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Whether you are looking for encouragement, inspiration or some well trodden wisdom, you'll find it in these pages.

As you'll see, we have invited some great contributors to write on our blog, a number of whom have their own websites, which we have linked to. All views and opinions are their own.

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Halloween
Hallowe'en

Witch costumes, sculpted pumpkins and trick or treating.  Yes, Hallowe'en is on the horizon... If you are a parent, carer or children's worker wondering about how/whether to mark it, then we've put a few links below to Christian resources on all things Hallowe'en - we really hope it's useful.

Halloween - How do we do Halloween well? Hear lots of stories from families about how they parent for faith at Halloween as well as articles helping us think this season through.  Resources from Parenting for Faith

Messy Church - Holy Halloween -  A practical plan for having fun as a family ... exploring the scariness and safe-home-ness of Psalm 23.

GodVenture - Alternative pumpkin carving and reflections.

Christians and Halloween - Thoughts, reflections and ideas from Lucy at Hope Filled Family.

 


 

Faith

Me?  Teach my kids the Bible? 

I dislike football.

As a teen, I had no idea what classmates were talking about on a Monday morning when discussing the matches of the weekend. I never saw the appeal of kicking a ball around at picnics or social gatherings. And that miserable party-pooper at University who turned down multiple invitations to go and watch football at the pub?

Yup, guilty as charged.

Because God has the most incredible sense of humour, He gifted me a son who is football-mad.  And when I say “football-mad”, I mean that he was kicking a soft ball with his knees as early as four months, sat in the baby bouncer.  We have footage of him scoring an amazing drop-kick past his dad, a few weeks off his 2nd birthday.  Football has dominated his life and his break-times as long as he can remember.

These days, at the ripe old age of 12, he has plenty of outlets for playing football: at school with friends, at home with siblings, after church with the random assortment of people that an after-church kickaround usually attracts.

But do you know what?

Sometimes I play with him. Yes, really.

Sometimes I listen to him chat about players, transfers, injuries and referee decisions. I ask questions and try to understand more.  Sometimes I watch matches with him (OK, the Euros were pretty good, I’ll grant you that).  And sometimes (hang tight, this surely deserves some kind of parenting accolade) I even let him talk me through his Match Attax cards.

What has happened in the last twelve years? Who have I become?  I certainly haven’t become a football expert.

What’s happened is that I’ve fallen crazy in love with my son.  I want to enjoy life with him, and because football is such a big part of his life, I can’t connect with him unless I make some attempt to connect with the football he adores.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t know very much about it. It doesn’t matter that the only area in which my football knowledge surpasses his is in the area of football anthems (“Three Lions” and “Vindaloo” both being chart hits of my adolescence).  What matters is that we do it together.

I honestly don’t think that teaching our kids the Bible is much different. It doesn’t rely on our knowledge, just our love for our children and our willingness to get alongside them in something hugely relevant to their lives (and ours). But somehow, the very thought scares us off.

We believe we don’t know enough about the Bible.  We worry that we’re too young in our own faith.  We expect we won’t have “the answers” (whatever that means).  We wonder whether this kind of thing is best left to the professionals: church pastors, children’s workers, camp leaders.

The truth is, the best person to teach your child the Bible is you. Yes, you – with all your unanswered questions, rarely-read Bible books and limited understanding. You are the one your child trusts the most, the one who sees them at their best and worst, the one who loves them unconditionally, the one they’re watching to see faith in action.

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 says:

Impress [God’s commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

The Israelites, to whom this passage was written, would have had ‘formal’ occasions to learn about God just like our children do in church. And praise God for all the amazing people who invest in our children on a Sunday.  But Moses is saying that that’s not enough! God’s Word is not just to be heard in a weekly church service or youth group. It needs to be chatted through, thought about, mulled over, discussed, questioned, tested.

A modern paraphrase of that passage might go something like this:

“Impress God’s Word on your children. Talk about it when you’re chilling at home, and when you’re on the school run. When you’re going to sleep and first thing in the morning. Write it out, hold it, wear it. Display Scripture around your home; surround your family with it.”

We don’t need to have all the answers. We don’t need to read huge long chunks. And – you’ll be pleased to hear – we don’t need to start with Deuteronomy.

There are some brilliant resources to help – I have a helpful run-down of over 20 of the best Bibles for children and youth on my blog, as well as lists of children’s devotional resources and some great resources for family devotions too.

But you could just open up your Bible, read a couple of verses from a gospel, then ask your kids what they thought.  Just like I’ll go and have a kick around with my son, even though I have no idea what I’m doing, teaching our kids the Bible is about being willing, getting involved, learning from our kids and sharing what God has taught us.

Try it!

Lucy Rycroft is the founder of The Hope-Filled Family, a resource to equip Christian parents and adopters. You can connect with her on Instagram, where she’s currently sharing encouragements to #teachyourkidsthebible. Lucy lives in York with her vicar husband Al and their four kids, and is the author of Redeeming Advent and Deborah and Jael.
 
 

 

 

Baby Toys

Parenting Sermon Notes

 
One of the great joys of my life is being a father and a grandfather. So often it feels like we only get the hang of parenting by the time our children have left home, and it is certainly true that grandchildren make adults out of the parents and children out of the grandparents!

Here are four principles I have learnt through being a father and a grandfather.
 
  1. Commitment.  God’s example of commitment to us, his children, should be our example.  As God has shown covenant love to you and me, so we need to show commitment to our children.
 
    2. Compassion.  God’s love means that he wants the best for us.  We need to seek to be             those who love our children with a similar compassion.
        A compassion that wants the best for them.
        A compassion that wants to give them roots and wings.
 
  1. Care.  Out children don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.  We are to provide a social, psychological, and spiritual framework in which our children can grow. 
        Children spell love T.I.M.E. Should we give our children quality time or quantity time?
        The answer is: quality quantity time.
 
  1. Cost.  The parable of the prodigal is a lesson in parenting.  We must always be prepared to let our children go, but equally, we must always be ready to welcome them back, whatever the cost. 
        If your children are prodigals, keep your house open with hope.
 

        Written by Canon J John, who can be found at @canonjjohn and www.canonjjohn.com
 

Coffee Cake
Parenting Course - Why Bother?

The longer I work for the NPI, the more I see a hesitation around parenting courses – both running one (will anyone commit to it when life’s so busy?) as well as attending (why would I go on a parenting course!?)

While I can appreciate that the format of a traditional course might not suit everyone, and that there are many places to find good parenting tips and advice - extended family, books and podcasts to name but three, there are some great reasons to attend a parenting course and here are just a few we’ve come up with:

  1.  Chat.  Coffee.  Cake.  Repeat. Since starting work here, I’ve yet to come across an in-person parenting course that doesn’t feature a cuppa and cake.  Isn’t the table central to the ebb and flow of life?  When people gather around food and kind hospitality, conversation happens, connections are made and in time, trust grows.  An in-person parenting course invites conversation, questions and discussion and when this is centred around a particular aspect of parenting, it allows people the opportunity to grow, consider and reflect in a safe environment.
 
