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.

parent fail

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.

parent fail

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)

parents fail

On Raising Kids Who Tangle


Bad report. Sarah Beth’s 1. snoring. 2.getting up close to me in the van. Hit me, teasing me calling me Becky laughing at me lying about me. Grade C+ Please write your name and _______ (Signature: David Slabach)

Some days our kids tangled. Some days they played like the princes and princesses they were not. I’ve got proof in my file drawers of both kinds of days. In cleaning out those file drawers recently, I’ve laughed so much at the papers I found that I cried. Yet, I also recognize that the papers brought memories of some parts of parenting that were difficult.

It takes two to tangle.

That’s what my mother used to tell us (although I don’t think she used the word tangle.)  A lone child can hardly fight with himself. When there are only two siblings, the discord is less because the two have to learn to play together if they’re going to have a playmate at home.

I’m a proponent of larger families (you can read about that here). I still think the “bennies” of a large family outweigh the “fits”, but I also recognize that there are things that happen among multiple siblings that don’t happen with two or fewer kids.


One of the disadvantages of having a passel of kids is that certain ones can tend to take sides and pit one child against all the others. Sometimes it’s older ones against a younger one; sometimes it’s boys against girls. Other times it is personalities against personalities.

I experienced some of that as a child and I saw it happen among our own kids. It not only happens in homes, but it happens in school or church settings just as easily. It matters not if it’s a public school, Christian Day school, or homeschool, teachers can tend to gravitate to certain types of children that they connect with more naturally. I have seen this happen in all three of these schooling settings.

Tangle One: Sibling Groups Pitting Against Each Other

When you have children with differing personalities, those that tend to think and respond the same way will often unite in their disdain for the child or children who are “different” in talent, interests, or tastes. The minority tend to get shafted by the majority who don’t think the way they do. It’s a most natural progression, but a progression that needs to be recognized and stopped before it causes trouble.  While we would never want to admit it, allowing our kids to treat each other in this way is really putting one group above the other – whether it’s at home, in school or in the church.

Tangle Two: Sibling Rivalry

Normal sibling rivalry can cause conflict.  Children are naturally competitive, especially among their siblings or peers. Competition can be good as it challenges a child to do his best; yet, it can also lead to damaging rivalry. Sometimes rivalry happens because kids want attention, want to be “first” or don’t want to be tied to a chore. It’s important to recognize unhealthy conflict early. Don’t let it take root and fester. Like Barney Fife says, “Nip it in the bud!”

Comparing our kid with a sibling also adds to sibling rivalry. “Why can’t you make grades like your brother?” or  “Why can’t you get along with others like your sister does?” or “I wish you were as responsible as your brother” are all ways parents add fuel to an already smoldering fire. Instead of building a case on a comparison, facilitate the celebration of differentness! This will help nix the rivalry.

Tangle Three: Parental Favoritism

Parental favoritism can cause conflict among children as well. It’s easy to see in others, but hard to see in ourselves. Kids will tangle more when the parents’ obviously favor certain ones. Whether it’s because a child is the same sex as the parent, looks more like his mother or father, or has abilities and talents that are enjoyed more by a particular parent, favoritism happens. When it is allowed to overtly raise its ugly head, unhealthy tangling among your troops is certain to result.

It happened with Isaac and Rebekah, one of the sets of parents recorded in the first book of the Bible. They had twin sons and each parent favored the son who was most like him or her. Isaac was a hunter and an outdoorsman and he easily connected with Esau who also liked the outdoors and enjoyed hunting. Rebekah, on the other hand, favored Jacob whose interests were more domestic. Since Isaac and Rebekah each had their favorite son, they pitted their boys against each other. Don’t believe me? Check out these verses.

As parents, we do well to recognize any of us can easily make that this parenting mistake. In the home of Isaac and Rebekah, conflict ensued with devastating results. Betrayal, lying, deceit, and ultimately a family separation resulted. This tragedy could have been avoided had Isaac and Rebekah made a conscious effort to connect with the twin who was least like them. Instead, they gravitated toward the one that thought and responded to life’s situations the way they did and emotionally abandoned their other son.


