Growing up, it was part of my family’s culture to ask, “How can I improve?” to one another. My parents encouraged open communication and honesty. To this day, family get-togethers include a time of accountability and sharing, where we can talk about our marriages, our parenting, our struggles and triumphs. As a result, my parents, my siblings and I, as well as our spouses and kids remain close to one another. We are each other’s confidants and friends. It may not always be easy to swallow each other’s correction and suggestions on how to improve, but we know that words are exchanged and offered in love and with the best intentions.
I am so glad that Edric has embraced this same culture in our home. In fact, he is a good example to me of humility (something I continually need to improve on). When he messes up and makes mistakes as a husband or father, he will ask for forgiveness and repair whatever relational damage was inflicted by his wrongs.
Lately, his schedule has been packed with meetings and activities. The busy-ness and stress have made him more susceptible to impatience. He has changed so much in this area that these moments of losing his cool have become infrequent. However, a few days ago, during a conversation with Elijah, our oldest son, Edric cut him off and didn’t let him explain himself. They were having a discussion over semantics. Elijah tried to make his point and give his rebuttal, but Edric told him to stop talking. This silenced Elijah who quietly conceded to Edric’s point in the discussion.
Some days after I invited Elijah to an afternoon run. As we jogged over and around the hilly roads of our community, I thought to ask him, “How can I improve?”
Elijah welcomes these invitations to speak about what’s on his heart. Since he is fourteen, he’s also very vocal. He told me I needed to be more consistent about schedules. True, true, true. Our recent travels threw off our routines which Elijah didn’t appreciate. (He likes predictability.)
After apologizing to Elijah, he opened up to me about how he felt his dad (Edric) could improve. I hadn’t asked him this, but he volunteered this information anyway.
“Dad needs to listen to me more. I feel like I can’t always express myself, like he cuts me off.”
I knew this statement was in reference to their recent conversation which left Elijah feeling hurt and impotent. As I quietly listened, I also thought through how I would bring up this issue to Edric later.
When an opportunity presented itself (meaning Edric was in a relaxed mood and not stressed out about work), I pulled him aside and mentioned what Elijah expressed to me about him.
Edric immediately internalized what I shared. He wasn’t defensive. “Okay, I will talk to him.”
As predicted, Edric found a moment during one breakfast to ask for Elijah’s forgiveness in front of our other kids.
He looked Elijah in the eye, saying something like this, “Mom told me that you felt hurt. She said you feel like I cut you off, like the other day.”
Elijah nodded and Edric followed up with, “Will you forgive me?”
Elijah replied, “Of course, dad.”
Breakfast continued pleasantly for everyone as the dialogue shifted to other matters. But I know that Edric’s willingness to change and improve impacted the heart of Elijah and our other kids in a very positive way. They have witnessed this sort of exchange before and it matters to them that the “loop is closed” on an issue affecting one or more of us.
Furthermore, of all the people in our home, it is Edric’s example that imprints upon our kids what values are important to our family, what principles they too will live by. I am not discrediting my own participation in the formation of my kids’ sense of right and wrong. I too have a responsibility to model and teach my kids Christ-likeness. However, I do believe that the humility of a father is like a special key that unlocks the hearts of children. There’s something about a father, the head, the leader, the respected one, stepping down from his honored position to admit fault and weakness that thaws and softens a child’s cold and hardened heart.
Of course, this doesn’t excuse us, as moms, from having to do the same thing!
Like any habit, it takes a while to get used to asking one another how we can improve. It may feel awkward at first. I remember one of the first times Edric and I asked each other how we can improve during a date night and the romantic event turned sour by the end. Defensively, I countered Edric’s statements about how I needed to change with excuses instead of just saying, “I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?”
So the question, “how can I improve?” ought to be followed by a sincere apology when it is answered. Otherwise, it won’t work. The moment will turn into a massive fail.
Let me conclude by giving some reasons why we should ask the question, how can I improve?:
1. If our relationship with our family members is already in the danger zone, then this could be an opportunity to rescue it. Because a move like this would appear so unprecedented and unexpected, it could be the sort of jolt that awakens hope.
2. If we are convinced that we have nothing to improve on, then we hazard nothing by daring to ask the question, right?
3. But, hey, the chance are, our kids are well-aware of our flaws. We can’t fool them! They will definitely have something to say about how we can improve that will be honest and beneficial to our character growth.
4. Our children long to feel treasured by us and anything that we do to threaten this need wounds them deeply. One of the best ways to communicate that we care about this need is to ask how we can be better parents, how we can act and speak in ways that tell them they are special to us. When our kids recognize that we are intentional about pursuing a loving and close relationship with them, they will be inspired to reciprocate.
5. Transparency and openness in the home has to begin with us, as parents. We can’t expect our children to embrace open communication if they don’t see the sincerity in us first. We can’t expect them to humble themselves if we don’t do so.
“But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.” Luke 22:26 NLT
All of us have made mistakes as parents, but the good news is, it’s never too late to initiate a culture that ushers in healthy communication, healing, and restoration. Our children want to forgive us, they want to have better relationships us, but many times we don’t give them the opportunity to do these things. Maybe it’s because we are prideful, oblivious, or busy. Perhaps we are wounded oersons ourselves and haven’t experienced God’s grace to forgive our own parents or other family members who have injured us emotionally. Therefore, we don’t know how to ask the question or how to say sorry.
Here’s a word of encouragement: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13 NLT
It is also time to break the cycle. We cannot alter events of the past but we can be catalysts for positive change in our own families, something that is within our control. And this can begin with a very simple habit, that of asking, “How can I improve?”
Let’s try doing this once a week, working on the areas of change that are pointed out to us, and then let’s see how profoundly it affects the relationships and climates of our families.