New Parent, Additional Needs, Faith, Navigating Friendships, Additional Needs & Lockdown, Lessons of Lockdown, Self Care, Race & Protesting, Christmas, Lockdown Homeschool, Bereavement, Sports, Identity, Being With, Lockdown Marriage, Resilience
Five-year-old Tom has had a new bike for his birthday and can’t wait to try it out. In the park with his mother, he zooms off along the path, not really looking where he’s going despite her warning to watch out for potholes. Fifteen minutes later they are back at home; Tom is sitting on the kitchen table, tears streaming down his face as she applies copious amounts of kitchen roll to his grazed knees.
What happens the next day is an important test for them both. His mum can see he’s in two minds about going on his bike again, and the thought of him hurting himself further means she is sorely tempted to simply put a stop – at least for the time being – to any further attempt. But even as they both hesitate, she knows that what Tom does next is important in building his emotional resilience. He needs to learn from the experience – in other words, get back on his bike.
In an attempt to make their lives as stress-free as possible we try and fill in the pot holes and control their circumstances. But if living through a pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the realisation that we aren’t in control. The reality is that our children will experience knocks and setbacks every day. They are unlikely to pass every test, win every match, succeed in every job interview, or never have a broken romance.
The old saying advises us to “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child”. As parents, we can’t, and shouldn’t, remove negative events, but we can help our children see them as part of everyday life. And we can pass on skills to help them cope. The truth is that an appropriate level of pain and difficulty can be a catalyst for building emotional resilience.
A definition of emotional resilience is the ability not only to ‘bounce back’ and recover from setbacks, but to ‘bounce forward’. In other words, it’s not just about getting back to normal after a difficult experience, but about learning things from it that helps us deal with future challenges.
Resilience is key to our children’s wellbeing. Resilient children tend to be more optimistic and motivated, think more creatively, develop strategies for problem-solving, enjoy good friendships, communicate well and have higher self-esteem. It used to be thought of as a characteristic more or less set in stone, but while some children will be more naturally resilient than others, professionals now view it as a skill that can be learnt.
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay likes to describe resilience as a heroic struggle: ‘It’s really a battle, not a bounce – an ongoing process that can last for years … [it’s] not a trait. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s not something you just have.’
Whether it’s a 7-year-old dealing with the frustration of a difficult Lego project, a 12 -year-old whose guinea pig has died, or a 15-year-old who has just lost out on the lead part in the school play, it is the lessons our children learn through struggle and disappointment that will be the seedbed for growing that important quality in their lives – emotional resilience.
Katharine Hill is UK Director of Care for the Family her latest book, 'A Mind of Their Own' (a great read!) can be purchased here.
Like many parents, I never intended to home school my children. Like many couples, my husband and I don’t normally spend Every. Single. Day. Together. But this is what lockdown meant for so many families, including ours.
Here are some essential elements that kept us thriving (*mostly*):
Outdoors. The weather in the first lockdown was beautiful, so we spent as much time as we could outdoors – using our garden and the daily exercise allowance to hone bike trick skills, build a shed, plant flowers and play games. Kids can’t climb the walls if there are no walls, as the expression goes. We particularly missed the glory of those sunny days in the second winter lockdown when we spent much more time indoors.
Carol Vorderman. Did anyone else use her Maths Factor website for home schooling? She deserves a Damehood as far as I’m concerned. Ditto the creators of Twinkl and BBC Bitesize.
Rest. Near the beginning of lockdown we decided that between Friday evening and Saturday evening we would switch off all technology and enjoy family life at a slower pace (with lots of great food). When we were all home together doing work and school so much of the week, it helped to define the weekends for us as a couple and for the kids.
Serving. Whether it’s been drawing colourful pictures for a local care home, shopping for shielding friends or welcoming a Foster child into our home, we have encouraged our kids to join us in looking beyond the walls of our house and to the community around us.
Clarity. How is homeschool going to work and which one of us is going to take responsibility, and at which points in the day?! And how are we going to do this in a way that puts relationship over arithmetic? It took some conversations to work this out, as well as factoring in a few one-to-one times with the kids so they had our focus. This, of course, evolved as lockdown went on. When the second home school began, our work situations changed and it became even more important to keep communicating about this.
Laughter. With all the pain, fear and anxiety around the pandemic, it felt important to create happy, fun memories with the kids - to laugh at the little moments, even in the midst of mundanity or frustration. As novelist Wendell Berry put it, “Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
Other People. It takes a village to raise a child the proverb says. I think that’s true of marriage too. My husband and I don’t exist in isolation, and we treasure friendships separately and with other couples where we can be honest, get wisdom, a different perspective and have a good laugh. For all that WhatsApp, Zoom etc don’t offer in terms of connection, there’s such a lot they do, and we valued that.
Honesty. While I believe all I say above about technology, there’s also been great sorrow this year at not being with the people we love in person. As a couple we’ve felt this at different points, and helped the kids navigate it too.
Perseverance. At points we’ve been exasperated, needed space from each other and struggled to communicate well. At the same time, we’ve chosen to persevere in love, to laugh and to create new family rhythms, and as I reflect on the strangest of years, I’m grateful for that.
Kayte Potter is a member of the team at The NPI. She has been married to Dan for 14 years, and they have three children. This post was originally written for UK Marriage Week 2021
“It’s important to stop and do nothing sometimes.”
How many of us have heard this? How many of us manage to ‘do nothing’? This certainly isn’t something that comes easy to me. I wonder what unexpected things might open up for us when we are able to ‘be’, rather than to ‘do’?
The other day I was sitting in my garden waiting for someone to arrive at the door, so yes, I was doing something! I was waiting. The visitor was late to arrive and so I had the chance to sit and be. I put my legs up on a chair opposite me and enjoyed the sun. In this moment my pre-teen came up and sat on the chair where my feet were positioned and proceeded to put his legs up on mine. We sat like this for almost an hour, as he told me all about life at school – the most I have heard since he started at his new secondary school last September. I said virtually nothing. I listened. I was present.
