Parents, Do You Communicate With Your Children? Do They Communicate With You?

One of the most heart-breaking things in the world to see is Christian parents who have little or no relationship with their children in their homes. How can the gospel be communicated if there is no living, vital communication between parent and child? These words by Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, a 19th century Southern Presbyterian pastor in Oxford, MS, and Memphis, TN, are incredibly convicting and encouraging at the same time. If you are the parent of young children, take these words to heart and act on them. Note well the word “cultivate” in the first sentence!! If you are the parent of older children, do not lose heart; it is never too late to start building an open and transparent relationship with your sons and daughters, for the sake of knowing them and being known by them, and bringing the gospel of Jesus to their hearts.

  …But a third difficulty, and one far more subversive of the great end of the family relation, is found in the failure of Christian parents to cultivate perfect freedom of communication, and intimacy of relationship, with their children. Many parents never seem to win the confidence of their children at all. They never come into confidential relations with them. The most intimate thoughts of the child’s mind, the most sacredly cherished emotions of its heart, are never communicated to the parent. Between father, or mother, and child, there is an unnatural barrier of reserve—a wall of mutual separation. The few communications as to its inner life, which the natural yearnings of the child lead it to make, are treated with indifference, or, perhaps, made the occasion of severe rebuke.

          At all events, they do not meet with the proper encouragement, and its timid nature recoils upon itself. Henceforth, these deep experiences are concealed from parental view. As the nature unfolds, and the confiding spirit of early childhood begins to give place to the reserve and coyness of youth, there comes a studied habit of concealment. The parent sees only the outer life of the child. Its inner nature is a hidden mystery. And there are now long constituted and strengthened barriers to intimate and confidential intercourse, which can never be overcome, however much the parent may strive to secure the end.

          And yet, how miserably has that parent failed to secure the true end of the family relationship, whose child respects him, fears him, obeys him, and, it may be, loves him, with a kind of distant, reverential affection; but whose bosom has never become the repository of the joys and sorrows of his child; whose heart never beats in conscious accord with the deep and yearning sympathies of its nature; to whom the most tender and sacred experiences of its young life are all a sealed book! How can such a parent exert over his child the influence which God designed him to exert? How can such a house, (for home it does not deserve to be called,) witness anything else than the growth into manhood and womanhood, of children who are virtually orphans in the world, and who, like waifs of the sea, are liable to be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”—the easy sport of circumstances, the strong anchorage in the family circle being totally wanting?

          How easy it is in early childhood to gain this intimacy and confidence to which I have referred. The little child naturally seeks to confide everything to its parent. Let but the slightest encouragement be given; let the little one only feel that there is a loving heart ready to sympathize with it ; to rejoice with it; to solve patiently its difficulties; to bear forgivingly with its wrongs, and to lead it kindly by the hand through all the perplexities of its path ; and how naturally, how unreservedly does it cast itself upon the bosom that seeks its confidence, and pour out there the very deepest and most sacred thoughts and feelings of its heart.

          And who shall say what advantage such a parent will have in the training of his child! He is like the physician who has had the full diagnosis of the disease he is to treat. He is like the lawyer to whom the client has fully unburdened his case. He knows how to direct the mind and mold the character of his child; and at the same time, as the result of this loving intimacy, he acquires an influence over it—the influence of mind over mind, and of heart over heart,—the blessed results of which it is impossible to estimate.

          But it is especially in reference to the subject of religion—that most important of all subjects,—that this want of intimacy between parents and children is lamentably great. In many households, where there is loving intimacy and mutual confidential communication upon every other subject, the subject of religion is entirely ignored, or if introduced at all, is reserved for stated and formal occasions, in which it assumes the form of catechetical instruction, but it is not admitted to the tender and confidential communings by the hearth-stone.

