Monday, April 21, 2014

Focusing on Foster Care

By Steve Archer

My ability to write a catchy introduction dwindles with each interruption by my young children. And yet, this topic is of such importance to me, I feel the need to juggle “daddy duty” with writing. My three biological children are old enough that each one is off doing his or her own thing, but the foster children in my care take our home back to the days of reading children’s books, watching cartoons and navigating through toys on the living room floor. I could have a quiet place to work (or just relax) this Saturday morning, but my wife and I felt the pull a few years ago to become foster parents. We have since foster parented up to four children at a time, which is how many are with us now. When friends ask how it’s going, I smile and say, “We are never bored!”

From a spiritual standpoint, I’m reminded of several verses one can apply to foster parenting. For example, Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord” (NCV). Notice it doesn’t distinguish that some children are a gift from the Lord. Just because they were born into unhealthy situations does not negate the fact that all children are gifts from God. James 1:27 tells us, “Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help” (NCV). While children in foster care may have parents who are still alive, they do not have a safe place to live. Loving them when they need a family who can provide care seems, to me, like the spirit behind James 1:27.

While I try to recruit good potential foster parents at every opportunity, I believe it is important for those who enter this important role to understand there are many aspects to consider, including the children themselves, their parents, one’s own family, the foster system, and the local church body.

Focusing on Children. 
Children are generally placed in foster care as a result of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or significant parental neglect. The goal of Children’s Services is to protect children, and where possible, reunite them with their parents. If a child comes into care, she or he has likely experienced circumstances no one should ever face. Yet, children respond differently to their trauma.  There is a stereotype of foster children as destructive and out of control. We should ask ourselves how we might respond to some of the circumstances these children have faced before we judge them too harshly. In addition, there are different “levels” within the foster system. Children who are in need of intensive supervision and therapy are placed at higher “levels” with families who are specially trained to address their needs. Our experience is that foster children are just that: children. They throw the same tantrums, test the same limits, play with the same toys and crave the same love as any other children.
All children want stable adults to love them and be in charge. Sometimes, though, children struggle to allow foster parents to be in charge for a couple of reasons: (1) The child may have been in charge of taking care of himself or herself and even younger siblings; and (2) the child does not know the foster parent. Imagine trusting a stranger when the adults who have raised you have been inconsistent your whole life.

Yet, even when biological parents have been unable to provide care or protection, children’s first love is naturally for their birth parents. It’s important to keep in mind that for all children, the homes from which they come are likely the only homes they’ve ever known. They don’t know that all families are not like theirs. It can be hard to understand why they still love their parents after abuse or neglect, but think about friends and family in your life. Do you reject them because they have some undesirable trait? Or do you tend to tolerate certain characteristics because you love them, perhaps hoping they will change one day? The same is true of children and their biological parents.
For this reason, fostering cannot be about meeting emotional needs for the foster parents. The children will always love their parents, and it is important to speak respectfully about birth parents, despite what may have happened. Failure to do so only hurts the children and lowers their self-worth. It may also drive a wedge between foster children and foster parents if children feel they must choose loyalty to one family or the other.

Another reason fostering cannot be about meeting the needs of foster parents is that we have little to no influence over when or if children will be returned to their biological parents. Rather than throwing up our hands in frustration, my wife and I choose to see it as an opportunity to love children and teach them about Jesus while they are in our home. Not long ago, a child in our care asked me, “Can we still call you when we go back to our mom?” Of course, I said, “Yes,” not knowing if or when this would happen. Kids need to know they are loved, and that our love for them won’t end even after they leave our care.

When foster children are placed with us, we treat them as our children. Whatever rules apply to the Archer children, apply to them. Behavior that would be unacceptable for our biological children is unacceptable for our foster children. And whatever privileges our biological children enjoy, our foster children enjoy. However our biological children are dressed, our foster children are dressed comparably.  We hang pictures of current and former foster children in our house, because we have pictures of our biological children, too. Right now, I’m working to reinforce that we don’t ring the doorbell or knock on the door at our own house. Foster children are not guests in our home; they are our family. This important message helps fill the need for belonging we all have. Imagine being pulled suddenly from your home and placed with complete strangers—then living with them for months or years. It would be terrible to feel like a guest, rather than a family member!