Looking back on this encounter – which I must say happens rarely with my twelve-year-old son – I began to wonder what had made this special moment possible. Revd Dr Samuel Wells describes such an encounter as ‘being-with’(1). Wells says that ‘being-with’ involves showing up and paying attention. It doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?! Yet in the busyness of our lives, filled with our many thoughts, things that ‘have to be done’ and the pull of social media, the simplicity of presence and attention can be very difficult to achieve. Unusually, in fact very unusually, my mobile phone was not next to me and wasn’t even in the same place as me. Wells talks powerfully that in our world where being immediately contactable is a given, putting our mobile phone away is actually a way of saying “I love you.”(2)
Similarly, the idea of ‘being-with’ is at the heart of the parenting group we run at Connected Lives - Circle of Security Parenting (3). One of the things we reflect on during the group is to consider how able we are to ‘be-with’ our children in all of their feelings. This can depend on how able our own parents were to ‘be-with’ us in these emotions. As a facilitator, I find this exercise profound and for many parents this can be the starting point in a shift from thinking about parenting as a role to be done, and rather more of as a relationship to be entered into.
Many years ago, I went to live alongside people with learning disabilities in a L’Arche community (4). There I met a man whom I will call John who transformed my view of relationships. John did not speak, yet he taught me what ‘being-with’ looks like from the inside-out. John liked to spend time ‘being-with’ me. In his silence, in his presence, I came to know I was loved. Deeply loved. Loved in a way I had never known before.
Thanks to my visitor running late, I was given the opportunity to ‘be-with’ my son. This was not something I did to fill the time, but the real reason for being in the moment. Surely, this is the work of the Kingdom of God.
Written by Dr Helen Bell, Director of the Connected Lives Cambridgeshire Hub
1.A Nazareth Manifesto: Being with God. Samuel Wells. (2015).
I am from a privileged enough, Christian, farming background and tried my hardest to do everything 'right' - that was, 'right' from the perspective of what I thought others expected from me. I lived according to that rule, hoping to please, be accepted and fulfil a good, Christian, happy life. I filtered my thoughts and actions through others for whom I lived, unaware that I even had a voice.
I lived abroad and have travelled a good bit, enjoying many amazing experiences along the way, yet in time, things began to unravel. Rather than take your time sharing the detail (a lot of which is not pleasant), I will bring you to the here and now which is me being me, a lone parent to a 5yr old boy and 3yr old twins, a girl and a boy. I've been through separation and then divorce, other relationships and another separation from the children's father to whom I was not married. As you will imagine, in there are many other stories, struggles and survivals.
Our journeys are different but each one of us has a heart and a mind, it is how we use them to press on that will forge a change, hopefully a positive one, for our future and our children's futures.
How do we learn from our pasts? To dwell in them is often unhealthy, yet to glance back to regain forward focus can be necessary. We may notice scars but see that they are a sign of healing and learning - we acknowledge them with respect and press on. We may feel as though we are insignificant but let me remind you that no one has ever been created like you before, nor ever will be. You are absolutely unique and designed for a purpose that only you can fulfil.
If I can begin to see myself as God sees me, then the lens through which I view my life, my roles, my purpose and significance will all have the correct perspective. There will be far less need to debate, challenge and cross examine my feelings associated with being battered by every change or conflict. I will remain secure, despite my circumstances.
So, living through a pandemic and all that it has brought both me and you, I now ask myself, has it changed my identity? Let's face it, roles will have changed, maybe financial circumstances will have been affected, relationships forged or severed, mental health implications faced, challenging choices made, exhaustion levels rocketed to unsustainable heights - who am I now? The amazing answer to that, is that God is still God and He holds me just as He has always done. He is and can be a refuge (Psalm 46v1), a strong tower, a rock, a fortress, but He is also the God of all Comfort (2 Cor 1v3) and He holds me in the palm of His hand, so I need not be afraid. Hebrews 13v8 says "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever".
My identity is in Christ ... I am a 46yr old woman who does not work at the moment but is a mother to 3 children; I am a daughter; an auntie; a sister; a cousin; a friend; a neighbour; a volunteer; someone with a vision for the future to fulfil a work that only I can do. I would like to own some bluebell woods; I love to see trees and hear birds; I will hopefully always have a dog and be surrounded by family and friends. I need to work on patience and self-discipline. I need to look after my body more and yet be less concerned about my external appearance and more focused on my inward self.
I may be broken but I have been mended and God sees me as all the more beautiful for having been broken. I reflect the image of God and can shine as the noonday sun, like a city on a hill which cannot be hidden. This self-assurance is a beautiful outward display of the working of God’s love on the inside. I hope that my life and identity live out this great truth.
Written by Ingrid Hatt, who blogs beautifully over at Faith in the Frenzy
“Your dad, he’ll be looking down on you with such pride today, won’t he?”
“No, he will not.” Kitrina Douglas answered the reporter’s question after she won the British Golf Open.
Her dad, who had been a major inspirer of her faith and golf, had sadly died a few months before.
Kitrina went on to say: “My dad’s pride was never affected by what I did with a little white ball on freshly cut grass, my dad was always proud of me.”
I don’t know about you but that is some high bar parenting there! Do my own three children think my pride in them is affected by their sport, school, or faith achievements?
Sport plays a unique role in our society and offers the parent many opportunities, but also a number of challenges.
At its best, sport offers our children fun, a team to be part of and an opportunity to grow in character as they experience the highs and lows which sport at all levels brings, alongside some wonderful experiences. For those of us with the Christian faith, I remain fully convinced that sport also makes a great partner in disciplining our children.
At its worst, sport offers an all-consuming win-at-all-costs culture where failure, loss and mistakes are all seen as weaknesses and met with disappointment. In this culture, our children’s intrinsic value lies in their “trophies” of success, rather than being loved for who they are.
