Focus on the Family


Affirming Mothers Every Day

Wives and mothers desire expressed and demonstrated respect rather than the mere avoidance of disrespect.

by Gary Thomas

Men, are you married to an "invisible" woman? You might not think so, but does your wife think so?

When your wife walks into the living room and says, "Hey, can someone please turn down the television?" and no one responds or even acknowledges her comment, that's exactly what she feels like — invisible. How about when you, as her husband, join in the complicity by not saying anything? When you fail to even challenge the kids for not responding? Invisible.

Perhaps she listens to you talking to new acquaintances or business associates at a party, asking questions about their family or their life, and realizes she can't remember the last time you asked her how she was doing. Invisible.

A lot of mothers, even Christian mothers, feel invisible — forgotten inside the very home in which they have invested so much.

Mothers deserve active affirmation

Much of this neglect comes not from a conscious choice to disrespect our wives, but from a passive "default mode" in which we fail to intentionally honor them. It's common for us men to define our worth as husbands and fathers by what we don't do: We don't cheat on our wives, we don't hit our kids, we don't swear at them, etc.

But women are different. If you want to make sure that your wife doesn't feel invisible, you need to think about active affirmation. Wives and mothers desire expressed and demonstrated respect rather than the mere avoidance of disrespect.

In the Bible, God goes to great lengths to show how women are never invisible to Him. Consider Leviticus 19:3: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father. I am the LORD your God" (ESV).

This verse might not sound out of the ordinary to us in the 21st century, but to an Old Testament audience, such a statement was virtually without parallel. Mothers were never put before fathers in a sentence, and this was written in a culture where gender placement really mattered.

Here's a contemporary example: There are many wars fought in Hollywood over what the industry calls "top billing." When an actor agrees to do a movie, he wants to know how high up his name will appear in the ads. There's a clear pecking order. The more prominent one's name is on the poster, or the first name to appear on the screen, signifies that you're the most important actor in the movie. Stars fight over that piece of real estate more than they fight over mansions in the Hollywood hills.

In biblical times, men always got top billing. When Deuteronomy 5:16 says, "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you," it was unusual for mothers to be mentioned at all, but not too shocking since fathers are mentioned first. Leviticus takes this a step further by giving mothers top billing: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and father." That just didn't happen back then — except in the Bible.

Fathers need to model respect

Since the Bible goes out of its way to honor mothers, it's incumbent on us as fathers to help our kids "get it." When we're with our kids and our wife says something, we need to create a climate of respect.

"Kids, when your mom has something to say, you need to give her your attention."

If the kids don't immediately look up from their television program or video game when their mom speaks, they should lose the right to finish whatever they are unbiblically valuing above their mom's words. It won't take long for them to learn the lesson of active respect.

Here's the most challenging part for men: Our kids will look to us first. If we ignore our wife when she speaks, our kids will ignore their mom. She's the same person, after all, and we can't cultivate respect for a person by modeling disrespect. We must create an attitude of reverence for the most important woman in our home.

Another way we honor our kids' mom is to affirm her role as a parent. While modern society is far more respectful toward women in general, it still demeans the role of motherhood. If a woman chooses to devote most of her hours to raising her family, she's likely to be disrespected by those outside the home — many times even by her own sons and daughters. That's why it's often up to us as men to explicitly and intentionally create opportunities to praise her, affirm her and to demonstrate respect for the choices she has made.

Consider again how the Bible emphasizes the role of women, and ask yourself the question: Whom do your kids hear you affirm, admire and praise? Make a conscious decision to treat your wife the way Jesus treated women, to talk about your wife the way God talks about women, and to respect your wife the way the Lord respects her.

The last thing a Christian mother should feel is invisible. The biblical model is clear: "Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her." (Proverbs 31:28, NASB)

Take Mother's Day, for example. It's not about giving her a day off once a year; it's a reminder for all men about how your kids' mom deserves to be treated every day of the year. The best Mother's Day gift is a decision to spend all 52 weeks teaching your children how to give her the respect and affirmation she deserves.


Age to Age

How multigenerational friendships can benefit today's kids

Betty Hanks

"I have three more dads at church who have to approve of everything I do!" Laughter broke out around the room when my 15-year-old daughter, Ashley, made that comment to her friends.

She was exaggerating, of course, but several moms and dads in our church do, in fact, take a healthy interest in her upbringing. As I listened to my daughter, I realized how much she and my 11-year-old son, Wesley, have benefited from their relationships with caring adults.

Hebrews 10:24 reminds us to "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." Adults can play an important role in stirring up love and good deeds in our children. My husband and I have noticed areas where these multigenerational relationships have directly influenced our son and daughter.

Diversity

Our friends are a diverse group, covering several distinct life stages. An older generation of surrogate grandparents supports us and loves our kids. Other couples in our group have school-age children, and we stand alongside one another through the parenting process. Our social circle also includes teens and tweens who are Ashley's and Wesley's ages and even younger children in elementary school.

Our homes look different, yet they are filled with the same values. For example, when we visit the homes of the older generation, we usually have a well-planned, homemade meal served on real dishes. In my home, everyone is welcomed to home cooking, but guests usually help prepare food when they arrive. When we visit the homes of the younger couples, we may eat a store-bought meal.

In all three situations, our families experience true hospitality and the love of God's people. The children see the same principles demonstrated in different ways, suited to each family's lifestyle.

Affirmation of our values

The people who have the most meaningful relationships with our children hold fast to their faith in Christ. We know they will be godly role models for our kids, just as we will be for theirs. Ashley finds comfort in knowing that she will always have someone to talk to, even when it's hard to talk to me. I don't panic when she doesn't come to me with her problems immediately because I know she is getting godly advice from other adults.

As our children grow, they will undoubtedly confront people and ideas that challenge their faith. They need strength and courage to stand up to these challenges. That's why I'm glad their values are reinforced by the adults who speak truth into their lives with love, compassion, consistency and conviction.

A sense of responsibility

Wesley says the adults in our group make him feel as though he's becoming responsible and gaining people's trust. Our friends' willingness to meet Wesley where he is and contribute to his life has helped him build confidence.

Our children have also learned to care for our friends' younger children. Both Ashley and Wesley enjoy playing with the preschoolers and elementary-age kids. When things get out of hand, however, they will gently and lovingly pull the children aside and correct their behavior, taking the role of mentor. The older generation has emphasized caring for others and passed this value on to me and my children; now my children are passing it on to the children following them.

A caring community

What does this multigenerational web of relationships look like for our family? It is the bleachers at Ashley's basketball game filled with her friends and surrogate mothers and fathers. It is a house full of people from all stages of life rejoicing in Wesley's profession of faith. It is a surprise birthday party for my husband, complete with toddlers and preschoolers running up and down my stairs. It is people living out the love of God for the next generation.


Blessing Your Kids

It's easier than you think to bless your kids!

provided by Focus on the Family

Want to start blessing your kids? Not sure how exactly to go about doing it? Try simply using this text from the Old Testament:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.
— Numbers 6:24-26

You can also bless your kids using passages from the New Testament, such as the ones listed below:

May God himself, the God of peace,
sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful
and He will do it.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
may have power, together with all the saints,
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep
is the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
— Ephesians 3:17b-19

And this is my prayer:
that your love may abound more and more
in knowledge and depth of insight,
so that you may be able to discern what is best
and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ —
to the glory and praise of God.
— Philippians 1:9-11

For more ideas on how to live out your faith at home and pass on a love of God to your kids, visit FaithAtHome.com or take a look at the tools we have in our Spiritual Growth for Kids area!


Conflict Resolution Skills for Kids

Helping kids navigate disagreements peacefully.

by Shannon Medisky

Tanara congratulated her son on reciting poems with his classmates, and then asked how his best friend did. He answered, "We're not friends anymore." Questioning him further, she learned their fallout happened because his "friend" had thrown a lunch pail at him.

Tanara told him, "You can't end this friendship without giving him a chance to explain." She then led her son through what he should say and do to help him mend the broken relationship, not leaving the development of this important skill to chance. Reacting to situations as they occur is one way for parents to teach reconciliation skills, but parents can also proactively equip their kids to work through disagreements with others.

The best way to help your child acquire peacemaking skills is by modeling them yourself. But even when you demonstrate appropriate ways to respond to conflict, you can't assume your child understands why you interact with others the way you do. Instead, take time to guide them toward becoming ministers of reconciliation in their words and actions. Here are some ways to start:

Stop before reacting. Encourage your child to think about how others may be feeling before responding to what they are doing or saying. Then, make up several scenarios and let your child explain what she would do in them so you can make her aware of appropriate ways to react.
Teachable moments: Let your child learn from your lead. After encountering difficult situations, take your child aside and talk about how and why you responded specifically the way you did.

Make wise word choices. Children and adults sometimes struggle to know quite what to say, especially when in a disagreement. Tell your child that it's far better to admit that he's at a loss for words than to make an insensitive or poor word choice. Explain that he can always take more time to choose his words, but once they are spoken, it's far more difficult to take them back.
Teachable moment: Challenge your child to "try out" his words before communicating them by imagining someone else saying the same thing to him. How would he feel as the recipient? Ask him to think about what the result of his words might be. Then encourage your child to ask himself the following questions before he communicates with others: Will it build up or tear down? Is it helpful or hurt-filled? Is it caring or careless?

Listen with open ears and eyes. We all communicate with much more than words. Facial expressions and body language speak volumes, too. Enable your child to "hear compassionately" by reading these nonverbal cues with her eyes.
Teachable moment: Play "emotional charades" with your child. Take turns trying to guess the emotion the other person is communicating without words.

Speak with actions. Actions really can speak louder than words. In fact, what he chooses to do is often much more impactful than the words he chooses to say. Explain that just helping a friend in need, for example, is likely to communicate much more than his words ever could.
Teachable moment: Ask your child to remember a time when someone else did something kind for him. How did this make him feel? Ask your child what the other person was saying with his actions. Challenge your child to think of ways he can communicate with others through his actions.

Learn from mistakes, no matter who made them. There's no greater teacher than experience when it comes to communication skills. Encourage your child to think about how others have communicated with her in the past, and ask her to talk about how it made her feel – both good and bad. Then ask her to recall how she has communicated with others in the past and to consider what the results were. Were her actions and words worth repeating? Or were they something to avoid doing again?
Teachable moment: Look for everyday opportunities for your child to witness caring, peace-filled communication between others. Encourage your child to watch – and subsequently learn from – these authentic examples.



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Shannon Medisky is a mother of two boys and a freelance author.


Finding Purpose in Everyday Life

Family is important, but have you ever wondered how you reflect its importance as you live out your life day to day?

byGary Thomas

Do you remember the biblical story of the esteemed Eliakim? No? Well, what about Abiud? Has ever a biblical figure's life been more inspirational than his? You haven't heard of him either? Well, what about Azor, Shealtiel, Zadok or Matthan?

At this point, you might feel that you don't know your Bible as well as you thought. But don't worry; I daresay none of these names would be recognizable to any but the most knowledgeable of biblical scholars. These men lived between the reign of Josiah, when Israel was exiled to Babylon, and the coming of Christ.

Matthan was the father of Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, as recorded in the first chapter of Matthew. Many of these obscure men's predecessors seemed so significant — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, Jesse, David, Solomon and Hezekiah. But some of the names listed in Matthew Chapter 1 are stunning in their anonymity.