Focusing on Parents. A key understanding for our family where foster care is concerned has to do with the birth parents. While there are parents who harm their children deliberately, this is not typical even of children placed in foster care. Most parents care for their children to the extent they can at the time. Don’t we all? The difference is that, in cases where children must be removed, parents’ abilities fall short of providing adequate care and protection for their children.

It is natural for birth parents to love their children, even while they may be struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or lack of a support system. When parents are undereducated, they may also lack the skills necessary to get and maintain a steady job. If they, too, have come from a background where their parents were not positive role models, they likely are parenting the way they have seen it done before. The point is not to excuse parents, but to understand what factors led to placement of their children in foster care.

Where possible, it is helpful if birth parents understand their children are in a safe, loving home that is not trying to take their place, but trying to meet their children’s needs until they are returned to the birth family. Foster parents must keep in mind that reunification is always the initial goal. Termination of parental rights only occurs if/when the biological parents—and perhaps even extended family—are unwilling or unable to meet standards established by Children’s Services or the courts over an extended period of time.  Federal law directs that, after a child has been in foster care at least 15 out of the preceding 22 months, states are required to move forward with termination of parental rights.

Focusing on My Family. Fostering is a family commitment. My wife and I are partners in all our foster parenting decisions, just as we have always been with our three biological children (who are now 18, 16, and 12). An added layer, though, is the involvement of our older children. Their lives are impacted by the foster children who come into our home. They share their home, their rooms, and their belongings.  Most of the time our schedule is impacted by what our foster children need. When talking with our children about foster placements, we are careful to draw the distinction between input and decision-making; we ask for our children’s opinions, but ultimately our home has two parents who make the final call.

Due to confidentiality requirements placed on foster parents, we do not tell our biological children all the details we know about children placed in our home. There are, however, things they need to know to help them understand our foster children’s needs. When children have experienced trauma, their emotional and/or intellectual age may not be the same as their chronological age. We all have to work hard to remember we should treat a child according to her or his developmental level, not according to how old he or she is, with the goal being to close the gap between the child’s emotional/intellectual age and her or his chronological age.

My biological children are not complainers. They don’t tell us if they feel neglected, so we have to be mindful to pay special attention to them from time to time. This may be as simple as making sure we attend their church and school events—even if that means bringing along several small children. It may mean giving extra hugs, reminding them of how much we love them, and thanking them for their help with the younger children.

Fostering gives us the opportunity to see characteristics from our biological children most parents do not have the chance to see as their children grow up. I see generosity as they share their rooms with foster children in our care. They rearrange or even vacate their rooms to make space for the other children’s belongings. Of course, with more children, money for Christmas gifts, clothes or where we go for dinner gets divided among more members of the family, so they share in these ways, as well.

My children hug our foster children, play games with them, help watch them for us, and refer to them as “my brother” or “my sister.” They show love to children who have nothing to give, understanding we are blessed, and it is our privilege to share. This is where I see my children living out James 1:27, and I couldn’t be more proud. Imagine how our heavenly Father must feel when He sees their love and generosity!

Focusing on the Body. We are extremely blessed to attend a church (Northland Abundant Life Worship Center) that loves children. Our pastor enjoys telling the story of early members praying to hear a baby cry in a service. That’s not a problem anymore. Well over 100 children attend our church each week, some with their parents, some on the bus or van, and some with their foster families. We are not the only foster family in our church, and our church welcomes and loves them all. Some families in our church have adopted, too, so it is not strange to have different races represented in one family in our congregation . . . and we love it!

I am keenly aware not every church is like ours. Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o'clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America." While this remains true in many places, our church is an exception largely because of our pastor's vocal stance on issues of race over many years. As a result, the children in our care will likely see someone of their race among our congregation. The value of this type of church family cannot be overstate. 

While I do encourage friends to consider fostering, I realize not everyone feels drawn to this area of ministry. It’s important to recognize our gifts and follow them, and not everyone should be a foster parent. But as I write, I think of a generous lady in our church who has blessed our foster children repeatedly with gifts of clothes and diapers. She, too, is ministering in the spirit of James 1:27. She wants no recognition, but sees children in need and wants to bless them. According to James, this is pure Christianity!

