FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How to Build Better Relationships With

with Reb Bradley | January 29, 2010
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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.

Building better relationships with your kids

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How to Build Better Relationships With

With Reb Bradley
January 29, 2010
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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."  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:  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 and 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, 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.  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 home school workshops and as a father of six, that we weren't doing this exactly right as parents. 

Mary Ann and I have had the situation; we've been involved in home schooling our children.  We've shown up at some of the home school book fairs or some of the home school workshops, and we've seen the family with the 12 kids, and they're all dressed and groomed perfectly.  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:  Yes, 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:  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; 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.  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:  Yes, 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, and climb up here."

Dennis:  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:   The acceptance is probably pretty key.  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 youth, 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:  Yes.

Dennis:  Thanks for being teachable, Reb.  No, seriously, 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.  Yes, 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 in line, 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 Today 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  Or call toll free at 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.

As we wrap things up this week I want to take a minute and say thanks to those of you who have been faithful supporters of FamilyLife Today.  The past 12-15 months have been challenging for our ministry.  They have been challenging for a lot of ministries and those of you who in that time have been able to go online or call and help us with a donation for the ministry those donations have enabled us to keep our program on this station and on other stations all across the country. 

To continue with some of the initiatives that have been underway here at FamilyLife that we are going to be telling you about in the weeks to come.  There is one group I particularly want to thank.  It’s our legacy partners.  Those people who on a monthly basis make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today.   Your monthly support is so appreciated and so helpful to us as a ministry.  As you might imagine in the past year we have had families who have had to step away from having been legacy partners so here as we begin 2010 we are hoping that maybe there would be some new families who would step forward and sign on as legacy partners. 

If you become a legacy partner and agree to make a monthly donation to FamilyLife Today the first think we’ll do is to send you a welcome kit that has some helpful resources in it to strengthen your marriage.  Each month as you support FamilyLife Today we’ll give you the opportunity to request a new resource from us and then if you sign on and make a donation each month via credit card draft or bank draft we will send you a certificate for you and your spouse or some other couple you know to attend one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences. 

Find out more about becoming a legacy partner on our website 

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That’s 1-800-358-6329.

And with that we have to wrap things up for this week.  We hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend.  We hope you can be back with us on Monday when we're going to talk to Pastor Michael Easley and his wife, Cindy, about the early years of their marriage.  As you will hear on Monday they hit some speed bumps in those early years.  Speed bumps that could have sidelined their marriage for a long time.  We’ll talk about how they pressed through that on Monday. 

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.

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