Today’s post is a bit personal. This post comes from a place deep in my heart and is for my colleagues who live with young children.
It happened on a Friday afternoon. My eldest daughter came home, dropped her bag on the floor, slumped on the bench in our kitchen, and put her head in her arms. I want to be clear about this–my daughter always hangs up her bag. She is a creature of habit. There was no conversation about a snack, no prattling (yes, if you read this someday, you prattled every day after school) on about what happened at recess, and there was no comment about her sister. I walked over and she had tears in her eyes.
It happened on a weekday morning. A colleague reached out and started sharing about a child who was intentionally isolating from friendships because a district superintendent might call and the new friends that could be made would be stripped away. I didn’t know you could see tears through Facebook messenger.
It happened on a Friday evening. A bunch of us clergy families were hanging out and letting our hair down (or leaving off shiny scalp-wax in my case (that was a joke)). We were enjoying a good time together when I noticed one of the youngest kids was struggling to hang out with the others. It was obvious the kid wanted to take part, but was just hanging back. The child wasn’t used to being around other families after a few moves.
What was the cause of all of this struggle? I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I can speak for my daughter. She was crying because her classmates were going to have a sleepover, but since she was new to town she wasn’t invited. She was left out and didn’t know what to do next. Tears were flowing down her face from the sheer pain of it all. How could she make friends? These kids had known each other in some cases since before birth. How could she make a new set of friends when all of her classmates were happy with the friends they had?
I have been talking with colleagues around these issues for years as the parent of a kid who has lived in five different cities in the nine years of her life. I have an affinity for this subject, and I just want to lay a couple of things out there for my colleagues as someone who can definitively say that he has experience in this area.
- It is okay to hurt on behalf of your child. Yes, you may have been called into ministry, but it is okay to understand and acknowledge that your call has had an effect on your loved ones. There is nothing sinful about noticing the pain it has caused, acknowledging that pain, and grieving that pain. I have had moments where my daughter and I have had to grieve together. Having compassion for your child is neither a sin nor is it a case of having doubts about your call.
- It is okay and a good thing to talk with colleagues who have gone through similar struggles. Often it helps to know you are not alone. If nothing else, I hope this blog post tells you that you are not alone. Keep in mind, if you make friends with colleagues with children in similar life circumstances, they may be there when your kids start dating later in life. You’ll probably need all the help you can get then…
- Most communities have resources you can tap into if you have no place else to turn. Talk to the counselor at your child’s school. Call your local association, district, conference, or episcopal office and see if they have resources for you. If you’re the pastor of a non-denominational church, speak with one of your denominationally-based colleagues and ask for an introduction to resources they may have in their church. If a local church pastor called me and said they needed help, it wouldn’t matter what church they belong to as my ministry calls me to be compassionate and to love my neighbor. Reach out!
- My most concrete advice is this: spend time with your child and let them know they are loved. Yes, you may have just moved to a new city and have a million and one people who want to see you. Yes, you might have an annual meeting coming up and there’s so much paperwork. Spend time with your child. Love them and let them know that you love them. When you’re finished, love them some more.
- Believe in your child. Their confidence begins with your confidence in them. They may be the toughest most challenging kids in the world, but they still need affirmation and to know that you believe in them. A child who knows that they are believed in is a child that can face anything.
Kids are tough. We don’t need to and shouldn’t abuse them, but in my experience the average kid is smarter, wiser, and more resilient than most parents are willing to admit. I think this is a natural response from watching them try to eat crayons as small kids. Your kid may need a little extra love, care, and maybe a bit of counseling if things are getting out of hand, but most of them are tough. After all, that these kids came from us and we are called into one of the most challenging and mind-bogglingly audacious professions on the planet.
Believe in your child. Believe in yourself.