Forgiving Yourself For Your Failures as a Parent

By Christine Lindsay

Parenting is a bumpy road, especially if your family is blended in some manner through adoption, or divorce and remarriage, or any other number of life stresses.

But when you fail—and believe me, you will fail—the worst thing you can do is wallow in guilt. What your children need, no matter what their age, is that you forgive yourself. With this caveat: Learn from your mistakes to become a better parent.

My parenting skills were put to the test when I began to search for my birth-daughter, Sarah, the baby girl I gave up for adoption in 1979. Sarah and I never saw each other again, until 20 years later at our adoption reunion. The intense emotions of the search, during and after the reunion, put me as a woman and as a mother through the emotional ringer. I failed my children; my daughter Lana and her two brothers, and my birth-daughter Sarah.

Below is a slightly abridged excerpt from Finding Sarah Finding Me that focuses on our journey as a family back to wholeness:

~*~

Lana and the boys are so ready to accept this shift in their family orbit. But as much as I love their biological sister, Sarah, if for one minute I thought meeting her would hurt the kids I’ve raised, I’d stop everything. The paradox hits me between the eyes. These are my kids. But Sarah is my firstborn, and the distance between us is creating a constantly widening rift in my soul. Still, as much as I crave a relationship with Sarah, I can’t even meet her if it risks hurting the children who live safely beneath my roof.
Relief shores me up—my kids are reacting positively to the reunion, and the appointment is set. I don’t have to make that awful decision, which is good because I’m not sure how much more shifting of my orbit I can take, or how much longer I can deny my maternal feelings for this daughter I relinquished. I’ve often wondered how God managed to properly love the ninety-nine sheep he left behind to go out searching the hills for that little one that was lost.
Is my love for my “lost sheep” starting to overshadow my love for those safely within my fold?

~*~

The excerpt above shows the cracks in my mothering. As I focused much of my attention on my birth-daughter, I didn’t realize that I was laying the foundation for great pain in my daughter Lana’s heart. Years later, Lana would exhibit that sadness in ways that would break my heart as much as losing her sister to adoption had.

So often, we can pay great attention to a prodigal child, or the child who suffers from severe health issues, or just simply the more needy, demanding child. The quiet—seemingly unruffled child—can be quietly suffering, and we as parents have no idea.

In this excerpt from Finding Sarah Finding Me, I realized my failure as a mother:

~*~

My fear stretches across the expanse of my desk toward the woman from Student Life as she says, “Lana is in the hospital. She took an overdose of pills last night.”

Boys don’t always notice when Mom isn’t all she should be. Daughters are different, as though they’re looking to their mothers as a rough sketch of what it will mean for them to be women, rejecting and incorporating aspects of us as they grow.

During the search and reunion with Sarah, the boys were too young to notice my struggles for stability, especially since they had a great dad who made up for it all. In the years after the reunion, with good therapy and a renewed focus on God’s Word, I returned to the mom I used to be, even striving to be better.

But off and on during those two or three years of Lana’s impressionable teens, I’d let depression, poor self-esteem, and my own suicidal thoughts filter in to my children’s lives. Lana took emotional refuge at her friends’ houses, friends who often only added to her confusion. No matter how much I’ve changed since then, the damage was done.

~*~

Is there a way back from that kind of failure?

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Here is the beginning of Lana’s and my journey back to wholeness, and the joy that we experience today. Another excerpt from Finding Sarah Finding Me:

~*~

Lana looks up and starts to cry as I near her hospital bed. Even from a few feet away I see her tremble. Something deep inside me dies. I have done this to my child. She lifts a hand to wipe her cheek like the little girl she once was, as vulnerable as when I used to hold her hand to cross the road. Vulnerable but alive! It could so easily have been otherwise, but God protected her. We both still breathe, our hearts still pump. Though we’re both bruised as crushed reeds, there is hope. I’ll give my all to see her find joy.

Sitting down beside her bed, squeezing her hand, I weep as I tell her, “I love you. More than life itself.”

She nods, tears streaking her pale and tired face, and whispers, “I know, Mom. I know you love me.

~*~

You will fail as a parent, but there is hope.

  • Admit your failure to yourself and to your children.
  • But don’t remain there in a wallowing state of sorrow and shame.
  • Pick up your feet, and with God’s help learn from your mistakes and become the parent your child needs, even if they are 3 years old or 30.

