By Linnette Bachman
As campus staff we often work through conflict and relational skills with college students. We hear stories of broken family relationships that break our hearts. But what will be the story of our own homes and the relationships between our youngest disciples? I desire for my kids in adulthood to be not just siblings, but best friends in Christ. I desire for them to experience a deep fellowship that encourages trust in God and love for Christ in one another. Long after Dave and I have arrived home in Heaven, I pray they will be mutually encouraging each other’s faith (Romans 1:12).
This time last year, one of our daughters approached me:
“I don’t think I love my sister. I know I am supposed to, but she is really, really hard for me to love. I don’t even think I like her.”
Dave and I had been noticing some friction between these two siblings, and it did not seem like it would blow over. The differences in preference between these two girls, their closeness in age, competitiveness, and general selfishness created a perfect storm for conflict, hurt feelings, and lots of tears.
Yet, we sensed this was also a perfect storm for growth. Ideally, in our Christian homes, God gives us the gift of a safe, committed group of people to learn how to love and be a friend as well as receive and offer forgiveness. Who we are at home is who we really are, and God has given us built-in accountability partners who are with us almost 24/7. And our family relationships are lifelong through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It’s not easy and it’s a process to forge friendships in our families, but it refines us and prepares us for life outside the home where relationships often get even tougher. Obviously, I can’t control or make these friendships happen, but I want to train and set a tone as best I can to bring my kids together.
Here are 4 ways we have worked towards this end:
1. Committed to Reconciliation I grew up with the idea that if someone hurt my feelings, I should move away from relationship with that person. A week into my marriage it dawned on me that this strategy would no longer work! With our kids we have taught, retaught, reviewed, and continued to teach these steps for reconciliation:
- Go to the person who has wronged you (not a third party).
- Try to work out the problem with that person. Help them understand what they did that was offensive to you.
- Own what you can in the situation and ask for forgiveness.
- Ideally, they will own their sin and ask for forgiveness. If this happens, you forgive and move forward, not talking about it further.
- If you can’t work out the problem, then you can include another sibling who witnessed the problem or an authority.
At this point, my kids could talk you through all of these steps with conviction because we have gone over them so much. But it is often hard for them to actually put them into action! When I have a tattletale approach me or a conflict that goes all the way to step 5, I gain opportunities to talk with the kids about grace, our need for forgiveness and the power of offering forgiveness. We’ve memorized Ephesians 4:32 together, “Be kind and compassionate towards one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” I would love for my kids to be pros at extending forgiveness when they leave our home!
2. Praying Together It dawned on me a few years ago that my kids never prayed with each other. Sometimes, one would pray at family dinner time but we hadn’t taught them to pray with each other without Dave or me present. I’ve heard it said that the basis of Christian fellowship is prayer together for each other. When I picture a best friend in Christ I envision prayer together. So, we now set aside time at the beginning of each day when I pair up the kids and ask them to share prayer requests and pray for each other. It was a little awkward at first but repetition has led to this being a very sweet time. Full disclosure though, they sometimes fight over who they get paired with…
A few months ago, my daughter’s friend was sharing with her something she was really scared about and my daughter’s first response was, “Do you want to pray together about that?” I was so proud of her and grateful to see a little sprout from the seeds we’d been sowing.
3. Sibling Walks When I take the kids for walks in our neighborhood, I often have them walk in pairs and ask questions (that I typically supply) to get to know each other. It’s a bit silly, since they are together just about 24/7 but I want to train them to be curious. I want to foster the habit of pursuing each other. A few minutes later I rotate them. Sometimes I give a challenge to find a pretty flower together or a y-shaped stick. In a family with 5 kids, it can be hard to get 1-2-1 time with a sibling. One bonus is that I get a few minutes to walk by myself!
When I notice any two kids fighting with each other throughout a day, I will often send them outside to go on a sibling walk to the stop sign up the road and back. I’ll sometimes ask them to hold hands (which is not their preference!) and work through their differences and re-enter the house with a spirit of love (it’s the spirit of Christ really) towards one another. And often, they really do!
4. Everyone Belongs We use the phrase “everyone belongs” to mean that each person in our home should feel welcome and included. This phrase applies towards a family member or a guest in our home. Our policy is that since your siblings are your best friends, you can’t exclude, be rude to, or make fun of a sibling. You can ask kindly for some alone time or special time with your guest, but you can’t leave just one person out.
We’ve had neighborhood kids come over who’ve really wanted exclusivity, and I’ve had to explain that “everyone belongs” is a part of who we are as a family. As our kids make friends, this has also helped them not become territorial or possessive of “their” friends. I want my kids to have eyes to see the person who is being left out and bring them in to the group.
I pray that my kids will be best friends in Christ throughout their lifetime. I tell them often that even our closest friends come and go but siblings are for a lifetime. I pray that these young sibling relationships will be fertile ground for learning and growing how to “do” relationships: loving when it isn’t easy, offering and receiving forgiveness, pursuing and asking questions, praying with friends, etc.
I enjoy seeing my two girls, who last year couldn’t seem to stand one another, playing and talking and laughing with one another. Praise God! Dave and I have spent many hours working with them and praying for them in their relationship. (Did I mention they are opposites?) I have no idea what their friendship will look like as adults, but I am committed to nurturing it today while they are in our home.
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13
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Linnette and her husband Dave began their marriage and Nav staff career twelve years ago (EDGE and SIT at Colorado State) and they currently lead the collegiate Nav ministries in Nashville. They have five children: Kate (9), Kylie (8), McKenzie (6), Daniel (4), and Andrew (baby). Linnette and Dave are passionate about the shared mission of raising up disciple-makers and raising up their kids.