Tuesday Tip: The Way to Host Your Children

Previous Post: The Hidden Calling of a Parent

The hidden calling of a parent is hospitality. When we welcome our children as guests, we will quickly discover a dramatic reduction in certain forms of speech: orders, reprimands, tirades, exasperated sighs, criticism. We would never treat a guest in this way.

But how do we treat a guest?

I suppose there are endless possibilities, but when we invite guests into our home, I know we ask a lot of questions. And not just superficial questions like, “Where are you going next?” or “What did you do today?” We acknowledge we have more to learn about the guest, and we hope the time spent will draw us closer to them. So, we ask questions about who this person is, without trying to persuade them to be someone else.

One reader, Deborah, suggested that, as parents, if we can calm our frustrations and let go of our fears about our children, we would make space for curiosity. And with curious questions, we might transform our children into guests. 

For instance, to our video-game-playing children, we might typically say, “You’ve been playing that game too long. Turn it off and go outside.” But to a guest, we would be far more likely to sit down, and to ask, “What are you playing?” We might even ask, “Why do you like this game; what makes you keep coming back to it?” or even “Can I play with you?”

I knew a man who had fought for years with his teenage son about video game playing. It was a wedge in their relationship. So, at the beginning of his son’s senior year of high school, he decided to be a host to his son, and he began playing the games with him, and using the time to ask about his son’s life. By the time his son was a freshman in college, they nightly played Xbox Live together, talking by headset and connecting over the miles.

Curiosity and questions. May you wonder and ask, and may your children discover a shelter from the storm, in the arms of a parent-host.

 

What questions would you ask a guest? Have you had success with asking your children particular questions? Please feel free to share your successes with us in the comments below. We will all benefit from your experience and wisdom.

Tuesday Tip Disclaimer: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

    One of my wife’s favorite questions for our kids is, “What are the three most important things in life to Mom and Dad?” One time, the kids came in third, which was very unsettling, but led to real changes in how we approach life and children. Our kids have something to teach us!

  • Veronica

    Quite a fresh perspective……what questions might I ask my kids if I saw them as guests? I think of how differently I might then speak to my cranky child, or to the one who won’t listen the first time. This is a wonderful idea with great potential. Will certainly be trying it right away.

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Veronica, I hope you find it helpful in practice. Would love to hear the results as they unfold!

  • michelebartlett

    It’s good for grown kids, too. Our son, 29, is a dance-club DJ and has no visible means of support aside from his infrequent gigs and a rapidly diminishing 401K . Logic rules, which precludes, in his mind, our faith. But we try to keep the dialog open when he comes to visit (he actually IS a guest, at this point); asking questions about his music, about his gigs, what he enjoys, etc. And recently he made mashups for us to work out to, putting one on his website for download and sneaking the other onto my iTunes, with dedications — thanks to us for encouraging him and giving him a love for music. Not what I had pictured when we raised him with Psalty the Singing Songbook and GT and the Halo Express, But it is what it is, and I’ll do almost anything, short of give up on my faith, to keep those lines of communication open.

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Yes, Michele, yes. I hope everyone reads this comment.

  • Julia Schmidt

    “So, we ask questions about who this person is, without trying to persuade them to be someone else.”
    Wow. Absolutely! I have recently discovered that when I focus on making the kids be the people I think they should be, I get frustrated, cranky and unpleasant to be around. And I don’t even like being around them that much, because they begin to symbolize my failure to make them comply. Awful, when you step back and look at it that way. But when I dropped the agendas and simply allowed myself to have FUN with them, I found I do enjoy them, do want to be around them and even started planning my schedule so we could be together doing more fun things. The life teaching and discipline they need to hear from me then comes out naturally, kindly and gently; I’m not hitting them over the head with it, and they have their fingers out of their ears. And because our relationship is more positive, I have earned a place to speak from into their lives. Waving the “Mom” title in their face and claiming that right on principle alone has never worked well. BEING Mom, the one who loves them unconditionally and listens when they talk, always works!

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Yes, thank you, Julia!