Finding Sarah Finding Me is a braided memoir that focuses on the various angles of adoption and parenting when we start out as parents with an extreme sense of loss, such as my own as a birth-mother, that of adoptive parents who felt the loss of infertility, and the myriad of emotions that are part of the whole adoption scenario.

About Christine Lindsay
Irish-born Christine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction and non-fiction. Readers describe her writing as gritty yet tender, realistic yet larger than life, with historical detail that collides into the heart of psychological and relationship drama. Christine’s fictional novels have garnered the ACFW Genesis Award, The Grace Award, Canada’s The Word Guild Award, and was a finalist twice for Readers’ Favorite as well as second place in RWA’s Faith Hope and Love contest.
Connect with Christine on www.ChristineLindsay.org or follow her on Amazon on Twitter. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter, and be her friend on Pinterest , Facebook, and  Goodreads.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, and 2017 not far behind, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Year’s.

As I traditionally do this time of year, I’m taking off the last two weeks of December from blogging to focus on the things that matter most–my family. I will resume blogging about parenting and answering your parenting questions the first week of January.

Image courtesy of marin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of marin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Until then,
Sarah

The Social Woes of a Kindergartner

Q: My 5-year-old son is having problems with some kids at church. We go to a small church and they usually have kindergarten through 5th grade together for Sunday school and children’s church. We also attend a homeschool co-op at the church too. He has two good friends his age at church, but when they aren’t there, the other boys who are a few years older won’t play with him or sit by him. He feels like an outcast.

These older boys are quite disrespectful to adults and disruptive during class as well. My son doesn’t really want to be with them, but he at least wants someone to be kind and acknowledge him. I don’t blame him for not wanting to hang out with these boys, as they are often in trouble and not well behaved. My son is shy, sweet and very well behaved. The boys he is friends with have more of a personality like my son.

My son gets really upset when they aren’t there and feels alone. I don’t know if I need to encourage him to toughen up for when the only kids there are the crazy ones or what I should do?

Image courtesy of klakung1/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of klakung1/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: A five-year-old doesn’t have the social skills to navigate these tricky waters! The simplest solution is to just keep him with you in regular church when his friends aren’t there.

That said, you might consider talking with church leaders about narrowing the Sunday School and children’s church ages—K to 5th grade is a huge gap to try to meet the needs of all the children. What you can do with a kindergartner, a fifth grader is going to view as too simple or babyish. A better division would be K through 2nd, and 3rd to 5th or 6th.

But in the meantime, let’s talk about the situation. First, your son isn’t going to be able to be friends with these older boys—he’s simply too young. That should be okay, as it doesn’t appear that these boys would be a good friend to anyone by their behavior. So just tell you son it’s okay to sometimes be by yourself, that it’s a temporary thing, that everyone is by themselves sometimes.

Second, have a word with the Sunday school or children’s church leaders to ensure they are aware of the situation and can step in when necessary. Perhaps when your son is alone, he can be a helper and sit up front.

Third, maybe talk with the families of the older boys in a general way, explaining that your son feels alone when his friends aren’t there and ask if they have any advice. By all means, don’t paint their sons as the problem—ask if they can be part of the solution.

Finally, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. I sense that you feel very badly for your son in this situation and he might be feeding some of his anxiety off of your unease with him being without friends some of the time. By all accounts, it appears that your son has friends with whom he gets along, so having an occasional time alone shouldn’t through him or you for a loop.

How I Cured My Son of ADHD

By Dinah Bucholz

Eli was a horrid little seven-year-old. Everything grossed him out, and he dealt with it by spitting the gross feeling in his saliva into the cuffs and collars of his shirts. He did this whenever he passed the gross garbage can or heard the gross sound of a sneeze, which meant he came home from school every day wearing a sodden and filthy shirt. Now I was grossed out! He would beat up his four-year-old sister every time she sneezed, coughed, or—heaven help us—picked her nose.

That wasn’t all, of course. He exploded into violent tantrums over the slightest provocation. He picked fights with everyone on the block and on the school bus, regardless of age or size—to the point that the principal kicked him off the bus and parents were knocking my door down to complain.

To top it all off, he was disruptive in his second-grade class and couldn’t sit still for a minute.

We were ready to give up this little monster—but who in their right minds would take him?