Focusing on the System. Although handled differently from state to state, foster parents go through specialized training, both prior to becoming licensed, and through on-going learning opportunities.  Monthly support to subsidize children’s needs is provided, but this, too, varies by state.  Someone told my wife they heard foster parenting is a good way to make extra money. Clearly that person is not a foster parent. Children typically come into care without many clothes or toys. Acquiring beds, strollers, etc., can lead to a variety of expenses that take several months to recoup. And making money should never be the motivation for serving in this role anyway.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, at any point in time, there are over 400,000 children in foster care. More than 100,000 of these children are available for adoption, but 40 percent of them will wait more than three years for a “forever family.” It is sad that minority children are harder to place than white children, and the larger the sibling set, the more likely the children will be split up, intensifying their trauma. As children grow older, they become increasingly hard to place for foster care or adoption. Many families who are willing to foster only want babies, but the average age of children entering care is over 6 years old.

According to the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections, each year about 27,000 “age out” of the system without reunification with their families or adoption. The prospects for teens in foster care are not good, with 17 percent of girls being pregnant at the time they “age out” (and therefore potentially repeating the cycle of abuse and neglect). Sixty percent of boys who “age out” are convicted of a crime, and 40 percent of both boys and girls become homeless at some point.

The need for foster families is evident, and we have the best Good News children in crisis could use. It’s news many of these children have never heard—let alone seen lived consistently. What a tremendous opportunity we have to change a child’s eternity, just by showing the love of Christ! I encourage you to consider serving as a foster parent or finding out how you can help someone who is fostering.

After several months in our care, the night before one of our foster children was to leave, her bedtime prayer included, “And thank you, Jesus, for letting me meet Steve and Tonya, because I didn’t know about you before I met them.” We can’t control where this child’s future will lead, but we were able to pour into her while she was in our home. Because of this, she now knows she has a Father who loves her unconditionally and will never leave her. Could there be a greater reward?

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Healthy Culture

By Randy Lawrence 

It was not your typical Saturday morning around the Lawrence household. While entrenched in some video projects, our videographer Ryan had asked if I knew of any families with young children that he could come get some footage of.  Busted! Having four children all under the age of 6, the lot fell upon our home. So by 8 am our house was transformed into a mini studio—lights, camera, action! After the shoot, I was helping Ryan out to the car with his gear when we heard the pitter-patter of small steps behind us. We both turned to find my 2-year-old daughter, Cali, running after us. Stopping at the end of the walkway, she yelled at the top of her lungs, “Romans 10:17 says, ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God!’ “ She grinned from ear to ear, laughed, and then turned abruptly, and ran back inside! We both looked at each other and laughed hysterically!

As I said goodbye to Ryan and walked back inside the house that day, my heart was absolutely racing.  Why? Not from the walk back to the house (I’m not that out of shape), but from the joy of knowing that the culture that my wife and I had been working to establish in our home was working!  That’s right; I said the “culture” of our home.  Dr. Samuel Chand says, “Culture, not vision or strategy is the most powerful factor in any organization.” I would suggest that you could replace the word “organization” with “home” and the sentence would still ring just as true. Let me ask you a simple question. What is the culture of your home? I love the Message translation of a popular verse, Romans 12:2, "Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking." How easy it is today for secular culture to invade and dictate the culture of our own homes! 

How can we create a healthy culture in our homes?

1. We must be intentional.

The word “intentional” means, “done on purpose; deliberate.” A healthy culture in your home will NOT happen by accident. You must intentionally create the culture that you desire in your home. As parents (especially husbands) you must commit not to be the cultural thermometer of your home, but to be the thermostat! Too often we simply go with the phrase, “Know what is going on in your home and with your kids.” However, I’m afraid we’re selling ourselves short. Don’t just know the climate; set the climate. 

In the chaos of our family dinners (remember, four kids under the age of 6) two things are guaranteed to happen. First, we will hear from everyone on their “highs” and “lows” from the day, and secondly, we will work on our memory verses (henceforth, the dramatic presentation from Cali of Romans 10:17). This is one simple but yet intentional way we work on setting the atmosphere that we want in our home.

2. It is better caught than taught.

The best way to teach the desired culture of your home is simply to live it. Some of my favorite memories of childhood are walking into the living room to find my mother reading her Bible. I’ll never forget opening my father’s door on many occasions to inquire of why he was crying, to find him on his knees in prayer. If we want a healthy culture in our home, don’t just teach and talk— reach and walk! Live it out! 

3. It will not be easy.

While speaking to thousands of young leaders, noted author and minister Chuck Swindoll said this simple yet powerful statement: “It’s always hardest at home.” There are no shortcuts in creating a healthy culture for our homes. It is hard work, but it must become our priority. 

