When Parents Are Failing

Parents who fail. That’s what this blog is about. Written by my blogger friend Rosina Schmucker, it is real and raw. When we view someone else’s parenting, do we sit over, sit out, or sit beside them? Rosina blogs at https://arabahrejoice.com

What do you do when you think your friends are failing at parenting?

Of course, it’s easy to have all the answers about parenting before you’ve tried it out yourself. But suppose you have parented several children already, and what you see in other people makes you shake your head in despair?

Let me tell you a little secret. Having parented successfully does not make you an expert. The end.

Here’s why. You can follow basic guidelines for providing for your children’s needs, but it is impossible for one person to experience every possible parenting scenario. Children are all very different, and beyond that, some children are born with needs that go far beyond what you can put in the “different but normal” range.

However, the pressure to produce well-behaved, smart, socially-adept, flexible kids is high, and steadily increasing with the influx of media-sharing and sermon-sharing about how to raise the best kids possible.

While parents do need to learn all they can about how to raise their children, and it’s important to offer whatever resources they desire, I think many have forgotten the simple and powerful practice of sitting beside.

Let me explain from my own experience. My first child was unusual from the start. Although he was incredibly responsive and sweet at home, many times when we took him out he cried and cried.

I spent Sundays in the nursery trying to soothe a crying baby while the other ladies discussed the finer points of doctrine in Sunday school. After church I would ask Will what the sermon was about, because I usually missed most of it.

When we went to a friend’s house for a meal, the rest of the group laughed and chattered over their pizza while I sat in the bedroom with a crying baby, tears rolling down my own cheeks.

People noticed my cute baby, and they also noticed that something was wrong, but they could not see how fiercely I loved him and how hard I tried to take care of him. They could not see how alone I was.

Before communion at our church, we had a special service in which each of us had to meet with one of the preachers to talk about how our spiritual life was going. Our son was still a baby when Will and I unsuspectingly sat down and shared about our lives.

“I have a concern,” the preacher said. “Your son is too noisy in church, and I feel you perhaps are not disciplining him appropriately.” The rest of what he said was a blur, and although I’m sure he meant to be kind, I felt my cheeks burning in shame. How could we possibly begin to explain what we didn’t yet understand ourselves? That we knew there was something wrong, but we were pretty sure it wasn’t a discipline problem?

I’m not a person given to public displays of emotion, but I slipped to the coat rack in the back of the church foyer and burst into tears. Will and I collected our baby and quietly left for home.

Later we learned that our son was on the autism spectrum and had, among other issues, extremely sensitive hearing. Church services, especially the music, was physically painful for him, and that was why he cried. But we didn’t know this at the time, and going places became miserable.

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On one hand, some people were openly critical. They sat over us in judgment about all the wrong ways we were parenting. We heard sermons and topics and group discussions on how to properly raise children, with little sympathy for anyone with unique challenges.

Then there were also people who politely sat out. They were too kind to judge, so they carefully looked the other way when our son misbehaved. They maintained cheerful talk even when things were going badly, and pretended that we were fine. They did not offer judgment, but they did not either give us the support we truly needed.

We needed someone to sit beside us in the difficult place. And one Sunday, this happened.

I was in the nursery (again) with a crying baby (again). By this time, I had mostly resigned myself to spending my Sundays this way. I knew my baby was tired, and if he could just fall asleep, I might be able to get a little out of church. But he was overstimulated and could not fall asleep, so he wept.

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Partway through the sermon, the nursery door opened, and a youth girl slipped in. She smiled and asked kindly, “Do you need me to hold your baby?” I could feel the genuine sympathy and care flow from her heart and wrap like a mantle around me and my baby. I knew my child wouldn’t do well with a stranger holding him, so I told her that I just needed to hold him until he fell asleep.

But she didn’t leave. She settled into a rocking chair beside me, and talked to me in her sweet way. Within a few minutes, in the glow of her gentle presence, my son relaxed and fell asleep.

