When Parents are Failing – Guest Post

Guest Post by Rosina Schmucker 

This post was first published on Rosina’s blog on September 2, 2017. You can follow her blog, Arabahrejoice, here:

When Parents are Failing –

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 people have forgotten the simple and powerful practice of sitting beside others.

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, were physically painful for him, and that was why he cried. But we didn’t know this at the time, and going places became miserable.

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 outThey 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.

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)

 


 

How have other people “sat beside” you during hard seasons of your life?

Getting Your Kid Ready for College – a Repost

College Parent Six Times Over  (a repost)

I’m not an authority on this subject because I’ve only sent six kids off to college. Every year for the past fourteen years, we have had one, two, or three kids in college. This fall I will have three in grad school (and paying their own way, so don’t feel sorry for us). My kids lived on campus and in apartments. Usually, their college was close enough that they were able to come home on weekends if necessary. I haven’t had my kids gone for an entire school year and we’ve had the opportunity to visit them on campus on occasion, so I don’t know what it’s like to have a kid many miles and states away. Most of those years we still had other kids at home and/or had foster kids in our home, so juggling college visits could be a challenge.

There are some things I know.

  • It’s hard. When you’ve spent eighteen years of your life investing in your child, it’s hard to see him leave. Moms show it more, but it’s hard for the dads, too. There is no way to go through this without the hard.
  • Helicoptering is Over! At this important juncture, if you haven’t stopped being a helicopter parent, this is the time to do it. (Helicoptering isn’t a good idea to start with, but if that’s what you’ve done, then use this juncture to hang up your helicopter.) Your child is an adult. This might be the first time your kid is not living at home and living hours away from you where you can’t see or hug him every day. Even so, helicoptering is O.V.E.R.
  • You need to Pray. Every single day. God is with them, so act like He is really there. Especially from a long distance, this is the single greatest way you can continue to have an impact on your kid.
  • Let them go. Don’t fix things. If she misses a deadline, let her figure out how to fix it. Don’t do it for her. If she fails to study for a test, let it go. On second thought, if you’re paying her tuition, you could withhold your financial support if her grades are not what you want them to be. (We never had that problem because our kids paid their own way – thank you scholarships, grants, and loans.)
  • The raising is done. We want them to become successful adults. We’ve raised them up. Now it’s time to let go and stop trying to raise them.

college

There are some Important Things You Can Do.

  • Purchase items ahead of time that they might not be able to find in local stores. We purchased extra-long sheets for the dorm mattresses because finding them in just any store was difficult.
  • Transport only essentials or sentimental things your kid wants to bring to college. You don’t know the layout of the room or how it might be best set up until you get there. Once you arrive and unload the essentials, you can make a Walmart or Target run to get anything else. This saves you from over packing and can simplify the process. There will almost always be something he or she forgets or finds is a necessity after settling in and unpacking. You’ll be making that shopping run anyway.
  • Make a shopping list after visiting the room -Visit the room – apartment, dorm, etc. – where your child will be staying and set up what you brought. Make your list of what you need to get. Wastebasket? Floor lamp? Mattress pad? Cleaning supplies?
  • First Aid Kit. Have a First Aid kit ready to leave with your freshman. For my guys, I used a fish tackle box and supplied it with these items: band-aids, cotton balls, Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, antibiotic ointment and hydrocortisone cream. Make a list of each medication and what it is for. Trust me, most kids will be clueless. If you’d like, include things like a thermometer, a tweezers/needle for removing splinters, Robitussin or Mucinex. When your kid is sick in the middle of the night, he will still call you (ask me how I know), but you can tell him what he needs to take from that box. Your kid will probably hardly touch this First Aid kit until he is sick, but you’ll feel better knowing it’s there if he needs it. My kids ended up sharing their stash with other hall mates.
  • Have access to his information. Especially if you are footing the bill, make certain you are able to view his grades online. He can withhold that from you, but if you’re paying, then you know what to do. If you want to keep up with his grades, there is a way to do it.
  • His schedule and phone numbers. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’ll roll his eyes on this one. Get a copy of his schedule so you can track him – if it’s that important to you. If he will be living off-campus with several roommates, make sure you have their phone numbers and the numbers of the parents in case there is an emergency with any roommate so you can get in touch with the other parents.