The challenge for us as parents is that two children on the same team can have such a diverse experience of their time participating in sport. It is parents who are key to shaping their sporting experience. Obviously good coaching matters, but the research says again and again that the way parents interact with their children around sport has a massive impact. Now we all have a caricature of the ‘bad’ sports parent yelling from the sidelines, but it is the well-meaning sports parent who often stumbles in a number of areas that lead to the biggest impact on a young person’s sporting experience. I have the joy of working with coaches, parents and children in premiership football clubs and national teams as well as watching my own children take part at grassroots levels. The impact that well-meaning parents are making on their children in all of these settings is powerful and lasting for their child’s sporting experience and potential.
So how do we as parents best support our children in getting the most from their sporting experience?
Love them. Simple, hey! I think loving our children in a sporting context means that we express our pride and joy in who they are as they get out of the car to go play sport. Not as they get back in the car. Tell them you love watching them play. This is important because so often our children misread what we focus on. If they win, we tend to have a really excitable conversation with them, and if they lose we tend to change the conversations ASAP! Home is a harbour for our child’s sport experiences. Having a good, safe harbour enables them to have the joy and confidence to explore the waters beyond the harbour wall.
Ask them. Andy Stanley once said, “Our questions reveal our values.” Ask them this: “What’s the best thing I can do for you on game day or before/after training?” Then listen and take action. Sport is their journey. However, when they feel unhelpful but well-meaning pressure from us, that can start to derail that journey. As parents, there are times we will want to set out a child’s direction, but it is better for them to set their own as they participle in sport. To provide a home that nurtures potential we need to support our children’s growth through being open and honest. Asking what they need from us regularly will are helping this nurturing. I ask all three of mine this once a term, as they grow and age the answers change, sometimes there is a difficult conversation, but always there is growing closer together as we learn to be open and honest about our feelings and needs.
Let them stuff it up. It’s never easy to see your child make a mistake in the sports arena, especially one you know they didn’t need to make. Homes that nurture sporting potential make mistakes. There is the grace to learn, the grace to forgive yourself. There is a love that doesn’t define a child by a missed opportunity. There is also deeper learning, around how we handle mistakes being made. In my experience, kids know about these mistakes and often are harder on themselves than we are. Making mistakes is part of life and so what a gift to help our children process the emotions, frustration and disappointment which comes from perceived failure. There are those parents who try to airbrush the error out. Saying things like “it doesn’t matter” or “it was the coaches/ref/other teams’ fault”. Such attempts sanitise the child’s experience to help them avoid the pain of experiencing a mistake, but this is not helpful. I don’t like seeing my children in pain, but helping them express that and process their mistakes is an essential skill in all areas of life.
Help them make headway. Yes, home is a harbour, but home also prepares children for the open seas of sporting life. We are open and honest and real about our mistakes so that our children can once again return to the sports arena and go again. We don’t just keep them in the harbour, we support them in having the courage and joy to continue the adventure. We listen, ask questions and tell stories that support them using our family values and character to enable them to thrive wherever sport or life takes them. A home that nurtures potential expects progress.
I don’t want my pride in my children to be affected by what they do with a little white ball, a hockey stick or tennis racquet, but I do believe that the way I provide a home that nurtures potential will give them the skills and character to thrive in success and failure at work, home, church and on the sports field.
Richard Shorter is a Baptist minister and parenting coach. His business “non-perfect dad” works with some of the country’s top elite sports teams and schools. He supports coaches, parents and athletes to have quality conversations for better outcomes for young people. Visit www.non-perfectdad.co.uk to find out more about his work.
Although it is not something we like to talk about, a child is bereaved of a parent every 22 minutes in the UK. It happens more than you might think, and that will be especially true during this pandemic.
As parents there are some conversations we can dread having with our kids as they grow up – from the constant “why?” questions to the science homework questions to which we don’t know the answer to.
One of the conversations we probably don’t ever think of having is the one where we explain to our child that someone they are close to has died, especially if that person is a parent, a sibling or much loved grandparent.
Pete English leads the ListeningPeople Project for AtaLoss.org which specialises in training anyone who engages with bereaved young people. With over 25 years’ experience Pete knows how bereavement affects children and young people. He says,
Children grieve very differently to us adults – for us it can feel like we’re in the sea with waves of grief constantly crashing around us, for children it’s often like jumping in and out of puddles. They can be inconsolable one minute and running off to play the next; incredibly angry to laughing and joking in an instant. It’s unpredictable and can be difficult to understand.
As they process their loss, out come the questions – often asked at the most inopportune moments. Pete says,
We might think we are protecting our children and young people by not explaining or avoiding talking about death. But it is incredibly important for them to know they can ask about the subject and trust the adults around them. It is the only way to avoid confusion and unprocessed grief building up in their young lives.
Teenagers may find it difficult to talk about their feelings or ask for help. They may seek and find support through social media, their behaviour may change, they could become withdrawn or feel angry and get involved in anti-social behaviour.
So how do we support our children and young people so that they cope with their grief in a healthy way?
Be honest with your child. Avoid confusion and teach our kids they can trust the adults around them to tell the truth.
Use the right words. It can feel harsh using words like ‘dead’ and ‘died’, but terms like ‘passed away’ or ‘gone to sleep’ can cause fear and anxiety to children.
Understand your bereaved teenage child isn’t being difficult. Unlike younger children, young people understand that death is permanent, and even though they may be unable to share their feelings, they will suffer similar feelings of loss and grief to an adult. Include them in the conversation, give them information and the choice to be involved when someone close has died.
Be kind to yourself. There are no ‘rules’ when it comes to grief, but it’s exhausting being bereaved yourself and supporting a bereaved child!
With this support, children will experience their grief with a new level of understanding as they get older and reach a new stage of maturity and emotional intelligence beyond their years - something positive that can emerge from all the sadness.