Humans don't choose the season or epoch in which they are born. Some are born to great fame; some are called simply to hold a tiny place in history in preparation for the next great generation or event. God's mission through the millennia trumps all. The coming of Jesus is so monumental, so colossally important, that merely holding the next place in line until everything was ready for His arrival proved to be a biblically noteworthy life.

What this list also tells us is that God has worked through families for all of history. Some families take up chapters, even books, of the Bible. Some shine for just a few brief verses. Some are signified by just one name in a list, and some don't even get mentioned. But all matter to God.

Just think how quietly and anonymously these families lived, but for that one mention of one person's name in Matthew. We don't know, for instance, if Shealtiel led his family in daily devotions. We don't know if Abiud fasted every Friday for his children's faith. We don't have a clue if Azor was a man of high standing, or if Matthan was happily married. We do know that by the time the line reached Jesus' earthly father, Joseph listened to God, married a supernaturally pregnant woman and faithfully assumed the responsibilities of raising the Son of God. As for the others, all we know is that they lived, they died, and God used them to move history closer to the promised Messiah.

The truth is, as we raise our families, we don't know what we're really building. Do you honestly think Shealtiel thought his life would help pave the way for the Messiah? And since Jesus tells us "many who are last will be first" (Matthew 19:30), it's reasonable to assume that the lack of fame or notoriety on earth has absolutely nothing to do with what may be celebrated with great fanfare in heaven.

One of the lessons in all this is the importance of family faithfulness without earthly recognition. No one is clapping when you choose to pray for your child while you nurse; no one is putting your face and name on a trading card when you study God's Word before you start work. No one is reporting the score of your personal sacrifice as you go without to provide something very important to your child. No one is going to give you a Nobel Prize for gathering the courage to confront a potentially troublesome sin in your child's life.

Ah, but there is One who does see — One who promises to reward your faithfulness. That's why I like to say that we don't have to make family life sacred; it is sacred. The only question is, do we treat it as such?

Because God is the Creator of life and the Designer of our world, our family's history is a sacred history. This side of heaven, we can't possibly know how significant our role is, because we can't see the story that will follow. We don't know what our children or grandchildren, and certainly not our great, great grandchildren, will become. All we can do is be faithful day by day, with our prayers, example and witness, leaving a legacy of faith and putting our place in history into the sovereign hands of God.

We can be sure you and I won't appear in any other earthly Bible, for no other earthly Bible will be written. But we can be equally sure that faithful lives will be noticed and our decision for Christ recounted in the eternal Book of Life — when we finally realize just how sacred our family's faithfulness has been.


From Parent to Consultant

How to transition successfully

by Letitia Suk

"Mom, it took me forever to get to work, and I didn't get to stop for dinner. You know how awful I feel when I don't eat, and I don't have any breaks to go out and get something. Can you pick up a burrito and drop it off?"

This was not a request from a high-schooler but a call from my 24-year-old daughter who worked 35 minutes away. Whoa, I thought. Had I unknowingly advertised free dinner delivery service?

Food deliveries aren't the only request on the table for parents of college students and young adults. Through e-mail, text messages, phone calls and over lunch, many parents of adult children face appeals for room and board, laundry or chauffeur service, short- (or long-) term loans.

Some parents have bonded to their children in such a tight way they are sometimes called "helicopter parents" because of their tendency to hover and jump in to help at the first sign of need. Many parents love the notion of family closeness and an abundance of support. Other parents, however, are afraid the apron strings will never be cut, so they refuse to give any help lest they interfere with their child's developing self-sufficiency. Even experts disagree on the amount of involvement that is beneficial without smothering.

How can young adults launch their own life while maintaining a close relationship with their parents? And how do parents switch their role from caregiver to prayer partner, listener or consultant yet still offer assistance?

Like any other aspect of parenting, one size does not fit all, but some general principles can help.

Start early. Gradually transfer responsibility to your YA (young adult). By the senior year of high school, expect him to be able to get himself up, juggle his schedule, do his own laundry, turn in his homework on time and manage his money. Some parents also lift curfew to prepare for the college years ahead.

Wait it out. It is easy to call "just to check in" or e-mail an offer, "I'm going to the store; do you need anything?" Letting your YA be the initiator pays off in the long run. Similarly, refrain from jumping into a conversation with offers of help. Your YA might just be thinking out loud and not be asking for assistance at all.

Pass it back. Practice active listening. Questions like "What do you think?" work well when your YA is asking for advice. "You are putting a lot of thought into this" builds confidence. Asking, "How can I pray about this for you?" leaves it in their court and gives you something to do.

Believe in them. Assure your YA that you believe in him and his abilities and skills to make good decisions. My parents watched me, their only daughter, head off to a short-term missions project instead of the job market. It must have been the source of some worries, but I never heard about them. They showed confidence in me.

Enjoy the new dynamic. If you count the years, you'll notice that you will spend most of your life alongside your child as an adult. Laughter and fun can enrich this season of life. Enjoying it starts with letting go of your primary role of instruction and embracing your new role of influence.

Considering my daughter's request for dinner delivery, I wasn't initially sure how to respond. I finally said, "Let me get back to you about this in a minute." A quick prayer for wisdom and direction followed, and I knew what response I needed to make. Some parenting tools never change.


Answering Parents' Questions on Gender Confusion in Children

by Glenn Stanton

At the news of every child's birth, what is the first question we ask about the baby — even before we ask if the baby is healthy? We want to know if it's a boy or girl!

Knowing the sex of the child is the first way we seek to connect with and understand the new human being. To be human is to be gendered — male or female. And one of the most important jobs of a parent is to help their children develop as healthy boys or girls and into strong, confident men and women.

Here are answers to some of the biggest questions parents have about gender issues with their children:

Is it normal and healthy for young children to participate in cross-sex behavior?

Of course! The whole world of a child is exploration. The role of the parent is to make sure their children explore and learn about their world in safe and directed ways. My son has four sisters, and when he was very small he loved to play dress up with his sisters, even in their own dresses and sparkly shoes. This is fine at 2 years old. Not so much at 8 years old! It is important for parents to not overreact to such behavior but to slowly guide it in gender-proper directions. That is how kids learn.

Remember, most little boys and girls have never been men or women before, and they need both mother and father to show them what being one is like, as well as what it is not!

Is "tomboy" behavior in girls just as concerning as "sissy-girl" behavior in boys?

There are important differences here. Tomboy behavior in girls is more prevalent and often more short-lived than distinct feminine behavior in boys. It is more important for parents to lovingly, calmly but confidently steer fem-boys into more masculine directions. Make sure you find masculine things your boy is interested and can find identification in. All boys need to be intentionally welcomed into the world of men, and both mother and father play a key role here. Girls, likewise, need to be introduced into the world of women.

It is also important for parents to recognize that "tomboy" girls are much less likely to be teased for various reasons than "sissy" boys. Of course, teasing is always wrong, but parents must be aware of what things are more likely to attract harsh teasing and steer their children away from it.

What about boys or girls who display strong cross-sex behavior in pre-adolescence?

There are some children who, as they grow, will demonstrate stronger cross-sex behavior. Some of these boys will be obsessed with mermaids, frilly girl things and long hair. It is important for parents and extended family to look not just at the child, but the family system itself. Such behavior is typically a curious indicator of deeper problems within the family.

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, one of the world's leading authorities on gender confusion in children, calls this dynamic "family noise" which he explains as unhealthy relationships between mother and father, parents and child, as well as sibling to sibling. He says allowing a boy to live as a girl might solve the immediate anxiety of such a child, but it would ignore the larger problem driving such desire, and it fails to serve the child and the family.

Is it true that cross-sex behavior and transgenderism in children have a biological root in the brain?

In a word, no!

New developments in brain research indicate that the human brain develops with distinct male and female characteristics, but there is no data showing this drives cross-gender behavior.

What is the best course for helping children who are gender confused?

It should be remembered that very few children who demonstrate gender confused behavior continue to do so in their later teen years or early adulthood. Most grow out of it and learn to live well in their masculinity or femininity. This fact also speaks against a biological foundation.

It is critical that both mother and father work together to provide loving but intentional direction. For boys, the mother should be the one to "push" the child from feminine behavior, and the father should "pull" the boy toward more masculine play and interests. One of the worst things is for dad to "shame" the boy for girl-like behavior. He should always work to welcome his son into the curious world of men. That is how healthy masculine identity happens.

Harvard professor Jerome Kagan has spent 4 decades studying such children and he finds that parenting style is critical for helping children move out of gender confusion. Kagan says parents who are particularly affirming of their children's cross-sex identification ultimately have the worst outcomes in child health and well-being.4

With children showing opposite-sex tendencies, mothers should deeply and carefully guard against overprotection and coddling, while fathers should guard against shaming and nagging. Again, mothers should become the pushers away from gender-discordant behavior and fathers the gentle pullers toward healthy gender-aligned attitudes and behaviors.

(NOTE: Referrals to Web sites not produced by Focus on the Family are for informational purposes only and does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the sites' content.)


1Quoted in Hannah Rosin, "A Boy's Life," Atlantic Monthly, November 2008, p. 67.
2Quoted in Hannah Rosin, "A Boy's Life," Atlantic Monthly, November 2008
3George A. Rekers and Mark Kilgus, "Differential Diagnosis and Rationale for Treatment of Gender Identity Disorders and Transvestism," in George A. Rekers, (ed.) Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexual Problems, (New York: Lexington Book, 1995), p. 264.
4Leonard Sax, M.D. Ph.D., Why Gender Matters, (New York: Doubleday, 2005), p. 227.

Give Thanks

Age-specific ways to help your kids experience the meaning behind the celebration on Thanksgiving Day.

by Lynne Thompson

Sometimes it's a challenge to convince children that Thanksgiving Day is really not all about the food. Sure there's turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, and pie. Oh yeah, don't forget the pie! But hidden inside this palate-driven holiday is an opportunity to teach the meaning behind the celebration. It is, after all, a day to remember God and give thanks.

The scriptures are filled with passages calling us to maintain a thankful heart. From Psalm 106:1, "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good," to Paul's letter to the Thessalonians urging them to "give thanks in all circumstances" (5:18). It was this latter verse that sustained the Pilgrims, venturing to the New World, who ushered in the Thanksgiving Day celebration.

In the winter of 1620, Pilgrims, traveling by sea, settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts. They came for religious freedom — a desire to worship God and live according to Holy Scripture. But the country they found was bleak and uninviting, with several inches of snow already on the ground. Of the 102 passengers aboard the ship, the Mayflower, nearly half died during the first winter of the "great sickness." Yet, according to settler Edward Winslow, they were grateful to God for his provision in their lives. A year later, the group celebrated with a feast of thanksgiving.

So, this year as the guests arrive, in addition to a bountiful meal, try these fun-filled age-appropriate activities that will direct children, and adults, back to the true meaning of the holiday, and also create Thanksgiving Day memories that will last a lifetime.

Ages 0-3

For the very young, holidays are about the nurturing and extra attention received from grandparents and other close family and friends. Try to provide time for fun interaction, with songs and hymns that celebrate the season. Provide toddlers with some crayons and color books, and invite grandparents to color along. Be sure to include The Pumpkin Patch Parable, a picture book by Liz Curtis Higgs, for an after supper story time.

Ages 4-7

Make your young guests feel special when Thanksgiving dinner is served atop a custom-made tablecloth they designed. Break out the color crayons, or markers, and allow each child to draw their own artwork depicting a thankful day. Later, play a game of "Alphabet Thanks," where children draw from a bowl of letters, and then tell God thanks for something that begins with the letter they picked.

