FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How to Build Better Relationships With Your Kids

with | March 7, 2008
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On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks with Family Ministries director Reb Bradley about building better relationships with your kids.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks with Family Ministries director Reb Bradley about building better relationships with your kids.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks with Family Ministries director Reb Bradley about building better relationships with your kids.

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How to Build Better Relationships With Your Kids

March 07, 2008
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Bob:  There are parents all across the country who have been raising their children in Christian homes and have seen those children reach the teen years and make disappointing, some times devastating, decisions.  Here is Reb Bradley.

Reb: I have talked to now hundreds and hundreds around the country whose perfect children grew up and went astray.  You see, it wasn't shaping the outside that did it. It wasn't like clothes, it wasn't have children who could say, "Yes, Mom," and "Yes, Dad," at age 19.  That's no longer impressive to me, because that can be very shallow.

Bob: What's impressive to you now?

Reb: Is parents who have strong relationships with their children, where the children, out of love, look at their parents and respond to them.  The child, out of respect I'm talking about adult children or teen children out of respect saying, "Please speak into my life."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today Reb Bradley shares what he would do differently if he could do his parenting all over again.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  One of the classic moments on FamilyLife Today occurred when your daughter, Rebecca, was on our program, and she told the now-famous "caged bird" story.  It's still one of those things that we look back on as one of the great confessions to take place on our program, right?

Your daughter, Rebecca, referred to herself this is during her adolescence, as a "caged bird."  Mom and Dad had kept her caged up …

Dennis: It was pitiful.

Bob: And her friends were telling her just to find the key and fly free, right?

Dennis: That's right.

Bob: And she came to you and said, "I feel like a caged bird."


[from audiotape]

Rebecca: It's so cheesy now.

Dennis: It is cheesy, but…

Rebecca: But it fit perfectly.

Dennis: It did, and it was so real at the time.  She was I mean, I felt her pain. Bob.

Rebecca: [laughing] Whatever.

Bob: This would have been when you were 15 or 16?

Dennis: About 14, 15, 16.

Rebecca: Fourteen 15, 16.

Dennis: And 16, 17.

Rebecca: Yeah, I compared myself to a caged bird.

Bob: A caged bird trapped, imprisoned.

Rebecca: And they had thrown the key away or whatever.  I have a funny story.  One of my friends, growing up, was I was at her house, and I had spent the night, and I was crying to her and telling her how awful it was, and "I'm a caged bird," or I'm a caged animal or whatever, and was, like, "Rebecca, you just need to tell your parents to give you the key and just let you out, and you just need to throw the key away."  It was this dramatic thing, and it was so funny.

Barbara: It's so funny now.

Rebecca: It's funny now.

Barbara: Because you thought it was a great idea.

Rebecca:  At the time I was so passionate about, and I was just, like, "Yes, I need to go to my parents" and, you know.

Dennis: And so we heard that speech, Bob.

Bob: The "caged bird" speech?

Dennis: Actually, it wasn't a speech, it was a dramatic monolog.

Rebecca: Monolog.

Dennis: And it was dramatic.  I mean, bless Rebecca's heart, she would have these times she would come to, and we're laughing now, but it was not …

Rebecca: No.

Dennis: Truthfully, there were a couple of times that Rebecca was so dramatic, and her tears and feeling like a caged bird that both Barbara and I could not allow one another to get eye contact, because if we would have looked at each other …

Rebecca: Dad!  I can't believe you guys.  Thanks a lot.

Dennis: Well, you need to understand …

Rebecca: You don't sympathize.

Dennis: … after you've heard that …

Bob: The caged bird monolog?

Dennis: Yeah, it's, like, "I just feel trapped.  All my friends are free, and I just can't do anything."

[audiotape ends]

Bob: You remember that, don't you?

Dennis: Oh, I do, and it was everything we could do to keep from laughing, just bursting and doubling up in laughter, it was so pitiful.

Bob: Would you say you sheltered your children?  Because she was feeling sheltered at the time, wasn't she?