Where to go for help:
Go to www.ataloss.org to search for information and support for you or your child - whether that be specific to your loss, or maybe just to meet others in a similar situation. We have over 900 organisations listed and a library of helpful resources and books for bereaved children.
To help a young person cope with a funeral we have a really helpful film you can watch together. CLICK HERE
Pete English’s ‘Tough Stuff Journal: Someone has died’ is a fantastic resource for parents to work through with a bereaved child. To read more and buy a copy CLICK HERE
By Jane Woodward, who is the Executive Director of At A Loss.org
If anything is for sure it’s that; we didn’t plan for this, we never expected it and we could never have prepared ourselves or our children for what 2020 (and now 2021) would bring.
The pain and heaviness of the pandemic has brought sorrow to many, and if your family has faced a bereavement as a result of COVID-19, we are so very sorry for your loss.
If you have faced financial hardship or redundancy over the last year, we hope that you have been able to access some help and have people to support you.
Perhaps you’re currently doing the work and home-school juggle, wondering when things will return to ‘normal’, or perhaps there are other circumstances in your family which make day to day life a struggle.
Whether lockdown has (so far) been heavy, happy or a huge mix of experiences for your family, you are not alone, and at the NPI we want to encourage you in your parenting during this trying season.
A recent blog post by Fegans had some great tips for any parents currently on the home school journey, which we’ve copied here to encourage you today:
1 – You need to be more realistic. Just let yourself off the hook about education. You are their parent, not an educator.
2- Ask for help. If the technology is hard, ask for help from your other kids, from the school, from friends or grandparents. If your child needs someone to read over their work, send it to an Aunt. Although you are home alone with your kids, use your network to keep you going, People love to help.
3 – Be a team. Whether it is just you and your kid, or you have a partner and quadruplets think of yourself as a team. You are in this together.
4 –Focus your children down onto their core work. You can really help here, teach them how to prioritise and break big projects down. They don’t have to do it all right now. Let them slow down.
5- Keep your routines going. Go out for your exercise, Eat Lunch at a normal time, Keep play times.
6 – Keep the fun, once work and school are finished for the day, switch off your laptop and put your phone away.
7 – Endorse your kids, find aspects of what they do and praise them specifically. Also, give yourself some credit, you are doing brilliantly.
8 – JUST DO ONE DAY AT A TIME!
(we recommend the rest of the blog, which you can find here)
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." -Galatians 5:25
As I sip a cup of late afternoon coffee, I am happily looking at my Charlie Brown Christmas tree. We had to buy it--it was only 25 pounds. But it will fit in with all of my other pieces of home art that are a little bit worn, a tiny bit awkward.
My home is eclectic. Some things are old, scarred but still lovely. I put a colorful cloth over them and call them classics. Some of my things are like the Velveteen Rabbit, worn but well loved.
And that is how my very good life has been--beautiful and wonderful amidst many mistakes, many flaws, many immature moments. Yet, God's grace is like a beautiful cloth that covers the scars on my well- beloved old tables. His love and grace cover my imperfections. Now, as I visit with my adult children, they never say, "Remember the times our house was a mess." or "Mom, I remember a day when you did not have perfect behavior."
Instead they say, "We belonged to one another in our home. We celebrated life. We ate a lot, enjoyed Christmas cakes and cookies and had endless movies, cups of tea and hikes. What a precious life we had together with all the love we needed."
As you enter a new holiday season, decide ahead of time that there will be disappointing moments, not all things will go as planned and someone might even get sick or a favorite activity you hoped to attend may be cancelled. A year of Covid has certainly stretched all of us in learning to deal with disappointed expectations.
Determine that the most important gift to give this season is a heart determined to cultivate joy, and words of life that encourage. If you can prepare your heart for this commitment ahead of time, and decide to cultivate joy every day, messes and mess-ups will not cause you as much anxiety. Decide ahead of time to celebrate the moments as they come, to love generously and give forgiveness always, and you will enjoy the days God provides.
The grace of God is given in spite of our circumstances. His peace comes when our difficulties would suggest otherwise.
While it is incredibly wonderful to set our standards high and live out great ideals, we must hold ourselves to a standard of grace, not perfection. We won't be able to have grace for our children if we do not have grace ourselves.
At advent, we remember He came with grace and truth to bring life and wholeness into our hearts, because his heart was filled with compassion for us. He still has that same care for us today. We strive to follow His example in the lives of our children. We do not have to live by the expectations of culture, but we are led by God. We walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and rest in His abundant grace and love. This is the way our celebration of advent will be remembered by our children as the best time of the year.
Sally Clarkson is an author and speaker who has shared for many years about the value of motherhood and the potential for the home to cultivate life, love and faith. Find her at www.sallyclarkson.com
Talking about race with your children may feel strange or daunting or perhaps you’ve just never thought about it. Or maybe you talk about it all the time!
If we hope to build an anti racist, not just a passive, society we have a responsibility to begin with our own minds and those of our offspring. In the early years it’s a great idea to focus on simply modelling love, tolerance and a desire to understand others. Children are naturally curious, they will observe difference and may say things like “that man has brown skin”, our responses to these questions and observations should be open and age appropriately informative without any judgement or (subconscious) bias.
This challenges us to evaluate our own perceptions of others and to face and eradicate any bias, prejudice or discrimination we find within ourselves. We all have some.
As our children grow we can be led by their questions but it’s helpful to make race a regular topic of conversation. Have a think about what you watch on television? Are there many BAME lead characters? How about the books on your bookshelves, do they represent other cultures and races? If not, you could visit your library and maybe explore other cultures together, watch movies from other cultures too. How are various races represented in media? What is your phone/social media telling you about people of colour, what’s the truth?
We can dive much deeper with our teens, looking at the history of various other people groups. In the UK, why not learn about Black British history and Indian British history as a family. Explore institutional racism, if you are a white family, imagine how it would feel to be a black person in Britain today, seek to understand black British history as if it was your own story-how would that make you feel today?