Ages 8-12

This age group is ready to put the spirit of thanksgiving into practice by canvassing their neighborhood, collecting canned food items for those in need. For fun on Thanksgiving Day, have this age group use a video camera to film their own home movie about giving thanks. Guests can be entertained as they view the finished work on the TV during dessert. Or, for the more musically minded, have the kids borrow the tune from their favorite pop or rap song and replace the lyrics with a seasonal message.

Age 13-18

This age is perfect for hands-on community service. Visit the local rescue mission or nearby retirement home, and have them pitch in by serving the holiday meal. Another fun idea is to invite these teens to compete in a pie-baking contest, with Gram and Gramps deciding the winning recipe.

All Ages

Ice Breakers are a fun way to get everyone talking. Write something to be thankful for on a small sheet of paper and tape it to the back of everyone who comes in the door. They must ask yes or no questions from other guests to guess what is written on the paper.


Hard Prayers to Pray for Your Kids

God wants only the best for us, and He allows us to experience Him more fully and be a part of what He is doing when we pray from an eternal perspective.

by Shona Neff

A mother's heart, a child's will and God's divine direction become entwined when moms commit to praying for their kids. Long before my two boys entered high school, I prayed that neither of them would have a steady girlfriend until they could behave like gentlemen. I wanted God's will in this area of their lives. However, as my oldest son, Brian, entered high school, my prayers changed to mirror his longing for a dating relationship.

Brian didn't enter his first steady relationship until he was a senior. Perhaps I would have been more at peace during his high school years if I had kept in mind the broader picture of my son's well-being, shaped by God's infinite wisdom and perfect timing, instead of my son's dating angst. As parents, our desire is often for our children to succeed in the moment. That desire isn't necessarily bad, but it can cause even a noble prayer to evolve into a misguided request.

It isn't that we don't love God, but rather, that we are constantly bombarded by earthly ideals — and we unwittingly succumb to them. Yet to pray with an eternal, rather than momentary perspective, we need to come alongside what God is doing rather than require that He come alongside our shortsighted desires.

Desire and Expectation vs. His Will

As I've chatted with other praying moms, I've found I'm not alone in learning to trust God's will while I pray for His intervention in my children's lives. My friend Robin prayed for her son Dustin, a high school football star, who had the hope of becoming a college quarterback. Robin knew her prayers were not empty words lifted to a capricious deity but to a loving Father. Yet Dustin's hope of becoming a first-string college quarterback turned into a second-string reality.

When God answers "no" or answers in a way we don't expect, we see that His way is not always our way. Since He has given us free will, we can respond by submitting or rejecting His sovereignty — following or turning away from Him. And if we ignore His direction, our rejection of His sovereignty steals our ability to rest in His peace and hinders us spiritually.

Robin's prayers had revolved around when Dustin would play so her perception of prayer was challenged because God didn't answer in the way she expected. But prayer isn't about getting what we want or influencing God to act according to our finite plan. Prayer is about trusting that God knows best, and His work in our lives reflects His all-knowing perspective. God wants to meet our kids and touch their hearts wherever they find themselves and in whatever decisions they make, good or bad.

Over time, Robin realized that the problem wasn't really about Dustin's rank on the field or team. It was a problem of the heart — her son's bruised ego. "So I changed my focus," she says, "and prayed for the Lord to move in Dustin's life. Today he understands that real victory doesn't come from being on a football field, but from loving the Lord."

An Eternal Prayer Perspective

Christie Love, the executive director of LeadHer, a ministry focused on helping women make a godly impact on the world, says, "When we have the honor of lifting up others in prayer, we have to approach God with hands that have been emptied of our own agendas, expectations and goals." Praying for earthly blessings at the expense of godly direction hinders our ability to walk in God's peace as He reveals His plan for us — and for our kids.

Christie goes on to explain, "Effective prayers are emptied of selfish motives and seek the will of God in our lives and the lives of others." The difficult part of prayer is marrying our earthly perspective with that of an eternally minded God. His perfect will may not always reflect what we envision when we pray, but His answers help us understand Him better, often through challenging our finite perspective of who He is. And His answers show us how to redirect our steps, when that's necessary.

As praying parents, we are on a journey that helps us learn more about God and how to pray. And as with everything else, we can take our lead for praying from an eternal perspective from Scripture.

• In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for another way but added, "Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). He prayed from the heart, but asked for the Father's will above His desires.
• When Jesus predicted His death, Peter was adamant that it wouldn't happen. Jesus immediately reprimanded Peter to let him know he needed an eternal perspective: "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:23). God wants to replace our earthly motives with an eternal perspective.
• Paul urged us to pray in all circumstances. Then "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). Paul encouraged us to pray expectantly, but to submit to His best for others and us. Then true submission is evidenced by His peace in our lives.

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Shona Neff is a freelance author and a client/advocate mentor for the HOPE Pregnancy Center.

Homework and Responsibility

Letting my child succeed (or fail) on her own

by Heather Trent Beers

When a letter arrived from my daughter's middle school, I immediately began to worry.

"I'm nervous," I confided to my husband, Dennis. "We got this today."

Dennis scanned the letter. "Why is the school sending information in June about a sixth-grade bug project due in September?"

"So the kids can get started now, I guess," I said. "I'm afraid Rebekah will procrastinate."

"She probably will. And?"

"What if she doesn't get it done?"

"Then she learns a great lesson about time management, responsibility and consequences. Seems like a good deal to me." Dennis grinned.

"Are you suggesting we let her fail?"

"Better she fail by her own effort — or lack of it — than to succeed by our nagging. We've taught her how to manage her time and how to break a project down into manageable pieces. Let's give her a shot at this."

I frowned. "I still think she should start sooner rather than later."

"This is more serious than I thought," Dennis mused. "We don't have one problem. We have two."

"Two?" I raised an eyebrow.

Dennis continued. "Problem No. 1: Rebekah is a regular kid who would rather have fun than work. Problem No. 2: Rebekah will not grow out of problem No. 1 if we don't let her try some things on her own."

A difficult start

Saturday over breakfast, I told Rebekah about her project. "You can either collect bugs or take pictures."

"I'd like to take pictures," Rebekah said.

"Great. You can get some neat pictures in Texas at the family reunion."

"OK. Can I play with Aubree?"

"Sure. Why don't you take the digital camera?"

"Mom. It's June. My project isn't due until September."

"I know, but if you use your time wisely now . . . "

Dennis cleared his throat, giving me his "remember-our-conversation" look.

I sighed. "Yes, you can play with Aubree." Rebekah bolted from her chair. Letting go was going to be harder than I thought.

Alone in my room, I prayed, "Father, I don't want my emotional stability tied to a sixth-grader's bug project!"

I turned to my Bible and read Isaiah 40:11, which reminded me that He gently leads those with young. I felt a tinge of conviction. I knew I needed to trust God as He led me through this parenting challenge. Next, I flipped to Philippians 1:6. It assured me that God would finish the good work He began in me. And Rebekah, too, Lord?

I closed my Bible and took a deep breath. "I get it, Lord. I'll cut the nagging."

Progress?

Rebekah needed a grand total of 30 bug pictures. At our July reunion, she netted seven. In August, a sixth-grade mom invited the class to gather bugs or take pictures from her massive garden. Rebekah snapped seven photos of bugs — and 13 of herself and her friends jumping in midair. She thought the day was a huge success. I nervously checked the calendar; she still needed 16 bugs. Time was rushing past us like water over Niagara Falls. I bit my lip.

School started. Over the next several days, Rebekah studied, finished her homework and even told me, "My project is due in two weeks!"

Looming deadline

But on Saturday morning, two days before her project was due, Rebekah was still only half done. She woke up and announced, "I want to have fun all day!" I breathed deeply, pouring another cup of coffee.

Dennis put his arm around my shoulders. "It's hard, but you're doing great."

Several times that day I fought the urge to nag. I made frequent trips to my Bible to remind myself of God's goodness.

The night before the long-dreaded deadline, Rebekah finished her project. She took the rest of her photos, created her PowerPoint presentation and turned it in on time. If I had insisted on nagging her, I would never have known she was capable of completing this project on her own. She earned my respect.

As for me, my emotional stability is tied more to the Lord and less to my kids' school projects. I'm far from perfect, though. I have to hit the Book again for a test I've got coming next week. You see, Rebekah has a book report due in four days.


Kids and Moving

Helping your child find new friendships after the big move

by Linda Riley

Two of our eight children still lived at home when we made the biggest transition our family had ever experienced — a move from the suburbs of Los Angeles to a small town in central Arizona. Lizzy would soon begin seventh grade, and Rachel would enter her senior year of high school. We had a lot to look forward to: three acres in the country, gardening, riding lessons and kayaking in the local lakes.

But all the joy we shared looking at photos of the new house and Internet tours of the area dissolved in tears when it came time for our kids to let their friends know about the move. Anguish and agony followed. We arranged for future visits to the old hometown and their friends' visits to our new home. Rachel would attend proms at both her old and new high schools. We compensated where we could, but the loss weighed heavily.

Our children needed the comfort of new friends, but the town we were moving to was so small, most of the kids there had known each other since kindergarten. We knew it might be tough for our children to break into those established friendships. We also didn't have much time. School would start soon. No child wants to experience an all-alone-at-lunch moment in a new school. I had to act fast!

Here are the strategies I used to help our daughters find friends:

Join a church family. Before moving, I searched online for churches and conducted phone interviews with youth pastors. We moved in on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the girls attended youth group. Finding new friends may take awhile in the older age groups, where kids are self-conscious and cliques are common, but combine kids with fun activities, and friendships will follow.

Meet the neighbors. In the old days, neighbors arrived with warm muffins as soon as the moving truck left. It's not that way anymore. No one came calling, so we decided to be proactive. We had fun baking and delivering cookies to each neighbor. They were genuinely delighted to meet us. Though none of our neighbors was the same age as our girls, Rachel and Lizzy found some steady baby-sitting jobs this way.

Get the lay of the land. We explored the neighborhood on foot and the area by car. We discovered tourist spots, hiking trails, parks, equestrian centers and stores galore. We visited museums, restaurants and the new schools. We also met many wonderful folks who filled us in on information about the town.

Shop for friends. At local yard sales, we found not only bargains but also friendly people who answered our questions about local churches, which parks were best for what activities and whether the kids liked their schools.

Get involved in sports. Rachel and Lizzy both competed on local softball teams, which created a natural entrance into the town's social scene. A summer recreation league can help a child not only find friends, but also strengthen social skills such as teamwork, taking turns and graceful losing. Joining the Y will also open up a world of fun and new friends.

Be friendly. The girls stretched themselves to be outgoing with strangers. This paid off for Lizzy while she was attending a back-to-school event at her junior high. Another mom and daughter were processing Lizzy's papers when they noticed she was from California. Lizzy struck up a conversation with the girl and invited her to our house, and they’ve been BFF (best friends forever) since.

Pray. We prayed for new friendships every day, and we saw God's hand in how their friendships developed. Our daughters met their friends primarily by making themselves available for divine appointments that God tucked into their everyday lives. Today, they enjoy old friends and new. Prayer truly works.


Let Your Kids Fail

Using consequences to foster responsibility, confidence and success

by Chip Ingram

My son had an ambitious plan. He would drop out of college and focus on his music. All his life, I had urged him to discover what he was created to do and pursue what God had laid on his heart. I just didn't think it would be this — at least not if it meant skipping college. But music was his passion. College wasn't. He had made up his mind.