  1. Get specific.  Did you know that there are some parenting courses focused on particular areas?  For example, ADHD, ASD or handling anger in the family.  Some churches even run one off sessions on specific topics.  Hearing from trained facilitators and meeting with other parents facing the same issues can be both encouraging and empowering.
 
  1. One thing.  Obviously, parenting courses aren’t a magic wand to wave over your relationship with your child, but what if along the way you learn one thing that helps improve a tricky dynamic or a difficult issue?  Whether it be from something another parent says in passing (happened to me) or a PowerPoint slide from a facilitator, couldn’t we all do with a little help?
 
  1. Why not?  As the old adage goes, knowledge is power.  Just as we might attend a course to learn any new skill, how much more so when we find ourselves responsible for nurturing young life?  Often course facilitators are further on in the journey and have the skills and experience to impart wise teaching for the years ahead.  I guess what I’m saying is, well, why not?
 
  1. Research.  Back in 2019 a study by Kings College London concluded that there was a case for “considerable investment” in parenting programmes.  Prof Stephen Scott from Kings told BBC News that, "Parenting classes should be offered on a much larger scale, recognising that the quality of parent-child relationship is not just about individual psychological wellbeing but also has greater social and financial implications."*  Perhaps attending a course could be impactful for your family not just in the present, but could build a great foundation for the future too.

 
* https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49879677

Teenagers


Parenting for Faith -Teens Focus

In the autumn 2021, the Parenting for Faith team will be running an online Parenting for Faith course specifically for the parents and carers of teens, or people who work with or who have teens in their life. Rachel Turner will be delivering the sessions live as we explore and learn what parenting for faith looks like when you have teenagers.

We know that parents and carers flourish when they are part of a supportive community around them: people on the same journey and people to encourage and support them. The Parenting for Faith course is usually run as part of a church, with a church leader hosting the course, creating community and pastoring the parents and carers on the course. But there are also occasions when people don’t have access to a local course, and in the past, we have run online courses so they can come alongside other parents and carers and do the course.

Therefore, there will be two ways for people to join the course:

  • As individuals, who will be sent the Zoom link. They will be put into breakout rooms for the discussion groups with other people who have signed up individually.
  • As part of a church group. A church host will sign up and receive the Zoom link. They are then free to pass that link onto as many families as they wanted to. If they are able to meet in person, it’s hoped that they might meet physically, watch the Zoom together and then chat and do the discussions together; if they are meeting on Zoom, then there will be a breakout room just for that church.

Our hope for the course is that as much as possible, parents and carers do the course as part of a church group, so we have fixed the price point to encourage churches to sign up to host their own families.

If you sign up as a church, we’ll also invite you to an optional online training event on 16th September. This will be to chat through how the course will work and explore together some of the specific needs and questions parents of teens have and some ways to support them well as you journey together.

Do sign up! The eight week course will run on Wednesday nights during the autumn term, starting on 29th September (with a week off in half term).

You can book and find out more about what will be covered in each session here - https://parentingforfaith.org/PFF-teens-focus

Written by the team at parenting-for-faith logo (2)

TOfP-courses-1511x730-1

 

Care for the Family logo
 
The Care for the Family 'Time Out for Parents' courses are here to help you build a strong and secure relationship with your child, whatever their age.  The courses are run in community venues and are usually made up of six two-hour sessions, each led by trained and experienced facilitators. 

We asked a Care for the Family Facilitator some questions on why they run the course, and here are their answers...

 
1. What made you decide to run a course for families in your church?

I have led 9-10 Parenting courses over the past twenty years. Firstly, the Care For the Family Video based course called Parent Talk, covering all ages. Then I found a course tailored to Pre-school children called Parent Play. After that I adapted my own course until I found and was trained to deliver Positive Parenting. I have delivered the Early Years Course a number of times, and also the Primary Years and the course on Handling Anger in the Family. On one occasion I lead the Raising Faith Course.
I personally would have welcomed a parenting course when I was bringing up our two lively and strong willed sons and recognised a great need of the parents who attended the weekly Parent and Toddler Group at my church.  Many of them had no family support as the parents had come to work in the UK. They were also struggling to find ways of disciplining their children in this country where physical punishment is not allowed. I also recognised that by running a parenting course I would be able to form closer relationships with those who attended.

2. Why this one?
 
I was attracted to the Time Out for Parents course as it had a solid theoretical basis, was professional in its presentation and had a clear constructive handbook for participants giving age-appropriate examples. The course was constantly looking at ways to foster strong family bonds.

3. What were the costs involved?
 
I delivered the courses at my local church so the only costs involved were the Leaders Manual and the Parents Handbook. (As a CFF licenced facilitator leading the course voluntarily I receive a discount on materials). Initially I suggested that the parents might like to make a voluntary contribution to cover the cost of the manual but on the last course I requested £6 from everyone who attended.

4. How did it go?  What were the highlights?
 
Without exception each course was a success and greatly appreciated by the parents. They gained in confidence as they came to understand their child’s temperament and the importance of drawing boundaries. Deeper relationships were formed, and I have remained in contact with one parent years after they have left the country! 

5. What would you say to anyone looking at this course and wondering whether it might work in their community?

I live in a multicultural area and on a recent course the group comprised of 11 parents from 8 different countries! So interesting conversations arose concerning cultural practices. The course covered a variety of learning styles.
I have always found that the hardest part is getting a group of parents willing to commit to attend a course and finding a mutually convenient day and time. Once people attend, they usually value the “Time Out” and complete the course. I often tease group members that they only attend for the cake, but it is small acts of care that communicate powerfully.

 

Back to School
Transitions

The transition back to school is fast approaching – perhaps you have children in your life who are starting Reception, perhaps others who are moving to Secondary school.  Maybe you’ve had another transition in your family – a house move or a new addition.  Whatever it is, transitions can be difficult for children (and adults!)  Below are links to some great articles on helping our children navigate new seasons, from some of the charities we partner with.

Back to School Routines from Fegans.  
Back to School Tips for Special Needs Families from Care for the Family
Getting Back to School and Routines  from Parenting for Faith
Transitions from Parenting for Faith
The ABC's of Transitions from Connected Lives

We were thrilled to interview Mark Arnold, The Additional Needs Blogfather on transitions as part of our Empowering Parents YouTube series.  Find the interview here.

Babies Matter photo

 

Kids Matter logo

The Kids Matter Parenting Programmes are run in the heart of communities or prisons.  They are for parents and carers facing disadvantage and wanting to learn skills to help their children thrive.  The groups run for 6 weeks and are run by trained facilitators in an informal and warm environment.  

