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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Encouraging Moms and Passing it On

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What to do with a kid’s tantrum tears

I wheeled my cart to the front of the store and waited for the mom in front of me to finish putting her items on the conveyer belt.  Seated in the cart was a toddler, probably two or three years of age. She was a blond pixie, and cute as a button.  When she asked to get down her mother obliged.

Pixie’s cuteness left when she ran to the shelves next to the counter and begged for the small bag of chips. Her mom told her no. She asked for pretzels. The answer was no. Miss Pixie begged for gum, for candy, for anything else she could find and she touched item after item, begging. The answer was always no.

Finally, Mom told her to come back to the cart, which she did.

Now the tears came. Mammoth tears. Pouring down your face tears. Woe-is-me tears. Won’t-you-feel-sorry-for-me?! tears. Pouting tears. Buckets of crocodile tears.

Along with the tears, there was a lot of noise. Loud, moanful wails. Sobbing wails. Gasping for air wailing.

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One by one, customers and a clerk came by and asked the little gal what was wrong.  From their actions, one would have thought the child was in danger or in pain. Their glares toward the mom told me what they were thinking. Definitely, there was one side to this story, and it was not the mother’s side! How could a mother be so uncaring? How could she continue loading groceries into her cart while her child sat there crying?!

Because it was the right thing to do, that’s why.

Before the tears had ever begun, little Pixie and I had exchanged smiles. I’d said hello and she had smiled back at me.

When little miss Pixie turned and looked at me with those mournful eyes after the crying episode, I gave her another smile.

Seizing an opportunity, I spoke loudly enough for mom to hear.

“You have a goooood mommy. You are so lucky to have a mommy who cares about you. I saw that you begged and begged, and your mommy kept telling you “no”. I’m so glad your mommy loves you enough to keep saying “no” when she has told you “no” once. She didn’t change her mind because you cried and pouted. She’s a good mommy, and you really don’t need to cry.”

Her tears stopped at once. Eyes wide, she seemed to contemplate what I said. I saw a hint of a smile in her eyes. Uh huh. This kid knew what she was doing all the time. Her tears were gone. I find it interesting that when people offered her sympathy, her tears fell faster and her crying was louder. Perhaps, instead of encouraging kids to misbehave by giving positive reinforcement, we should try encouraging moms to “stick to their guns”!

When it was my turn at the counter, I turned my attention to the pile in my cart and started putting my groceries onto the belt. I’d forgotten about the conversation because all was quiet in the grocery cart now.

I almost missed it, but just as mom turned her cart to wheel the groceries and cart outside, she caught my eye.

There was a faint glimmer in her eyes as she mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

Certainly. Moms need all the applause they can get when they are doing it right.

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Applaud the moms who are doing it right.

I remember those days.

Folks critiqued our parenting when they didn’t even know our names. There was the senior citizen who told me that she couldn’t believe I didn’t care if my son electrocuted himself. We were in the doctor’s waiting room and he had crawled underneath the fish tank to see how it worked. She seemed to know more about it than I did.

Another day, a clerk in the store told me I just needed to whip my kid. We’d traveled for six hours with a toddler who had spiked a fever and was sick the entire trip. The young whipper-snapper was obviously too young to have any kids of her own, but she knew exactly what should happen. Somehow she missed a runny nose, pulling at ears, and feverish face of the kid whose head was on my shoulder. (You see how I remember this over a quarter-century later?!)

I especially remember the time an older woman gave me the encouragement I needed. I think she made a practice of encouraging moms, especially when they needed it. You can read about that here.

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What Fun it is to Pass it on!

On this day in our Food Lion, I paid it forward. Instead of nailing the mom (or the kid), I chose to affirm what was right and good. Encouraging moms is a wonderful way to empower them in their parenting.

It’s so easy to sit back and make a judgment call about a behavior when we don’t know the whole story. It is so much better to find things for which we can applaud and then do it heartily.