At first, I didn't know how to respond. I believe kids should be allowed to experience the consequences of their decisions, but the stakes get higher as they get older. The school of hard knocks has an increasingly difficult curriculum. But since its lessons are thorough, I told my son that if he wanted this bad enough to try to make it on his own — without expecting our financial support — he had my blessing.

After about six months, he realized how hard it is to earn a living with a band, and he came to another decision. He would still continue to pursue his dream, but he would also develop a backup plan — which included re-enrolling in college. He held on to his vision but balanced it with realism.

I probably could have forced that decision on my son, but that wouldn't have changed his heart. He would have continued to restlessly look forward to the day he could get out from under his dad's plan for his life. Instead, he got a life-altering perspective on the realities of working for a goal.

The decision to finish school was his. And this time, he was motivated to do well at college.

The importance of failure

Letting children face the consequences of their choices shouldn't begin with something as significant as a career decision. It needs to start much earlier. When our four children were young, my wife and I often had to remind ourselves not to obey our natural impulse to fix their problems.

Learning cause and effect through success and failure is part of a necessary maturing process. Intervening can interrupt that process. Kids can't become responsible adults without failing sometimes.

One way we used failure to teach our kids responsibility was by requiring them to set their own alarm clock and get up when it rang. We were tired of prying them out of bed each morning and making sure they ate breakfast, got dressed and caught the bus. And we were tired of driving them to school when they missed the bus. At a certain age (about 11 or 12 in our house) kids should be able to handle those responsibilities. So we implemented a rule: Whoever overslept and missed breakfast or the bus would suffer the consequences — hunger until lunchtime, detention after school, makeup assignments.

Yet we had a strong urge to intervene — no parent enjoys seeing his children get into messes — but we resisted. It didn't take long for our kids to learn to discipline themselves each morning. The short-term pain of their bad decisions was much easier on them than the long-term power struggle many families go through. We had no more nagging or heated arguments. Just consequences.

Learning to struggle

We do our children a disservice when we cover for them or alleviate the consequences of their choices. Parents who write a note to the teacher explaining why their child once again failed to finish his homework set up the child for a lifetime of seeking special treatment — and frustration when it isn't given. Parents who push for their child to get the lead role in a play — even when he doesn't deserve it — deny the child the opportunities for growth that come with failure and disappointment.

Kids never learn how to cope with life when parents do all the coping for them. They enter adulthood without the confidence that they'll be able to handle whatever comes their way.

To make it in this world, kids need to know how to struggle. They need to learn how to persevere for a hard-fought victory and how to handle disappointment when victory doesn't come. They need to understand that they reap what they sow and that life isn't always fair.

In order to learn these things, they'll have to experience a lot of bumps and bruises. Some will be self-inflicted, and others will be imposed on them by a sinful world. But all of their wounds can become a lifelong lesson in how to stand strong.

Your kids will have to learn these hard lessons sooner or later, and sooner is better. Once they become adults, the world won't clean up after their mistakes, and it won't nurse their wounds when they are treated unfairly. If they've learned wisdom and responsibility early, they'll reap the benefits for a lifetime.

The role of parents

A parent's job is not to make sure a child has a smooth or comfortable life. Our role is to put safeguards around them when they're young to keep them from ultimate harm; to gradually widen those safeguards as they mature; and to help them to grow into the person God wants them to be.

The son who once dropped out of college eventually earned his degree. Later, as a newly married man, he told me he was moving to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue the dream God had put on his heart. I wasn't thrilled with his decision, but I gave him my blessing anyway.

Yes, he might fail again, but I knew it wouldn't happen because he was naive. From his earlier experience, he knew what it would take to succeed. And the second time he actually did. He's now a successful songwriter — and standing strong in the trials of life.


Nurturing a Servant's Heart in Kids

Encouraging a Christlike heart in our children starts with being authentic in our faith, modeling Christ's love and allowing our children to experience Him. Then they can respond to what He is doing in their lives.

by Henry Blackaby with Sheila Seifert

Serving others in the body of Christ doesn't happen accidentally. It's a decision – and our lives, and the lives of our children, are the product of that decision.

My book Experiencing God was not merely a curriculum. It was a reflection of how I have tried to live my life – capturing my spiritual perspective and my relationship with God. Because my wife, Marilynn, and I wanted to create a home atmosphere where God had the maximum opportunity to put His hand on our children and use them as He chose, we committed to consistency in our own lives.

What our kids saw and heard as I pastored my church had to be the same as what they saw and heard at home. We aimed to live our lives authentically and as close to Christlikeness as we could, trusting that our example could help foster a Christlike servant's heart in our children.

Serving my children

As a parent, I have tried to demonstrate my faith to my family and give my problems to God. My family knew the problems we were facing. So when I allowed God to give me His heart and mind, I was able to see things differently. I did this through spending many hours praying for and with my children. My prayer became: "Lord, help me to live transparently, honestly and openly before You in such a way that my children will want to serve the God they see in me."

Many times my children would get up early and find that I was in prayer, and they knew I was praying for them. This is one way I showed I was serving them. And when I took my problems to God, my kids saw that I trusted Him and His willingness to answer my prayers.

Marilynn and I also watched to see how God was working in the hearts of our children, and we worked to support them in those areas. When my daughter, Carrie, was a teen and had cancer, I looked for what God was doing in her heart – so I would know how to encourage and affirm her. I searched for God's calling on her life, even though I didn't know how long that life would be.

During this time, I discovered that Carrie had a heart for stewardship. She believed that God let her live for a specific purpose. So I've walked with her in the direction she was called, and she became a career missionary.

Accepting our connectedness

God didn't make people independent; He made us interdependent. We were made to depend on each other. Our families are one place we can practice this interdependence and service. But each person is an individual and has a tendency to want to do things his own way.

I often think of service in terms of how we can be an encouragement to someone who is struggling. If we can be an inspiration to others, that is our whole ministry – helping people experience God's fullness whether it is in our family or our community or with people we don't know. And this is something that kids can get excited about.

This desire to serve others comes from following God's lead and does not stem from doing our "duty" of service to others. God has made the process easy. Through our interdependence on each other, relationships are built, and we serve each other as the first church served each other.

Asking for help

A second good place for children to practice this interdependence and service is through our churches. If a family needs help and does not ask for it, they are denying God's people the opportunity to fulfill what they are called to do: to share their burden. Often, it is this humble interdependence on each other that allows God to provide for us.

When one of my sons was rebelling, I realized my wife and I would have a difficult time turning his life around by ourselves, so I looked to other men he admired for help. One of them fixed cars. I asked him, "The next time you are fixing a car, would you invite my son to come and work on it with you? He needs encouragement to walk with the Lord." Another guy I asked had a powerboat. I knew my son would listen to him. I asked five or six men for their help.

Most were thrilled to come alongside us, and I began to see a difference in my son. When these people later asked us for help, we gladly served them and their families. It's a beautiful web of interdependence that God has given us that allows us to live authentically with one another, instead of painting a classic "I'm fine, and my family is fine, and we have it all together" picture.

Serving the world together

My children needed to know that my service was not a part of a religious duty but done out of relationship, in response to God and to them. To show this, I always invited them to serve alongside me. I didn't force them to participate, but I would say, "If you want to, I'd be thrilled to have you join me."

I deliberately never tried to do anything alone. Even now, I seek to work alongside them. When I do something, I consider which of my children might be the best fit for the task and then ask for their assistance.

As my children learned my heart by being around me, they saw how they should respond to others. My wife and I are blessed because of God's grace in helping our kids understand what a servant's heart looks like, and today, they're living it out in their families.

************

Dr. Henry Blackaby serves as Founder and President Emeritus of Blackaby Ministries. The Blackabys latest family resources are Experiencing God At Home.


Parental Sarcasm Is No Joke

Biting words can leave children with emotional scars.

by Paul Coughlin

When I was 11 years old, a teacher called our house to deliver some exceptional news. She told my mother that I qualified to be placed in a class for gifted students. My mother replied, "Him? He can't even find his shoes in the morning!"

That swift and chuckling phrase, delivered in her charming Irish brogue, was deployed nearly 30 years ago. Yet whenever I think of it, I feel stripped and humiliated anew.

Such is the wounding power of parental sarcasm — a vice I struggle to keep contained as I raise my own children.

If sarcasm were a spiritual gift, I would be its chief apostle. This double-edged sword, able to spark laughter as well as inflict pain, is in my parental DNA. Through much soul-searching, it has taken me years to find that thin line between good-natured fatherly teasing and camouflaged mockery.

Double edge

Sarcasm's good and bad sides are found throughout the Bible. The prophet Elijah used it as an instrument of truth through humor when he mocked the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). Jesus employed this potent rhetorical device on the Pharisees when He said, "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel" (Matthew 23:24).

The Bible also shows us sarcasm's self-justifying and sneaky side, as in the case of Cain's slaying of Abel:

"Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?'

"'I don't know,' he replied. 'Am I my brother's keeper?'" (Genesis 4:9)

As I studied sarcasm throughout the Bible, I found that God, His Son and the prophets didn't use it against the weak, timid or humble. They never unleashed it upon a child. Rather, it was used against people who were stubborn, self-righteous or arrogant.

Hidden barbs

Parental sarcasm, on the other hand, is often a hiding place for undisclosed anger, annoyance, even jealousy. It provides parents the dishonest opportunity to wound without looking like they're wounding; they can later fall back on the age-old cop-out, "I didn't mean it. Can't you take a joke?" Sarcasm favors parents, who are much more proficient at using it than children. Because of this unequal power, parental sarcasm can be a form of bullying.

I find that the temptation toward parental sarcasm flows most when I'm afraid, in pain or disappointed. During these moments, sarcasm becomes an expression of my darkest fears or insecurities.

I'm not advocating a home without humor, but parents need to use the right kind of humor and the right kind of sarcasm — the exposure of irony or wrongdoing without contempt or belittlement.

The fine line

Here's an example: Say your oldest son came home past his curfew last week, and you showed him grace and forgiveness. Then his younger brother came home late this week, and your oldest son demands you lower the hammer on him. Suppose you said, "Aren't you perfect, Mr. Hypocrite?"

Your sarcasm would be accurate, but it would also be needlessly harsh. Instead you could say, "Remind me, what did Jesus say again about a plank being in someone's eye?" This response points out the irony of his moral failure, but it doesn't condemn him.

Sarcasm must be used with great skill or people get hurt. Some parents don't have this skill, so they shouldn't use sarcasm at all.

Walking away from sarcasm is like giving up your favorite junk food. It takes a game plan. To quell my appetite for sarcasm, I watch my intake. I avoid TV shows steeped in mocking or disrespectful humor, and I don't read authors or magazines known for a cynical approach toward life.

Parents should remember that sharp words, even when said with a smile, can leave a child with an emotional, spiritual and psychological black eye. As the expression goes, it's only funny when both people are laughing.


Parenting Grandchildren

It was an overwhelming task, one I did not ask for but embraced because I love my grandchildren.

byShirley A. Carson

At 47 years old, I started parenting my three oldest grandchildren. TJ was 4, William 2½, and Annie just 14 months at the time. I knew it would be a difficult task, but I felt it was important to keep the kids together and in the family.

The days seemed long, but the years went by quickly, so I made the most of the time with my grandchildren, helping them learn the values and skills they needed to become healthy, well-adjusted adults. It was an overwhelming task, one I did not ask for but embraced because I love my grandchildren.