Several years went by, as Will and I loved and delighted in our child and did our best to take care of him. He was funny and frightfully clever–at five years old he could crack a side-splitting joke and accurately describe in great detail how a car motor works. But some things were so different for him, and the judgment never stopped coming. It got to the place where I felt skittish every time I saw a preacher drive in the lane, or heard a discussion on child training. I didn’t enjoy going out in public. And I felt incredibly alone.

I remember lying on my bed one Sunday afternoon, sobbing into my pillow and pleading God to send someone to come talk to me and encourage me in my parenting journey. I was too battered to reach out for help myself. “Send someone to talk to me!” I cried. But nobody came.

As our child got older, his emotional problems and developmental delays worsened. Then one evening we went to a big auction designated to raise funds for Haiti. The event consisted of lots of high-sugar foods, noise, excitement, people, and kids tearing around at breakneck speed. Our son’s motor amped up and up, until it was time to leave. Then his fuse blew, and he unleashed the worst tantrum I had ever seen.

As our son thrashed and raged on the floor, Will tried his best to gain control of him while a large circle of shocked onlookers stared in silence. I knew that a mental health therapist (who was also a family friend) was in the crowd, so I dashed off to him and asked him for help.

He came immediately, and went right to Will’s side. Together they were able to calm down our son enough to take him outside into the quiet darkness. The therapist sat with Will for a long time, talking with him and our son, offering hope and companionship.

As we drove home, Will and I both wanted to cry, because while everyone else either looked on in horror or looked away in polite denial, this man sat beside us and extended grace. Just as the young girl had that Sunday in the nursery, this therapist’s presence channeled the healing love of Jesus into our breaking hearts.

That is why I say that when you see your friends struggling with parenting, they don’t need you to sit over them in judgment. Chances are, anyway, that they are not failing as much as it appears. Likely they are facing challenges that require a unique set of skills. These parents are probably more resilient and courageous than you can imagine, and are crying to Jesus daily for wisdom. When you judge their parenting, you are essentially saying that you do not believe in who they are. You are saying that they are not worthy of raising their children.

Neither do they need you to sit out and ignore them. Ignoring sends the message that you are uncomfortable and unwilling to engage in the messy parts of their lives. It tells them that they are not worth noticing, not worth the effort to support. Ignoring says that you don’t care.

Struggling parents need their friends to willingly go to the center of their pain and sit beside them.

No pat answers, no disengaging, just sitting and holding their souls in the love of Jesus. This sitting-beside is what paves the road to redemption.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

 I Corinthians 12:26 (ESV)

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Three Things Children Need Besides Food, Clothing, and Shelter

 

 

children need

Not a one of us would argue the fact that children need to feel loved. It is a primary need for every one of us.

Yet there are things that spell love to kids other than those four letters: LOVE. Parents and adults who truly love their kids will provide not only food, clothing, and shelter.

They will also provide safety, security, and structure.

Here’s how.

Children need Safety. 

When a child feels unsafe, he will act up. He’ll threaten or defy authority because he has no respect for authority. He also knows he can’t trust the adults in his life to keep him safe. Whether he feels emotional or physical neglect, he will feel unsafe. If he experiences emotional or physical abuse, he will feel doubly unsafe. Like an animal cornered, he will lash out, trying to hurt others before they can hurt him. Like a forlorn kitten who finally trusts its owner, a child who feels safe will be your friend.

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Children need Security.

We provide security by being consistent and by following through with our directions We provide security by having boundaries that a child cannot cross without receiving consequences. Making empty promises or drastic threats that kids know won’t be fulfilled leaves them feeling insecure. Children need to know that the relationship between their parents is solid and sure. When there is hidden discord, kids can still feel that discord. They need to know that the adults in their lives are in their corner and will not lie to them. If they can’t trust the adults in their lives to tell them the truth, to follow through, or to be consistent, then who can they trust? If they can’t trust anybody, then they will feel insecure. Like a baby swaddled in a warm blanket, a child who is secure will exhibit behavior that says he knows who he is and he knows he belongs.

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Children need Structure. 

There’s such security in knowing what to expect and from whom to expect it. When a child’s structure keeps changing, he begins to feel insecure and insignificant. Make it a high priority to provide structure. The structure your home provides might be different than mine and that’s okay. You might even need to change the structure, but if your kids know changes happen to help them, they will be okay.

children need

Your family’s structure will be different than other families’. You might eat at a different time and your food choices might not be the same as your neighbor’s, but children need to know they can expect things to be the same even if the sameness is different on different days.