Encouraging moms is more important than critiquing them (unless they ask). How much better to look for the good and begin paying it forward? It will make this world a better place. Plus, it’s guaranteed to give our kids better moms!

encouraging moms

The Day Our Son Got Caught on Tape

Caught. I’m still laughing about the time our son got caught on tape.

Every parent likes to catch his kids doing good. We also desire that they will be caught if they’re in the wrong!

Every Wednesday morning during the school year, we mothers prayed for our kids. As part of Moms in Touch, we had a bond. There were two prayers one heard consistently in that room weekly as we stormed the gates of Heaven for our kids.

First and foremost, we didn’t care if our kids made it into Harvard; we wanted them to make it to Heaven. Harvard? Maybe. Heaven for sure. But that’s a story for another time.

This story is about the second prayer: that our kids would be caught if they were doing something they should not be doing.

We have stories we can tell, like the mom who found a test paper with her forged signature on top of her desk after her son left for school. Somehow he’d failed to put the test with the failing grade with her forged signature back in his backpack. You can be certain there were consequences waiting for him when he got home. But at Moms in Touch, we spent some time laughing as well as thanking God for answered prayer.


photo credit: Kasey Rising Moore

Then there was the time our kids were sledding in the woods behind the house. They had built a fire at the top of the hill and at the bottom. Dave had checked things out and then come back to the house where the adults visited and drank hot chocolate.

Weeks later, I came home from town one day and checked the answering machine. What to my wondering ears should appear was a story too good to be kept quiet – only it was meant for our son’s cousin.


“Let me tell you, man! You can’t tell anyone about this!  I mean, if my dad finds out, I will be in big trouble!”

“No, man, I promise I won’t tell. They won’t hear nothin’ from me,” his cousin assured him.

In our absence, younger son had decided to put the rest of the gasoline on the fire to help it flame a little more [entirely allowed by their father who felt they knew what to do]. Only this time, he decided to shake the can until every drop was completely gone. Right. Over. The. Fire.


The blast knocked a hat off the kid’s head as the empty can, now blazing brilliantly, rose to the treetops and sent everyone else scurrying. The boom startled everyone and the guilty child lunged, crawling away from the fire. In an instant, the night sky was ablaze and the fire rose, swirling over the treetops. Some of the kids said they felt their ear canal close up and others claimed (later, after we found out) they heard ringing in their ears for days. Our ten-year-old daughter, upon hearing the boom and seeing the sky light up thought Jesus was coming back. All of them waited, quaking, for us to come running out of the house at the explosion, but we saw and heard nary a thing.

Every child present was sworn – and doubly sworn – to secrecy. No one was allowed to tell. No one was allowed to say anything about what had happened. No one wanted to tell, for no one wanted anyone to get in trouble!

No one broke the code of silence, except for the oldest of the group who had been designated as the responsible sibling. He was the one who had charged the others to keep their mouths shut.

A few days later he called his cousin to tell him what he had missed at the sledding party.

Somehow he managed to hit the record button on the answering machine when he called his cousin, and we got to hear exactly what happened, detail by detail. In between each detail, he kept saying, “Listen, man, you can’t tell anybody, you hear?” and each time the cousin assured him he wouldn’t tell.

By the time I was done listening to the recording I was laughing so hard – and remembering our prayer that if our kids did something wrong, they’d be caught. He was caught, all right. Only he didn’t know it yet. We had proof, and we had it all on tape.

That evening Dave asked guilty son what happened at the sledding party. Our son’s first response was to feign innocence. Then, when he sensed we knew about the explosion, he asked us who told because that sibling was going to be in trouble with him.

Imagine his chagrin when we showed him the tape and let him listen to his play-by-play account of what we were never supposed to find out.


The funniest part was the way he tried to downplay the incident to us as being something totally inconsequential. Of course, the version he gave his cousin on the answering machine tape told a different story! Why I never kept a copy of that tape is beyond me. What fun it would be now to listen to it fifteen years later!

In the end, we thanked God for keeping our kids safe that night – and the many other times their stupidity could have caused harm or accident. We thanked God that, at least this time, our child had been caught.

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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.


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