Jeanne Mayo said, “It is precisely the people and the values that are the most precious in your life that the enemy will try to make the most common.”  As this year comes to a close, may we commit to evaluate the priority and culture of our home. To me, that is relevant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Our House

By Charles G. Scott

Honestly, the topic of this issue, “Healthy Families,” is not a personal, strong area of ministry. While the subject has been the focus of Married Couple’s Retreats, pastoral sermons, and some special speaking occasions, it remains less studied and pursued than many others. So, instead of writing about a theoretical context from someone else’s perspective, please take a few moments to read what it would be like to come over to our house and visit for a while (emphasis on  “a while,” because you don’t want to wear out your welcome!

Our house is reflective of who we are. It is not pretentious but designed on function. It is casual and relaxed. There are no works of art, but plenty of family photos. Our house centers on our family. The timeline of years gone by bring back precious memories and delightful stories. Our 4-year-old granddaughter, Baylee, was looking at family photos and asked her dad, “Dad, why did you wear those great big glasses?” She was looking at me and thought it was Eric. Some of the photos in our house need updated.

Our house is designed for conversation, with several sitting areas. We like to dialogue, a fancy word for talk! We like to discuss ideas, concepts, take positions, and try to prove our points. For some, this would be arguing, but in our house it is sharpening the mind and seeking better thinking skills. Chassity (Eric’s wife) seldom joins in these family discussions. Josh (Michelle’s husband) fits right in.

Our house has two tables, for eating and playing games, two of the most important things in life. Our family traits score high in competition, and “ruthless” would describe most of us when it comes to board games. OK, cutthroat? The competition seldom gets out of hand, but is indicative of people who are passionate and driven.  We like to be together and do life together.

Our house is reflective of our loyalty. It is easy to see our faith in Jesus Christ by the symbols of our faith. A copy of The Pentecostal Messenger usually adorns the coffee table. Yes, Arkansas Razorback memorabilia can be seen in the family room. No matter how bad the team, our hearts remain steadfast and unmovable. There is always next season.

Our house is our sanctuary, an escape. It is a sacred place to us where we shut out the things of distraction and focus on what really matters most—each other. It can be quiet most days with the rich aroma of fresh ground dark roast coffee filling the air, and loud when we are all gathered for a family event.

The thing I love the most about our house is that the focus is always outward, on someone else. It is the guest being hosted, the friends visiting, or the grandkids playing that is the focal point. The priority of our house is serving. Hopefully, serving is the focal point of our life. Hopefully, your house sees that eye to eye.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

'I Can'-fidence

Teena Skiles

Have any of you parents been involved in a conversation with your child such as this?

"I can't do it, Mom (or Dad."
"Yes, you can."
"No, I can't."
"Yes, you can!"

I have cut the conversation down by at lease five "cant's" and six "cans!" I have been guilty of "conning" my girls into having confidence. Are you guilty as well? Have you said things like, "OK, if you do this, then I will buy that for you," or "OK, you can do this, and if you do, I promise I will (fill in the blank)."

It's "Con" vs. "Can!" Let us commit to pray that God's true confidence will be OVER our children and IN them.

We recently went to our youngest daughter's first softball game. She was quite upset that she actually had to play a game, because she thought she had "just signed up to practice." She actually has very skilled eye-hand coordination and enjoyed practicing and working with her father and sisters in the front yard to develop her skills. But something happened when she found out that she had to perform in a game -- against another team, while a crowd was watching! Something inside her told her she wasn't good, enough, made her nervous, made her want to quit BEFORE she ever set foot on the field. I know for a fact that we did not speak that into her thoughts or being. That tells me the enemy, the devil, starts out lying to our children while they are young and impressionable.

That sounds exactly like the enemy I know. He will strike our children with fear and inferiority so they will never get in the game... the game of life! That's where we moms come in! Go ahead, moms, give me a fist pump and a big "YES!" We have the power of prayer to establish our children in God's true confidence, confidence that will cause them to know who they are and Who is on their side. We repeat Philippians 4:13 together every morning on the way to school: "I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me." It's not a coincidence that we say that together; we speak that on purpose!

Proverbs 14:26 says, "In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence and his children will have refuge" (NASB). I want to raise strong, confident ladies who will fear the Lord and will therefore be safe as His Word promises.