When our youngest daughter became frustrated with her siblings’ irritations, she had one means to vent her feelings: giving consequences and grades for their actions and behavior. She’d make her list and fill out the “paperwork” [carbon copy papers from her uncle’s business employment] then bring the papers for one of her parents to sign. I usually told her to give it to her father who was willing to sign with a flourish.

Recently I asked older sister if she ever paid up on this bill! We’re all laughing now – but we recognize that our little pistol-whipping seven-year-old was frustrated because she wasn’t accepted in her own right with her different personality and interests which were so unlike her siblings.


Sarah Beth you have to give me 100$$ for opening my dresser without asking me. I better have the money by Thursday, November 16, 2000. Thanks Rebekah

Why am I telling you all this? I’m telling you because I know how difficult parenting can be.

I also know how easy it is to feel that we’re failing – when we really are not.

You’ll look back at the things that happened and the way your kids tangled and realize they really were learning interpersonal relationship skills. You’ll see how they learned to relate to others because of what they learned at home.

You won’t do it all completely right. You can’t because you’re human. You will make mistakes. You’ll have those “Stop the world and let me off!” days.



In those moments – and those tangle days – here are some lifelines you can grab.

  1. Help your kids find a way to untangle conflict themselves rather than interfering and doing it for them. It will groom them for life.
  2. Allow them to be individuals and don’t try to push them all into the same mold – encouraging them to be who God planned them to be, rather than who you’d like to see them become.
  3. Don’t play favorites or gravitate toward the one who is most (or least) like you – avoid that Jacob/Esau effect. Ask an objective parent to nudge you when they see that happening.
  4. Get advice from parents who you think are doing it (or did it) right. They will be glad to share their successes – and their struggles – to help you.
  5. Ask God for wisdom. He gives it freely when we ask. I know He is faithful because I’ve experienced that wisdom when I asked.


pinterest tangle



Raising Kids: The Difference Between Fudging and Mercy

the difference between fudging and mercy

When parenting is especially hard and you’re not sure what to do with a defiant child, consider granting mercy¹.

Do it, not because he deserves it, because mercy isn’t deserved. Do it because we have been the recipients of mercy. As God grants us mercy when we least deserve it, we can model that to our children. It is a lesson well-learned.

Disciplining with Mercy

My friend’s Lyme disease left her weak and unable to cope with normal duties. Her toddler son was usually obedient, but on this particular day, he did not stay inside as she had asked him to do while she went to the mailbox. Upon her arrival back to the house, she found him outside. His look told her that he knew he had disobeyed. She was exhausted; that walk to and from the mailbox took everything out of her and she just wanted to sit down and rest.

This mom had a dilemma. She was not physically or emotionally able to deal with disciplining him, but she knew he deserved and needed to experience the consequence of his defiance. Most certainly, she knew that if he “got away” with slipping outside the house once without permission, he’d be sure to do it again. The road going by their house was not a safe place for a wandering toddler. No, this was not safe for him to receive no consequence for his disobedience.

What to do? Ever the creative parent, she chose to seize that moment and give him mercy.  

This exhausted but wise mom explained to her tyke that he had disobeyed, and therefore he deserved punishment. However, on this day and for this instance, she would show him mercy. She explained to her little guy what mercy means. “You deserve a spanking, but I am going to show you mercy and not give you what you deserve. This is what God does for us. What you did was wrong, but today I am going to show you mercy just like God shows to us.”

She didn’t ignore his infraction. She didn’t minimize the importance of obedience or the fact that he had willfully disobeyed. In granting him mercy, she recognized that what he had done was wrong (and could, eventually, become unsafe). For this instance, and for this time, he received mercy.


God gives mercy instead of fuding

A child will feel more secure if he knows that he didn’t “get away” with his wrongdoing.  

The boundaries have not changed and he must still obey even when he receives mercy for his infraction. Being given mercy does not give him permission to disobey the next time, or to continue to do what he knows he must not do. Granting mercy does not ignore what he has done. Mercy acknowledges the deserved consequence and then chooses to allow the guilty party to be free from that guilt without experiencing the consequence.

That is what God does for us, and therein lies the difference.

God gives mercy

When we as parents (or teachers) fudge² on what our kids have done, we’re only giving them permission to continue to disregard the rules or requirements for a class. When our kids know we have seen and chosen to ignore what they have done or they hear us minimize the infraction to others (she was just tired; she didn’t understand), we are teaching them that it’s okay to lie and that life doesn’t have consequences.