We asked a Kids Matter Facilitator some questions on why they run the course, and here are their answers...

 1. What made you decide to run a course for families in your church?

As a charity (Restore Collective) we work with families from disadvantaged backgrounds in our local community, running family events and, when necessary, signposting or offering one-to-one family support. We have observed that families need more opportunities to feel enabled and equipped, and parenting was a key area we saw this in; where we could support more. If we could offer a programme at an intervention stage it could potentially stop issues getting to crisis level but also bring new healthy dynamics to family life. Partnering with Kids Matter was a strategic step for us to build on the foundations we had.  We also saw the Kids Matter programme as a tool to build authentic community. To date, we have partnered with St Peter’s Church in Mancetter (one of the top two deprived wards in the whole of Warwickshire); the church has a desire to reach out to more families on the estate/school and has welcomed the Kids Matter programme. The church now has deeper family connections in the community as a result of this. 

2. Why this one?

The Kids Matter programme did not feel overly complex for the kind of families we are working with. It felt relational and informal; the parenting tools and behaviour suggested by the programme are simple and achievable, and can have profound impact on family life and a child’s well-being. Some parenting programmes are too complicated to be helpful for families facing disadvantages.  I also like the fact that community and relationships with families continue after the programme has run, and guests are encouraged to continue meeting as well.  Mums, dads and carers are not then back to parenting in isolation; they have an ongoing support network. 

3. What were the costs involved?

  • Training on zoom £180 for four days.
  • Partnership fee £52 a month – covers a Support Coach and all the Kids Matter resources needed for a programme. 
  • Basic running costs for a programme: refreshments and stationary resources i.e., folders, post-its, pens etc.

4. How did it go?  What were the highlights?

Parents did not feel alone. Parents found community. Parents felt safe. Parents helped and supported each other. New friendships formed. Guests were signposted to other support, which helped see positive change (in addition to that inspired by Kids Matter). Families developed better routines. Mums learned to respond differently to children's behaviour and saw positive, improved change. Parents saw strategies included in the Kids Matter programme work as they applied them at home.  Parents expressed an intent to spend more time together as a family and responded well to the Love Languages session. Parents felt more confident in their parenting and finished the programme with raised aspirations.  Parents evaluated their life/roles and realised the importance of loving themselves; taking time to invest in who they are as individuals, not just parents. Kids Matter gave parents permission be honest and space to reflect. Now, there is more holistic support in place for families who’ve done the programme – provided by Restore Collective, school and church, ongoingly. Eighty-five per cent of parents completed the course. 

5. What would you say to anyone looking at this course and wondering whether it might work in their community?

Go for it!  Kids Matter's Parenting Programme is a great tool, which is designed to encourage community confidence and competency, and ticks lots of boxes for meeting the needs of families facing disadvantages; it's a great way to get to know families and be more informed as how best to support them.

To find out more about Kids Matter, visit www.kidsmatter.org.uk

 

 

Mum and child

 

parenting-for-faith logo (2)

The Parenting for Faith course is a free online eight session course.  The goal of the course is to help parents discover that they are perfectly positioned to show their children the reality of a life with God and to empower them to have their own vibrant two-way relationship with Him.

We asked a Pastor some questions on why they run the course, and here are their answers...

 1. What made you decide to run a course for families in your church?

I’d been the Children’s Worker for a number of years, and we’ve previously run other parenting courses but they were more about how to parent well ‘generally’, and not so focussed on faith in the home. In October 2020 my role changed slightly to Growing Faith Pastor including how we can have a closer link between church and home life, and as part of that I wanted to see how we could support parents more in bringing faith into everyday life, and this was a brilliant opportunity.

2. Why this one?

The Parenting For Faith course focuses on how parents/godparents/team are in the best position to bring up their children in a life of faith. The course isn’t a set programme of ten steps to make your child a Christian, but identifies five key tools we can use in different situations to bring faith into normal everyday conversations. We were also in lockdown, and the Parenting For Faith course was easily adaptable to being held on zoom as it’s mainly video based with opportunities for discussion in groups which we did in breakout rooms!

3. What were the costs involved?

Running the course is free, which is very generous! We sent out packs to everyone who signed up which included sweets and a book, but that was something we wanted to do to bless those on the course.

4. How did it go?  What were the highlights?

Everyone really enjoyed it and found it extremely helpful. Parents saw they weren’t alone in dealing with tricky questions, or feeling like they didn’t talk about God enough at home. The highlight was connecting participants with people in a similar situation (parents, grandparents, godparents etc) and them being able to work through how they would use the key tools. A lot of people said they found the discussion time really valuable and wanted it to be longer.

5. What would you say to anyone looking at this course and wondering whether it might work in their community?

I would absolutely recommend they run the course – and it can work for any group of people! From a couple of parents getting together, to a large group from across a church congregation all in different situations, it’s really easy to adapt. It’s very straightforward as the host as it’s all done on the video for you and participant handbooks are provided so they can make notes and follow along with it. The Parenting For Faith team are super helpful at answering questions, and the website has a wealth of resources to help you with answering specific questions/situations children may have.

To find out more about Parenting for Faith, visit www.parentingforfaith.org

 

Summer Nature
Summer Ideas

Well, the holidays are here (along with the sun!  For now, at least…) and with them an easing of restrictions.  We know that the prospect of the long stretch of the summer holiday can be overwhelming, so we’ve listed 24 simple (and mostly free) ideas for spending time as a family this summer break.  So, without further ado…

  1. Hold a water fight in the garden
  2. Organise a board game contest
  3. Host a family Olympics
  4. Plan a shopping challenge, e.g. See what you can make for dinner with £5.
  5. Explore a local woodland – play games, climb trees and take hot chocolate in a flask
  6. Go paddling in the sea
  7. Have a sleepover in the lounge
  8. Camp in the garden
  9. Go on a nature scavenger hunt (for more ideas on the great outdoors, The Woodland Trust is a great resource)
  10. Organise a face painting extravaganza
  11. Plan a bike/scooter ride
  12. Have a picnic
  13. Make ice cream sundaes
  14. Get creative with pavement chalking
  15. Go on a late-night family walk.
  16. Have a family film night
  17. Organise a kite flying contest
  18. Splash in the paddling pool
  19. Pick some summer reading books at the library
  20. Visit all your local parks and rank them
  21. Send postcards from home
  22. Make your own pizzas
  23. Play with a frisbee
  24. Visit GodVenture for some faith-based summer activity ideas

We hope these ideas have provided some inspiration – you can find lots more here, on the Care for the Family website.

We know that for many parents, between the childcare and work juggle, there isn’t much rest time during the holidays.  Fegans have some great resources on self care, which are worth exploring for some inspiration on this important area of wellbeing.  If you are in a couple, why not take a look at these summertime date ideas from Care for the Family, which are inexpensive and sure to create memories.

We hope you have a happy and peaceful summer!