Holding hangs and swinging our arms while walking to the dugout, my youngest daughter and I spoke the words of Philippians 4:13 again, so she could say herself "I CAN." We also spoke positive words like, "Today is about doing your best, today is about meeting new friends; today is about having fun; today is about trying hard; and today is about making someone smile." By the second inning, she ran to where I was sitting, put her mouth up to my ear and whispered, "Mom, I'm not nervous anymore." She ran back to the dugout and confidently go back in the game.

Another lesson learned... praise the Lord!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Healthy Families/Healthy Society

Loyd Naten

When I think of the word "family" I think of going to Mama's for dinner, getting together for holidays, sharing in one another's successes, or standing with them when things are tough. I think of the intimacy I have with those I love who are a vital part of my life. I've found through the years that changes occur, miles may separate us, but distance does not sever that strong bond known as "family ties". 

The truth is, that's the way God designed and ordained family to be -- a type of Christ and the Church, bound together in love, unity, vision, and purpose. However, sad but true, the present concept of marriage and family in America is viewed (in many aspects) to be in devastating contrast to God's design for family. How sad! 

The fact is, stable, healthy families are major security blocks for our society. Should these vital "building blocks" begin to decay and crumble, it is most certain that the entire structure of society will also decompose. Another definition for decompose is "rot"! All we have to do is to look around us, watch the evening news to see a lot of rottenness in our world today! Sad to say, but true, society is nothing more than the home amplified

It was God-fearing, Christ-honoring, self-sacrificing, hard-working families that were bound together in unity of purpose that built America! Yet, today division seems to be the norm, and it is tearing our nation apart. 

It was hard-working, unified families who obeyed the call of God on their lives and literally built The Pentecostal Church of God! Children who were brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, whose parents were true examples of godly love and dedication to the divine cause of Christ, also became building pioneers under the banner of the PCG! No sacrifice seemed too great, no vision unattainable for our family of founders of the yester-years. Today, the kingdom of God is still being built on the building blocks of prayer, faith, unrelenting vision, sacrifice, and hard work of families who are in on accord with each other and with God

It is alarming, even a frightening reality, that the family has become a prime target of a Satanic attack. His attack began in the Garden of Eden. Any rules that God has created and ordained and commissioned for humanity to live by immediately becomes Satan's objective to destroy. Foundation blocks, such as belief in the Bible and trust in God, honesty, clean living, at every level of life that is in accord with biblical principles are under attack and must be recognized! It is not what the Supreme Court rules, or any level of government permits, or society accepts, if it is not based on the teaching of the Word of God, it is unacceptable by God! 

It is obvious that moral values are rapidly shifting away from God's rule of living-- the "abundant life rule" that only comes from being a follower of Christ. While the loss of a moral compass (in the world in general) is troubling, how much more should it be troubling when this loss also becomes evident among the Christian family who is commissioned to be the salt and light in the world? 

Moms and dads, the "salt and light" factor plays a most vital role in family life. Salt, as we know, is a preservative as well as seasoning for food. (Oh, how icky those breakfast eggs would taste without a sprinkle of salt!). And light, as we well know, dispels darkness, shows light on our pathway, and is essential to life itself. 

Does not the definition of salt and light, which God says we are to be, clearly reveal what our children need from their mom and dad to form a well preserved family unit? Children need to be literally "preserved" in the truths of God's Word. They need to experience a well-seasoned life pleasurable togetherness, making enduring memories that will live on and on, being ever thankful for being a part of a family functioning in the Light Gospel of Christ. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

8 Ways Screens Are Ruining Your Family's Life

By Lori Leibovich

For her new book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, Catherine Steiner-Adair EdD -- a clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard, a school consultant, and a therapist in private practice -- interviewed more than one thousand children between the ages of 4 and 18 to find out how technology was impacting their relationships and their social and emotional lives. What Steiner-Adair discovered was neither surprising, nor comforting: Technology is becoming a kind of “co-parent;” too much screen time is impeding childhood development; and parents’ obsession with their devices is harming communication with their children and even fracturing families.

Just in time for back to school, The Huffington Post asked Steiner-Adair to tell us the eight essential things parents with children of all ages need to know about screens.

