A strange thing happened to me after I left home and went to college—I started getting along better with my parents.
Not to say that I had a horrible relationship with them to begin with, but over the course of my college years, I definitely noticed a change in both the quality and the content of our interactions.
Even funnier still, I found that the freedom I had once fought so hard for in high school was no longer the hard-earned result of parent-child warfare. Rather, by the time I graduated from college, my wish to be treated as a mature adult gradually and naturally came true as I learned to behave like one.
What brought about these differences in the way I treated my parents and the way my parents treated me? A number of reasons can be identified, but most noticeable among them is the fact that, as my relationship with God improved, so too did my relationship with my parents, especially with my mother.
SOMEWHERE FAR FROM HOME
During my adolescence, I used to assume that beneath my parents' setting of rules and limits and behind their demands to know my every whereabout was their actual intention to demonstrate control.
Never one who liked being told what to do, and never one to give up without a fight, you might guess that arguing with my parents was not an uncommon occurrence throughout my adolescent years.
Regardless of whether or to what extent they were trying to make clear their authority over me, I was known for firing back full force with a “you can’t tell me what to do" attitude.
Thank God that halfway into my junior year of high school I received the Holy Spirit during a student spiritual convocation. But by that time, I still had not developed a consistent or lengthy prayer habit.
Yet with God’s Spirit living in me, I was able to receive the strength to gradually tone down my behavior, which, truth be told, had long ago crossed over the border of proper Christian living into rebellion and sin.
As my senior year of high school and the prospect of college neared, I formed several ideas of what I was looking for in a university: somewhere near a True Jesus Church, somewhere near a city, and somewhere far from home.
While I was definitely drawn toward the thought of a fast-paced, crowded city life, I recognized that I was also pushed toward that direction by what I saw as my oppressive home environment.
After I had been accepted into a couple of schools and debated over which one to attend, thankfully, God helped me to realize that choosing the school closest to my home would be best for me because it would allow me to attend the youth Bible study nearby.
While that university also met my requirement of being located near a large city, my dream of moving far from home turned into the reality of a fifty-minute commute from my parents' home.
PROVIDING FOR ONE ANOTHER
While away at school, my parents would call me every few days to see how I was doing. Since they usually worried if we hadn’t spoken for over a week, I was obligated to call and check in with them as well.
Because my dad isn’t much of a phone person, my mom and I usually did most of the talking. While my father and I were by far not the best of friends, putting my mom and I in the same room could be the most deadly of combinations.
Throughout my teenage years, my mother and I fought often, and we fought hard. Shouting matches that resulted in tears and slamming doors were a painful but common occurrence.
Needless to say, I hardly ever spoke to my parents about personal problems. Therefore, topics such as feelings and frustrations, faith and friends, were strictly off limits.
Regardless, the phone calls to and from home continued. At first, the conversations between my mom and I consisted mostly of what we had done that day, but they eventually evolved into discussions of how we had been feeling that particular day.
After a while, I found that I missed our talks if we hadn’t had the chance to speak to each other. After a few semesters of living in the dorms, I realized with some shock that my mother and I had begun to communicate with and depend on each other as (gasp) friends.
My faith during this time was slowly building up with the help of attending the youth Bible studies and my own spiritual cultivation. It dawned on me that the fledgling friendship between my mother and I was also helping to strengthen my faith.
What’s more, my mom’s spirituality was improving as well. While we weren’t necessarily always discussing specific Bible passages as such, we did start to speak openly about our own problems.
For the first time, my mother shared with me the many struggles and trials she encountered in marriage, church, and work life. No longer was she just filling the role of my mother; I came to see her as a person, complete with human needs, weaknesses, and emotions.
As we began to discuss our problems openly, we also began to address these problems through prayer. Oftentimes we would end our long-distance talks by praying together afterwards.
On some mornings or before I would go to bed, I would make a quick call home and ask my mom to pray with me, and she often did the same.
Curiously enough, it often wound up that when my faith was weak, my mother’s was strong, and vice versa. Consequently, there would be weeks when my mother would be the one lifting up my spirits, and the next month, I would find myself trying to encourage her.
In this manner, God miraculously provided a way for each of us to receive spiritual support by having us provide for each other.