Giving your child responsibilities gives him structure. What he does is important; his responsibility is important and he needs to feel trusted and appreciated. This provides structure to his world.

When there is a safety net surrounding your child, when there is security in knowing he can trust the adults in his life, and when there is a calm and settled routine, your child will be secure. When your child is secure, he will know he is truly loved.

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Three Things We Can Learn From Children

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How I enjoy the sounds of children laughing at play! It’s a reminder to me that we should all laugh more than we do.

I remember the day several of our foster kids were playing just hours before the court hearing that would determine their future home. The kids were outside, riding their bikes and having a blast. I heard their laughter through the open window. I wondered how they could be so happy when I was so concerned for them.

There’s so much we can learn from children if we take the time to consider. Jesus Himself used a child as an example of someone who has a teachable, pliable spirit.  He said that, unless we become like little children, we can’t enter the Kingdom of God. There’s a reason He used a child as an example.

We do well to learn from them. We also do well to follow their example. We can if we are willing to become like them.

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Becoming Childlike, not Childish

  • Children are blind to many differences.

    They don’t notice color, culture, or class. Language barriers don’t exist because they find ways to communicate and have fun even if both don’t speak the same language. They realize that a smile, laughter, and hugs cross any barrier. We should do the same and become childlike in relating to others, especially those who think differently or whose culture is different from ours.

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  • Children are resilient.

    They are resilient both physically and emotionally. Any physician can tell you that children respond quickly to treatment and return to normal much quicker than do adults. It’s the same emotionally. That’s why my kids could laugh hysterically at each other in their play just hours before the judge made a lasting decision. Life happens and is difficult for adults, yet we should practice resilience by becoming childlike in our response to difficulties. Children are carefree because they don’t spend a lot of time worrying. We can (and should) develop that childlike trait.

     

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  • Children are forgiving – they don’t hold grudges. 

    You’ll find that children don’t hold grudges unless they are trained by adults to do so. When you ask a child for forgiveness, they’re quick to say, “It’s okay.” They don’t have to think about it first because forgiveness is there instantly. They are ready to forgive and move on. When battles are fought over toys or who gets to go first, the incident is (usually) quickly forgotten. Anger disappears in moments and the discord is dismissed as friends remain friends. We should become more childlike when it comes to forgiving others and not holding grudges.

    We should become more like children.

    There’s a difference between being childish and childlike.  Too often, without even realizing it, we become childish in relating to others. In our relationships (whether it’s family, friends, or faith folks) we should become childlike.

    Practice becoming like a little child. Friendships will be easier and the load will be lighter. Laughter will become an important part of your heart!

 

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As adults, we like to think we’re all grown up and mature. Yet truly, we do well to become like little children. We will be happier, and so will everyone else around us.

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Sharing the Gift Inside the Present

give the gift

I didn’t realize, those years ago when we opened our home, that we were giving the gift of family and home. . . .

The young man wheeled his vehicle into our driveway and bounded up the steps. I knew him at once.

It had been fifteen years, but I recognized that build and that face. Tucked into our son’s photo album is a picture of our kids with Terrance* on the first day of school – the time he lived with us for three weeks while his mother was in the process of moving to another state. I had often wondered what had become of Terrance.

He was just another lone wolf who camped at our place. There had been others, like the fourth grader who spent every Wednesday after school and went to church with us. We helped him complete his homework for the week because his mother’s world didn’t include her children’s homework, school, or church. There was another day I peered through our living room window to check on the kids when I noticed an additional kid.

My son explained, “I told him if he ever needs a place to stay, he can play here. So his mom dropped him off while she went to town.” I didn’t mind an extra child being there. What was foreign to me was a mother who didn’t bother to verify permission for his presence in our yard. I never did meet his mother, but he found a safe place to stay and ate at our table that day.

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In recent years, we’ve had other children show up at our door – brought by either a case worker or another foster parent who needed child care. These children have stayed for several weeks or over a year. Every time, it upsets my neatly ordered world.