So we took him to a psychologist, who sent us to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and, no surprise, prescribed medication.

dinah-bucholzAt this point, we just wanted the problems to go away. Though reluctant to medicate, we thought we had no options. But God saved us from ourselves and saved Eli from us—and here’s how.

Eli never ate anything for breakfast but Fruity Pebbles. He also would return from school with his lunch bag untouched, so I packed him what he would eat (cookies and chips) to prevent death from starvation. I also would let him eat Fruity Pebbles for dinner because he wouldn’t eat what I had prepared.

The first thing that changed was that all the junk food in the house went into the trash. Not because I thought it would help (I had no idea), but because I was concerned about the weight of some of my children.

Lo and behold, Eli started eating plain Cheerios for breakfast and the whole wheat pretzels, nuts, and dried fruit I sent with him to school.

Doubly lo and behold and even more amazing, his OCD symptoms disappeared entirely. Everything stopped grossing him out. He stopped spitting into his collar and cuffs. No more disgusting shirts! He also grew calmer. He would still lose his temper, but the violent outbursts ceased. When we saw this dramatic change, we decided not to medicate.

Around this time, I heard a radio interview with parenting expert and psychologist John Rosemond. That was the second thing that changed. After reading Rosemond’s The Well-Behaved Child and implementing those methods, within a few weeks the behavioral issues also resolved.

If you are skeptical, give it a try. ADHD is not a medical condition that requires urgent treatment, so delay giving your child medications for a bit—because your child might not even need it.

Try this three-pronged approach if your child was diagnosed but you want to avoid medicating.

  1. Remove junk food—especially food coloring—from your child’s diet. Homemade treats free of added chemicals such as dyes and preservatives are a safer bet than commercially packaged baked goods (and taste so much better too!).
  2. Eliminate your child’s exposure to all electronic media for three months. After three months, keep it limited to no more than a total of 30 minutes combined of screen time (adding up TV, computer, and other devices).
  3. Employ an authoritative approach to raising your children, backing your authority with firm discipline when needed. A good guide is the one I mentioned earlier, John Rosemond’s The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline That Really Works.

This approached saved Eli, who is now a healthy and well-adjusted fourteen-year-old, from medication with potentially harmful side effects. It might save yours, too.


About Dinah Bucholz
Dinah Bucholz is a New York Times bestselling author, and a marriage and parenting coach. You can ask her questions at dinabucholz@gmail.com.

A Lawyer in Training

Q: My 8-year-old son is a kind boy with a genuinely good heart. That said, he argues with everything we say, pesters/antagonizes his 3-year-old sister incessantly, and can’t follow directions no matter how many years we have been consistent in trying to teach him (i.e. stay seated during meal time).

I have taken everything out of his room and he had to earn it all back, but he didn’t care to and after about four months, we ended up gradually putting it all back anyway because we wanted it out of the room we were storing it in. We went to the ticket system (see the discipline section of this website for details). Every time he lost his five tickets and was sent to bed after dinner, he cried and wailed like it was the end of the world, but 10 minutes later, he was fine and the misbehavior continued the same the next day. 

Our attempt at teaching him doesn’t seem to stick, even though we have been teaching him the same things since he was old enough to understand. Please help, we are at a loss. I wish I knew if this is “normal boy behavior.” I really want our family to be a happy one. It sure doesn’t feel that way now and it hasn’t felt that way for quite some time.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: It can be tough when it seems like you have done the right thing and your child still does the wrong thing. I suspect from your question that you might not have been clear enough in what merits a ticket and what doesn’t because it sounds like your son has simply given up on behaving because he doesn’t feel like there’s any hope.

However, I’m here to say that there IS hope for both him and for you. Some of what you describe is typical kid behavior for that age, and some of it is a bad habit that your son doesn’t know how to change. There appears to be a disconnect between what you’re trying to teach him and his ability to process and do those lessons. Without more information, it’s difficult for me to know how to offer good advice for where to go from here.

But I do know this: he can change, you can change. Together, you can change and grow and restore your relationship with each other. Here are some suggestions.