1. Don’t put your baby in front of a screen. Ever.

If you’re not convinced by the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, then consider this: “We don’t know yet the chemical interaction between a smartphone and a baby’s brain," says Steiner-Adair. One 2010 Danish study of 28,000 children found that exposure to cell phones before and after birth seemed to lead to an increased risk for behavioral problems. Beyond that, one of the most important skills a baby needs to learn, Steiner-Adair says, is how to calm herself down. “If you hand [a young child] a screen of any kind when they’re frustrated, you’re teaching them how not to self-soothe,” she says. “You’re handing them a stimulant. Your baby’s brain is brilliant and what it needs is good stimulation and soothing from you. You are the best app for your child.”

2. And think hard about putting your toddler in front of one, too.

“A child only has from 0-5 to develop neurologically what we call the sensorium -- that’s the part of the brain where pre-literacy, kinesthetic movement, and language development happens,” says Steiner-Adair. This kind of brain development takes place through outdoor play, building, dancing, skipping, coloring -- all activities involving multi-sensory engagement. This kind of healthy engagement is basically the opposite of passively swiping a finger across a screen, says Steiner-Adair. While she acknowledges that decent games and apps exist -- Steiner-Adair directs parents toCommon Sense Media’s website for recommendations -- she insists that replacing play “IRL” with play on a screen is not what children this age need.

3. Teachers can tell if your child is getting too much screen time.

Educators interviewed for Steiner-Adair’s book said that kids who spend too much time in front of screens play differently -- and less creatively -- than other children. Those who act out “Mario Brothers” or “Angry Birds” in the school yard aren’t tapping into their capacity to create their own narratives, says Steiner-Adair. “Instead of saying ‘look how high I can go’ when they’re on the swings, they say ‘look, I got to the next level!’” she says. Teachers also told the author that students who play a lot of video games don’t seem to have as much patience to sit still in the classroom, especially when they are being read to. “The capacity for attention doesn’t develop as well when kids are used to interacting with a screen that’s instantly gratifying, instantly stimulating, and provides them what the answers for the next level,” says Steiner-Adair.

4. Your kids hate your screens.

Steiner-Adair says that what came up again and again during her interviews with hundreds of kids was how frustrated, sad and angry they were about having to compete with screens for their parents’ attention. “Children hate it when their parents pick them up and are on their phones and don’t even turn to say, ‘Hi honey, how was your day?’ Instead they’re giving them the shhh one minute signal which basically says ‘you’re not as important to me as whoever this other person on the phone is.’ Car rides to and from school as well as dinner, bath and reading time -- parents should be present and phone-free for all of these daily rituals, she says. “Kids do not need our undivided attention all day long, but they do in those real-life moments of talking and reading and doing the hard work of parenting -- dealing with meltdowns, teaching them how to pick up their clothes.” The bottom line: If you think your kids don’t notice that you’re distracted, you’re deluding yourself. One of Steiner-Adair’s subjects told her, “I miss the olden days when families were more important.”

5. Just because we can be connected to work 24/7 doesn’t mean we shouldbe.

Many parents argue that part of why they’re plugged in during family time is because they feel they have to be available to their employers. “You either sacrifice being a good mother or father and the very limited time you have to raise your children -- or you sacrifice and risk your job to support your ability to live,” says Steiner-Adair. “This is not healthy for anybody and it’s a no-win choice.” Being constantly on call or being afraid of missing something if you don’t check your work email means you’re preoccupied and stressed when you should be enjoying your family. Steiner-Adair says that if the modern workplace is ever going to change, parents must ask employers for modulated schedules and speak up about their need to unplug.

6. Screens aren’t good for your marriage. And that’s not good for your kids.

Steiner-Adair asks parents to answer this question honestly: “First thing in the morning, do you roll over in bed and look at your phone and scroll through it -- or do you roll over and cuddle your partner?” Kids are acutely aware of their parents’ disengagement from each other. In her interviews with children, many spoke to Steiner-Adair about their parents’ constant bickering over screen rules (such as no phones at the table) and said that they view their parents as hypocrites when they see them flouting the family guidelines they’ve set up. “Kids see parents talking to each other about something important and then one of them answers a call mid-conversation,” she says. “One parent has dropped the other parent. What does it say to kids about how we connect to the people we love the most?”