Our prayers and makeshift testimonies helped me not only to see my mother as an individual, but also as a fellow sister-in-Christ. As stated in James 5:16, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed."
Helping to bear one another’s burdens through sharing and prayer strengthened our relationship with each other and our individual relationships with God.
Of course, my parents and I still engage in the occasional argument. After all, perfect endings and perfect people are only the works of fiction, and I was reminded of this sobering truth on many weekends or school breaks spent at home.
During those not-so-pleasant instances, the makings of an argument usually went something like this:
Scenario One: Parent asks daughter in a stern tone of voice to do something. Interpreting this as an attack on her newfound adulthood and independence, daughter responds back with an irritated tone of voice. Fight ensues.
Scenario Two: Daughter makes known her frustration with parent’s seeming ineptitude. Taking this as an assault on parental authority and ability, parent responds back in frustration. Fight ensues.
The possibilities are endless.
Usually, what sets off an argument is not so much what is said but the way it is said. King Solomon was right on the mark when he wrote in Proverbs 15:1 that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
Yes, sometimes our parents may be wrong, but many times, they are in the right. And when our emotions get the better of us in an argument, it’s hard for us to tell who’s right and who’s wrong.
What's more, no matter what the situation, we still should not act disrespectfully towards our parents. If we cannot even treat our earthly parents properly, how can we expect to please our heavenly Father? As written in Hebrews 12:9,
Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?
The same chapter of Hebrews also teaches us that God disciplines those He loves. Verses 6 and 7 read,
“For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives."
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
God sometimes trains us in painful ways. Likewise, we may think that parental discipline is too strict at times, but it is usually for our own benefit.
And if parental efforts seem less than perfect to us, we need to remember that our parents are, after all, only human. They are not God, but they are trying. Therefore, we must also try our best to repay their efforts with obedience and respect. Patience helps, too.
Finally, we need to examine the reasons why we’re so offended by our parents' comments in the first place.
Most people don't like being told what to do, and most people dislike criticism even more. Unfortunately for them, our parents are the ones stuck with the job of having to dole out the bulk of these hard-to-give and hard-to-receive comments.
When we do hear these types of remarks, we must ask ourselves if our desire to retaliate against our parents is actually a result of wounded pride. Proverbs 13:1 tells us that, “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke."
Let us not be foolish, but wise children.
ALWAYS A CHILD IN THEIR EYES
Despite the fact that I’m now a college graduate and supposedly all grown up, I’ve realized that I’ll always be a child in my parents' eyes.
No matter how old we are, whether we’re working or starting families of our own, our parents will always be our parents. As a result, regardless of age or abilities, we will always be their children.
In Paul’s epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians concerning how to treat parents, he addressed the believers as “children". For example, in Ephesians 6:1, Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."
While Paul’s letters apply to believers of all ages, he probably wasn’t directing this message solely toward toddlers and teenagers. As the apostle who guided them into God’s truth and the one who nurtured their spiritual growth, these believers would always be Paul’s spiritual children.
In the same way, God gave our parents their status as caregivers and guardians. And according to His will and the measure of love He has put in our hearts, we must strive to honor our parents throughout our lives. This is also how we are to honor God.
Four years of living on campus also showed me that the longer I lived away from home, the more I looked forward to going home. Yes, absence does make the heart grow fonder, and I’ve found truth in the saying that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.
However, the fact that I no longer minded but enjoyed going back home was also because my home was no longer the same as it was when I had left it. My lifestyle has calmed down considerably since my high school days, and I did some necessary maturing in terms of my behavior, my emotions, and my faith.
My parents saw these changes and did some adjusting of their own. Ironically, my parents actually encourage me to get out of the house more, whereas in high school, they seemed to be doing everything in their power to keep me at home.
During these four years, you might say that we all grew up together. Now that I’ve graduated and am living at home again, I really thank God for the changes that He has made in my life and in my relationship with my parents.
At the same time, my parents definitely still do treat me like a child in some ways, but I’ve learned that that's not necessarily a bad thing. While parents sometimes do need to ease their grip a bit, we shouldn’t expect them to completely let go, either.
Sometimes, it feels good to be held onto.