 

Every fostering & adoptive family deserves a community of welcome in their church


Father and Child
 
They say it takes a village to raise a child.  At Home for Good we’ve stretched the saying to “It takes a church to raise a care experienced child”
 
When a family in your church become foster carers or adopters, they will need you, their church family, to wrap around them and create a great web of support, encouragement and perhaps the occasional Victoria sponge or curry delivery!
 
Here are some things that you can do which will really make a difference:
  1. Pray
For them, their social workers, the 100s of children in the UK waiting to be adopted.  Keep it high in your eyeline as a church.  Try to keep that command in Psalm 82 to “Defend the weak and the fatherless;  uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy;  deliver them from the hand of the wicked. 
  1. Be a friend who listens
Let them know that you care.  Sit with them in church even if their child is screaming – help the rest of the church family to accept the behaviour as trauma informed not naughty by modelling complete acceptance.  Invite them to dinner, all of them, fostering can be lonely.  Listen, but don’t expect all the information about the child in their care – some things need to remain confidential.
  1. Think creatively about practical support

Sometimes the most obvious support, like babysitting or helping at bath or bedtime, isn’t appropriate or allowed when children are being looked after or have recently been adopted – but there are still many ways you can help! Cook a meal for the family, offer to take away some ironing or clean the house when the family is out, or perhaps you could cut the lawn or the hedge, or even walk the dog for them.
  1. Become a champion for Home for Good in your church

We’re looking for individuals who are passionate about fostering and adoption to be our champions. You will be at the heart of all we do – raising awareness in your church and supporting the vision of Home for Good. Contact me for me more information.
  1.  Make sure your church is safe and secure for vulnerable children
As well as being kind, accepting and welcoming, it is important that your church is prepared with the right safeguarding practices and child protection policies in place. Encourage your church family to do some learning through reading the Home for Good book or taking part in some training.

     6.  Be willing to adapt and change
 
Children who have been looked after will often have suffered trauma, they may have experienced abuse or neglect, and they are usually having to cope in new and scary situations – and their foster carers and adoptive parents are doing all they can to love, nurture and support them. Be flexible and ready to adjust.  What is more important at the end of a Sunday school or youth group session: that children know the intimate details of a Bible passage or that they are loved and accepted by both God and you?

     7. Never, ever, ever give up
 
Foster carers are committed to their children and will faithfully love them even when it is hard. If you can journey with them and support them every step of the way, you will be playing a vital role in providing stability and security, and echoing God’s heart of love, compassion and mercy for these vulnerable children.
 
Written by Clare Walker, South West Regional Lead for Home for Good. clare.walker@homeforgood.org.uk 
 
Home for Good is a UK charity seeking to inspire and equip individuals and families to open their homes to vulnerable children. We resource churches to be a welcoming and supportive community for fostering and adoptive families, and advocate for vulnerable children at all levels of government.
 
 

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I don't know what I'm doing

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 Id 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? Im 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, shed received unhelpful criticism that made her feel judged. Shed 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

 

HomeForGood

Home for Good
is a UK charity seeking to inspire and equip individuals and families to open their homes to vulnerable children. We resource churches to be a welcoming and supportive community for fostering and adoptive families, and advocate for vulnerable children at all levels of government.
 
We believe the Church is ideally placed to ensure that every child and young person has the loving home they need. Our Biblical mandate to care for the vulnerable, extend hospitality and seek justice compels us to action. Through opening our homes and hearts to children and young people in care, and through our churches becoming a welcoming and supportive community to all looked after and adopted children and the families who care for them, we can make a transformational difference.
 

There is so much you can do to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children.

Become a champion Our passionate champions are doing all they can to achieve the vision of Home for Good in their church and community, resourced and supported by Home for Good.

Get your church involved We want every church to have vulnerable children on their agenda, so we provide resources and speakers to help make that happen.

Support our advocacy work We seek to be a voice for vulnerable children and those who care for them and work to influence policy and practice.

Pray Join us in praying for vulnerable children throughout the UK. Sign up to our mailing list to receive regular prayer updates.

Connect locally  Find out what events and training are happening in your area, and connect with local staff, champions and local movements.

Leave a legacy As we each play our part, we can ensure a collective legacy in the lives of vulnerable children which could impact generations.

 
For more information contact Clare Walker, South West Regional Lead for Home for Good. clare.walker@homeforgood.org.uk 

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Parenting & Faith

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

 

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Supporting Additional Needs Families


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.

Don't:
Make comparisons with other children.  Make negative comment about their child's development.  Criticise their parenting.  Make unqualified 'diagnoses'.


Do:
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’.

Don't:
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.
 
Do:
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…

Don't:
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).


Do:
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.  

 

Manthano Logo

Manthano

Manthano aim to support anyone involved in the life of a child. We recognise that every child is Special, with Unique combinations of abilities and needs. Our primary vision is to S.E.R.V.E (Support, Equip, Resource, Value and Empower) parents, as well as leaders, volunteers and teachers working or supervising children within churches, communities, and organizations. We realize that by working together as we S.E.R.V.E, we will be able to raise up godly children that are confident learners, strong in faith and resilient. We believe that Every Child Matters. Thereby, every child approaches the future with confidence and is able to achieve their potential and become independent life-long learners.

Parenting with Angel Eyes Masterclass

 
Parenting With Angel Eyes Masterclass aims to give tools and skills to support parents nurture a child’s heart for leadership. It aims to help you develop your own philosophy of parenting based on Parenting for Angel Eyes framework which comes from years of research, biblical teaching and resources that are relevant and up to date with best practices.
 
As you implement Parenting With Angel Eyes framework, you will find yourself assessing your parenting style and personality, allowing yourself to be moulded by a biblical framework and a grace-based, heart-based approach to parenting. You will gain a greater perspective to parenting as you create long term goals and visions with confidence, motivation and faith. Our goal is to help you seek an understanding of the areas that need to be improved upon. We encourage parents to set aside perfection as we build on areas of strength. We teach topics such as, effective boundaries, building positive relationships, effective communication, discipline that connects and builds a positive self-esteem.  For more information contact info@manthno.co.uk or visit https://www.manthano.co.uk/ParentingWithAngelEyesMasterClass.html

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Helping our children to navigate friendships after such a long time apart

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

 

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Parenthood & Self-Care

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. 
 

Kids Matter logo

The First 1001 Days

 
More than 1 million neural connections are formed per second in a baby’s brain. We develop faster in the first years of life than at any other time. There is clear and compelling evidence to suggest that the developmental phases occurring in first 1001 days of a child’s life (including pregnancy and the first two years after) lay the foundation for every child’s future health, well-being, learning, resilience, adaptability; the competencies they baby and dadneed to thrive.

Why then, is so little attention given to this critical moment of development that is, in fact, a beautiful opportunity to make a massive difference in a child’s well-being and future?