Our God is a merciful God. He is also just.  

Our kids need to experience both sides of our Father- through their parents. They need to understand justice. They need to experience consequence for wrongdoings. They also need to experience mercy.

For the child who seems to constantly be in trouble, for the child whose infractions are so severe that it’s hard to extend mercy, he still needs – at times – to experience the wonder of being guiltless because of mercy. There will be enough days when it seems all he gets is judgment.

Fudging OR Mercy

Seize those moments – both times of consequences and of granting mercy. Don’t fudge on your kid’s failures or on your seeming attempts at discipline. Our kids will know what we’re doing and this will make them less secure.

Instead, be consistent in what you expect and require of your children. Help them learn consequences.

At times when it seems appropriate, allow them to experience the relief of mercy; it will help them learn about God.

Pinterest: Mercy

¹Mercy: compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, enemy, or another person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence: Have mercy on the poor sinner. 2. the disposition to be compassionate or forbearing:


  1. present or deal with (something) in a vague, noncommittal, or inadequate way, especially so as to conceal the truth or to mislead.



Building Blocks of Parenting – Part 2

Part Two: Building Blocks of Parenting

Part Two Building Blocks of Parenting

When you’re frustrated with parenting, here are some things you can do to help sort through the advice and information you’ve heard or read. Sometimes we’re not sure about discipline and consequences. Sometimes we think the method we’ve chosen isn’t working. Sometimes we wonder if there’s a better way or a consequence that will get our kids’ attention more quickly. When you’re in that boat, here are a few Oars to help you paddle the rough waters of parenting.

Try these building blocks for Parenting.

When you use them correctly and consistently, you’ll find that parenting can be fun even when it’s hard work.

Alphabet letters for building blocks of parenting


parenting and asking about a hill to die on

Ask yourself if this is a hill worth dying on. If it is, then do battle until you’ve won. If it’s not, then call a truce. Maybe you’ll need to admit to your child that this isn’t working and you’ll come up with another plan. Sometimes calling a time-out until you can figure out what to do will provide grace and save face (for both of you). A few times I gave grace and we started over with a clean slate. I used that opportunity to explain what grace is. Obviously, my child learned what grace felt like because he was experiencing it right then! Claiming the hills you’ll die on helps keep you focused in the right direction. Giving in when it’s not an I’ll die on this hill makes life easier. Plus, it’s a win-win for everyone.

parenting and making the punishment fit the crimeBe sure to make the punishment fit the crime. Before dealing threats and consequences, figure out a consequence that fits the crime.  Match ‘em up. I surely failed at this those first years! If your child keeps turning on DVDs without permission, time-out or a spanking won’t send the message like turning the DVD off for a day. Of course, it’s easier to put a kid in time out than listen to her complain all day. She shouldn’t complain, but you can nix that complaining by adding a day onto the consequence. You can be sure the next time she thinks about putting in a DVD without permission, she’ll remember what happened the last time. It’s true that sometimes a child will repeat the infraction just to see if you remember or if you will really follow through. Don’t disappoint him.  Remember: you’re the parent.

comradarie and communication is part of building blocks of parentingComradery and Communication goes a long way. Working alongside a child when he’s young is better than sending him to do a job by himself i.e. raking leaves, dusting and vacuuming a room, washing dishes after a meal. It gives time for chatting and communication. You get the job done together and you connect with your child. It’s a time when being your child’s friend is a positive thing. Hanging up clothes on the clothes line was one of my favorite ways to nab a kid for some one-on-one time. Working side-by-side brought secrets to light better than trying to get a child to tell me over a glass of iced tea what was troubling him. Together, we sorted life’s problems, one load at a time. Plus, working alongside your child gives you an opportunity to model cheerfulness in a daunting task as well as showing him how to get a job done so that it’s done well. This is one time when “show, don’t tell” is important.

One block, one level at a time, and the task won’t seem so hard.

Sometimes we need to go back and start over at ground level. Each block, each principle used successfully is a guarantee to make good parenting possible – and rewarding as well.

You can do this.  After all, you’re the parent!

Pinterest Building Blocks Part Two