college

Coming Home After Goodbyes

  • Returning home is hard. So is saying Goodbye. You must make it a goodbye. In the days and weeks after, don’t tell him constantly how much you miss him and don’t ask him to come home! Instead, ask about his classes, what he is learning, what he’s doing for fun, and what the high and low moments have been so far.  He needs your support and encouragement. He does not need to be guilt-tripped into being away from you. It’s okay to say you miss him, but what he really needs to hear is that you love him and are praying for him.
  • She may be homesick. You will be homesick for her, too. That’s okay. By encouraging her to get involved, become active in her classes and other organizations and try new things and meet new people – that homesick feeling will ease. For our kids, the college became their second home or home away from home. Your physical home will never be replaced, nor will your love for them.
  • You are never far away when your prayers are reaching where he is. When you miss your kid, when you’re worried, or when you just wish he’d come home, use that as a catalyst to pray for him.
  • Encourage her to stay at the college for the first three to four weeks. Don’t visit her during that time unless there is a real need or an emergency. Release her to bond with her new surroundings instead of being pulled back. Those first few weeks are key in making her new place her own in this next chapter of her life.
  • You will always be the parent. You’ve done your part. No matter who his new best friends are, you will always be his parent. In the back of his heart and mind, he will know you’re in his corner, forever. You will always be the anchor, the stabilizing person in his life.  Yet, it’s time for you as the parent to remain the parent as your child learns in a new place, further develops, and faces the next chapter of his life without you there. Be in the wings, cheering him on! Being the parent also means speaking Truth when it is needed. While you can no longer dictate some things, you can keep being honest and Truthful about the things that matter most.
  • Trust God to use the college years to challenge him, grow him, and develop him into the person He calls him to be. Trust that the college years can really challenge him, strengthen him, grow him and further develop him. Pray for this to happen. Don’t ever stop praying. When you have prayed, leave the rest to God.

 

This Repost: When this was first posted a year ago, it was shared so many times and I had so many responses that I decided there are probably some “new” college parents who could use a shot in the arm. I’ve updated some information to make it current for this year. Here it is.

 

 

college

#5 What I’d Do Differently in Raising Kids – Cell Phones

cell phones

Cell phones! Our older kids spent their teenage years during the beginning of the cell phone era. The only thing available then was a flip phone, which we call a “dumb phone.” That’s the kind Dave still uses. No internet, no social media, no games, camera, or videos on their phones. It was just a phone where one could talk or text.

If I were raising my kids today, there would be some definite rules for having cell phones and using one.  Cell phones were a new thing to us and we had no idea that one day social media would be available on these things. We never sat down and discussed the ramifications of cell phone usage. Really, there was no data out there about screen time, distractions, or predators. This was a time when we were not “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  If I had to do it over, I’d more carefully consider the purpose of a cell phone and how we were going to handle its use with our kids in our family.  I would have had restrictions as to where and when it could be used. As it was, it was hard to think “down the road” on this one because we didn’t consider or realize that there was even going to be a “down the road.” Our safety net was a flip phone with no social media because that was the only kind of cell phone available at that time! Today, there’s an even greater need for a safety net because of social media available on “smart” phones.

Because our kids did not have internet on their phones, the only concern was calls or texts coming in or going out. If I had to do it over, our under-age kids’ phones would have been confiscated at bedtime and not allowed to be in their bedrooms. The temptation to answer a phone call or a text from a friend was too great. Our kids didn’t ignore those calls or texts and sometimes spent time on their phones when they should have been sleeping. We didn’t have to hire a private detective. We could see who they’d been talking to (and texting) when the phone bill came. We learned a lot about friends and “neediness” by the record of those calls. IF a child felt they needed to talk to someone, they could always have come downstairs and used the phone where we knew he was and how much longer he would be up before going to bed.

cell phone

If I were raising teenagers (or preteens) today, there’d be some rules.

For starters, I’d flatten some excuses: Everybody else’s kid does not have a cell phone. Even if everybody else’s kid has a cell phone, you are not everybody else’s kid.

  1. A child doesn’t normally need a cell phone before he/she is driving. Any other place he’s going, he will be traveling with an adult who will have a cell phone.
  2. If for some reason a child really needs a cell phone because of special circumstances, all he needs is a flip phone, no matter what other kid his age has a smart phone.
  3. A child who needs a cell phone because he has a job or is driving doesn’t need social media, so he gets a flip phone.
  4. The cell phone stays in the main area of the house. An under-age child who has a cell phone for use while away from home, for travel, or for work, does not need a smart phone. Nor does he need to have his phone in his room when he’s at home. (I know this because I grew up without cell phones and we learned to drag that cord to another room to talk to someone in private and managed to do it without having a phone in our rooms.) If his friends want to call him and his family does not have a land line, he can hear a phone kept in the main area of the house.
  5. The cell phone needs to be turned off at bedtime. It’s okay if he tells his friends that his parents are old-fashioned and mean and he just can’t have it in his room, and it’s all their fault. After all, his parents are paying for his phone.
  6. The cell phone needs to be in a set place in the home, and that place is not in the bedroom of the “owner” of the phone.
  7. A child can pay for his own “smart phone” once he is of age.

If you pay attention to research, you will know that too much time spent on electronics can delay learning. When we really pay attention to the behavior of children, we will see that  too much time on social media will affect their social skills and the way they relate to others.

A pre-teen asked me a few weeks ago if I noticed that she was happier than she used to me. I told her that I did notice, and asked her if she knew why she was happier. I already knew the answer: she had “lost” her smart phone a few weeks before.

“Yes, I know the reason,” she told me. “I was on my phone 24/7 and now I play outside with my puppy.”

If we were raising our kids in this “social media crazed smart phone” era today, I know some things we would ask for starters. I also know that, if we were funding the phone, we would choose the phone and the rules for use of this phone.