Do you think it would make you want to protest against inequality? If you knew that your great grandfather had been born into slavery and had no rights as a human being do you think you would feel a strong sense of injustice?
Let’s try to raise curious, freedom fighting children. Children who are ready to stand up to racism and prejudice wherever they see it. Ready to protest for the rights of others and who see equality as a human right.
I’d like to raise children who are ready to protest and fight for what they believe to be right, recognising that sometimes we have to push against the authorities to fight injustice. We shouldn’t break laws for the sake of breaking them but we ought to break what binds others and robs them of their freedoms.
There is a place for protesting, and it is vital to seek to understand why protests become violent when a people group has been systematically oppressed and unheard for generations. Many have tried to fight for equality through education and peace, but the deeply institutional racism has remained in many countries all over the globe, leaving various people groups still experiencing a life of oppression, discrimination and injustice-and so we may see a different fight for freedom.
Educating ourselves, our children and our communities about the experiences of others is vital in the efforts to eradicate oppression and inequality.
By Hannah Blaize, mother of three curious cuties
As we look to the remainder of the year and ongoing restrictions and limitations, it continues to be unclear what life will look like a few months from now. With schools now returned, but with bubbles and distancing in place, and the possibility of whole classes being sent home, for parents, walking through the uncertainty can feel overwhelming. And this is without potentially simultaneously navigating; redundancy, co-parenting, vulnerable health, a demanding career…
Maybe you’ve seen some of the blog posts and resources we’ve been sharing on social media and here on our website, but perhaps – if you’re a parent like me, – you’ve also felt inundated with articles and information over the past few months on a whole range of topics, to name a few; how to homeschool, top tips on working from home, how to survive video conferencing, doing church at home, the list goes on…
While this undoubtedly all has its place and use, as restrictions continue, I wonder how, as parents, we can best care for ourselves during this time.
I was interested recently to hear someone reflect that when an airplane is experiencing turbulence, passengers look instinctively to the flight attendant for reassurance, and how similarly, in times of difficulty and stress, children look to parents to gauge the ‘temperature’ of the situation.
While there is great privilege in setting an atmosphere in our homes, it isn’t always easy, and is near impossible to sustain without authenticity, just like there is only so long a flight attendant can fake a reassuring smile before leaving passengers unconvinced.
For anything we would wish to model for our children, for it to be authentic for them, it needs to be authentic for us. For example, do I feel self-acceptance or is it easier to just talk about it?
According to an article on self-love and acceptance on the Fegans website, “Self-neglect seems to be among the few universal trappings of modern-day living. But the foundation of a strong relationship begins with self-love.”
I wonder how self-love and acceptance feels for you at this time?
If it feels like a struggle, I hope these final words from the Fegans article encourage you to begin the journey to self-care:
“When you feel good about who you are and you feel worthy, you naturally take better care of yourself and self-nurturing is the biggest part of self-care. Take a close look at how you’re living. Are you taking time for the things that bring you joy? Are you eating and moving and feeling healthy and energetic? Are you sleeping enough? If not, it’s time to make some serious life changes. Finally, repeat the following statement out loud: “I am enough. I have enough. I am worthy.”
Kayte Potter is a part-time Administrator at the NPI, and a mother of three.
I am a mum of one, soon to be two any day now, living in the West Sussex countryside. While lockdown changed many things for us as a family, our days have always been slow, we stay home and try not to rush. We walk aimlessly, watch birds and touch worms and sometimes we never leave the house. While things didn’t change dramatically for us situationally it seemed, spiritually and emotionally I’ve felt God speak to me about many things these past months. I’ve shared four of those things below, and I hope they bring encouragement to you in whatever stage of life you may find yourself.
Joy is an inside job
I’m going to own up and say that I have complained a lot in these recent weeks and months; my back aches, it’s been a struggle to walk, then there’s the lacking energy and low tolerance levels. I felt disappointed knowing I couldn’t see my family through lockdown, the loss of work, and my husband going through a difficult time emotionally. It’s so easy to focus on the problem and get stuck there in our own pity party letting fear take the joy and letting the news become the giant.
And then I remember…it’s a choice to believe I can have joy in ANY circumstance. My joy is NOT dependant on my husband bringing me tea in the morning, or how ‘well-behaved’ my daughter is that day or the status of the nation. I can actively make a choice to access the joy that the Father has won for me 24/7 and I want to show my daughter a life of joy!
In whatever situation you find yourself in right now, whether family crisis, financial difficulty, whether fear of COVID-19, there is joy available!
I’ve recently become so aware of the amount of praise we pour out on Hephzibah daily; celebrating the sharing, the tidying away, the letter recognised, the sleeping through the night, and the kind heart. And what’s more, we celebrate the imperfections; they’re endearing! I don’t want to correct the way she mispronounces things, or the way she skips nine on every count to ten and I would never get frustrated when she trips up when she runs.
So why are we so hard on ourselves? After all, aren’t we still growing and learning too, and haven’t we been learning and growing more than ever in lockdown as we adjust to a completely new way of living? In becoming so aware of the praise we pour on her it’s only highlighted the lack of praise I pour out on myself.
How can you celebrate yourself today? How have you surprised yourself in these past few months? How have you grown?
Where is your worth?
Suddenly when the structures we have built around ourselves to keep us comfortable and gain some sense of normalcy are torn down or changed and our days quieter yet perhaps our thoughts louder, we may start to question where our identity and worth is.
It was no surprise the country jumped at the chance to knit, bake, draw and write and some of the most beautiful creations have come out of this time. I find this is encouraging because it shows that God has filled people with His creativity, but it also shows that people are looking for a sense of achievement and worth.
I think as a Mum, I’ve had to deal with the restructuring of what is a ‘productive day’. When Joseph arrives home after a day of creating and earning, when it’s my turn to relay my day and I realise we’ve only really played in the garden and made dinner, I have to be confident to know- my worth isn’t in achieving, our worth has to be in Him.