Dennis: Absolutely, I would say we sheltered them, you better believe it, but within the shelter we tried to love them, and, you know, it's never just one thing.  I've share this many times on FamilyLife Today, but I think there are four key biblical components that our children need from us, and this came about as a result of a year studying the Bible and trying to reduce parenting down to the four essential elements.  And I'm not trying to make it a formula but just to give me, as a parent, four hooks to begin to evaluate how I'm doing.

Bob: The themes that we need to be addressing, right?

Dennis: That's right.  Number one is identity.  Spiritual identity and sexual identity our children need to know who they are.  Secondly, they need relationships.  They need to know am I loved and how do I love?  They need to know how to do relationships, how to handle conflict with imperfect people.  Third, they need character.  How do I choose right and not wrong?  How can I be wise and not a fool?  And parents pass on the biblical convictions that help our children know how to navigate in this world.  And the last one, and I think it's very important is a sense of mission.  Our children need to know where they're headed.  They need to know how do they fit into what God is doing?  What is His plan for their lives?

And if a child has those four components built into his or her life, I think they can, from that pool or reservoir of teaching, begin to make right choices and build convictions upon which they will succeed in life.

Bob: Then we want to focus on one of those areas today, that's the area of relationship and not necessarily how we train our children to have healthy relationships, but how we can have healthy relationships with them, because that's really at the foundation of all of this, isn't it?

Dennis: It really is, and we have with us Reb Bradley.  Reb, welcome back.

Reb: It is wonderful to be here.

Dennis: Reb has been doing a great job all this week.  He is a former pastor and radio talk show how.  He and his wife, Beverly, have six children.  Interestingly enough, one of theirs is adopted just like one of ours is.

Bob: It's a great story.  Can you tell how you wound up adopting your was it number four you adopted?

Reb:  Number four sure, briefly, we had three children, we thought that was enough.  We thought my wife and I both had ministries, we limited our family because of that with this plan.  Seven years later, my wife changes her mind.  She thinks to herself, "I have nothing better to do than children.  Why do I think children intrude upon ministry?  They are my preeminent ministry."  That was God opened her eyes to this.  She comes to me.  I say, "He hasn't told me that."

And then, make a long story short, He speaks to me in other ways.  I say to her, "Honey, that's great.  I'm ready, let's have another child, but you know what?  We've had a vasectomy, it's all over.  We have to adopt.  And she says, "That's fine."  I said, "Good, where do you get a kid cheap?"

Bob: Because I'm a pastor.

Reb: I'm a pastor, I can't afford adoption.  So I thought, "I know where they don't want kids," so we made up signs that says, "Our family will adopt your baby, please don't abort it," and we went to outside abortion clinics with signs.  We stood there week after week for a number of months.

Dennis: So let me get this straight.  You weren't just opposing abortion, you were offering an alternative to abortion personally through your family.

Reb: Right, I mean, that was the effect of it, and we weren't even there to protest, we weren't protesting.

Bob: You were just baby shopping.

Reb: We were baby shopping, trying to get a kid.  I printed up special business cards that said, "You probably think you can't have this baby, but it's too late.  You already have this baby, you just can't see it.  We will adopt it."  And we had women change their mind and say, "I couldn't give up my baby," that was the first time they said the word, "My baby."

Dennis: You know, I want you to finish the story, but I just want to stop you, because you are illustrating what I have been pounding the table about.  I just happen to believe, Reb, the reason why God has not overturned Roe v. Wade is because the Christian community has not been pro-life and pro-adoption, pro-orphan.  And what you illustrated through going an picketing at an abortion clinic is that, yes, you're pro-life, but you may be the first person I've ever heard who has picketed, who went, because they were pro-orphan, pro-adoption and, personally, I think that's where the battle is going to be won, I really do.

Now, that's not what we're talking about today.  It's my soapbox.

Bob: That's just in for free, ladies and gentlemen.

Reb: Expect it on a future broadcast.

Dennis: That exactly right, you're going to hear this again, because I think we need to be praying for the Christian community to become known as pro-orphan, pro-adoption.