You may be in a similar situation, or you may be considering the possibility. If so, you'll find the days of parenting again to be filled with constant interruptions, spilled milk, sweet smiles and sticky kisses. It's important to recognize some of the hardships that grandparents may experience as second-time parents and prepare to handle them.

The need for friends

As I began parenting my grandchildren, I felt lost and alone. I needed someone to talk to, someone who understood. I confided in a trusted friend, whose support was helpful on difficult days. I also received support from my family, church and pastor. Support is key to being an effective parent of grandchildren. Call your local church to find if there are any others in the same situation or even a grandparents-as-parents support group. Walking together will make the journey easier.

Change of lifestyle

No grandparent takes in a grandchild for insignificant reasons. These children have been in undesirable or downright dangerous situations and typically need lots of attention. Many of them act out their feelings through negative behavior. Handling their heartbreak is a tough assignment. Being attentive may require that you set aside some of your retirement plans. To keep a positive perspective, hold on to the reality that the stability you provide will have a lasting and profound impact on the lives of your grandchildren.

Increased financial obligations

Raising kids can put a stress on any budget, especially one that's limited. Resources such as food stamps, Medicaid and financial aid may be available through social services agencies, depending on your family size and income.

Exhaustion and personal care

Parenting is tough — it only gets tougher when you add the stress and dynamics that accompany the job of raising grandchildren. There were times I felt exhausted, most often in the early stages. I remember waking up the kids in the morning, feeding and dressing them, and buckling them into their car seats. Then I would sit in the driver's seat with my head on the steering wheel, worn out and crying to God for strength to make it to our appointments.

Stress can take a physical toll, so be diligent with your own health needs. Don't feel guilty if you need to hire a sitter and take breaks away from home. Be sure to get plenty of sleep. Eat healthy foods that will keep up your energy, including vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. Play outside with the kids whenever you can, engaging them in a game of tag or hide-and-seek. They'll love it, and your body will, too.

Legal issues

The legal issues facing grandparents who are raising grandkids can be confusing. Laws vary by state, and it is often necessary to obtain legal counsel to protect the children in your care.

Take the time to understand the laws. Don't be afraid to ask for help and clarification through social services. Educate yourself regarding your rights and how to protect your grandkids.

Addressing adult kids

Sometimes the parents may involve themselves in overbearing ways even though they relinquished their parental authority. This can build anger and resentment for any grandparent. In order to keep a healthy and positive attitude, daily forgiveness is required. If your adult child's behavior is harmful, you may have to set up boundaries for the best interests of your grandchildren.

Feelings of guilt

Confusion and fear may overshadow your grandkids. Perhaps they experience nightmares or act out harshly. It can be tough to come face to face with their hurt. You may ask yourself, Did I somehow cause all this grief because of mistakes parenting my adult child? Am I making the same mistakes again? These threads of thought aren't productive. Remember that you did the best you could in parenting your own children. In areas where you lacked, you can learn from your mistakes.

Our hope

As I was struggling through the growing-up years with my three grandkids, my faith in God was my greatest source of support. I prayed constantly, both for the children and myself. God answered those prayers and brought us through that season, even allowing me to adopt the children as we became an "official" family.

Raising grandchildren is a journey full of highs and lows. But for all the hair-raising moments and sticky situations, there can be just as many warm hugs and cherished memories making every hard moment worth it in the end.


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Parenting Through a Child's Illness

When a terminal illness requires a family's change of direction, parents can still find ways to focus on all their children and grow closer as a family.

by Delores Liesner

Doctors found a tumor on Dave Penza's knee the week before he began high school football practice. "I knew it must be serious because my parents cried while praying with me," 14-year-old Dave said. "Before cancer, football was my life."

Like other parents whose children have cancer, Cheri Penza was unprepared for the difficultly of the journey. "We felt overwhelmed by the immediacy of decisions, the lack of hope offered and the uncertainty of what questions to ask." For the Penzas, hope began with a renewed reliance on God's Word. "Daily readings kept us focused on God's sovereignty," Cheri said. And they committed to moving forward in this crisis together – as a family.

Family changes

"Constant research and calls to cancer survivors helped sort fact from fiction," Dave's father, Frank, said. One change they made concerned Dave's diet.

"Dave had a healthy appetite, like me," Frank said with a laugh. "I knew the changes would be tough for him, so I agreed to eat what he ate." While most teens lose up to 50 percent of their body weight during chemo, Dave lost only a few pounds from his precancerous weight. Frank's convinced their diet made all the difference.

People from other families with cancer patients asked why Dave looked so good given his diagnosis. The family wrote a short book, Eating With Dave, which included their source of spiritual strength, recipes, photos and research. The income generated from Dave's book helped the Penzas pay for medical expenses because the family was without health insurance for several months during his treatment.

Being there for Dave

To encourage Dave, his father and brothers decided to shave their heads – before Dave's hair fell out. His brother Mike videotaped the comedic drama of it and recapped each person's journey to baldness with a guessing game about who had given up the most via each pile of hair – from Frank's less than a teaspoon of silvery-blond tufts, to Dave's and Dan's bigger piles of light and dark blond hair, to his own pile of dark curls that had previously hung at chin length.

The boys' new look inspired schoolmates to "Shave for Dave," too. Several athletes who had not cut their hair for years shaved it off during half time at a basketball game. They wore shirts supporting Dave, took a collection to buy him golf clubs to help with his physical therapy and had a fundraiser after the game. All of their efforts helped to encourage Dave in his battle.

New plans for everyone

Dave originally thought a partial leg amputation might be his cure since he'd read about other youths who had played football with a prosthetic. But the doctor convinced him to try an artificial knee and femur instead, knowing he could do amputation later – if needed.

Dave's plans did not unfold as he'd hoped, and following a courageous five-year battle with cancer, David Anthony Penza, 19, passed away in Gilbert, Ariz., on September 7, 2008. Since his passing, the Penza family has had plenty of time to ponder the journey they shared as a family during Dave's illness. They realize that it pulled them together, and Frank recently commented, "We never got mad at God, but encouraged each child that He had a plan for their lives and for Dave's life."

Even as Frank and Cheri focused on Dave during his illness, they did not forget about their other children. Frank said, "As parents, we determined that one of us would try to attend all school events." By doing this, they were able to let their other children know that their lives were just as important as Dave's. Frank added, "And we hugged our kids more often."

Dave's brother Mike believes that one of the greatest things his parents gave him during Dave's illness was the gift of their presence. "They were present whenever they could be. Their intentionality and sacrifice were heroic."

When their parents could not be present at their activities, the Penza kids now realize that one of the unanticipated blessings of their brother's illness was the added family help they received. Friends and extended family members stepped in to help the Penzas, taking turns sitting at the hospital with Dave so Frank and Cheri could be with the other kids. They decorated for holidays, made birthday cakes, offered homework help, provided rides to and from activities, and helped with family finances.

Encouraging each other

As Dave faced the reality that his time was likely short, the doctor offered him the option of ending treatment and going home, or continuing the treatment with little hope of improvement. Even though Dave's decision would take him to Arizona, he felt that his commitment to treatment could provide research and hope for others – and the family supported him. Cheri reflects on that time and explains how she's still amazed at how the kids were so willing to move to Arizona toward the end of Dave's life. "I appreciated their understanding that this was part of what we needed to do as a family. Each one had to grow a bit faster because of dealing with these issues, and the truth is, the kids' prayers and hugs were so encouraging to me as a mom."

The children remember their parents' faithful encouragement to grow in relationship with God. Frank and Cheri helped their kids come to an understanding that Dave's illness, his hospitalizations and even his passing were profound chapters in their lives. As parents, they modeled a commitment to their beliefs and the courage to make difficult decisions.

"Other families tell us that Dave's faith – and our response to his cancer – has been an encouragement to them," Cheri said. "Our child's cancer diagnosis turned out to be an opportunity to help others – it gave us hope and purpose." Several years after Dave's passing, the Penzas are still a close family. Frank and Cheri continue to encourage families of children with cancer as they share their story and pray with families who now walk the same uncertain journey they once did.

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Updated and revised from "Making the Cut," originally published in Focus on the Family's Teen Phases, July 2007. Copyright © 2013 Delores Liesner. Used by permission.


The Four Phases of Parenthood

Your role changes as your child grows. What’s yours right now?

by Bob Hostetler

It came as a shock. In the course of telling a story to my friend Jon, I mentioned that I had gone into my son's room to wake him up. Jon interrupted me.

"How old is Aaron?"

We both knew very well how old he was, but I told him. "Sixteen," I said.

"Why are you still getting him up in the morning?"

I had no answer. I felt like a bald man who's just been asked why he carries a comb in his pocket. Somehow, in the busyness of parenting two teenagers, I had held on to a habit that made sense when my children were preschoolers but now was far from appropriate.

That's when I decided to give more careful attention to the different phases of parenthood and to acknowledge areas where I'd lagged behind in parenting my daughter, Aubrey, and my son, Aaron. In doing so, I not only introduced a little more sanity to my life, but also prepared them — and me — for their fast-approaching independence.

Phase One: Commander

In the first years of a child's life, a parent does everything for him. The parent functions as a benevolent dictator, telling the child who to listen to, what to eat, when to go to bed, how to perform a task.

In this phase of parenthood, the task of the loving parent is to encourage a child's growth from discipline to self-discipline. As paraphrased in The Message, "A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them" (Proverbs 13:24).

During my children's early years, I repeatedly used the parenting phrases "Yes, because . . . " or "No, because . . . " I not only dictated my children's actions, but also took pains to explain the reasons a certain thing was prescribed or prohibited.

Phase Two: Coach

I used Aubrey and Aaron's summer break to teach them about work and wages — interviewing, hiring and even occasionally firing them from jobs around the house and garden. The idea was not only to teach but also to encourage their growth from direction to self-direction, giving them more responsibility with each new job.

I often tried to help clarify — rather than dictate — my children's choices for them. I found myself repeatedly using the phrase, "Would you rather do this . . . or that?" Obviously, I never tempted them to choose something wrong or foolish; the phrase was simply a tool to help them gain experience in making their own decisions. For example, I might ask, "Would you rather leave now for church and have time to talk to your friends, or leave a little later and go straight to your class?"

Phase Three: Counselor

If you haven't yet experienced it, you will soon: The day dawns for every parent when he or she is no longer the driving influence in a child's life.

The task of the loving parent is to encourage a child's growth from dependence to independence; it is especially important in this phase of parenthood. This is the phase — usually in the teen years — when a child can reasonably be expected to understand what is right, just and fair.

Too many of us continue to parent our teenagers in much the same way we parented them as toddlers or grade-schoolers. When our kids begin to strain against the reins, like a horse that's eager to run, we pull back hard — as though it's wrong for them to seek independence. But that's exactly the purpose of the teen years. In fact, we should encourage that drive for independence and channel it in the right direction.

The operative phrase during these years is, "That's a decision you can make." When my children came to me for permission, I would often quiz them about what decision they would make if I gave them that freedom. I encouraged them to take responsibility in decision making, and they responded. I offered suggestions and warned them about the potential consequences of poor decisions, but I tried to leave the decision up to them as often as possible.

Of course, the risk I took was that my children would make poor choices, and sometimes they did. But little by little, they became capable of finding the right course.

Phase Four: Consultant

No words adequately describe the jumble of emotions a parent experiences driving away from a child's freshman college dorm. It's frightening on so many levels. But it's less frightening if the parent has successfully navigated the first three phases.

