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The Ongoing Conversation


I remember when my husband had The Talk with our firstborn (Yeah, that one). It was awkward, not fun, and… awkward. As soon as he said the words, “When a mommy and daddy love each other very much…” I wanted to go hide under the covers and pretend that my gangly preteen son was still a chubby, clueless toddler. When he finished, I thought, Phew. Well, I’m glad that’s over! One child down, three to go!

I laugh with you now at my naiveté. I truly thought you had The Talk, and that was it. Our offspring would express understanding, gravely thank us for sharing such deep truths with them from our profound store of wisdom, and there would be no need for more awkward questions or conversations. Little did I realize that it was only the beginning.

More Than "The Talk"

Over my many years of parenting, I’ve learned that the ongoing conversation we have with our children is more important than any one-time “talk.” And not just in the area of learning about the birds and the bees.

This is how we treat others…here is why we are kind and patient with elderly people. This is why you walk slowly with a little one. Here is why you should speak kindly to your brother…be helpful to a sick sibling…reach out to strangers…care for the homeless, needy, and lonely. This is why you should wait for marriage for sex, why God cares so much for us that he gave us these guidelines…and on and on.

It’s the laying down of principles and thoughts ever so slowly, building with time, adding deeper truths as their age allows them to handle more.

Deuteronomy 11:19 has been overused by the homeschooling community to prove its point about the need to be present with our children, but it is still a wonderful guideline for parenting. How better to discuss the great mysteries of life than as you “walk by the way, rise up, lie down,” live?

I recall when my daughter, sixteen at the time, had her nose out of joint about riding with a carpool to her volleyball practice. Knee deep in unpacked boxes from our recent move, I could not figure out why she couldn’t be agreeable about riding with a teammate and her mother.

“Because they just turn the music up loud and sit there, and they don’t…talk.”

As good as this made my mommy heart feel, I realized it wasn’t just me talking that she appreciated. Apparently, it’s also me listening that is a crucial factor. It’s difficult to have a conversation if one (me) is always talking, directing—dare I say it? Lecturing.

I must listen. Take the time to understand and respond to the nuances of each child’s heart. Only then will they care what I have to say. This quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt rings through my mind: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Is that more true anywhere than in the parent-child relationship?

So the conversation continues.

Little questions and truths we touched on briefly that were perfectly age-appropriate when the children were ten years old (God’s perfect plan is for us to wait for sex until marriage) become bigger questions as they become mature teens: Why wait? Should I marry young? Why or why not? My friend’s mother put her on the pill. All of my teammates talk about sex constantly—how do I respond? My friend was molested—what should I do? What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

I guarantee that if you parent long enough, at least one of your children will come up with a question that will bowl you over. And the most important part? You do not have all the answers. Try to pretend like you do and they will call your bluff.

So how to approach these conversations about sex and life as our kids grow older?

Be honest.

Pray about sharing with your children if you’ve had a difficult past. They don’t need every sordid detail, but to hear that you are a flawed human who has received the grace of God will be huge in their own lives. Pretending to be perfect doesn’t help anyone. Forgiven? Yes. Perfect? No. You are a fellow sinner saved by grace, and you don’t need to have it all figured out to point them to Jesus. In fact, your own humility and need of a Savior may be the best example your children will ever see.

Be willing to hear.

Please don’t shut your kids down when they approach a topic that makes you uncomfortable. You are their safe place! I’ve often told my kids to bring their tough questions about sex (and other things!) to their Dad and me—not their fellow thirteen-year-old friends (I’ve known children who were so innocent about life that they truly thought you could become pregnant through kissing. Yikes! On the flip side are the very experienced who would also not be great advisors to our children.). Helping them engage the culture while maintaining their innocence is a tough balancing act and not for the faint of heart, but it can be done.

Pray. A lot.

I don’t say that lightly. Letting our children go is a surprisingly excruciating part of parenting, and I’ve not always done it well. It’s so much easier to think that having a rule for every possible scenario will protect them. But at some point, they have to live out what they believe. Pray for them, for those they encounter, for their future mates, and for yourself.

Don’t make such a big deal out of everything.

Some of your best conversations will come as you are driving along in the car, sitting side-by-side working, or other casual moments. You do not need to call a meeting to talk about serious matters. Some of my best conversations and memories with my children have come at the most unexpected times. On that note…

Plan to have regular alone time with each child on a regular basis.

If a child never gets you to themselves, they’re not going to share their deepest thoughts. Even if it’s something as simple as coming along with you grocery shopping, be intentional about carving out some alone time with each of your children. This business of helping them learn to be “in the world but not of it” takes thoughtfulness and purpose.

Remember it’s not a one-time deal. You will probably repeat yourself many times. But you’re a parent. You’re used to that, right?

Hang in there, Mom and Dad. And let the conversation continue.

Jen McDonald is an experienced editor and writer who’s been featured in several books and numerous national publications, including Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Military Spouse Magazine. She’s the author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse, a book for military spouses born from nearly three decades of experience. She’s currently the Content Editor for MilitaryByOwner Advertising.

Jen and her amazing Air Force husband have lived all over the world and are the parents of four grown children who were all homeschooled, including one who is serving in the military. They’re also brand new grandparents! Find her at her site Jen McDonald: You Are Not Alone, on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram as @jenmcdonald88.

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