Bob: So did someone outside one of these clinics finally take you up on your offer?

Reb: Well, what happened was, we stood there with our signs, my wife and my three children each had our sign, and, I mean, I could tell you stories about that another time, but finally what happened was Joe Farah of Sacramento Union, the editor, sent a reporter down, and a photographer, took pictures of us, did a half-page story on this family trying to adopt a baby, a man called me and said, "Hey, I can get you a baby.  I'll line you up with an adoption service I know."

So calls this lady who has an adoption service, she calls me, realizes I interviewed her on the radio because I worked in radio just a year prior.  And so I've got this connection.  She says, "Sure, I can get you a baby, and I have a lady right now, a girl who wants a tall Christian family," because the parents, the birth parents were tall, didn't want the child to stand out in a short family, and so my wife, who is five-eleven, and I'm six feet, so she says, "You qualify."

Bob: You qualify.

Reb: Within three days we had a child committed to us, who is my 16-year-old daughter now.

Dennis: Now, how long had you been on the picket lines before that occurred?

Reb: It was several months.

Dennis: So it didn't take long?

Reb: It really didn't.  In fact, I am willing to bet if somebody wanted to adopt a child, that's the quickest way to do it hold up signs that say, "Our family will adopt your baby, please don't abort it." and go outside the clinic.

Bob: You went on to have a reversal and had two more children after that?

Reb: Right, I had a reversal, and we have two more of our own.

Dennis: You know, I'm calling on one person, I'm speaking to one person right now who is listening to our broadcast who needs to start a nationwide movement of picketing abortion clinics for the purpose of adoption; to make that their cry.  Why not?  It needs to happen.  There are a lot of children being aborted today that need forever families.

Bob: Well, I know this took us off where we were headed, but I just thought it was such a great story that I wanted to make sure …

Dennis: You're now trying to grab the soapbox back from me.


Bob: Our listeners got a chance to hear it.  We've really been talking this week about the realization you came to, Reb, as both a pastor, someone who taught at a lot of homeschool workshops and as a father of six, that we weren't doing this exactly right as parents. 

And Mary Ann and I have had the situation, we've been involved in homeschooling our children.  We've shown up at some of the homeschool book fairs or some of the homeschool workshops, and we've seen the family with the 12 kids, and they're all dressed and groomed perfectly, and my wife looks up at me, and she goes, "What are we doing wrong, that our children don't" and they sing in harmony, you know, they sing hymns, and she looks at me and goes, "We're failing as parents because our children don't do this."

Dennis: No, you're just not going to the right photographer.  Airbrush photography does wonders, Bob.

Bob: So, you know what I'm talking about.  You finally looked and said, "We're missing the heart issues as parents, and we're focused too much on the externals."  There is really an incipient Pharisee-ism in some of our Christian parenting, isn't there?

Reb:  There is, and you know what?  I am no longer impressed I was like you I would see families, and I'd think, "I want my kids to be like that," but as pastor and counselor and someone who deals with this issue, I have talked to now hundreds and hundreds around the country whose perfect children grew up and went astray.  You see, it wasn't shaping the outside that did it, it wasn't like clothes.  It wasn't have children who could say, "Yes, Mom," and "Yes, Dad," at age 19.  That's no longer impressive to me, because that can be very shallow.

Bob: What's impressive to you now?

Reb: Is parents who have strong relationships with their children, where the children, out of love, look at their parents and respond to them.  The child, out of respect I'm talking about adult children or teen children out of respect saying, "Please speak into my life."

Nothing blesses me more and my adult children, by the way, even though we blew it when they were younger and didn't cultivate relationship, it's been exciting to see as adults, they're all in their 20s, to have them calling and talking to us, for getting counsel several times a week sometimes.  It's been exciting to repair those relationships.

Dennis: You speak all around the country about winning your children's hearts.  Can you explain what that means and then take us into some very practical ways that a father and a mother who may be maybe they're borderline how did you put it, Bob?

Bob: Pharisees?

