Author and speaker Josh McDowell expressed this principle in a single sentence. He said, "Rules without relationship lead to rebellion."1 He is absolutely right. With all the temptations buzzing around our kids, simply saying no a thousand times creates a spirit of defiance. We have to build bridges to them from the ground up. The construction should begin early and include having fun as a family, laughing and joking, playing board games, throwing or kicking a ball, shooting baskets, playing Ping-Pong, running with the dog, talking at bedtime, swimming together, participating in sports, getting kids in great churches with good youth programs, being a sponsor of the school band, and doing a thousand other things that tend to cement the generations together. The tricky part is to establish friendships while maintaining parental authority and respect. It can be done. It must be done. It is the only formula I know to combat the dangers that stalk the land. But it takes time— about which my dad said, "cannot be given if it is all signed and conscripted and laid on the altar of career ambition."
Ryan and I hunted and fished together, which bonded us together like Gorilla Glue. It still holds today. Shirley did girly things with Danae throughout childhood. She and I played volleyball and Ping-Pong and croquet in the backyard. Our home had an open door. Our children's friends were welcome, and some of them almost lived with us. There was always a buzz of activity during the teen years. We fed them pizza and played games and watched clean movies. As the kids got older, we budgeted money to make skiing our centerpiece. That was the most wonderful decision we made. After a full day on the slopes with friends from both generations, we ate a good dinner and then engaged each other in meaningful devotions and Bible studies. These experiences were almost always interesting and lasted up to two hours per night. At dawn the next morning, we were back on the ski lifts and headed to the summit for another great day. This is how we got our kids through the challenges of adolescence. Shirley broke her leg on the slopes at Vail, Colorado, but she suffered gracefully, knowing that raising good kids always requires a few sacrifices.
I know not every family can afford to ski when children are growing up, but building relationships doesn't necessarily require large amounts of money. A lifelong connection often emerges from simple traditions that give meaning and identity to families. Children love daily routines and activities of the simplest kind. They want to hear the same story or the same joke until Mom and Dad are ready to climb the wall. And yet, these interactions are sometimes more appreciated by kids than are expensive toys or special events.
Beloved author and professor, the late Dr. Howard Hendricks, once asked his grown children what they remembered most fondly from their childhood. Was it the vacations they took or the trips to theme parks or the zoo? "No," they answered. It was when Dad got on the floor and wrestled with them.2 That's the way children think. It is especially the way boys think. The most meaningful activities in a family are often those simple interactions that build lasting connections between generations.
By Dr. James Dobson
1. Josh McDowell, "Helping Your Kids to Say No," Focus on the Family, October 16, 1987.
2. Ibid., 217.