3 Parenting Questions for Jim Burns

This post is part of a series celebrating the release of the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’re interviewing parents who serve, think, and write about faith, family, and ministry.

This week we hear from my dear friend Dr. Jim Burns. Jim and his wife Cathy have three adult daughters (the subject of the first question below!), and Jim is one of the most sought-out voices on family relationships and faith. He serves as President of HomeWord. Jim has written extensively on parenting and marriage, and one of his recent books is Faith Conversations for Families, a great tie-in to Sticky Faith!

I’ve seen how close you are with your daughters, even now that they are young adults. What did you and Cathy do when your girls were younger that helped plant those close relational roots that continue to bear fruit?

You’re right, we are close. And we actually like each other most—but not all—of the time!

Since children regard your very presence as a major sign of caring and connectedness, we decided to practice "the power of being there." I'm not sure we ever missed a game or competition while they grew up. We tried to live by making the kids the first priority on our calendar, along with a weekly date as a couple.

I remember researching traits of healthy families for a book I wrote called 10 Building Blocks to a Solid Family. One of the major traits of a close-knit family was that they played together. So we took it upon ourselves to be very proactive about playing together. Cathy was also fanatical about having dinners together and making sure we went on really fun vacations. Today there are still regular family dinners, and we try to do a family vacation with our adult kids each year. So far, so good. 

What verse of scripture has most shaped your parenting?

I'm not sure we had one favorite verse for the entire time we were raising our kids, but three scriptures come to mind: "Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray." (Prov. 22:6) We claimed this verse as a promise, especially in the tougher times. As our girls reached the teenage years, they all took a turn away from what we had hoped and expected. Our goal was that by the time they became young adults, we would have taught them how to find their “Mission, Mate, and Master.” This doesn't mean that they would have it all together, but that we at least helped them learn a biblical view in all three of those areas. Today we are reaping those rewards, but it sure wasn't easy during the tougher times.  

The second scripture is "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be written upon your hearts. Impress them on your children." (Deut. 6:4,5) This scripture is called the shema, a Hebrew word meaning “to listen,” and it actually is the plan and purpose for the Hebrew people. It's the most often-quoted scripture in the entire Bible because it has been recited every morning and evening in every Orthodox Jewish home since the time of Moses. I can imagine Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms reciting these words to him. What this scripture taught Cathy and me is that we are called to live our faith out to the best we can, and then in a healthy way “impress” or pass it on to our children. We came up with a Sunday night fun night that included games, fun food, and a short spiritual formation time. Our kids didn't mind, as long as it was a positive environment with fun food!

We also kept a nightly quick prayer time at each of the girls’ bedside. I got in the habit of placing the sign of the cross on their foreheads. One time when one of my adult daughters was going through a tough time, I asked her if I could pray for her. When I was finished praying she took my hand and had me put the sign of the cross on her forehead. I had no idea all those years that this experience meant anything to her. 

The third verse is, "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (Prov. 4:23) Neither Cathy nor I were raised in Christian homes. No one ever taught us how to "guard our hearts." We believed it was very important that we taught our kids (through both words and action) how to have healthy relationships by guarding their hearts as well as learning to guard their hearts in their faith.

In your opinion, what mistakes do fathers tend to make in the way they parent their daughters? 

I meet too many fathers who seem to know what to do with their sons, but who struggle with their daughters. I grew up in a home with all brothers, so when Cathy and I had all girls there were times I did feel like an alien. What am I saying? There are still those times! 

I always suggest to fathers to have a regular date with their daughters. Spending time is a big deal. When they are little, play with them, nurture them, read to them, pray with them. As they get older, they may think you aren't as cool (at least mine did), but continue spending time. I have a yellowed post-it note on my desk that has three letters on it: A.W.E. It stands for affection, warmth, and encouragement. I want to give my girls (and Cathy) plenty of appropriate affection. I want to set a tone in the home of warmth so that when I do have to discipline or call them on something, they remember the warm times too. And I think a dad needs to give his daughters plenty of encouragement. I have a little sign in my office at work that reads, "Every kid needs at least one adult who is irrationally positive about them." I want to be that kind of a dad. 

For more ideas from real families like yours, get the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family.

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