Know what He’s called you to in this season, and know even beyond that you are a son or daughter of the living God, and it’s our delight to love and be loved by Him! That’s where our worth is!
Silence isn’t absence
I’ve noticed during lockdown that people started to exercise more. Alongside the back of our house runs a footpath open to the public and I would see so many people I’d never seen before populating that pathway during lockdown. People were immersing themselves in nature when they may have usually been in an office! In my getting outside to soak up the summer sun with my daughter, I watched the trees, looked at the flowers, and observed the squirrels dancing over our lawn. They were silent but the silence said so much. The silence brought peace and hope.
And I found myself realising that the many of the questions we ask God and are waiting for answers on- the answers are already here before us- in the acknowledgment of the blooming bud or the running stream. The truth is that God is ever-present just we, or (maybe just I) are waiting for him to speak by the megaphone or the mic. If He created ALL things, isn’t He always speaking and always present?
However you are emerging out of lockdown, feeling fearful? drained? hopeful? reluctant or lacking purpose? Know that God is so close!
Megan Landreth-Smith writes on her website, www.ourslowhome.co.uk, and shares beautiful images and words on her Instagram account, Our Slow Home. (She also happens to be our fantastic Social Media Coordinator!)
2020 has presented many challenges for everyone including our children. Spending over five months in some form of lockdown, away from family and friends, has been really difficult.
In the first few days and weeks we tried to plan video calls with friends. But I quickly realised that my two boys aged 7 and 9 didn’t spend a whole lot of time really ‘talking’ with friends without the interaction of running around or playing games. Until that point, so much of their friendship and interaction was based on play or the activities they were doing together, and that was much more difficult to do through a screen, so those calls soon dropped off. Many of our children spent a long time without seeing their friends or having play dates.
Then with school restarting they are suddenly back with a lot of children for much of the day and are having to navigate different relationships again. Some kids will have slipped right back into friendships easily, going full steam ahead. However, there will be those who are finding it hard and we want to help all our children through this time of change. To be honest, I’ve had to remind myself of the important principles to adopt when interacting with others as well!
There are a few things we’ve found useful:
Help our children to listen
Sad to admit, but with so much time together at home through lockdown, we slipped into bad communication habits. We didn’t speak to one another quite as well as we normally would, especially when we were all trying to work, have Zoom calls and homeschool at the same time. A lot of the time we talked over one another and didn’t listen. If you take that into a friendship, it often won’t work out well! We’ve been reminding each other, and our children, about the importance of listening to others, hearing what they are saying and being interested in what is important to them.
Help them to care about others
My children have not had to think about others quite as much in lockdown. Going back to playing with other kids who don’t want to play the same game as them or who want to talk about something different has been quite a challenge. They are having to re-learn the importance of valuing others and their opinions, likes and dislikes.
Find alternatives to help cultivate friendships outside of school
Where we used to arrange playdates and have someone round for tea after school, we might need to think outside the box to help our kids spend time with friends away from the school environment. Are there activities they could do while on a Zoom call together? Or can we plan a socially distanced outdoor walk in the woods? It might take some effort and intention, but this could really help them to bond with others again.
Finally, there is a great opportunity to help our children remember that their Heavenly Father is with them always and they can talk to him when they are finding life tough. He can help them when they fall out with friends, feel frustrated or need extra patience.
Our children are incredible and we can help them grow in their relationships and develop skills for life.
Becky Denharder is Project Manager at Kitchen Table Project. To find out more about Kitchen Table Project and to find inspiration for encouraging faith at home, visit their website here
By Annie Willmot of Honest Conversation
Before I became a mum I had all these visions of transitioning seamlessly into the role. I imagined myself responding to my son’s gentle cries, settling him into his basket for the night, and just generally glowing as I went about my days, drinking hot cups of tea and enjoying his peaceful gurgling.
In reality, it was a little less smooth than that. And when I say ‘less smooth’, I mean rather than the gentle cruise I had perhaps pictured it was a bit more like trying to cycle down a cobbled street while wearing flip-flops and trying to carry a very full bag of shopping.
You can read all the books (there are a lot), browse all the internet forums, and be given all the advice but ultimately nothing will ever fully prepare you for the moment you’re left alone with your new tiny human. I vividly remember walking across the hospital carpark with our eldest son wondering, ‘Why on earth have they let us take him? No one has checked whether we’re equipped or qualified for this!’
Parenthood is wonderful and it is hard. You will feel both full of joy and completely and utterly exhausted all in the very same moment. And not matter how much you think you’ve prepared yourself, you won’t always have all the answers. Just when you think you’ve sussed one challenge there’s a new one thrown at you. One day something works, the next it doesn’t.
I am someone who always struggled with the unknown. I like to know the right answer. I like to be in control. It’s not always possible to do that with parenting. I have so may unanswered questions everyday:
Why are they crying?
Is he actually scared or does he just not want to go to bed?
Would it have been better if I’d chosen a different nursery/school?
Did I even brush my teeth today?
The weight of unanswerable questions can be paralysing, preventing me from confidently moving forward for fear of not having the right answer.
And I think the thing that makes it even harder is that it looks like everyone else has got all the answers. On social media we scroll through beautiful photos of other mum’s tidy houses and well-presented children. At toddler groups or church we sit amongst friends and hear how their babies are sleeping through or absolutely loving solid food. And older friends and relatives, clearly thinking we’re doing something wrong, tell us how they used do it ‘in their day’.
A few months after I’d had my first baby, I was chatting with a friend who was also a new mum. I asked her, ‘How are you finding it?’ She paused before replying, ‘Can I be honest? I’m not enjoying it.’
She was struggling. She loved her child but was finding being a mum hard and wondered whether it was allowed to feel this way. When she had tried to talk to her health visitor, rather than receive support or understanding, she’d received unhelpful criticism that made her feel judged. She’d been made to feel that she should be loving every moment – or at least acting like it.
