your parents. But if you can sit with them and reason with them, they also are wise to see and understand if you are right. Do not forget, however, to approach them in the right way! The wiser you show yourselves in the things you do, the more your parents will give to you the responsibility of making your own decisions.
Up to this point I realize that it may seem as if I as a, pastor and parent am intent on defending the parent. It may seem to you that I am dictating changes in your attitude, but as for the parent, he does not need to change in the least. That is not my intent. Yet, it is true that you too as young people must examine your attitude in approaching parents and attempting to communicate with them. Your attitude also matters if proper communication is to take place.
There is a third truth the Bible teaches us concerning parents that you must bear in mind when attempting to converse with parents: your parents are sinners. Parents, too, have their spiritual ups and downs, their good times and their bad. Parents are not free from bad moods any more than you are. Sometimes parents say “yes, dear” to everything; at other times they may say “no way” to everything. Sometimes parents do not raise their voice at all; at other times they seem to raise their voice with everything they say. It is important to understand that your parents, just as well as you, carry with them an old man of sin. They do not do or say everything right. They do not always treat you the way they should.
What can I say? I am one of those imperfect parents too. I must ask God every night to forgive me of sins that I commit against my own family. I must thank God every night that He uses weak means to fulfill His will. The only reason I bring this up is in order that you as young people might understand your parents and might be sensitive to when and how you approach mother and father with a matter. When you are sensitive to the moods and pressures your parents experience, then you will know when to speak to them and when to back of respectfully. You will also see in Mom and Dad someone who can understand your sins and weaknesses because they have them too. Who better to talk to than those who can empathize with you? Will there be times you butt heads with Mom or Dad? There surely will! Will there be times when Dad or Mom may be wrong? There surely will! Then we should give heed to the Heidelberg Catechism in its explanation of the fifth commandment: Honor father and mother. “That I . . . also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.” If you can grasp that, then you will understand your parents better and will talk with them as well.
Now, I realize that there can be more involved than simply the “normal” sins of a father and mother. There are sometimes extraordinary sins, even unrepentant sins of which parents are guilty that only serve to alienate us from them. Some parents are guilty of neglect and abuse of their children. Other parents are guilty of drunkenness or even unfaithfulness in the marriage.
There are parents like that in the church? O yes there are! They are good at hiding it from everyone else. That is why they are members of the church. It is a fact, however, that there are children in the church who must deal with that kind of parent. How can you communicate with parents of this nature? You cannot. More drastic measures must be taken in these instances: the church must becomes involved. Troubled young men and women, tell your pastor or an elder if this is true of one or both of your parents. And, by all means, if you need an adult to talk to (and what young person doesn’t) find one in your congregation. Please, do not forget, your pastor is one such person to whom you can speak! Maybe we can address this in another article.
One last truth which Scripture teaches us about godly parents is that they love their children. If there is one thing that motivates godly parents in all their decisions with respect to their children and youth it is a deep and unbreakable love for them. There is nothing closer than a parent-child relationship. Our children are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh! What is more, God has promised us that He would establish His covenant of friendship not only with us, but with you, our children. Sometimes anger and frustration may alienate parents from children. Never does it sever the bond of love a parent has for his child.
The love of a parent for his child overcomes the biggest obstacles that might seem to stand between us and our parents. We at times convince ourselves, when we have done something foolish and sinful, that we must hide these things from parents. Especially is this true when we have committed such heinous sins as drunkenness or fornication. I know that the reason we hide these sins from parents is that they have warned us repeatedly of the seriousness of such sins. We know they are going to be angry; no, more, enraged! They have a right to be. We have done evil in the sight of God. To hide such sins from a parent only makes the problem worse. Yes, our parents will be enraged. Can we really blame them? Yes, they will probably at first react out of total frustration. They may even wish to punish us on top of the shame we experience due to our sin. But those same parents will in love lead us to the cross of Jesus Christ in sorrow and repentance. They will help us with sound advice. They will tell us what to do to relieve us of the burden of our sin. And they will do this because they love us.
We wish to talk about best friends. Godly parents are our best friends, young people. We must learn to trust them as such. Then in good times and in bad we can sit with them and enjoy a good conversation. We will learn to communicate to them our needs and discuss with them issues of concern and importance. “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed (happy) that feareth the Lord” (Ps. 128:3, 4). Happiness is sons and daughters sitting around the table, not necessarily to eat, but communicating with one another, sharing in the richest fellowship and friendship. How often do we sit with our parents around the table and talk?