Driven by a vision to see every child in need raised in a strong family, our evidence-informed parenting programme engages local churches to equip parents and carers facing disadvantages with confidence, competence and community, enabling their children to thrive. The original Kids Matter programme is written specifically for parents of children under 10 years of age yet after running numerous groups with parents living in poverty and isolation, we realised that a programme focused specifically on the earliest years was needed. If children are to have the best opportunity to do well in life, parenting support should start in the first 1001 days—in pregnancy; the earliest of early interventions. And thus, Babies Matter was born.

The Babies Matter parenting programme aims to support first time parents facing disadvantages as they become parents so that their baby has the best start in life. It does this by helping parents understand and tune into their baby’s social, emotional and cognitive needs. Through encouraging sensitive parenting a secure attachment between them and their baby is likely to develop, enabling healthy brain development and laying good foundations for life.

We know the transition to parenthood is a stressful time but for those facing additional challenges in life such as previous mental illness, poverty, single Babies Matter photoparenting or domestic abuse, this can be an especially difficult time. The Covid-19 pandemic has also done a good job of exacerbating these disadvantages. The "Babies in Lockdown" report found that many families with lower incomes, from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and young parents have been hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is likely to have widened the already deep inequalities in the early experiences and life chances of children across the UK.

Research suggests the stress of lockdown can impact an individual’s mental health as well as put additional strain on the parenting relationship, which is why Babies Matter actively focus on strengthening relationships and prioritises parental well-being.  

Babies Matter lays the foundations for strong parent child relationships by enhancing parental sensitivity and building strong attachment between parent and baby. The programme works with expectant parents and those in their first year of parenting to build confidence, competence and community, enabling babies to thrive. It is a great precursor to the Kids Matter programme and shares our vision for every child in need to be raised in a strong family.
 
Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at info@kidsmatter.org.uk
   

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Talking to kids about race and protesting

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 
 

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Why is our identity such a big deal?

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
 

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Being with: A gift of relationship


“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).
2.https://www.larche.org.uk/news/sam-wells-on-being-with-and-belonging-in-a-time-of-loneliness
3.https://www.circleofsecurityinternational.com/ 
4.https://www.larche.org.uk/

Safe Families Logo

Written by Kat Osborn, Chief Executive Officer of Safe Families
 
At Safe Families we believe no one should feel alone. Facing life alone is hard, and when you feel there is no one there to support you it is a scary place to be. Therefore, at Safe Families we offer support, hope and belonging to improve the lives of those in our communities.
 
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions. When you are lonely the feeling of shame and fear leads to a negative cycle which can have serious consequences. Evidence also shows that a positive mutual relationship with even just one other individual can begin to reverse that negative cycle as people feel that they are connected and accepted. That is how we at Safe Families truly understand belonging – when you feel fully seen, heard and understood.
 
This is why Safe Families partner with nearly 40 Local Authorities across the UK to support isolated families, children and care leavers who feel they have no sense of belonging. Families Like Chloe, Chloe is an 8-year-old girl, she loves her family and wants to live in a happy and loving home. The problem is her mum misuses drugs, and although Chloe loves her mum, she knew that it was not safe for her to live with mum.
 
Social services also felt it wasn’t safe for Chloe or her 2 sisters, so they asked her dad to care for them, the problem is dad had not been that involved in his daughters lives and he didn’t think he would be able to care for them, he wondered whether they would be better off being in care. However, he also knew that Chloe wanted to live with her family who she loved. This was when dad met Safe Families, we explained that there were people in the community that would love to support him and his girls, we knew he could be a good dad with some support. So together we came up with a plan.
 
A couple had the 3 girls to stay once a month, the girls loved going to stay, they were able to bake and play at the park. This also gave dad a break, so he could recharge his batteries.
 
Another couple visited the family in their home, dad was able to go out for a pint with the male volunteer, and chat about how things were going and the challenges they were facing.
 
Chloe’s dad has said “…the support has been excellent and initially I didn’t think I had the capacity to care for my girls, however I have become stronger, well and confident. I know there are people who can help me, and that I can be a good dad.”
 
Find out more about Safe Families here

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Giving Ourselves Grace for the Holidays

 

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

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Written by Michaela Hyde, Executive Director of Marriage Foundation
 
It was in 2012, after more than four decades in the Family Courts (fourteen as a High Court Judge), that Sir Paul Coleridge set up Marriage Foundation to spearhead a campaign to tackle and reduce family breakdown in our nation. His experiences in the family justice system moved him to act in order to challenge public opinion to demonstrate that the commitment of marriage affects the outcomes of all of our children.
 
Since those beginnings, Marriage Foundation has been championing marriage as the ‘gold standard’ for couple relationships and dispelling myths that marriage is just a piece of paper that makes no difference.  By undertaking, publishing and broadcasting ground-breaking research we have heightened public, media and government awareness and understanding of the scale of family breakdown.  To date, we have produced more than 40 research papers and have been interviewed, quoted or cited more than 1,000 times in mainstream media.
 
Our research has shown that 90% of cohabiting parents who stay together until their children reach 15 years of age are married, and that divorce rates have been on the decline for eight years and are now at their lowest for fifty years.  But sadly, in contrast, unmarried cohabitants break up at three times the rate of married couples.  Unmarried parents make up only 19% of all couples with dependent children, yet account for half of all family breakdown.
 
Why does this matter? Because it is well documented that those who experience family breakdown when aged 18 or younger are typically twice as likely to experience many of the challenging social issues facing our society today, including mental health, reduced educational attainment, crime or homelessness. 
 
Our hope is that all children, couples and families thrive and are able to live their very best lives.  Stable families need the security of stable marriage (or formal commitment).  There is huge significance in the process of deciding to commit in marriage.  Without that decision, there is ambiguity and ambiguity can put a relationship at risk.  Marriage really does matter, this isn’t just a hunch, it’s based on robust research that is there to inform our nation.  Government, media, couples, individuals, rich, poor, young and old, we want everyone to not only see that marriage is the best arrangement but to also act on this knowledge.

Parenting Apart

Dad and Boy

I have a friend who often comments that one of the most vulnerable times in our lives is when we divorce...but often, for many reasons, this is when churches step away from families. Why is this? Theological objections? Awkwardness? Fear?  Whatever the reasons divorce is when families need us most and so I trust that the following insights give confidence to be able to navigate this complex time with families compassionately and helpfully.

The first thing to absorb is that divorce leaves an emotionally chaotic wave of pain for a long time. When working with parents who are going through divorce I try to prepare them for at least 18 months of self-focussed and painful thinking; they may have suffered deep rejection, loss of their home, even access to their children. As a church leader it’s no use you asking them to put their children first or be a place of stability, they are very unlikely to be able to think that clearly for some time. It will come, however unlikely it may look at first (and they will find it deeply comforting to find out that there is life after divorce) but it won't happen straight away. I volunteer for a brilliant charity called Restored Lives that works with people who are leaving or have been left and who gently take them through some of the hard decisions...relational, financial, parental that they are going to have to negotiate. This is helpful because it means that some of the difficult truths of divorce can be handled by people expert in their delivery...and it’s brilliant for people going through divorce to meet others and share experiences and peer support each other, so introducing them to Restored Lives is a great first step.

