“I don’t belong anywhere.”

“No one cares about me.”

“I can’t trust anyone.”

“I’m not valuable.”

As a therapist, I hear statements like these from young people all the time. Teenagers and young adults feel alone, isolated, and detached in what appears to be the most connected generation ever. These feelings often grow from the soil of the home environment— and can lead to distressing consequences and cycles of poor decision-making. 

As a mom, I deeply desire to protect my children from those crippling worldviews. I’ve found myself asking, How can we develop a healthy environment in our homes? One in which our children feel that they truly belong? One that demonstrates God’s unconditional love and acceptance? 

Include them in the conversation

I was extremely blessed to grow up with wonderful, Jesus-loving parents. If I did the math correctly, at one point my parents had four teenagers in the house! Yup, four adolescents— all going through all the things and feeling all the feels and needing all the parenting— at the same time!  Somehow, my parents made it through those years and led us four kids into young adulthood in one piece.    

I called them up and asked them point-blank: “How did y’all do it?!”

My mom’s reply? “I don’t know. I guess we always tried to over-communicate and include everyone in the conversation.”

There it is: they made sure to include us in the conversation. We knew we were a part of their family and God’s family by the way they communicated to and with us. 

This environment of inclusive communication laid a foundational sense of belonging. 

And from that sense of belonging grew core beliefs such as: 

  • I am seen here
  • I can trust here
  • I can grow here.

I am seen here

My parents had their hands full juggling careers, kids, and household responsibilities. And we— the kids— had our own lengthy list of needs! We needed supervision, car rides, an advocate at parent-teacher conferences, dedicated fans in the bleachers at games, and so on. It was a lot! 

Through it all, my parents made the effort to be with us. They were present when we needed them to be— and if they couldn’t be present, they let us know in advance so we knew what to expect. 

Their communication and presence surrounding our needs instilled a belief that even if the world overlooks me, at least I’m seen by my parents. Of course, there were times of disappointment, frustration, tears, or misunderstandings. But their efforts in communicating that we were seen by them reflected an even better Father who sees us more thoroughly than any human could.  We are reminded again and again in Scripture that God sees His children— the oppressed, the weak, and the weary. No wonder Hagar refers to Him as the “God who sees” in Genesis 16.

God sees His children— the oppressed, the weak, and the weary.

As parents, if we don’t create a place where our children feel seen, they are at risk of developing low self-esteem and bitterness. How can we make our kids feel seen  at home?

  • Ask for your kids’ input when you communicate the week’s schedule.   What do they need from you?  What are their expectations?  What part of the week are they dreading or looking forward to? Let them know their input and expectations are valuable. 
  • Know and mention the names of your kid’s friends. Who are their friends? Teachers? Significant peers? Who is under their sphere of influence? Their schedules revolve around their own cast of characters. Let them hear that you care enough to know who is in their sphere of interaction.
  • Give your kids daily undivided attention.  Remember: non-verbal communication works wonders. Put the phone away, turn off the talk radio, save the dishes for later. If our time spent with them is shared with our own little side tasks, it’s a lot more difficult to give them the intentional non-verbal communication that says: I fully see you (ie. eye contact, head shaking, expression mirroring, etc).

I can trust here

My parents constantly communicated their values with us. It was drilled into our heads that our parents valued God, their marriage, then us— their children—and in that particular order!  They would chat about what God was teaching them in His Word. They prioritized each other— my dad taught us what a covenant really was. My mom drilled home that we siblings should treasure each other over material possessions.

All of this cumulatively gave me the understanding that the world outside my home may fall apart, but I could trust that my home and family would stay steady.  We knew how seriously they took their commitment to God, each other, and us. 

But while my parents’ faithfulness is limited by their humanity, we are reminded all over Scripture of God’s everlasting covenant faithfulness to His children (Psalm 117:2).  

As parents, if we don’t establish a reliable foundation of trust, our kids are more likely to settle for shallow relationships and set poor boundaries. How can we make our home trustworthy?

  • Keep the Bible out in plain sight! Let there be no question where your true stability comes from. Update your kids on what God is teaching you. Talk about what’s going on in the world through the lens of Scripture.  
  • Honor your marriage in front of the kids. Go on dates, be affectionate, take initiative to run those pesky errands for each other, encourage each other within earshot of your kids. Let them see and hear the ways you serve your spouse. 
  • Don’t gloss over mistakes (ie. loud fights, misunderstandings). Talk about anything that happens within the four walls of your home that threatens stability so that your kids know they’re safe. Talking about something makes whatever it is less scary.

I can grow here

My parents supported our growth in many areas. They did not define us by our mistakes, but rather showed us how to use them to learn and move forward.

Whether it was feedback on our basketball games and theatre performances, or it was feedback on how we behaved at a public gathering or during a sibling fight, my parents did not sugar coat anything. 

And yet in their honesty, they never ridiculed or shamed us.  

The way my parents handled our shortcomings instilled a core belief that our worth ran deeper than our performance, mistakes, and sin.  Did we kids live double-lives at times? Of course. But when the burden of secret sin became too hard to bear, we knew a safe place to run to. 

They loved us enough to not enable, but rather to discipline and disciple. Likewise, Hebrews 12:6 tells us, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”  To be accepted in God’s family is to be disciplined by Him for our good and His glory.

When the burden of secret sin became too hard to bear, we knew a safe place to run to.

As parents, if we do not provide a place for our children to grow, they are at risk of shame and a lifestyle of rebellion. How can we practically support our kid’s growth under our roof?

  • Keep a dialogue going back and forth during discipline.  Ask open-ended questions and encourage two-way dialogue when discussing sin and disobedience, rather than just a one-sided conversation. This allows them to take a sense of ownership in their self-evaluation to change instead of just being told what to do.
  • Be graciously honest in feedback. You don’t want to sugar coat feedback, nor do you want to present harsh feedback. You want to be realistic and encouraging. Help them become aware of their areas in need of growth while extending the support they need to get there. And be honest with them when you see positive progress!
  • Acknowledge and apologize to your children when you’ve sinned against them. Kids are watching closely to see if our actions line up with our words. We are not above needing to ask our kids for forgiveness!  Model repentance as well as forgiveness. 

Microcosms of God’s grace

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)  

I’m grateful for my earthly family— my parents were so faithful to communicate these truths in our home. But my heart rejoices even more to be included in God’s eternal family.  

In God’s family, there is no fear of abandonment. We are always seen by Him, we can always trust Him, and we can always grow in Him. If you’re a believer, you’re part of His family and being in His family is the best place to belong.

When we create homes of belonging, seeing, trusting, and growing— we’re communicating deep truths about God to our children. We’re creating microcosms of God’s grace in the hope that they’ll taste and see that He is good.