  • Make sure you’re not criticizing everything he does. Give him some grace to make mistakes.
  • Give him concrete suggestions to interact with his little sister. A five-year age gap is huge at these ages, so help him have a better relationship with her by having him read to her, for example.
  • Ramp up the chores. You don’t mention whether he has responsibilities around the home but at this age he can set and clear the table, take out the trash, sweep or mop floors, clean his room, and dust, for a start.
  • Let him decide how to do something. You say you’ve been teaching him for years, but maybe your method isn’t working. Have him come up with solutions to the problems. Start with one problem—such as staying seated during meals—and ask him to think about three ways he can solve the issue. Then let him try it out and see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Have more positive than negative connections with him throughout the day. Ensure he knows you love him more than you love rules.

With these suggestions, I think you’ll find your family will soon be in a happier place.

 

Do As I Say…And Do

This time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday rush—buying presents (check!), decorating (check!), baking (check!), giving (check!), and all the other things that make up the Christmas season. But it’s at these times, when we’re busier than ever and maybe more stressed than usual, that having our actions match our words is even more vital.

Here are six ways we as parents can ensure our actions and words are sending the same message.

  1. Slow down. Yes, I know you have a million things to do, but you also know from experience that trying to do too much too quickly often results in crankiness and mistakes, which led to frustration. Remember that this time of year, errands can take longer because of more mall traffic, etc.

    Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  2. Build in margin. Don’t wait until the last minute to do everything—plan your activities so that you have space between them for the unexpected.
  3. Give grace. Rather than immediately retaliate for wrongs or misbehavior, exercise grace and mercy. That doesn’t mean we become doormats, but it does mean we first think, “Can I overlook this?” before we act.
  4. Give the benefit of the doubt. Instead of assuming the worst in a given situation, assume the best intentions. For example, the saleswoman rings up your item at the wrong price. Rather than jump to the conclusion that she’s trying to cheat you, think perhaps it’s a honest mistake and patiently wait for correction.
  5. Offer smiles. This is one of the easiest things to do and one that we all too often forget. A smile goes a long way to making someone’s day—I know I feel better if someone smiles at me unexpectedly.
  6. Look for ways to make someone’s life a little easier. Carry a senior’s groceries to her car, hold open the door for those behind, say “thank you” and “please” to those you encounter, let others go ahead of you in line, be generous with your time, and think of how you can help those closest to you—your family, friends and neighbors.

However you celebrate the holidays, I pray you will make time for personal connections with your children, spouse, family and friends.

Until next time,

Sarah

The Trial of a Teenage Girl

Q: Are teenage girls just horribly disagreeable? Right now, I have a really hard time liking mine. I know my husband is having the same problem. We love her, and we try to support her in healthy ways, but being around her is a real trial. When we take her places, she manages to look or be miserable or make someone around her miserable.

Yet we feel like including her in the family is important. She will either dilly dally getting ready and be the last one in the car, talk nasty to her little sister, be disrespectful to her father or me or just be depressed and droopy. Any suggestions or know a place where I can buy a time machine and fast forward to her at age 30?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: I don’t think you really want to miss these years, even though things are not going well in your relationship with your teenage daughter. I hear your frustration and can also see your daughter’s hurt as well. Teenagers don’t always want to be disagreeable, but it can be the easiest emotion—after all, it takes much less effort to be nasty than it does to be thoughtful.

The teen years in general have gotten a bad rap, but while there can be rocky patches in any parent-child relationship, for some reason, parents can be much less tolerant of such behavior in a teen. Hello, remember the toddler years? How the little darlings drove you crazy with their wildly swinging emotions and emotional outbursts in the most inappropriate places? The teen years are similar, given how many changes a teen goes through physically and emotionally and mentally. That’s not to give your daughter an excuse to behave as if she’s the only one who matters, but it should temper your own response.

What would make the biggest change in your home would be for you and your spouse to find more ways to express love to your daughter. I know, I know—she’s not exactly acting very lovable right now! But isn’t that the point? You might say you love her, but how do you show you love her?

In other words, you need to pile on the kindness, the love, the connection just because she’s your daughter and you love her. Once you’ve re-established your relationship with her, then you can start to address some of the behavior. Right now, she can’t hear what you have to say because you’ve lost that connection—you even admitted you have a hard time liking her and wanting to be around her. She can sense that, and of course, she doesn’t want to be around you!