When we choose not to pretend that everything is fine but instead say, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’, or ‘I’m really not having a good day’ it creates space for others to do the same. Our vulnerability allows others to join us in open, honest and vulnerable conversation.
Sometimes we can feel that talking about the hard bits of parenthood some how takes away from the good bits. As if by saying we’re having a bad day that we’re somehow discounting all the good days. But those things can exist together. And it’s good to talk about it all. Every last grubby, sticky and chaotic detail.
We will never have all the answers and there is so much power in acknowledging that. When we do we allow others to do the same and we’re able to build deeper connection and community with one another.
What would it look like today if you chose to be completely and utterly honest about parenthood with your friends, your family, with God?
Annie Willmot is passionate about community and connection. She is mum to two boys, and works as a funeral pastor, writer, speaker and for a local charity. She has written a book about parenting called Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo and blogs over at honestconversation.co.uk
The road to acceptance can be a long one for families of children with additional/special needs or disabilities. Some can reach it more quickly than others, some struggle to get there at all. There are many stops along the way where parents and other family members can get ‘stuck’.
To help us understand a little of what these families can experience, as well as maybe how we can help, here’s a quick guide to ‘the road to acceptance’ written from my own experience as an additional needs parent. Everyone’s experience is different, just as all of our children are different, but perhaps my family’s story will give you enough of an insight into our world to help you to help others…
Pre-diagnosis – worry
Is there something wrong? Those nagging doubts that families start to get; are they just being paranoid? What might be wrong? Is it serious? How do they find out? Who do they ask? Are they really ready to know? Secretly, are they avoiding this? Eventually, they ask, or someone else asks, and they start to find out… and it can often take ages!
In our case, we noticed that James was not developing as fast as his older sister, Phoebe, had. At first, we put it down to boys not always developing at the same speed as girls. Then we had some hearing tests done (which James initially failed spectacularly… until we realised he had an ear infection at the time!) Bit by bit things got ruled out until we finally got a diagnosis.
Make comparisons with other children. Make negative comment about their child's development. Criticise their parenting. Make unqualified 'diagnoses'.
Say encouraging things about what their child can do. If tests or medical appointments are arranged, offer support if appropriate to do so. Be willing to listen to their concerns.
Diagnosis – shock
What does this mean? They may not understand… so many questions… how did this happen? Was this their fault… are they to blame… did they do something wrong? Why did this happen… why them… why not somebody else?
Suddenly they are faced with the loss of the future plans and dreams they had for their child, for their family, for themselves… it all lies in tatters… it can be devastating. They grieve for what is lost.
When we received James’ diagnosis, he was only 2½ years old. It was a hammer blow to us all as we tried to understand what we had just been told; that James is Autistic and has Learning Disability (he has since added Epilepsy to his collection). Looking back now, we realise that we were experiencing grief.
Parents of children with additional/special needs or disabilities will experience this grief too, going through the various stages, maybe getting stuck at one of them (‘denial’ for example). Sometimes, just when they think they have made it to ‘acceptance’, something happens that spins them back to the beginning all over again. It’s like a perverse, never-ending, game of ‘snakes and ladders’.
Say that they must be 'special' parents to receive a 'special' child. Blame the family for their child's disability. Compare their child to someone else's you know. Avoid them.
Offer practical help e.g. meals. Sometimes there are no words, but just being there can be a huge help. Introduce them to other families at church who have children with a similar diagnosis.
Five stages of grief
Denial/isolation – overwhelming emotions, inability to control them, fight or flight instinct kicks in… denial of the situation, blocking it out, hiding from it and hoping it just goes away.
Anger – reality and the pain of the diagnosis breaks through their denial; it can burn deep and cause them to lash out at those trying to help. It can be terribly destructive and can and does cause relationships to fail… 56% of families with a disabled child have major or significant relationship difficulties or breakups.
Bargaining - “If only we had…” trying to rationalise it, trying to regain some control of the helplessness and vulnerability they feel. If they have a faith, they might try doing a deal with God “If you make this go away I’ll…” trying anything to protect themselves from the painful reality.
Depression – sadness and regret about the lost dreams, a deep sense of mourning for what is lost… coupled with a gradual and profound realisation that this isn’t going away.
Acceptance – not a gift received by everyone. It’s not about being brave, but a gradual sense of understanding the emotions that they are going through, of the changes that the diagnosis will bring for them, for their child, for the rest of the family, and a growing desire to move forward and make the best of things. Things will be different, but they can still be OK… They are ready to embrace not what might have been… but what is…
Say they are 'brave', or an 'inspiration' (they won't feel like it). Tell them to move on or 'pull themselves together' (they can't). Try to answer their questions about why God has let their child be disabled (we don't know).
Be there for them. Listen to what they have to say. Pray for/with them for God's presence to be with them. Cry with them and let them know that God cried with them too. Give them information about Care for the Family's befriending service, which links families to others nearby who are on a similar journey, as well as information about the 'Additional Needs Alliance' Facebook group and other similar support networks we might know.
What else can we do?
I have found ‘Welcome to Holland’, the story by Emily Perl Kingsley, a real help and have often passed it on to other families as well as children’s and youth workers. Families have experienced a change of destination; they have ended up somewhere they didn’t expect or initially want to go… how will they respond? How will it affect them?
Will they let this diagnosis be a negative drain on their lives? Stuck at ‘Denial’? ‘Anger’? ‘Bargaining’? ‘Depression’? So many are still there… where are the families that you are alongside? Or will they be able to use this diagnosis as a positive turning point for their lives? Having reached ‘Acceptance’, embracing what is, rather than what might have been, and if so to think about what they are going to do. How will this define them, and how can we support them going forward.
Encourage them that they do not go through this alone; we are with them and God stands with us. As he said to Joshua, he says to us “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6. And as he says to all of us; “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
So, let’s all go on the journey to discover that hope and future together shall we?
