When my kids were little, my husband and I attended a parenting class at our church. The whole concept of a class on parenting almost makes me chuckle. Can anyone offer training for this monumental task in the space of eight weeks?

The older, wiser couple who led the class did a beautiful job of providing overarching principles coupled with personal and even vulnerable anecdotes that truly have stuck with me. One of the principles presented was that valuing the relationship with our kids when they are small will reap dividends in influence when they are not so small. 

The verse from Jesus’ parable of the faithful servant comes to mind: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things . . .” (Matthew 25:21, NIV). 

What exactly does it look like to value the relationship with your children?

For us, it has meant asking for forgiveness a whole lot. There is nothing more humbling than when you mess up with the ones you love. It has meant sticking with quarreling children until it is worked out even when you feel like your last nerve is being rubbed raw. There have been individual back-to-school dates, just you with mom or dad experience gifts for Christmas, and lots of chats over tea or hot chocolate. Vacations, stops for ice cream, and holiday traditions have served as glue that binds us together. Laughing at what they find funny and being silly at their side translates to, “You matter to me.”

The testing of this concept has come within the last 18 months for us as our family moved from Pennsylvania to England. Our kids were ages 14, 12, 9, and 3 when we moved, and it cannot be adequately captured with words how hard this shift was for them. Had we known how excruciating it was going to be, I do not know if my husband and I would have had the courage to actually make this move. In God’s mercy, we were ignorant when we embarked on this adventure. 

My oldest son, now almost 16, has been living in a crucible. Changing high schools across town is not easy—in a new country is near impossible to survive. At an age when he just wants to say the right thing and be accepted, navigating a new culture feels disorienting and suffocating. 

This beautiful boy of mine was born without a left hand. Interestingly enough, during our life in the USA, he was the quintessential golden boy, who oozed confidence, leadership, and compassion for others. His apparent “handicap” was not seen as such by us, himself, or his peers. Now in a new place where his identity was unknown, he was bullied for this difference.

“I never knew how ugly, I was, Mom,” he confided. And my heart rent in two.

I don’t even know exactly when it began, but we started having breakfast together. Each morning there are four kids to get to three different schools, so this isn’t the most convenient time, but it has become sacred. We rise early for a fried egg sandwich for him and a superfood smoothie for me, along with a cup of tea for us both. We talk, we take a look at the Bible together, and we wrestle through issues like “Why is there suffering?” or “What is faith?” and “Is God really good?” 

Eighteen months ago, I wouldn’t have seen difficult days for this guy as a teenager, but they are here. I am so thankful for the years of notes in the lunch box, homework help, and cheering on the sidelines of the soccer field for they have brought us to the space of our breakfasts in the midst of the pain. The struggle isn’t over for him, but my husband and I are in the thick of it with him due to the day-in, day-out relationship building along the way. It is a privilege to be able to influence this precious son in this hard place.

Amy Mullens

Amy is an American church planter alongside her husband and four children living in the Midlands of England.  She enjoys reading, snow skiing, and exploring the countryside of her new home when free time appears.