7. In order to be a good parent, you need to take care of yourself.

“Adults use screens the same way kids do -- to avoid interaction and to avoid relying on our own inner resources," says Steiner-Adair. Increasingly when parents have a few minutes to recharge they are using that time to browse Facebook, send texts, etc. “It’s so much easier than picking up a magazine or putting your feet up on the couch and having a mini moment of relaxation -- or going for a walk and getting some fresh air-- all these things that we know actually make us feel better.” Some parents may feel that browsing Instagram or scanning the news is actually a calming way to take a break, but Steiner-Adair is skeptical. “Checking your email is not relaxing,” she says. ”Holding a tiny little hand held screen is not visually relaxing.”

8. Sorry, but you really don’t know what your kids are doing online. But that doesn’t mean you should give up trying.

Steiner-Adair points to a June 2013 McAfee study, “Digital Deception: Exploring the Online Disconnect Between Parents and Kids,” as evidence that parents are often clueless about what their kids are doing online -- and says that their ignorance is seriously harming their kids. Among the study’s findings: 80 percent of parents don’t know how to check up on what their kids are doing online. Not only that, 74 percent “simply admit defeat and claim that they do not have the time or energy to keep up with their children and hope for the best,” according to the study’s authors. But Steiner-Adair says defeat is not an option when you consider all of the damaging content kids can easily stumble upon online. While interviewing kids for her book, Steiner-Adair says, several teen boys asked her questions about sexual scenes they’d seen online. “They would say, ‘can you help me understand why a woman would want to be choked while having sex? Why would she want to be peed on?’” Indeed, the McAfee study found that over 57 percent of 13-23 year olds use the Internet to search sexual topics while only 13 percent of parents believe they do.

But Steiner-Adair sees hope in at least one of the McAfee stats: Nearly half of the teens surveyed said they would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching. “This means we can have an impact,” Steiner-Adair says. In addition to making sure that all computer use is done in a public place in the home, Steiner-Adair recommends that parents and kids sign an agreement that clearly states acceptable and unacceptable online behavior – and post it prominently. “The reason you’re supposed to sign it and post it is to remind kids, but also so that when other kids come over it makes it easier for your child to say, ‘oh no, I’ll get in too much trouble if I go to that site. See, I have the worst parents in the word," Steiner-Adair says. “That’s what you want your kids to say. You want to be that worst parent in the world.”

Copyright © 2013 Lori Leibovich

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rediscovering and Enjoying Your Family

by Vernell Ingle 

Relax, take a deep breath, close your eyes, clear your mind (don’t nod off) and go back in time. Now recall one of the happiest memories of your child
hood with your family. Usually there are two common features when recalling such warm experiences. First, it probably took place outdoors; and secondly, it was simple. More than likely, it was not an elaborate or expensive event, but nonetheless, it was fun. Four days in the summer of ’58, when I was 9, our family went camping for the first time, and I’ve never forgotten that experience. Near the coast of California, in the redwoods, playing on the beach, hiking, eating tasty meals around the campfire, exploring, and just enjoying the great outdoors—it was simple, but it made a huge impact on my life.

When I grew up and had a family of my own, guess what our favorite thing to do was? Some of our most memorable family experiences have been our annual camping trips. Obviously, not everyone enjoys camping, but there are all kinds of simple pleasures in life that families can enjoy together. Whether it’s a camping trip, playing catch in the yard, or a family game night, the important thing is that healthy families spend time together. Healthy families not only take time for each other, but they enjoy their time together. This doesn’t just happen; they make it happen. Such families are just as busy as any other family, but their family is top priority.

A young boy with destructive behavior was asked by the family counselor, “If you could have anything you wanted, what kind of reward would you be willing to work for?” The boy responded without hesitation, “Most of all, I would like to go on a fishing trip with my dad.” Making family top priority requires a mind-set. This means that we will do whatever is necessary to provide adequate time for our family. What time we do spend together should entail both quality and quantity of time. Imagine paying good money for a steak dinner and the waiter brings you a one-inch square steak. You obviously protest, but the waiter responds by saying, “It’s not the quantity but the quality that counts.” No pun intended, but you are not going to “buy” that. In fact, when it’s all over, the waiter might be wearing a beef eye patch. Meaningful family relationships require both quality and quantity of time.