I’d like to assign you a little project that I think will bear good fruit. This will take some time, but with patience, you can reconnect with your daughter. You need to surprise her with your love, without any expectation in return. Start by writing down at least 10 things you love about her. Then for the next 10 days, share one of those things with her each day in multiple ways, both with words and with deeds. If you love the way she always uses earbuds when playing music on her computer (that’s thoughtful to others, right?), then tell her directly that you appreciate her thoughtfulness, buy her a new pair of earbuds, upload a little cash to her iTunes account, or ask her to play you her favorite song of the moment.

This won’t resolve itself overnight, but I think you’ll start to see improvements within a few weeks. It might not be with her behavior—it might be that your own heart has changed toward your daughter.

 

Family Times

This time of year, parents often find themselves having pushback from kids on attending family and other events. Kids whine that they don’t want to go. They fling phrases like: “I don’t know Aunt Mildred or Mrs. Smith, so why should I have to attend the party, dinner or outing?”

Parents, not wanting to have a miserable child on their hands, sometimes cave and allow the child to stay home (if the child is old enough to do so on his or her own, of course).

So why should you make a child attend such functions?* Here are three reasons

  1. Because family is important. Sure, your son might not know Aunt Mildred, but this provides him with an opportunity to get to know her. Knowing your family is an essential component to knowing yourself.
  2. Because it’s not about you. Thinking of others more than yourself is a way to combat the inherent selfishness we all carry around inside. Going to events that would please others more than ourselves is one way to help tamp down our selfish tendencies.
  3. Because traditions are important. Many of these functions center around traditions, and if we don’t teach them to our children, those traditions will die off. And that would be a shame.
Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But that doesn’t mean a child should have to suffer through such events. Here’s how to engage them.

  1. Make sure you bring something for the kids to do. When we visited my in-laws or other family members without small children, we brought portable toys, games or books for the kids to do while we talked. Even now, we still make sure they come prepared to occupy themselves.
  2. Expect them to have a certain amount of adult interaction. Kids shouldn’t be allowed to disappear for the entire evening. Have the children spend the first 15 or 20 minutes talking with the relatives or other adults before being allowed to go off on their own.
  3. If you have older relatives who might not be as comfortable around children, have your kids prepare a list of questions to ask them, such as What was Christmas like when you were a kid? What was your favorite gift? What holiday traditions do you enjoy? That will help engage both generations in a lively discussion.

How do you help your kids get something out of family functions?

Until next time,
Sarah

* Of course, sometimes, the behavior of the relative or friend in question might not be suitable for a child to be around, especially in the case of past abuse. In that case, not bringing the child would be the best course of action.

A 7-year-old Reputation

Q: My almost 7-year-old son seems to have a complete inability to interact appropriately with his peers. This has been a problem since preschool, and now in first grade, he is starting to be rejected by those peers. He plays overly rough and does not seem know when enough is enough. He then cries and says the other children are mean and don’t want to play with him (and they don’t because they get tired of his actions).

I worry about him, as once children get a reputation as “different,” it is hard for them to turn that reputation around. He gives the typical “I don’t know” answer when asked why he does these things. I don’t know what to do to help him make friends.

Image courtesy of chrisroll/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of chrisroll/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: A couple of things comes to mind when reading your question. First, there’s probably been way too much talk about why he does what he does, and that could be contributing to the problem. Kids honestly don’t know why they do silly things, mean things, rough things, anything. They are not thinking about their actions and reactions like we do as adults because their brains are still developing. That doesn’t mean they can’t be taught to behave differently—just that introspection is something that comes with maturity, and a 7 year old isn’t mature enough to figure out that he’s sabotaging himself by his actions.

Second, it sounds like he needs some guidance on Play 101. Start by asking him to think about the other kids after an incident. Questions can help but give him time to answer, like:

  • “How do you think Joey felt when you wouldn’t stop chasing him when he asked you to?”
  • “Would you like to be shoved like that?”

This helps him put himself into the shoes of the other person, a la The Golden Rule. It’s a first step in changing his behavior.

Then move on to helping him listen to what others are saying and role playing his response.

  • “What should you do when Joey asks you to stop chasing him?”
  • “What did you do instead?”
  • “What will you do differently next time?”

Practice with him so that he can be Joey and himself, and figure out what to do when it happens again.

Finally, help him to think about ways he can play positively or words he can use when his feelings get hurt. Again, role play various responses, but let him be the one to suggest things and try not to shoot down his ideas but modify them instead if necessary.

Once he learns how to be a friend, he’ll be better able to have friends. These suggestions should help him on that road.