The task of parenting isn't done at this stage; it is no longer one of proactive involvement but of patient availability. Like Solomon, who told his son, "Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart" (Proverbs 27:11), the parent in this phase must hope, pray and wait.

Each phase has its own challenges, but phase four can be the most difficult because it requires letting go. For nearly two decades, the parent has been the child's commander, coach or counselor, but trying to prolong any of those roles will invite resistance and perhaps even resentment.

As I did in the other phases, I found a phrase that has helped my interactions with my children: "Let me know if I can help." It allowed me to affirm my availability while respecting my children's independence.

You'll find that the phases of parenthood aren't entirely measurable or scientific. The phases overlap each other; one phase begins long before the previous phase passes completely. And different children will demand differing degrees of flexibility in moving from one phase to the next.

But overall, I found that just a little attention to my current (and coming) phases produced a healthy perspective on my task as parent.


Pursuing Purpose

Is your child busy, bored or industrious?

by Janine Petry

"I'm bored, Mom." It wasn't the first time my daughter made the announcement. I'd already directed her to "find something to do," adding the threat, "or I'll find something for you." And I did. I pulled out projects and offered suggestions. When those failed, I aimed deeper - the word bored was now forbidden.

"I'm still . . . " She hesitated. "You know what."

I'm not sure how many times she didn't use the word bored, but I got the message: We had a problem. And while boredom seemed the obvious culprit, it was only the symptom of a deeper issue - my daughter didn't know how to be industrious.

It's a word we don't use often, but it's a concept we can't do without. Someone with an industrious spirit is energetic, diligent and productive. The book of Hebrews encourages it like this: "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. . . . We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (6:10, 12).

Training a child to be industrious opens the way for him to serve God and fully experience His promises. Without it, children often fall into laziness, whine for entertainment and lack the ability to manage their time. Being industrious is a character trait my kids need in order to live effectively for Christ.

So, despite past mistakes, I'm taking steps in the right direction. I've discovered that the solution isn't to cram extra classes into their schedules or to load up on more projects. These things teach busyness - another interference to pursuing God's will. Instead, I'm going for the heart of the issue. As you do the same, these principles can help guide you.

Take it to God

Industriousness is ultimately a matter of the heart, and our Creator is the most effective minister in this area. If your children find it difficult to be industrious, ask God for wisdom and guidance on how to help them.

Pray for and with your children in an age-appropriate and encouraging way. Notice when they show an industrious spirit, and be intentional in offering praise.

Talk it over

Give your kids permission to be honest about their feelings. In doing this, you'll provide teachable moments that help them learn industriousness.

Preschoolers to preteens: Use confessions of boredom to explore and encourage. Ask, "If you could do anything, what would you do?" Listen to their answers. Together, brainstorm ways to pursue their God-given interests and take steps toward these.

Teens: Use the same strategy, but go further. Share your own struggles to do what's truly beneficial. Do you sometimes watch TV instead of following through on your plan to study the Bible? Show your teens you understand that being industrious isn't always easy, but encourage them to keep trying. Teach them that it's their responsibility, not yours, to deal with their boredom and take actions that move them toward a more productive life.

Paint a big picture

Ultimately, we want our kids to join Christ in finishing the Father's work. But they have to know what that work is. Introduce them to God's purposes found in Scripture. Then help your children see how they can contribute more specifically.

Preschoolers to pre-teens: Read stories about characters such as Esther, Ruth and the disciples. Teach your kids that God has a plan for everyone - including them. Help them find ways to live out God's purposes. Guide them to gain the skills they need to join in the work.

Teens: Consider studying the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) or the Great Commission (Matthew 28) together. Relate biblical truths about life's purposes and the ways in which God uses people. Brainstorm ways they can serve. As your teens research, choose and act on service opportunities, they'll gain the discernment that's essential for being industrious.

In the end, it's often how you and I live that makes the difference. Be honest with yourself about your habits. In what ways do you model productivity and a genuine desire to accomplish God's will? Where do you struggle and why? What needs to change? Lead through example.

I confess that learning to be more industrious hasn't been easy for my family. But as we persevere, I trust it will be one of our most rewarding victories. We have nothing to lose. We have all God's promises to gain.


The Sacrifices Moms Make

Every day we change the course of the future because we influence our children in their faith and walk.

by Sherry Surratt

"Mom, would you like to take a cake-decorating class with me?" When my daughter, Brittainy, asked this question, I happened to be standing in the kitchen amid a pile of dirty pots and pans. What I really wanted to do at that moment was get out of that kitchen and sink into my sofa. I was tired, too tired to think about giving up my next four Saturday mornings learning how to make rose petals out of buttercream frosting.

But then I looked at her face. It was hopeful, full of invitation. So I dug into the details. This class would be an investment of time, and it would require that we purchase a list of supplies. In addition to my full-time job, my husband and I were small-group leaders at our church. Glancing at the sports and school schedules for both of our children, I gulped. This was already a packed month.

But such is the life of a mom. We are so much more than bottle washers or bottom wipers. We wear a dizzying array of hats: master chef, schedule organizer, cheerleader, comforter, mentor and detective. Our time is not just spent; it's guzzled up by the demands of our family. We're often left breathless and frazzled, until we remember who we really are. We're world changers.

Every day we change the course of the future through our encouragement and admonishments, through these life-giving moments when we pour into our children. We get to shape their character and teach them about the God who made them and loves them. We teach them about honesty and the power of commitment. We teach them how to share and how to love. We form the face of tomorrow through our mom-life today. Each moment counts, and for a mom, there aren't any throwaway days.

My daughter and I joined that class. It meant more stress, less margin and less money left at the end of the month. But it also meant precious moments spent with my girl as we laughed over our pitiful attempts at conquering fondant and gum paste. As we toiled together over mastering the exact lilt to our buttercream rose petals, it became Brittainy and me against the world. We were no longer on opposite teams — one generation pitted against the other — but partners collaborating to create a beautiful masterpiece. We laughed and made a mess. But it was our mess — mother and daughter together.

Those mornings together inspired dialog I don't think we would have ventured into any other way. They turned into opportunities to talk about the concerns of a 14-year-old who was asking big questions about life. The conversations were priceless, and I learned that those moments don't come along every day. When they do, I want to be ready.

Our relationship took a turn during that shared experience as we learned to appreciate each other in a brand-new way. The time, money and effort I invested in that class now seems so small compared to what I've received in return: a deepened relationship with my beautiful daughter. This is our calling as mothers. We give and invest, spending time and resources. We give to our children when it would have felt good to give to ourselves. We do without so that our kids don't have to.

We need not wonder if it's worth it to find the energy to read yet another bedtime story — it is. When we question the value of going the extra mile for our kids, we can rest in the power of the message we are sending as we model God's command to love someone else more than we love ourselves.

The fruit of our labors may not always be apparent, but let's commit with the apostle Paul to "not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9). With every hug, every gentle pat, every encouraging word, we are making a difference that no one else can. Without fanfare or thanks, we are shaping the minds and hearts of future leaders, inventors, dreamers and decision-makers. We truly are world changers.

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Sherry Surratt is the President and CEO of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International, an organization that invests in moms and families.


Staying Involved With Your Kid's Life

Has your middle school child set up boundaries or built protective walls to shut you out? Be the dad who can, well, interrupt once in a while.

by Jay Payleitner

It's easy to enter the world of a young child. As a dad, all you have to say is, "Hey there, kiddo. What's up?" Better yet, you can offer to do something together – read a story or show how to use a few tools in the garage. Promise your kid a dash of your attention, and he'll pretty much drop everything to spend time with you.

But that all starts to change sometime in middle school. Sure, kids still want to be with Dad, but they're also building protective walls and figuring out how to make their own decisions. That's all a part of growing up, but it can make entering your child's world a little trickier, requiring some cunning and resourcefulness.

Because borders are being drawn around certain areas of your child's life – the classroom, the practice field, the youth group or just that off-limits zone your child sets up wearing headphones – you may need a creative reason to interrupt your child's self-absorbed world. Here are a few possible strategies for interrupting your son's or daughter's privacy – without seeming like an interruption:

Give yourself a mutual mission. Asking a young person's opinion can be both surprising and empowering. Together with your child, brainstorm gift ideas for Mom or plans for Grandpa's big birthday celebration. Take your child along when you shop for new patio chairs, discussing features, styles and prices together. Let her help design a flyer for the neighborhood block party. If you're raising high-tech whiz kids, respect their growing knowledge, by seeking input on iPhone apps or asking them to help with family computing tasks.

Volunteer at an event. Initially, your child may not be thrilled that you signed up for a chaperone assignment, church event or fundraiser for his sports team. But if you keep to the task at hand (and try not to embarrass him), your child will be glad to see you involved in his life. One tip: Give your kid some time to process your participation at the big Christmas party or weekend retreat, letting him know ahead of time about your plans and the extent of your involvement.

Get their attention. Most of the time, being frugal is the best choice for a dad. Kids need to see a model of good stewardship, and they need to understand that, despite what other families do, they don't always need the newest and the shiniest. But once in a while, you need to get your kids' attention by … splurging. Imagine yourself saying the following: "Banana splits for everyone!" "Hey, when that movie based on your favorite book comes out, let's take your friends to see the midnight showing!" "Sunday afternoon, we're all going on a hot-air-balloon ride!" "Don't know what got into me, but I just bought a discount pass for horseback riding!"

Knock and pray. I'm betting you already do bedtime and mealtime prayers with your kids, trying to model a reliance on God's will and plan for your life. But I urge you to try something a bit less repetitive, and a bit more inspired: some unannounced prayer with your child. Knock on her door, and ask if you can come in and pray. And then pray … big. Pray together for your family, your wife, stresses you might have, a neighbor or your community. Finish with a prayer for your child, who is sitting there with you.

As time passes, relationships with children often will come full circle. Your child will eventually be at a place where he can openly ask for your wisdom and advice regarding the weighty (and trivial) issues facing young adults. But in the meantime, you have some years ahead of you in which you'll need to step up and initiate those relationship-building opportunities – even if it means interrupting your child's world.

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Jay Payleitner is the author of several books on parenting including 52 Things Kids Need From a Dad and 52 Things Daughters Needs From Their Dads.


Stop Refereeing Your Preschoolers!

Handle sibling conflict in a way that leads to kids keeping the peace.

by Megan Hill

My preschool-age sons had each decided their individual happiness depended on playing exclusively with our green baseball bat. Every day, I heard them argue over it. I frequently asked, “What’s wrong with the yellow one? Or the red one?” But, no, green apparently hits faster, higher, better.

As a result, I found myself trying to solve every sibling squabble. At the first sound of trouble, I would swoop in and ask questions such as, “Who had it first?” and resort to solutions such as, “I’m just going to take it away.”

As parents, too often we allow ourselves to be ever-present police, detectives, mediators and judges. In the heat of the moment, this reaction is understandable, but it poorly equips our children for independence. Instead, we should invest time teaching our children to keep the peace. In much the same way that parents prepare their kids for “stranger danger” and peer pressure, we can prepare our kids to look for resolutions to conflict.

Teach three directives

How I parented sibling conflict changed once I understood that children could be trained in this area. Corlette Sande, co-founder of Relational Wisdom 360, suggested the use of three conflict resolution steps for children: overlook, talk and get help. Corlette says, "Young children can learn how to respond to conflict if we model it and show them how to put peacemaking into practice."