Every time, I have to choose to give – to widen my circle and make room for another wagon instead of tightening my safe-place-circle to the exclusion of lonely waifs.

While foster care was a new territory for us, as a child I observed my mother doing her own foster/respite care for moms in New York City. My family participated in the Fresh Air Fund program. Each summer — over twenty-five of them — we hosted four to six girls of different nationalities for several weeks in our home. After my mother passed away in 2010, we received emails from several Fresh Air children expressing appreciation for the love and family life they experienced in my mother’s home as children. If my widowed mother had waited until her house was “good enough” to host these children, it never would have happened.

Rather, she chose to give because she had been given much.

An email from a neighbor’s child shared her memories of being invited to come see new puppies and eat supper with us. Fifty years had passed, yet she specifically mentioned the gift of love and kindness she experienced at my mother’s table.

give the gift of family

You know what I’ve discovered as I’ve listened to the stories of these foster children?

Visiting our homes is like being given a gift from another world: removing the bow, loosening the tape on the paper, and then lifting the lid of the box to enjoy the priceless gift inside. 

We allow others who have never had a safe place experience, savor, and delight in the beauty and safety of a Christian home. How many children in our communities have never experienced this blessing?!

In my Anabaptist culture, most of us have been blessed with two-parent homes and supportive, encouraging churches. We’ve been gifted honesty and respect for authority. Surely we would change some things about our childhoods if we could, but the fact remains that for many of us, our heritage is a blessing to which we are blind.  Rather than share this bounty with others, we mingle with our own people and hoard this gift for ourselves alone.

A few days after Terrance’s first visit back to his “childhood home,” as he calls our place, he told me, “I never knew that there were parents who did not beat their children – until I came to live with you. I didn’t know that families sat around the table and ate dinner together– until I lived with you.”

No wonder, I thought, he seemed so intrigued with setting the dinner table and begged for a “job” to do when our kids had jobs. Our home had been a haven for him when his mother moved to another state after her divorce while his fractured family was oblivious to his needs.

give the gift

In my Anabaptist haven, I never considered that our home was providing more than just food and shelter those weeks. We were providing a model for a completely unheard of way of life. We didn’t do anything significant. We just lived it in front of him, and he guzzled at the nourishment and fresh water of our home, all while we were unaware.

As Christian women, we have an opportunity to peel back the curtains of our homes and allow others to experience what is so common to us, but is foreign to many children. We have a message of hope and a message about eternity.

In our fear of tainting our own families, we keep the ribbon on the package; we refuse to unwrap the paper, let alone allow others to touch what is inside that tissue paper. We hoard it for our families and our people instead of opening our homes and our hearts so others can understand that there really is a good way to do family.

A few weeks ago, a young girl visited in kids’ class at church. Her home houses two incomplete families: mom and siblings, mom’s friend and his daughter. How I wish I could take this little girl and show her the hope that Jesus gives. I have not forgotten that there is a little girl living in my community who had never heard the song Jesus Loves Me – until that evening. This same little girl shared tearfully that her greatest fear in all of life is that her Daddy will get killed while he is in prison. We prayed that evening for our new friend and for her Daddy. I want to do more because I have been given so much.

I want to open the sweet gift of  “family” for her, allowing her to taste and sample the beauty of knowing Jesus. I want her to know that there is a better way to do family than what she is experiencing. Who is going to tell her? Who is willing to give?! Who is going to share that wonderful news with her? Who is going to live it out in front of her?!

sharing the gift

We have a gift for the world.

Sharing that gift takes investment and it takes time. And oh, does it ever cost! Are we too busy, too preoccupied, too selfish, to give what we have so others can learn a better way to do family?

Lonely, hungry folks don’t care about extravagant meals or immaculate homes. They need to see the hope of Jesus lived before their eyes. They need to experience what it means to have an intact family, for it’s something they’ve never known. Are we willing to share our homes with those who have never experienced one?

Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8).

We’ve received freely.  Now He waits for us to give.

Pinterest Sharing the Gift

 

This article was first published in Daughters of Promise magazine.

*yes, I changed his name