Dennis: Yeah, Pharisees they're holding to an outward form of religion.

Bob: Well, they're cleaning the outside of the cup, and all the time there is junk on the inside.  I've heard you quote that verse in your seminars.

Reb: Well, Proverbs 23:26, Solomon who, by the way, compiled Proverbs for his sons, he's coaching his teenage sons in Proverbs, that's what it's about, and he says, "My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways."

First, he didn't think he had the power to win his son's heart.  He said, "My son, you must make a decision to give me your heart, and if you do, your eyes will better keep to my ways."  That was what he was getting at.  Our children need to give us their hearts.

Now, my oldest son, who I didn't have his heart, came to me when he was 20 years old one night crying, and he'd caused me some embarrassment at church, and he came to me and says weeping and he says, "Dad, I want to tell you something.  Months ago I gave you my heart."  And he had made that choice, and I knew something had changed, but he never explained it to me.

So, first of all, there isn't something I can do, no formula I can give people by which they can say, "Ah, here are the steps to winning my kids' hearts."  I can say, "Here is how you can cultivate relationship with anyone, here is how you can cultivate relationship with your children and increase the likelihood dramatically that they will give you their hearts."

Dennis: What was that Proverb again?

Reb: Proverbs 23:26.

Dennis: You know, I really like what you said about that, because you really recognize the child's authority over his own heart that he has a choice to be able to give his heart to his dad or to his mom, and that doesn't invade the child's life, it gives them permission to build that relationship back towards you and let you know you're safe and you're available. 

Now, how do we go about connecting our hearts to our children?  Let's say the conversation has occurred.  A dad has said to his son, "Son, I'd really like a relationship with you.  Would you count me as safe enough to give me your heart?"  Where does he start?

Reb:  Well, my first recommendation is the man or woman, parents, stop and evaluate what are we doing to squash our children's hearts, to cut off relationship?  And my first contention is that parents treat children formulaically.  We discussed it on a previous broadcast.

You have to have a new view.  You have to look at them and say, "These are people with whom I want relationship."  You have to see them differently.  You must make a choice and stop treating them like just an inanimate object but actually as a person with whom you can dialog, who has heart feelings that are worth listening to.

Dennis: Who needs to be forgiven; who needs grace; who needs mercy; I mean, and if you're wondering what that looks like, just look at how God treats you, you know?  Forgiving one another just as God, in Christ, has forgiven you.

Reb: You've touched on something pretty key because I did not know how to accept my children because I had these subtle legalistic things in my own heart with God, and God woke me up to this years ago that, "Reb, you cannot communicate acceptance to your children because you don't enjoy my acceptance."

Dennis: That's key.  That's really important.

Reb: Yeah, I did not enjoy the acceptance.  I knew it, I could teach it, I've got tapes on it.  They're really good big sellers.


But to not enjoy the acceptance of God.  What it means when I feel like a total loser, that God says, "You're still my son, and you're welcome on my lap, climb up here."

Dennis: Well, you've said we need to repent of things that break relationships.  We need to make sure we're squared away with God and enjoying Him so we can reflect His love to our children.  What else do we need to do practically to well, to have that safe relationship and connect our hearts with our children?

Reb:  Well, the acceptance is probably pretty key.  I mean, to accept them here's a story my wife calls me one day about five years ago and says, "Your oldest son just called.  He ran into you today apparently to park, and you made some" he was on his way to interviews.  One of his first interviews as a police officer "and you made some comment about his hair, and it devastated him because I was suggesting he change his haircut.

And so he says to me, "Mom, why does Dad have so much power in my life?  Why do I need his approval so badly?"  My wife is telling me this.  I'm think, "I know why, because I didn't approve of you your whole life, God bless you, son.  So she says, "I just thought you should know this." 

So I hang up, I call my son, catch him on his cell phone, I said, "Son, I need to tell you something.  I don't want you to be 40 years old wondering 'Does Dad accept me?'  I want to tell you I accept you now for who you are at this moment not as an upstanding guy who wants to be a cop, but for who you are and who I don't even know you are I still accept you.

