I took the kids camping all by myself this summer. Actually, a friend was there with her kids, and we were at a campsite in a town, but still… Anytime I tackle something like that without Brian, I’m going to consider it a major accomplishment!
Anyway, the first night was a little rough. One of the boys was taking a long time to settle down, and I was starting to panic. I still had a bit of unpacking to do and I was already dreading the early wake-up I knew I’d have to face the next morning. In an effort to practice trust-based parenting, I kept asking my son, “What do you need?” Every time I asked, he would reply, “Exercise!” and start bouncing around. At this point, my trust-based parenting skills fell apart, because I would then say, “No, you don’t. You need sleep. Now settle down and close your eyes.” We must have had this exchange half a dozen times, and both of us were getting frustrated. Meanwhile, I was also texting Brian, hoping he would have some wisdom and perspective for me. When I mentioned that our son was claiming to need exercise, he texted back with, “So why don’t you let him go outside for 5 minutes?” Exasperated, but willing to try anything, I asked if he wanted to help me unload the cooler contents into the fridge. He jumped at the chance (literally) and within 10 minutes the work was done. Within another 10 minutes, he was asleep. Why did I argue with him for so long?
We teach the importance of meeting our kids’ needs as part of the ETC parent training. We discuss how crucial it is to faithfully meet their needs if we want to build trust, and we encourage parents to give joyful yeses whenever they can. We highlight the fact that “What do you need?” is a much more helpful and productive question than “What do you want?” or “What’s wrong with you?”
I wonder, though, if we neglect to cultivate an attitude of true curiosity within ourselves.
When I’m asking my children to tell me what they need, I’m usually pretty sure I already know the answer. At best, I’ve got a short list of acceptable answers in mind. When their response doesn’t match my preconceived ideas, I feel suspicious of them. I wonder if they’re taking the whole thing seriously, and I may even argue with them. Sometimes, I find myself dismissing their needs because they are actually just wants, and I want to get down to the true underlying need. But what if my child doesn’t even know what he really needs in that moment? What if meeting their expressed needs gives them the freedom and ability to trust me with their actual needs?
I believe that if we want to build trust and effectively meet our kids’ needs, we have to honour what they’re telling us. If we approach the conversation with a dismissive “I know better than you” attitude, they’re not going to believe that their voice matters and they’re not going to trust us to meet their needs. Meeting their needs teaches them that they have a voice and that they can trust us.
Jesus models this so well for us! In Luke 18, we read of an encounter he has with a blind man. The man is shouting as Jesus and his entourage go by, trying to get the Lord’s attention. People around Jesus are trying to quiet the man, but Jesus insists on speaking with him. When the man is brought to him, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41 NLT) I love how Jesus takes the time to give this blind beggar a voice, approaching his need with gentleness and curiosity. There’s not a hint of arrogance or presumption. How beautiful. Of course, when the man responds with “I want to see!” he is healed. Jesus could have healed him without that bit of dialogue, but I believe this is an important glimpse into God’s heart – he wants us to know we can trust him with our needs and desires. He invites us into relationship by encouraging us to speak our needs: he gives us voice. And when we do trust him and bring our needs to him, there is no ridicule; we are not dismissed. Instead, we are heard. We are seen. And we learn to trust.
This is the attitude I want to bring to my conversations with my children – a genuine curiosity to hear what they have to say, and a willing heart ready to meet their needs.