Within my day job at Fegans the messages I give to divorcing parenting is rather like a poop sandwich (and I prepare them for this!!). Keep the poop part short...it’s not helpful to dwell on the damage caused to our own children but rather the hope we can leave behind.

Firstly the positive...well done for looking for support, good job on the courage to share, thank you for trusting me with such personal and painful experiences. Things are going to get better, the pain will ease, hope will return.

Secondly the poop. Divorce is a horrific shock to children as all of their attachment (how we all build our identity and relationship with others) is based on having a secure environment around them. When the person who has promised since your birth to "always be there for you" suddenly isn't anymore, it raises many insecurities that can manifest as anger, silence, petulance, blame....and even hate. In addition, houses, schools, routines all change. And however much we try to say it’s not the child's fault, they simply don't have the capacity to be able to believe this. And so they think it is their fault. If only they have been more well behaved, didn't row or answer back maybe this would never have happened.

Then thirdly hope.  Here are 5 key strategies they can help to rebuild families.

  1. Attachment is rebuildable...but it takes time. one to one, undivided by phone or internet (on the parents behalf!).  Quality, consistent, daily, time. Not much...just 10 mins...but regularly.

  2. Speak well of your ex. This may be like sucking poison from a cess pit...but it’s amazing for the wellbeing of the children. It also means that the parent who speaks well of the other is the most trusted parent which is worth the pain. Check out this 2 minute video of why.

  3. Approval. Divorcing people have often lost any sense of self worth and therefore may struggle to praise their children....but it’s essential for them to know that you don't just love them...you like them, you like being with them, you admire them, their courage, their kindness, their care.

  4. Keep everything as stable as you can...house, routines, school, friends. Even if we want a fresh start...it’s often the last thing children need. Don't bring new partners into a volatile mix until things settle.

  5. Let the children be angry, sad, shout...it’s how they process. Better that they process in front of you than silently and alone...or even worse, in chat rooms.

Try to remind people you are talking with that parenting is a long game; it’s not about who is favourite today, but rather are you a part of your grandchildrens lives. And whatever children say to us now, in the heat of divorce, if we manage it well they will re-evaluate how we did as parents as they older. Just like you re-evaluated your parents when you become a parent.

If you need a little more guidance, Fegans has created a free animated video series aimed at separated families on how to navigate the complex waters ahead...sign up here.

Ian Soars is the CEO of Fegans – a charity providing counselling to children, in addition to parent support, intervention and training.

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Supporting Bereaved Children

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
 

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Faith, Hope and Motherhood

Becoming a mum brings so many changes to your life: your time, priorities, expenses, energy, maybe even your work life, will change. My own children arrived in pairs: first one set of twins followed, three years later, by a second set.

My life with God had always been focused on what I could give to Him. Yes, I knew that Jesus alone was my redemption, but I thought that following Him meant I should give everything in response to His sacrifice. And in the early years of motherhood that became my problem: I had nothing left to give, so how could God be happy with me?

Maybe you recognize this dilemma. Maybe you’ve also worried you’re not enough.

God is gentler than you think

Years ago, I heard someone teach that God has a special grace for mothers of young children. I’ve held onto those words. And the Bible says something similar:
 
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
And carries them close to his heart;
He gently leads those that have young. (Isa. 40:11 NIV)
 
God is an attentive shepherd. He is actively carrying your children. He will ensure you are not left behind. He is sensitive to your needs and full of love for you in this season.

If you are feeling lost on the journey, be comforted, He is not lost; He will gently lead you on.

It may be time for a new measure

 
I used to think that following Jesus meant offering Him more and more of my time. When I had four preschool aged children, this felt like an impossible standard to measure up to. But (eventually) the constraints on my energy became a gift. I couldn’t be on every team. I couldn’t attend every meeting. God had to show me what was really at the heart of following Jesus.
 
John Ortberg puts it well in his book on spiritual disciplines The Life You’ve Always Wanted:
‘Am I growing in love for God and people?’ The real issue [in spiritual development] is what kind of people we are becoming. (Ortberg, 1997)
 
Am I growing in love – hadn’t my entire existence become an exercise in love? Motherhood has taught me more about love, both the ecstasies and the heartbreaks, than any other season in my life. I encourage you that it is motherhood, because of its constraints and challenges, that will grow you into a person who loves with the God’s love. Ask Him to do this in your life.

Constraints are a blessing

Stick with me! I promise you this is good news!

We live in a world that prizes freedom, agency and action. But you only need to take a walk with a toddler to realise that life with young children is distinctly lacking in freedom and agency. Caring for young children means living under constraints: they have (endless) needs, move slowly (or too quickly in the wrong direction!), and they do not understand our adult agendas. It’s stretching and often difficult.

I love what Paul says about how God uses difficulties: ‘[difficulty] produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Romans 5:4). Growth happens not despite the constraints, but because of the constraints.

If your difficulties have left you feeling hopeless, ask God to invite you into a new way of following Him.

I survived the early years, just about. But God used those years to build a better grounding for my spiritual walk with Him. Now when I stumble upon some new vulnerability, I remember that this too is a gift; this too can produce hope. I still look for His gentle leading. 

Lindsay Osborne is a freelance writer and proofreader living in Wales. She has four children and a very helpful husband. When she's not glued to her laptop, you'll find her pottering in the garden or drinking coffee.

Whole Heart Ministries
 
The mission of Whole Heart Ministries, which was started in 1994 by Clay and Sally Clarkson, is to encourage, equip, enable, and engage Christian parents to raise wholehearted children for Christ.  Visit the Ministry website  to find out more and discover their resources.  We also recommend visiting Sally’s website to read her beautiful blog and listen to her encouraging podcast.

Supporting Children with Additional Needs in Church


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Think of a 7-year old autistic child who is overwhelmed when greeted by bright lights, a wall of noise, a crowded room and an overload of different smells. Or a 10-year-old with dyslexia who loves sung worship, but finds reading words on a screen impossible because of the background images. Or a 14-year-old who uses a wheelchair and feels left out when asked to “jump up and worship”.

Around 20 per cent of children and young people have long-term additional needs or disabilities of some kind. Many of them, along with their families, feel excluded from a wide range of social activities, including church. So how can we meet their needs?
 
It’s about providing a better way for that 7-year-old. Thinking about when, how and where they arrive, as well as looking at alternative lighting. It’s about providing a screen with plain backgrounds and appropriate text fonts for that 10-year-old, and anyone else who might need it. It’s about changing what we say to include everyone. Perhaps saying “We’re going to worship now, please remain seated or stand, as you prefer…” would make all the difference to that 14-year-old.
 