With my own preschoolers, I began by teaching them to overlook the offense, talk the issue over, and then get help. I first introduced conflict resolution to my children during a quiet moment when they were receptive listeners. We talked about their usual conflicts: toy-grabbing, shouting or throwing game cards. I explained that when a sibling offends them, they first need to try to overlook the offense. Then I gave them a script: Say, “That’s OK,” and stop thinking or talking about it.

If this is impossible (because overlooking an offense takes many tries and much grace), the child has the option to talk about the situation with his brother. He can calmly say: “Please don’t do that” or “May I please have that back?” His brother must answer in a kind tone. The goal of this step is for the children to reach a mutually agreeable compromise.

If my sons can’t reach a satisfactory resolution, the offended child can finally get help. He finds Mommy or Daddy and says: “Would you please help us?” In this step, he knows his parent will hear both sides of the disagreement and then make the final decision.

Sometimes, one of my children forgets the first two steps and immediately runs to me for help. Before intervening, I ask whether he has tried overlooking and talking. If not, I coach him to try again.

With repetition, this process has become a familiar family expression. “What can you do if you have a conflict?” I ask. “Overlook, talk and then get help,” my kids respond.

Success

Following these steps may initially seem unrealistic for preschoolers — a peaceful resolution is not their natural inclination. But with frequent reminders, it’s possible.

I have a son who was adopted shortly after he turned 3. He came to our family trained by orphanage life: uninterrupted squabbling with 30 other children over a handful of toys. Hitting was his conflict-resolution strategy. Mere months later, he could tell me the steps for resolution and began learning to implement them with his siblings.

Teaching conflict resolution to young children is a wise investment of time. This basic, three-step process is not instant or easy, but it has changed my family and how my children relate to one other.



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Megan Hill is a freelance author and mother of three.


Surviving an Adolescent Meltdown

Rules of engagement for when your child loses control

by Sally Schrock

I almost slapped him. I was so close it frightened me. My firstborn son — just a few short years ago the delight of my life — stood in the hallway, red-faced, fists clenched, screaming at me. He insisted his bedroom was clean, but I informed him he was not finished.

"That is so not fair!" he raged. "You never think what I do is good enough!"

He continued to shout while I contemplated the soda cans, the dirty dishes, the clothes scattered all over the floor. I stated emphatically, "The condition of this room is not acceptable."

I watched in horror as my 12-year-old lost control. Tears spilled out of his beautiful blue eyes over his distraught face. "You don't know how hard I try," he ranted. "You are asking too much of me!"

His frenzy had intensified to the point that I fully expected his next sentence to be: "Mom, I know you think the sky is blue, but it's green. I know it's green!"

I instinctively raised my hand and said, "Do not say one more word." He opened and closed his mouth. He thought about it for a few seconds then walked into his room and slammed the door. I collapsed into a chair and cried.

This was my first experience with an adolescent meltdown. It was not the last. How was I going to teach him to control himself? With that in mind, I slowly developed some rules of engagement.

Recognizing the tremors

When I knew a meltdown was imminent, the first thing I did was stop talking. Then I required my son to stop talking also. Once it was quiet, I tried to determine whether this was an old issue or a new battlefield.

When it was an old argument wearing a new shirt, I spoke to my son calmly and without emotion: "We have discussed this, and we will not revisit this issue. Not now, perhaps not ever, but certainly not while you are in this frame of mind. So you have two choices. You can stop talking and do what I told you to do, or you can go to your room and stay there until you have a change of attitude."

New eruptions

When it was a new problem, I refused to give him an audience until he became calm and rational and could give me three concise sentences as to what was really bothering him. If emotions started to escalate, I stopped the discussion until we were both composed.

After he stated his concerns, I took a time-out to consider what he had said. Though it was difficult to establish this intentional break in conversation, my husband needed to be included in the discussion. We had to be sure of our position.

Once my words had become our words, I related our conversation to my son in a few concise sentences. Whenever I stooped to lecturing, my son mentally argued with me — I could see it in his eyes! I had to refrain from talking too much to prove my point.

Another hard part was determining appropriate discipline without going overboard. We had to make the correction fit the infraction in order to develop character yet not destroy his spirit. Part of his discipline included writing a synopsis of our discussion, even if he disagreed with the results. I read it over to make sure it was accurate. I then filed the paper for future reference, which came in handy on several occasions.

Calming the outbursts

If we played by the rules, it took a lot of time and effort, but we eventually resolved the conflict. As my son matured, he learned to talk about his frustrations before his resentment built to an exploding point. The outbursts became fewer and farther between — then nonexistent.

Today he is a disciplined, loving husband and father of six lively children who occasionally scream at him, "Dad, the sky is green! I know it's green!"


Articles to Help Your Teen

provided by Focus on the Family

Perhaps your teen is facing a serious challenge or has a friend who is struggling. If you're looking for online resources to share with your teen, here are articles written for them on a variety of topics. We address the following topics:

Drug and Alcohol Use
Eating Disorders
Self-Injury (Cutting)
Grief and Loss
Stepfamilies
Despair and Suicidal Thoughts
Abstinence (written for girls)
Abstinence (written for guys)
Pornography (written for girls)
Pornography (written for guys)
Wicca and Witchcraft
Spiritual Growth
Absolute Truth vs. Relativism
Entertainment
Media Discernment
Violence in the Media
Friendship Difficulties




The Vicious Truth About Drugs and Alcohol

This resource discusses the dangers of drugs and alcohol, what the Bible has to say about getting high, how a teen can help a friend involved in substance abuse and resources for drug abuse. Previously titled "Lethal Haze: The Vicious Truth About Drugs and Alcohol."



The Truth About Eating Disorders

Your teen will learn what causes eating disorders, what the root of the problem is, factors that could lead to the development of an eating disorder, what the Bible says about beauty and how to avoid the trap of eating disorders. Previously titled "Beyond Appearances: The Truth About Eating Disorders."



Self-Injury (Cutting)

A former cutter shares her talks about her years of self-injury and how she broke free from cutting. This article includes information on spotting a cutter and helping them get out of self-injury. Previously titled "Hurting Beyond Words: The Silent Agony of Self-Injury."



Healthy Grief

This article teaches teens how to deal with the grief that comes from the death of a loved one. It includes the stages of grief and provides teens with ideas on how to walk through the process of grief. Previously titled "Good Grief: A Healthy, Courageous Response to Loss."




Living in a Stepfamily

Teens with a stepmom or stepdad will learn how to manage the emotions surrounding a new stepfamily and how to adjust to having a stepparent and stepsiblings. Previously titled "Life in a Blender: Living in a Stepfamily."




When You Feel Hopeless

Teens facing despair and struggling with thoughts of suicide will find hope in this booklet as well as learn how to handle the intense feelings they're experiencing. Includes the salvation message. Previously titled "What's the Alternative?"




Sex Without Regrets

Teen girls will learn about abstinence, the difference between love and infatuation and the effects of sexual intimacy outside of marriage. They'll also hear the perspective of several guys on the issue of chastity. Previously titled "Forever: Sex Without Regrets."




The Power of Sexual Thoughts

Teen guys will learn about abstinence, the difference between love and infatuation and the effects of sexual intimacy outside of marriage. They'll also hear the regrets of a guy who got involved with pornography. Previously titled "Crossing the Line: The Power of Sexual Thoughts



Girls Snared by Porn & Cybersex

If your daughter has been repeatedly looking at porn, this article may help. Girls who struggle with pornography will find hope and healing in this article. They'll learn how to get out of a porn addiction and discover what healthy sexuality is.



Resisting the Power of Pornography

Guys will learn why pornography is a problem and what lies it teaches young men. Topics covered include breaking free from porn, getting back on the road of purity and renewing their minds. Previously titled "In Your Face ... In Your Mind: Resisting the Power of Pornography."



The Hidden Traps of Wicca

This article talks about what Wicca is, what its followers believe and what God thinks about Wicca. There is also discussion about why Wicca has become more mainstream and popular in today's culture. Previously titled "Breaking the Spell: The Hidden Traps of Wicca."



Spiritual Growth for Teens

Christian teens can learn about the nature of God and how to grow in their faith. Specific topics addressed include how to pray, getting involved in church, tips for reading the Bible and handling times of doubt. Previously titled "Now What? The Next Step With God."




Absolute Truth

This article explains absolute truth and what it means in a culture that embraces relativism. It includes evidence on the reality of God, Jesus and the Bible, and talks about growing in Christian faith and beliefs. Previously titled "Ultimate Truth: Discovering Absolutes in a 'Whatever' World."




Making Wise Entertainment Choices

Today's entertainment is far reaching and has slowly desensitized us to sex and violence. Learn how to make wise decisions about the movies, music and shows you take in! Previously titled "What's Up With Today's Entertainment? Separating Trash From Treasure."



Media Discernment

Teens can learn about the influence of entertainment and how to make wise choices about music, movies and games. Previously titled "Soul Food: Which Nature Are You Feeding?"



Violence in the Media

Teens will learn about how violence in song lyrics, video games and movies can negatively influence behavior. Includes the importance of using discernment in entertainment choices. Previously titled "The New Rage: Violence in the Media."




Developing Relationships That Last

Teens will learn how to make meaningful friendships, characteristics of a true friend, what to look for in a friendship and how to work through common friendship problems. Previously titled "Friends: Developing Friendships That Last."




Transitioning to Middle School

How to help your child ease into middle school

by Pam Woody

My first day of middle school stands out clearly in my mind. My family had just moved from the city to a farm, and I didn't know anyone. I scanned the gymnasium full of tweens sporting blue jeans, plaid shirts and brown-sack lunches, and I suddenly felt awkward standing there in my Raggedy Ann jumper and holding my bright orange lunch box. If the most important rule of middle school is "don't stick out," then my middle-school days had obviously gotten off to a bad start.

New challenges

A child's promotion into middle school often precipitates a season fraught with fear. Kids may worry about getting lost in a bigger building, sitting alone in the cafeteria, not finding friends or carrying a heavier academic load.

In addition, this new season requires children to become more independent and responsible. For the first time, students must juggle separate classes and assignments and deal with a variety of teachers who have diverse teaching styles. These changes can seem overwhelming.

Parents often wonder how to equip their tweens to make a successful transition into middle school. Empathetic encouragement is essential. Don't downplay your child's fears or shrug off her concerns; on the other hand, there's no need to share all of your middle-school horror stories, either. Be honest but encouraging with your child about the changes ahead.

Game plan

You may find some of these strategies helpful as your tween moves into middle school:

Wise investment

In the Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide, Dr. James Dobson writes, "We, as adults, must never forget the pain of trying to grow up and of the competitive world in which many adolescents live today. Taking a moment to listen, to care and to direct such a youngster may be the best investment of a lifetime."

Change doesn't have to be overwhelming, and the transition into middle school can be a great opportunity for parents to invest in their tween. Enjoy the adventure as together you face the world that lies between childhood and the teen years.


When Friends Face Childhood Cancer

If you know a family who is journeying through childhood cancer, here are a few ways you can help meet their daily needs.

by Alexandra Lütz

"Daddies are supposed to fix things, but I couldn't fix this."

Larry and Barbara Voss had just moved; they were settling into a new neighborhood and a new church. But within weeks of making this major life change, their lives were turned upside down.

They went from parenting a healthy 5-year-old to caring for a very sick little girl. The Voss family credits their faith, their neighbors and their church family with helping them get through the dark days of their daughter Laura's illness and death.