          Many parents talk intimately with their children upon every subject but this. On this they feel a reluctance to speak—a reluctance which grows more and more daily, until at length it would be easier for the parent to speak to any one else upon the subject of religion than to speak to his own child.  The writer of these lines once had a mother to call at his study, in deep anxiety of mind, saying to him, that she believed her daughter, then about fifteen years of age, to be deeply concerned upon the subject of religion, and wished him to visit her, and converse with herein reference to it. He immediately asked if the mother had conversed with her daughter upon the subject, and was told that she had not. “Then,” said the Pastor, “you had best speak with her first, and find out the true state of her mind, so that I may be able to approach her without embarrassing her too much.” The next morning the mother called again to say that she had found it impossible to hold the conversation with her daughter. It had been so long since she had before attempted to introduce the subject, that though she had now made repeated efforts, it seemed as if her words clung to her lips, and she could not utter them. She again besought the pastor to visit her daughter, but he still declined, urging her to go home, and break down the unnatural wall of separation.

In the evening the struggle was again renewed. The mother, after deep and earnest prayer, sought the chamber of her daughter, where she found her alone; but the same difficulty appeared in the way. She essayed again and again to speak, but in vain; and at length, overcome by the violence of emotion, she pressed her daughter’s hand in hers, and burst into a flood of tears.

How easy it is to trace the source of this embarrassment back through long years, to the early childhood of the daughter, and to neglected opportunities afforded, at that early period, for the cultivation of confidential intimacy upon the subject of religion. There was a time when, without the least hesitation, or embarrassment, this mother could have spoken to her child upon this, or any other subject. But she had permitted the wall of separation to grow up, and now she was realizing the bitter fruit of her neglect.

It must be so in every family, where this wall of partition is suffered to spring up; where the subject of religion is excluded from the conversations by the fireside, and at the table; where the parent, for fear of awakening unpleasant thoughts in the mind of his child, fails to deal faithfully with it in convincing it of its lost and helpless estate, of its imminent peril, and of its need of Christ, the only Deliverer from guilt and sin. When you consider to what extent the minds and hearts of our children are thus left to their own spontaneous workings, surrounded as they are by temptations, and depraved as they are by the taint of sin, is it any wonder that the children of pious parents are not converted to God in childhood?

          Reader, are you conscious of the existence of this wall of separation in your own house? Does your conscience condemn you for not having any intimate acquaintance with the spiritual condition of your children? Do you feel that their religious experiences, if they have them, are all to you a sealed book? Do you feel a strange shrinking from conversation with them upon this all important subject? Go home, like this mother of whom I have spoken, kneel before God and ask of Him the grace that you need. Let not another evening draw to a close until the strange spell is removed, though you can only, in the intensity of your struggle, press silently the hand of your child, and burst into tears. Some of you have those about your knees who are still in tender childhood, whose hearts yearn for intimate communion with you. Take them home to your bosoms, in loving and confidential intercourse. Speak to them freely. Encourage them to keep back nothing from you. Let them see that you are worthy of their confidence; that you appreciate it; that you will cherish it as a sacred thing, and keep it inviolate. Let your bosom be the willing receptacle of all that is joyous, or sad, in their daily experience. Above all, let religion be the subject of frequent and intimate conversation. In your daily walks; by the evening fireside; and in the bed chamber, as the little form is composing itself for sleep, let words of tenderest religious counsel be imparted; inquiries after religious truth be awakened and answered; let your child feel and know all the deep, yearning anxieties of your soul for its early conversion to God. Do this, and the Holy Spirit will bless, as He has so often blessed, words of tender, confidential admonition to the awakening of a new life in the soul of your child; and while the endearments of the domestic circle will be enhanced a thousand fold by the loving confidence which such intercourse will beget, you may be the honored instrument, in the hands of God, of conveying that living Word, by which the soul of your child shall be forever saved.

(Taken from Witherspoon’s book Children of the Covenant, page 198 – https://archive.org/details/childrenofcovena00with)

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Can you provide a reference for this quote? Sounds like this man is worth reading; this is the best parenting advice I’ve read in quite a while!

    Reply

  2. Posted by calebcangelosi on August 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Here is the link to the book it was taken from – Thomas Dwight Witherspoon’s Children of the Covenant, page 198 – https://archive.org/details/childrenofcovena00with.

    Reply

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