Inclusion doesn’t stop at wider doors, ramps and disabled loos. It’s about creating places of belonging and developing the faith of everyone.
 
Appoint an inclusion champion 

The most important strategy a church can put in place is to appoint someone who ‘owns’ inclusion. Someone who will look critically at the things the church does through the lived experiences of the children and families you reach. What is hard for them to access? What modifications could easily be made to improve things?
 
Ideally, this role would be held by someone with a lived experience of additional needs or disability, either in their own lives or as a carer, to ensure inclusion is done with and not to anyone being supported. Inclusion champions provide a primary point of contact for those with additional needs, but the rest of the team must also be involved.
 
Build support strategies

Understanding what support strategies are in place in other areas of children’s lives (for example at school or home) and bringing them into church activities offers ready-made ideas, as well as provid­ing consistency and continuity. Asking parents or carers how their child likes to be supported and helped, and what they enjoy doing, is likely to unlock useful and helpful conversations. Remember to ask children themselves about how they like to be supported. Inclusion should always involve the person being included.
 
You could make one-page profiles to help parents or carers and young people describe themselves. You could also use a visual timetable using symbols or photos. This is a great tool to help children understand where they are in the programme, what is expect­ed of them, and what is coming next (including when ‘snack time’ is!).

“Inclusion should always involve the person being included”
 
Recruit one-to-one support

Some young people with additional needs can become anxious if they are left to cope on their own. Providing one-to-one support can help them understand what is happening and what they are supposed to be doing.
 
People who may not see themselves leading children’s talks, songs or games may be happy to sit with and support a child. Seek people who are caring, empathic and nurturing. The grandpar­ent generation can often be great at this. Sometimes other young people can fulfil this role as ‘buddies’, getting alongside their peers or younger children and supporting them (with suitable super­vision). Ideally, this role should not be filled by parents or carers. They need to be spiritually fed themselves in church!

Sensory support
Sensory overload can be a common issue for children with a range of additional needs, so providing ways for them to manage and regulate this is essential. A sensory calm room or zone with calming lighting, relaxing sounds, beanbags and safe things for children to engage with and help them relax will be useful.
 
If this isn’t possible, a pair of ear defenders can make all the difference between someone enjoying the programme and being in physical pain because of the noise. Another useful addi­tion is a ‘fiddles’ box, which contains items that can be, squeezed, clicked or simply fiddled with. The sensory support this provides can aid focus and concentration.

Creative learning
We learn best when our learning is fun, engages us in activities we enjoy and meets our preferred learning style: watch­ing, listening or, in most cases, doing. It’s no different for young people with addi­tional needs. If they enjoy jigsaws or Lego, get them to build a jigsaw or Lego model of the theme you’re exploring. Did you know there is a (Lego) Brick Bible? You could also encourage them to build Bible scenes online in Minecraft.
 
Getting inclusion right makes our church a place of belonging for everyone; a place where people are missed for all the right reasons if they can’t come. There is plenty of support available, so you don’t have to do this on your own. To access training and other services, visit the ‘partners’ section of the Additional Needs Alliance website or join its Face­book group. Take the first step on your inclusion journey today, in prayer.
 
Shalom,

Mark Arnold


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.  
 

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Nurturing Sporting Potential

 
“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?
 
  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
 

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Faith, Hope & Motherhood: The Bible

When did you last pick up a Bible?

In the little years I had times when the Bible was like daily manna - encouraging and sustaining me, alongside periods of time when it sat on a shelf barely opened.  There were times of sheer exhaustion when I simply held it, praying without words.  There were times too when I felt guilty, surely I should be reading it more

I found at times that my ‘good’ Bible reading intentions did not match up to my reality; but I learnt that this was not inconsequential or to be dismissed, because the reality; the bleary-eyed mornings, the cleaning Weetabix out of the highchair, the potty training attempts, were my reality – they weren’t added extras or inconveniences, they were the sacrifice and treasure of the little years, they were me pouring out love time and time again – living the very grace offered in the Bible. 

While I didn’t always feel it, the truth was that as I held my babies and toddlers, I was held by the “everlasting arms”* of Father God, who did not look down on a tired mama and sigh, “If only you read your Bible more…” but who held me with delight and divine love.  The same love He has for you too.

Below are a few simple encouragements and creative ideas for engaging with the Bible in the exhausting little years. 

  • Keep it simple.  A meaningful verse blu-tacked to a cupboard, a favourite verse memorised.  How about something physical?  A candle lit – Jesus, you are the light of the World, and I believe you’re here with me.  A rock collected on a walk – I’m building my life on the rock, who is my shelter, defence and refuge.    
  • Apps.  Bible studies, prayer guides, Christian meditation – there are so many options both in physical form and through the mystery of the internet, so why not have a look?  Some we’ve used or been recommended are:
  • Bible in One Year by HTB Church
  • Lectio 365 (A daily devotional app that helps you pray the Bible)
  • NIV audio Bible read by David Suchet (yes, Poirot is available to read the Bible to you)
  • Podcast.  If you enjoy listening to podcasts and studying the Bible, the BibleProject podcast might be for you – Indepth conversations about the Bible and Theology.  Maybe you’ve come across a podcast on the Bible already? – let us know if you’ve found a good one. 
  • Art.  If you are interested in connecting with the Bible through art, Sister Wendy Beckett has some beautiful books on art and the Bible, including ‘Sister Wendy’s Bible Treasury’.  If your imagination is sparked by poetry, Poet-Priest Malcom Guite writes beautiful poems in response to the scriptures. 
  • Friends.  Not always possible or easily found in the little years, but reading the Bible alongside others, with space to ask questions, share encouragements and voice doubts can be hugely strengthening.
  • Rest.  Rest?!  In the midst of what can be an overwhelming season, I think the Bible can show us a path to soul rest – a rest that isn't pulled to shreds by striving or pushed into a whirlpool of shame, but is, as is so beautifully put in Psalm 62, “solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul."

Kayte Potter is part of the NPI team and is a mum of three.
*Deuteronomy 33 v 27

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Written by Liz Ogborne, Mullers Museum Coordinator

Mullers have been supporting families in need for almost 200 years. Our mission today is the same as our founder George Müller, to strengthen the Church to meet the need of the vulnerable. Müller was a Prussian evangelist who, in the 1830s, moved to Bristol, where the charity is still based. He and his wife Mary arrived just as the first of three cholera outbreaks struck and, with hundreds of children orphaned and destitute, wanted to do something to help. They started by renting one house for 30 orphan girls in the city centre and ended up, 35 years later, having opened 5 huge orphan homes, housing and educating 2050 children at one time – a total of 10,000 children during his lifetime. Müller had no income of his own. Each time he felt led by God to open a new orphan home, he announced his plans and then prayed. Prayer and trusting in God for all his own and the orphans’ needs characterised his life. As the work grew, people from all over the world donated. In his lifetime he received gifts of money and goods totalling £100m in today’s terms.