"You want help," Barbara confesses, "but you don't always know what you need. And sometimes it never crosses your mind that someone could help you." For Barbara, help might have meant someone stepping in to tutor her other children. "For three years I was so focused on Laura that I didn't realize her brother couldn't read."

The secret to helping a family with a sick child is to realize that the rest of life continues. Parents go to work, siblings go to school, and dogs are walked. Friends and family are desperately needed, but they don't always know what to say or do.

The worst thing is to say nothing. "People are afraid to say the wrong thing, so they just ignore you," Barbara says.

It's tragically common for parents of sick children to become isolated. And sometimes, people do say the wrong thing. "One woman told me, 'I'm so glad my daughter's OK,' " Barbara says.

In addition, well-meaning friends suggested that the family not get too "attached' to a dying child. The friends didn't want to offer false hope, but conveying a positive attitude doesn't necessarily lead to false hope. Barbara's advice: "Be sensitive and tactful."

Larry's suggestion: "Don't feel like you need to talk; just listen."

Often friends misunderstand a sick child's treatment process. Most cancer patients live at home, go to school and participate in normal childhood activities. Outsiders should treat these kids like normal children.

Don't assume that something you'd find helpful will be helpful to someone else. Ask first! "I clean to decompress, so I didn't want friends to straighten up, " Barbara says.

Larry agrees. "Doing stuff around the house was therapeutic. Most of the time, Laura was with me, and it was good to do normal things together."

If the treatment center is out of town, a family may need someone to watch the house, collect mail, mow the grass or water the plants. Often one parent may stay home to work and look after the other children. Be specific when offering to help, not merely saying, "Call if you need anything." See if you can do laundry, shop for groceries, return books to the library or pick up dry cleaning.

Besides an ill child's regular treatments, there are also emergency room visits. Give the parents your phone number and offer to be on call, day or night, to watch other children or drive to the hospital. Ask if you can set up a phone or email tree or establish a special voice mailbox for friends to hear updates. Organize friends to prepare meals and keep a chart of who will babysit or drive children to extracurricular activities. Remember to list everyone's phone numbers!

Don't be offended if parents refuse your offer. If they say no, try again later. If parents accept your offer, follow through. And remember that this is a long-term fight. Families may need your support for years.

How to Help

"One day you have a little boy with a tummy ache. The next day, your son is dying," reflects a hurting dad on his tragic experience. Read through these tips and encourage a family that might be fighting cancer or another long-term illness.


Writing a Family Mission Statement

Creating a mission statement can help your family concentrate on its purpose and minister to others.

bySheila Seifert, Jeanne Gowen Dennis

"Inward, outward, upward and onward," Rhonda DeYoung says to her children, and they know exactly what she means. She continues, "When the kids were little, we used these words to encourage them to show who they were on the inside by being godly on the outside, through taking the high road upward and moving on from a situation — not being dragged down by it."

Over time, the phrase morphed into the DeYoung family's mission statement, and later it was applied to dealing with difficult people and situations. Rhonda says, "We encouraged the kids to be strong on the inside, at peace on the outside, while keeping their cool, in order to rise above their circumstances and keep going onward."

Although most parents have unspoken goals for their children — financial, spiritual, physical, emotional — these big ideas seldom translate into reality accidentally. One way to prioritize what your family values is to write a family mission statement. This written declaration isn't a guarantee of family success, but it can help establish a family's identity even as it reinforces what is important.

Make a commitment

How long will it take to create? That depends on your family's ability to work together, your individual personalities and the compatibility of your goals. The first step isn't to get words on a paper but to commit to creating and living within a prescribed goal.

The Sanders family found that people already associated them as a group by referring to a "Sanders haircut" or a "Sanders appetite." Since their nine children were often identified by their last name, Nancy and Nate let their code of conduct also stem from their family name, each quality beginning with a letter of Sanders. The result was an acrostic that identified spiritual and character goals for the family.

"By God's grace we will: Seek to love the Lord Jesus Christ with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength; Always give thanks; Never fear standing for the truth, no matter the cost; Do our work skillfully and diligently without complaining, as unto the Lord; Encourage and show love for others with patience, kindness and humility; Respectfully submit to all authority God has placed over us; Share the truths of God with our children so that future generations will put their trust in Him."

Nancy and Nate knew that their mission statement wouldn't work unless the whole family adopted it. So they spent family devotion time going over and discussing each line with their children. Once the kids understood and committed to how their last name was defined, the acrostic became their family mission statement.

Identify key family values

Committing to a mission statement is the first step. The second step is to consider what your family holds as important. The Dennis family in Homeschooling High School listed their parenting priorities:

Knowing their family's goals, which became their family mission statement, Steven and Jeanne were able to focus on their own and their daughter's strengths to accomplish their priorities. This direction and articulation of purpose led their daughter to become involved in extracurricular activities that were in line with what she felt was God's plan for her life.

Unlike the Dennises, sometimes a family's purpose evolves from everyday circumstances, as it did with the Miller family. Lauren explains, "Our mission statement grew out of a reaction to our 2-year-old's fights with his 4-year-old sister, which were usually complete with hitting, biting and screaming."

Lauren would lower her son's hands and tell him to use his strength to love and protect others. She adds, "When my little girl became rude or bossy, I would hug her and remind her to love others." Over time, these daily reminders grew into the family's mission statement: Use your strength to love and protect. Use your spirit to love and give life. Use the life God gives you to do what is good and right, and to help others.

Ask for God's direction

For the DeYoung parents, "inward, outward, upward and onward" was an easy-to-remember phrase that helped them discuss how their kids' decisions were made and how their kids should view the world. But those key words also had a basis in Scripture, which is important for a Christian family's mission statement. Inward and outward were derived from 2 Corinthians 4:16, and the concepts of upward and onward were taken from Philippians 3:12-16.

If a mission statement doesn't begin to grow organically — through Scripture, your life and family values — consider simply starting with prayer, asking God for direction and insight into His plan for your family.

The Starks' mission statement was created after they realized their children were treating their friends more kindly than they treated each other. Diane was prayerfully reminded of 1 John 4:21, which says, "Whoever loves God must also love his brother."

This verse symbolized the kind of family Diane and Eric wanted: a family built on love for God and love for each other. So they adapted the verse to say: "Whoever loves God must also love his brother, sister, father, mother, son and daughter." Once their children were able to understand that this was a godly principle, the family was able to move forward in how they related to each other.

Consider the bigger picture

Each person in your family has different strengths, dreams and goals. Writing a mission statement can initially help parents focus on guiding their children's direction and building a family identity. Over time, these same mission statements can define how the different personalities and talents in a family come together for a concentrated direction outside the home, too. After all, there's no reason why your family's mission statement can't become your missions statement, as well.

When the Cooleys were first married, they went through a rough patch. They had both come from broken homes, they were new believers, and they had to figure out how to be a blended family with two children. After struggling for a number of years and having two more children, Danika and Ed became serious about their relationships with Christ.

In the midst of their struggles, they created the parenting motto: "Love them and point them to Jesus." If they weren't able to accomplish anything else in the lives of their children, they wanted the kids to leave their home knowing they are loved and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Danika and Ed reminded each other of their motto anytime one of them appeared to be straying from it.

After 13 years, they still see that their mission statement holds true, but today it has been expanded to include their marriage and their community. The Cooleys currently seek ways to love others ("love them") and share God's message of mercy and grace ("and point them to Jesus").

Explore possible ministry goals

As you develop your mission statement, take the time to look at your family's ministry goals, having each member of your family answer questions such as:

The more you know about yourself and each other, the better you will be able to figure out how you can use your family's personalities and talents to serve your friends, family and community.

If you still can't quite pull a mission statement together for your family, try filling in the following blanks to create action steps for your family goals:

We believe God wants us to ____________ this year, which we will intentionally do by concentrating on these areas:

  1. With each other, we will ____________.
  2. With our neighbors and friends, we will ____________.
  3. With our extended family, we will ____________.
  4. With our church body, we will ____________.
  5. When people think of our family, how do we want them to finish this sentence: They are a family that ____________.

Then review and revise these lines each year until you see a pattern that allows you to write a larger, more comprehensive mission statement.

The beauty of putting your mission statement in writing is that as you identify where you are right now, you'll start to see a glimmer of where God wants to take you and your family in the years to come. You may even find decisions easier to make, activities more enjoyable and your family life more satisfying. More important, you will help fulfill God's purposes for your family now — and intentionally prepare your children for the work He has for them later.


Your Child's Love Language

Children express and receive love in different ways — some through acts of service; others through affirming words; still others through gifts, quality time or physical touch. Each of these expressions of love represents a different 'language.'

by Heidi Krumenauer

When my son Payton received an A on his math test, I showered him with praise. He offered a weak smile and retreated to his room.

When I returned home from a business trip, my son Noah asked me to spend time reading with him, but I lavished a bag full of gifts on him instead. I was perplexed by his lukewarm response.

Ungrateful children?

Spoiled youngsters?

Probably not.

I wasn't speaking their love language. Children express and receive love in different ways — some through acts of service; others through affirming words; still others through gifts, quality time or physical touch. Each of these expressions of love represents a different "language."

Gary Chapman introduced this concept in his book The Five Love Languages and later in The Five Love Languages of Children, which he co-authored with Dr. Ross Campbell. I spoke with Chapman about how his ideas can help parents transform their relationships with their children.

"Children receive love emotionally," Chapman said, "but because they are all different, we must pay attention to their individual needs. We must learn to speak our children's [love] language if we want them to feel loved."

We often try to pour all our children into the same mold, Chapman said. We go to parenting conferences and read books. We are inundated with great ideas that we want to use with our children. We fail to remember, however, that each child is different. What works with one may not work with another. And what communicates love to one child may not be received the same way by another child.

By understanding the five love languages, we can more easily discern the emotional needs of our children. Here is a brief description of each love language:

Words of affirmation. Compliments such as "Your hair really looks nice today!" or "Great game tonight!" go a long way with the child who thrives on praise. Your words can focus on personality, accomplishments, outward appearance or anything else that affirms. Giving a monetary reward to a child who seeks affirmation will leave him feeling empty.

Acts of service. In the early stages of life, we do things for our children that they can't do for themselves. As they get older, our love is expressed by teaching them how to do things for themselves. For a child with this love language, we need to know which acts of service are important to him. Does he feel loved when you help him with homework? Or teach him to throw a ball? Once you've discovered the acts of service your child most appreciates, perform them often.

Gifts. Children with this love language treasure gifts as a tangible token of affection. Unfortunately, they also interpret a lack of gifts as a lack of love. Your gifts don't need to be expensive, and they don't need to be given every day, but recognizing that a child prefers to be rewarded with a pack of gum rather than a hug is an important step in building communication.

Quality time. Children who speak this love language seek undivided attention. When they're infants, we play on the floor with them and roll balls back and forth. As they get older, that quality time is found in conversations, bedtime stories or backyard sports. The activity is not important; the time together is. For a child with siblings, it may be difficult to get one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. He needs to know that he is worthy of your undivided attention.

Physical touch. We've long known the emotional power of physical touch. Infants who are held fare better than those who are not. As children get older, they still long for physical affection — something as simple as a touch on the arm, a pat on the back, a hug. These gestures are especially important to the child with this love language. He wants to literally feel your love.

Chapman recommends that as we focus on our child's primary love language, we remember to use the other four as well. Though children receive love best from one language, there's no doubt they benefit from all expressions of unconditional love.