Well, my son is bawling on the phone, I'm bawling on the phone, and so we hang up the phone.  Now I'm doing a ride-along, that's years ago.  I'm doing a ride-along with him in his cop car six months ago, and he starts to call in a license plate, and he starts to stutter, and he says, "I'll get back with you."  He says, "I don't know why I'm stuttering."  Because he stutters occasionally when he's nervous.  "Son, you're stuttering because you're riding along with your dad, and every son wants his dad to be proud of him."  But I said, "Look" I said, "Son, I'm already as proud of you as I can be" and that's how I wish he'd been able to grow up.

That's the way my younger children are growing up, but I wish I'd been able to communicate, "I accept you now for who you are," not "Your life is a big disappointment to me, and you know that because I always find fault with everything you do."

Bob: You do take comfort in the fact that God is able to restore the years that the locusts have eaten, don't you?

Reb: I am personally enjoying it right now.

Dennis: What a great story of redemption.

Reb: Yeah.

Dennis: Thanks for being teachable, Reb.  No, seriously, you know, there are a lot of hard-nose dads and, for that matter, moms who are standard-driven who never repent; who never, ever admit they're wrong, and I think this week you have demonstrated a heart of humility to maybe a parent or two who needs to cry out to God and say, "Oh, Lord God, can I enjoy my relationship with you, and would you give me the privilege of enjoying my relationships with my children and make me safe with them so that they feel loved and accepted and yeah, we'll pass on a standard.  We'll pass on the truth, but I want to be full of grace and truth just like Christ was."

And I want to thank you, Reb, for being on FamilyLife Today and pray God's blessing and favor up on you and your next few decades of ministry.

Reb: I'm looking forward to them, and I'm curious what they're going to be.


Bob: I think you've gotten them off to a great start this week on our program, and we appreciate you being with us.  I just want to remind our listeners that what we're talking about is making sure we're aimed in the right direction as we raise our children.  Sure, we want to train them and teach them how to behave appropriately; we want to get their behavior and their conduct under control, but we want to make sure that we don't sacrifice our relationship with them; that we are aiming toward the heart.

I think, again, of the book that our friend, Tedd Tripp, has written called "Shepherding a Child's Heart," and it's a book that we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  In fact, there is a companion workbook that goes with it now, and it's a great tool for moms and dads to go through whether you are entering the parenting arena for the first time in your marriage or whether you've been in the thick of it for years, and you need an adjustment, an alignment in your parenting.  This is a great book for you to go through as a couple, or to go through in your quiet time.  Get both the book and the workbook and make sure your focus is right as a parent.

Again, the title of the book is "Shepherding a Child's Heart."  You can get more information about it on our website, which is  When you go to the brand-new, and we hope you get a chance to just spend a little time looking around while you're there. 

But if you want to get right to the books, when you get to the home page look on the right side of the screen where it says, "Today's Broadcast," and if you click there, it will take you to the area where there is more information about the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife.  You can order online, if you'd like, or if it's easier, just call 1-800-368-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll have someone let you know how you can get the resources you need sent to you.

I need to say a quick word of thanks before we're done today to those of you who not only listen to FamilyLife Today but those of you who, from time to time, contact us to make a donation for our ministry.  We are listener-supported, and so when you do that, you help make sure that FamilyLife Today can continue on the air on this station and on other stations all around the country.  We appreciate you doing that, and we want to make sure you know that we hope you're not taking away from giving to your local church to help support us.

We believe that your local church ought to be the place where giving begins.  Beyond that, though, as you are able to help this ministry with a contribution of any amount this month, we'd like to send you a thank you gift.  It's a copy of the most-viewed motion picture of all time the "Jesus" film.  It's on DVD, and it's our gift to you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month, again, with a donation of any amount.

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And we hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and we hope you can be back with us on Monday when we're going to talk about what it's like to have a big family, especially when it's not exactly what you were expecting.  Leslie Field joins us on Monday, I hope you can be back with us as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 


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