5 minute read

Connection: A Vital Part of Raising Happy, Healthy Kids

Last Updated: March 10, 2021

Abby Willmarth
Abby Willmarth

Abby Willmarth has worked with several anti-trafficking organizations to educate and mobilize churches and individuals to fight trafficking. Over those years, she began to see just how many ways trafficking connected to porn. Now she works at Covenant Eyes to create educational content that helps people find freedom from porn. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons.

Parenting has got to be one of the hardest jobs there is. Completely rewarding, yes. But also filled daily with new challenges, growth spurts, and development.

I had a sobering reminder of the weight of parenting a few months ago. I was in a small group with a handful of other women, and a major component of the group’s content had us look at how we were raised, the defining events and relationships from our childhood, and how all of this contributed to who we are today. Most, if not all, of these women shared how they had to seriously work through a hurt they received from their parents or a lie they had picked up in their childhood about their value.

These conversations initially scared me as the mom of an 18-month-old. I sat there during one group and thought, oh my word, I’m going to totally screw up my son and not even realize I did it. I started laughing as my friend voiced a similar concern.

“Isn’t it scary,” she said, “to think about our kids sitting in a group like this working through the issues they picked up under our roof?”

My group leader’s response changed this sobering, semi-scary conversation to one that left me feeling encouraged about the parenting journey I have ahead. And because I’m pretty sure all parents have had thoughts about messing up their kids, I want to share the gist of the conversation with you.

We will make mistakes with our kids, and they will experience hard things.

No earthly parent is perfect. We’ve experienced the mistakes of our own parents, and we’ve made plenty of mistakes with our own kids. We say things without fully thinking it through. Our kids misinterpret what we say. We miss the subtle hints they drop us. We try to make them into someone they aren’t.

And no matter how well we parent, our kids will experience tough situations largely outside of our control. They’ll be hurt in friendships. They’ll get cut from a team. They’ll come across content they shouldn’t see, even though we’ve done our part to protect them from it, and have to process culture’s messages.

Although it’s not fun knowing our kids will have to overcome some hard things—whether from our parenting mistakes or just because of life—it’s important to remember that there are plenty of healthy people today. This means that there are a lot of people who have healed from the mistakes of their parents and navigated the hard situations of life. Ah, sweet relief.

The question then becomes: how can I help my children heal more quickly from the mistakes I’m bound to make in parenting? How can we equip them to navigate the hard situations that are sure to come? What’s the secret sauce for raising happy, healthy kids?

The short answer: connection.

A strong connection with our kids accelerates their healing and helps protect them from additional harm.

Our kids need connection with us. There are definitely other important parts to parenting, but this is towards the top of the list. When we’re connected with our kids, they feel safe to share their feelings, even if their hurt feelings come from something we did. Staying relationally close with our kids gives us clearer insight into their current struggles, temptations, and hard situations, as well as the areas they are thriving and experiencing great joy.

Brené Brown defines connection as, “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment, and when they derive sustenance and strength from that relationship.”

Isn’t that what we want for our kids? To feel seen, heard, and valued from us as their parents. To turn to us for strength, rather than push us away—hiding their struggles and hurts for fear of judgment. To have confidence that we care about the condition of their heart.

So many of the hurts and lies my small group experienced in their childhood could have been addressed in their childhood if they’d felt safe to share with their parents. Healing may have come more quickly, and they’d have avoided additional hurt that comes from trying to fix wounds through illegitimate sources and harmful ways.

When it comes to helping our kids avoid the alluring pull of porn, connection with them is especially important. A study conducted by counselor Jay Stringer of thousands of his clients found that most people who struggled with pornography as adults had parents who were distant or overly strict. They didn’t feel love and acceptance from their parents, so they turned to porn instead.

Our kids desperately crave connection from us (whether they show it or not). And if they don’t get it from us, they’ll seek it elsewhere. We need to fight for connection with our families—especially in an age where it’s easier than ever to settle for a fake form of connection online.

What Connection Looks Like

Okay, we established the importance of connection with our families, and how it helps protect our kids from pornography. But what does this actually look like? What are some real-world examples that highlight the power of connection?

We just released a brand-new ebook Connected: How Strong Family Relationships Lead to Internet-Safe Kids, and it covers so many tangible examples of how connection can play out in our relationship with God, in our marriages, and with our children. Let’s take a look at a powerful example that author Melissa Foley shares in the book from her personal life:

Along with our college-age son, we also have two preteen girls. Recently our eleven-year-old, while I was putting her to bed, told me that I love her older sister more.

Typically, I would have dismissed her absurd claim by telling her “that’s silly,” but when that phrase was just about to escape my lips, I stopped and asked myself if that would build a connection or create more disconnection. Immediately, I realized that it would generate disconnection, and I needed a new plan.

Instead of dismissing her claim, I could use the moment to create a connection. I asked her what happened to make her feel that way. She told me that over the previous few days, she timed me as I was tucking my oldest daughter into bed. Apparently, I was spending more time with my oldest daughter during the bedtime routine than with her.

Ready to defend myself, I stopped and considered her observation. She was right. We proceeded to have a conversation about my love for her, her sister, and my desire to be more aware of her feelings about the bedtime routine. I asked for her forgiveness and told her I would try to be better. Through tears, she forgave me.

Let me tell you: there was a connection built that night that helped me to further understand her heart.

What a powerful way to build connection in an everyday circumstance! Because Melissa made intentional choices to foster connection, rather than disconnection, she and her daughter both benefited greatly. I guarantee the intimacy they grew in that moment will make future conversations about relationships, technology or porn even easier.

The book covers so many important aspects of developing connection with our families: strengthening our relationship with our spouse, giving up the “busy” excuse, taking breaks from our tech, identifying our feelings, and so much more.

“A connected childhood is a key to happiness,” says Edward Halloyoull, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. While our primary goal as parents isn’t just to raise happy kids, happiness often accompanies health. Connection isn’t the only thing that makes for happy, healthy kids, it sure is an important ingredient.

Take another step toward developing healthy relationships with your family and download Connected. You’ll see even more clearly the power and importance of connection.