  • Why do we want this child to have a cell phone? Do we really have a good reason for this child to have a phone?
  • What is the purpose of the type of phone we are providing?
  • How will having a cell phone be an asset to this child at this time in his life?
  • How might having a smart phone be a hindrance to this child at this time in  his life?
  • What parameters should we set so this child will be safe having this type of cell phone?
  • What consequences are we prepared to make and then follow through with if  this child does not follow with our parameters?
  • What are the things that could cause the greatest regret in providing a cell phone for our child now?

There is a lot of research out there about the effects of cell phones and electronic devices, especially for children whose brains are still developing. You can do your own research if you’d like. I’ve included a few links in case you’re interested. [see below]

Too many times, we as parents don’t consider the long-term effects of what we permit or prohibit for our children. A look down the road ahead of us can help alleviate a lot of pain later if we but take the time to look at the road map to a designated destination before we choose a route. Doing this is part of being wise as serpents. Doing this can protect our children and prevent a lot of heartache down the road.

You can click on the links below if you’re interested.

Video: “Our smart phones are making us stupid.”

Effects of cell phones on kids.  “The risk is, if unchecked, a child could pursue that digital high again and again, until it becomes an unhealthy habit that literally impacts their brain function.”

Do smart phones affect childhood psychology?  “Technology and screen time had rewired their brains. It appears that increased screen time neglects the circuits in the brain that control more traditional methods for learning. These are typically used for reading, writing, and concentration.”

Child brain development and cell phones.“Multiple studies link addictive relationships with mobile devices to mental health problems in teens, including depression, anxiety, and disrupted sleep. “

 

 

 

Why I Never Said, “This hurts me more than it hurts you!” to my Kids

hurts me more than it hurts you

I only remember one time when my mother said to me, prior to a spanking, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

Even though there were tears in her eyes, it made me angry.  I just didn’t get it that day.

I understand that the emotional pain a parent experiences when a child disobeys is greater than what any child can feel in a physical punishment. I’ve felt that as a parent myself. Yet a child cannot equate physical pain with emotional pain, especially at the time of a spanking, so why try to explain something to him that we know he can’t grasp?

I don’t remember how old I was, but I can take you to the place in the bathroom where my mother said those words to me, and I vowed then that I would never, ever say those words to my kids. (There were a lot of other things I vowed never to do to my kids that I certainly reneged on, but this was not one of them!)

hurts me more than it hurts you

As a child, I did not understand how she could experience physical pain from administering the punishment. That’s what I remember. Therefore, I felt betrayed and belittled. I know this was not my mother’s intent!  I know she wanted me to understand that disciplining a child was not a fun thing for her to do, and that it wasn’t easy. I knew that she wasn’t flying off the handle, and her discipline was not in anger or revenge. She honestly wanted me to learn and understand that what I had done was wrong, and there were consequences.

There were tears in Mama’s eyes that day, and I felt more guilt from her tears than from the actual spanking. I knew my wrongdoing brought pain enough to bring tears and she was frustrated. Yet I couldn’t connect her emotional pain to my physical pain. Of course, I understand that completely now. I understand why she said that to me, because it really was true for her. At my age, I just couldn’t get it .

What made more of an impression on me was the tears in my mother’s eyes. It’s the only time I remember her crying when she administered a discipline. She didn’t need to tell me; she simply showed me. That’s the part that connected with me. She experienced deep sorrow and, I am sure, she wondered how she was going to accomplish raising us.

No matter how we choose to discipline our children when they are wrong, we need to be able to help them connect the dots. If it doesn’t make sense, they won’t learn and understand what they’ve done is wrong from the experience of discipline or punishment. It might make sense to us, but that doesn’t help them learn if they don’t get it. Oh sure, they might know never to try that again because it’s not worth the consequence, but they need to be able to connect the dots between actions and consequences.

Parenting can be tough. Figuring out the moods and minds of our children can be hard. Finding what works for each individual child takes some sleuthing. Sometimes what works for one child doesn’t work for another.

When we make mistakes or could do things better, we learn. God forgives.  Our children forgive.

The best part is that He gives us wisdom if we but ask. Sometimes we can receive wisdom from other parents or from older folks who’ve been that path years before.  There are books we can read; there are parenting groups we can join.  Most important of all, we should seek help and wisdom from God. If we truly ask for wisdom and if we truly listen, He will give us ideas and help us understand our children.

He will give us the best words to say and the best actions to take if we are willing to ask and then are willing to  listen.

Let’s not be afraid to ask!

hurts me more than it hurts you

 

[On spanking a child: remember that a genuine spanking is not child abuse, nor is it something that is done in anger or to vent frustration; it is part of teaching and training a child. Scripture talks about what happens when a parent spares the rod of discipline.  As a foster parent, there are many times I’ve wished I could apply some wisdom to the seat of someone’s understanding because the behavior could have been squelched in shorter order than it took to mete out consequences for weeks at a time. At the same time, there are plenty of ideas out there for discipline if you are opposed to biblical spanking. You can read some of our ideas in the post No More Spankings? 3 Alternatives here.]