In 1834 Müller and his close friend, Henry Craik set up the Scriptural Knowledge Institute (SKI) to support missionaries at home and abroad. Its aim was to provide a cheap source of Bibles and tracts, and to open and support Day and Sunday Schools for adults and children. Müller’s values are still evident in our work. We are passionate about strengthening the Church to meet the needs of the vulnerable.

Today, SKI supports many partners - individuals and organisations - in this country and around the world who are working to bring hope and healing to vulnerable children, families and widows. On average, SKI sends around £95,000 every month in gifts to around 160 individuals and organisations, facilitated by unsolicited gifts from some 1,300 supporters.

We formally partner with the South West team of ‘Home for Good,’ a Christian charity engaged in the care system that seeks to provide a home for every child that needs one. We also administrate the Bristol City Churches Fund, which at this time of coronavirus is focussed on helping feed hungry children and families of the city, as well as preparing for the long-term effect lockdown will have on food poverty.

Although the times have changed, our purpose at Müllers has not. We continue to focus on meeting the needs of vulnerable children and families around the world as we remember the words of Müller himself, “Our primary aim…is to show that God is faithful still and hears prayers still.”


 

Protecting Women and Children from Domestic Abuse


Restored

The Covid-19 lockdown has seen an unprecedented rise in domestic abuse across the world. The NSPCC have reported that contacts to their helpline about the impact of domestic abuse on children have surged by almost a third since the start of the lockdown, to an average of one an hour.

In the UK, national domestic abuse charity Refuge, which provides specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, has noted that in the early stages of the lockdown, traffic to its website rose by 150 per cent and there was an average 25 per cent increase in calls to its national domestic abuse helpline.
 
Restored, a Christian charity that aims to end violence against women, has put together lockdown resources for victims of abuse, church leaders and men. 
 
Supporting victims and survivors
Isolation is a tool that perpetrators already know how to use as a tactic to gain control. The lockdown can, therefore, appear to legitimise isolation and perpetrators will use it as a cover for abuse.
 
The police can help. If you are being abused call 999 and press 55; the police will recognise you may not be able to talk but can give you instructions.  An alternative is Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline, 08082000247. The charity can help you find specialist services, from a refuge to a lawyer, which you can find out more about on our website, at any time of day or night.
 
Our resources also provide more information on how to make you and your children safe. Children may not be the ones experiencing abuse, but getting to safety will be beneficial for both you and you children, who may be experiencing depression, self-harm or eating disorders.
 
Supporting church leaders
Domestic abuse is hard to see. Many women do not think they are being abused and perpetrators are good at hiding it. But there are signs you can train yourself to look for.
 
Restored’s Church Pack is a starting point to help you understand abuse, and our Covid-19 toolkit will help you apply this to lockdown.  We have also arranged a weekly series of one-hour training sessions via video link. Email info@restoredrelationships.org to book a free place. Visit Teatime Talks for more information.
 
Supporting men
Prolonged periods in isolation and working from home will generate feelings of restriction and make nerves fray. These are not an excuse to take things out on others and find a scapegoat in your partner. These are times to take control, own your feelings and find ways of distressing. Our leaflet for men will give you practical advice on doing this. 
 
For more information contact the Restored team at info@restoredrelationships.org 

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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.

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Faith, Hope & Motherhood: Worship

 
The Westminster catechism says “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The direction towards which we are headed inevitably impacts upon our journey, and if we, as parents, grandparents and extended family members can live with that as our main aim:  to glorify God and to ENJOY Him and build that into our children, then the kingdom of God will flourish and our children will thrive in their own developing relationships with their heavenly Father.
 
How do we achieve that with these tinies? Whose main purpose seems to be to disrupt all that we previously saw as ‘normal’ life, day and night.  I believe exploring how to worship with this age range is as important for the parents as for the tinies themselves.
 
I think my challenge over the years has been:
“How do I continue to worship God in spirit and in truth when I have a little infant attached to me 24/7?
How do I enjoy God and glorify Him in the middle of the deconstruction of life as I knew it pre-infant?”
 
It’s a challenge that I’d like to pass on to you… how do we worship on those days when there’s been no sleep, when words are unspeakable, when we know that the sequence will happen all over again in the next twenty-four hours?
 
Because in the years of our parenting, particularly in these very early years, it’s the way we live, worship and follow Jesus that provides the primary model for our tinies.
 
Reflecting on this afresh, I am grateful that it didn’t all rely on just myself and my husband to provide examples of expressive worship, there was a lovely diversity available within our church community, ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ who also provided safe, relational models. I have needed my extended church family and their various ways of expressing their love for Jesus, to help me demonstrate how to live a life of worship.
 
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind…”
Worship is an act of obedience to this commandment. It requires day by day discipline. And moment by moment fresh supplies of mercy. It requires authenticity, for our worship needs to be in spirit and in truth. We wouldn’t want our children to learn any other kind of worship, right?
 
I don’t have any sparkly tips to pass on to you about developing worship with your tiny tot, but I do want to encourage you to invest your ordinary, everyday life with a desire to enjoy God.
  • Revisit the tried and tested wisdom of the children’s song “Read your Bible, pray every day…”
  • Feeding babies and toddlers can take up time, it may help you and your tot to listen to some worship music or a section of scripture via an audio app. Feed body, soul and spirit.
  • Maximise the time used on chores like cleaning, ironing etc by singing worship songs, if you can’t remember the words, well, it’s a great opportunity to sing a new spiritual song! In those times when it’s the dark of the night and all you want is sleep but your tiny infant thinks differently… sing. Your song will strengthen you; your worship will become a lullaby or a declaration whatever is necessary in that moment.
  • If you feel terrified at the thought of singing then quietly repeat your favourite Bible verses, His word has power.
  • Speak out in your own spiritual language, allow the Holy Spirit to help you into His rhythms.
Do the things you did at first, when you first fell in love with Jesus, and they will be seen and heard and learnt by your tiny infant.
 
Let Love’s invitation draw you deeper into living a life woven with the rhythms of His word, with prayer, praise, worship. All day, every day. Let yourself be carried by His unforced rhythms of grace into the place where praise is poured out with each generation.  
Every day.
 
Ruth Price is a registered Movement Psychotherapist, specialist in early years development, attachment and filial play, mother and grandmother, and self-professed city-type currently acclimatising to life on a smallholding. 
 

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Life in Lockdown - Thankfulness and Lament

 
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
 

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Lessons of Lockdown

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.  

  1. 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!
 
  1. Celebrate growth
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?
 
  1. 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!
 
  1. 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!)
 
 

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Lockdown Life

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)

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Parenting in a Pandemic

 

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