Mark Arnold (The Additional Needs Blogfather) is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints’, Co-Founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, contributor to a range of publications, and dad to James a 17 year-old Autistic, with Epilepsy and Learning Disability.
I wonder what you thought you’d need to be a parent? I recently went to choose a gift for a new baby and was overwhelmed by the vast array of things you can buy for an expectant parent. Whilst many of these are beautiful or useful, they aren’t really what new parents need most.
Most of us learned the hard way. You need patience, coffee and… whatever your child demands of you at a given time.
Our children expect that we’ll have whatever they need, don’t they? Whether that’s a plaster for a scraped knee, a song to lull them to sleep or a repair plan for the toy they’ve just broken. They just assume we’ll know how to be a medic, a sports coach, a tutor, a taxi driver and of course a master negotiator.
Whether we feel confident in those areas or not, bit by bit, we figure it out. We get a bag and fill it with snacks and spare clothes. We google how to do the maths homework so we can help them. We teach them to talk, walk, share and problem-solve. We cheer them on for each tiny bit of progress and cuddle and listen to them when it’s tough. As parents, we learn to coach our children to help them thrive in so many different areas of their life.
But then for some reason, when it gets to the ‘spiritual stuff’, when it gets to God, we’re flummoxed. For most of us with a faith, we’d say we want to give our children the opportunity to get to know God in the way that we do. But, actually helping them to do that can feel difficult. Sometimes we don’t know where to start or what to say. Other times we worry about getting it wrong so end up not doing anything. Many of us feel we are so busy, with the treadmill of the rest of life, that it gets squeezed out.
And so that’s why Parenting for Faith exist. We’re here to resource and equip you to help your kids and teens meet and know God in the midst of the mundane, everyday bits of parenthood. You are in the best position to show your children what a life with God looks like. Not because you have it all figured out, but because you are with them through the ups and downs of a normal day. You also know your child, your family and your situation better than anyone else.
At the heart of our free resources, are five key tools. They give you confidence and skills to help and support your child as they grow in faith. They don’t need any extra time, a craft cupboard or a theology degree, so can you can use them any time, anywhere. In fact, they're perfect for when you're being the medic, sports coach, tutor, taxi driver or negotiator.
To discover all our free resources including the Parenting for Faith course, the key tools, a podcast and hundreds of articles and videos, go to www.parentingforfaith.org
By Anna Hawken, National Parenting for Faith Coordinator
It has been weeks since the country went into lockdown. ‘Normal’ disappeared over night and with it the services needed by many children and their families. Children with additional needs have been affected most in this. Some have been quietly reflective, others frustrated and angry, many questioning the rules and even God. Their much needed routine has gone, and seeing people break the rules is a struggle. But equally, there are some children who are relishing the solitude because the stress of dealing with people and decoding social situations has been taken away.
You may have heard the phrase ‘behaviour is language’. In any child, especially those with additional needs, behaviour is often the language that tells us how they are coping. Many children at the moment describe their feelings as a ‘big sadness’. Experts tell us that this is grief. Sometimes we’re ‘fine’. Other days we want to dissolve into a puddle of tears and loud sobs, or maybe punch a door. This cycle of feelings that makes up grief is probably working around the whole family, but each adult or child, is at a different point in that cycle at any time of the day, which can be interesting!
Our children need to know this grief is normal, and that you and God are there to help. Not a fact to be shoe horned into conversation, but chatted about in those moments that sadness feels like a blanket. Explain your sadness. Show them it’s ok to cry. Stop and pray – nothing long, just a “Thankyou God that you understand how we feel”.
Some children find it enormously unhelpful to keep hearing that ‘this is in God’s plan’. If they don’t have the spiritual and emotional language to sort that through, it can translate as God being vindictive and cruel. They need the assurance that God is good, even in the middle of this pandemic. A useful Bible verse is Psalm 56:8 (NLT) “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book”. It may be difficult for some of our children to understand, but explain it as “God sees your sadness, He’s sad too, He understands and He’s with you”. Talk to your children about being sad and ways we can help each other.
Being “The strong one” all the time is not always helpful. Our children need an example of how to deal well with strong emotions. This may also mean apologising when we have been overly cross with them because we’re struggling too. Create a small space in your home and give it a name “Our safe spot” for example. It could be a low coffee table, a popup tent or blanket fort. Keep it there. This will be a focal point to take the fear, the anxiety and stress – and find hope and peace in the middle of it. But it will also be a place to sit with God, and be safe. Discuss with your children what they would like in that space. Calming things to fiddle with – glitter tubes are good. Maybe have a bubble lamp. Have things to write or draw with. Have a simple prayer activity that you can do more than once – just search for ‘creative prayers’ on line.
Have a ‘thankful jar’. Every time someone finds a good thing – write or draw it on something to put in the jar. It might be food, a game, a socially distanced visit or a zoom call. It might even be that worm they found in the garden. Put in anything to be thankful for, no matter how small, and make it a habit. In that space people can say exactly what they think without any fear. Make sure your children know God doesn’t mind if you shout at Him and tell Him stuff is unfair.
You don’t ‘have’ to give answers, the act of speaking out loud can be helpful on it’s own. But if your children want to silently scream their fear, that is equally helpful. Give space to recognise and name these emotions. Give space to lament. Have a thankful activity, because in the Lament Psalms, David always ended up praising God. When you are in Lament mode it is easier to praise when you a faced with something to be thankful with. So, have bubbles you can burst as you applaud God for His goodness. Use scrabble to spell out your thanks, make them with plasticine, line up toys and say your thanks with each one. Do things around how your child works. If stress makes them line things up – use it to help them cope. And if at that moment no thankful thoughts come to mind, use the thankful jar.
Above all – involve your child in creating what is needed in that space. Let them lead. You may find that what they do is also a comfort to you.
Kay Morgan-Gurr is the Chair of Children Matter, Co-Founder of the Additional Needs Alliance and a member of the Evangelical Alliance Council. You can read more of her work at www.kaymorgangurr.com