The February 2006 Family News from James Dobson reported that Americans are the most overworked and vacation starved people in the industrialized world, and that we are working ourselves to death. Obviously, this is a major contributor to the breakdown of the family. The home ends up being a boarding house where family members just eat and sleep. Dobson quoted George Barna in regards to this trend, “The life of each family member is usually so jam-packed that the opportunity to spend time together doing unique activities—talking about life, visiting special places, playing games, and sharing spiritual explorations—has to be scheduled in advance. Few do so.” In our fast-paced, high-tech, harried lifestyle, spending quality time together as a family may seem like a monumental task. The fact is, it is doable. The question is how bad do we want it? If your family is top priority, you’ll take the time. Here are five practical suggestions to rediscovering and enjoying time with your family.

1. Initiate activities that promote communication. This may mean that we need to curb TV watching, video games, cell phone usage, computer time, and whatever else that promotes isolation. This does not mean that all of these new technologies are inherently evil—they just need to be controlled. We want to make sure that we are not sacrificing interpersonal family relationships. Enjoy more table games or interactive Wii games where a family can participate together. A great place to start would be to take meals together whenever possible. In our home, Sunday afternoon meals were taken around the table. That was our special time together. The TV remained off, the answering machine was turned on, and it communicated loud and clear that our family time was important. This continued after our children married; it just turned into a “tribal meal” rather than just a family meal! Go for family walks and or take trips to the park. Look for creative ways to provide times and places where you can talk. Have family councils where you involve the whole family. Take time for discussion and questions and answers. Deal with areas of strengths and weaknesses in the family and what each one can do to improve family life. You might be surprised at what you’ll discover.

2. Build each other up. It’s easy to criticize, put down, and nail to the floor whenever anyone does something wrong. But we also need to be quick to praise and note when someone does something right. We can look for ways to express our appreciation and encourage one another rather than take each other for granted. As a boy, when our family was visiting my aunt and uncle, I was doing some homework. My uncle just walked up, looked over my shoulder, and simply said, “You’ve got great penmanship.” That’s all he said and walked away. A simple comment, a brief moment, but it stayed with me, and I never forgot it. It encouraged me to do even better, and I did. Someone once said, “Impression without expression leads to depression.” There are all kinds of things we can do to encourage and build each other up. You can use sticky notes, text messaging, even old fashioned snail mail!

Celebrate your lives together. Make special days a big deal, such as birthdays. We used a special plate that was given to us from Josh McDowell, which read, “You are special and loved,” with a Scripture engraved on it. At different times, each family member was given that plate to use for special occasions in their lives. This past Christmas most of our family was with us and we didn’t have enough holiday plates to go around. So, I lovingly got the plate down and used it for myself—I don’t understand why the family reacted the way they did? Be involved in the lives of your children. If possible, both parents should attend parent-teacher conferences and the school’s open house. This sends a message loud and clear to your children that they are important. As parents we can build a “complex” or create confidence in our kids.

3. Promote family roots and identity. It is important to stay in touch with extended family. There is a sense of family rootlessness and disconnect today like never before. Families are busy and more mobile than ever before. Such rootlessness, disconnect, and mobility can contribute to insecurity and instability in one’s life. Make time for grandparents and great grandparents, and allow them to relay their stories. Go through the old photo-albums together and update. Visit the places from your past. Learn the history of your family and create a heritage corner with photos of previous generations. Years ago our family took a day, packed a picnic lunch, and visited all the places where we, our parents, and their great grandparents lived. We actually came across the house where my grandparents, our children’s great grandparents, lived. I couldn’t believe it was still standing. I got out of the car because the house was vacant, but there was a city truck there. An elderly gentleman met me, and after explaining why I was there, he excitedly claimed that he knew my grandpa and the Ingle family. Amazingly, he told us that within three days the city was going to raze the house. I was glad we took that day to share with our kids some of their family history. This gives our children a sense of identity and connection.

4. Do out-of-the-ordinary things. Don’t be afraid to get down and crazy with your kids at times. Take a family skip day. Keep a kid out of school and go do something special (this should not be common practice, since I’m married to a school teacher). Get the sleeping bags out and have everyone sleep in the family room or pitch the tent in the backyard. Have an all night video or game night. There were times our boys would bring their friends over and they would all bring their Risk games over (military strategy game to conquer the world). On these Friday nights we would have a Risk tourney that would last most of the night. At the beginning there might be four games going at once in different rooms of the house. Even after our sons were gone, their friends would still come over to play games at our house. The important thing to remember here is to break up the routine, make room for surprises, and just have fun.

5. Build life-long memories. Chuck Swindoll once said that we are to build a “museum of memories.” Such memories instill a sense of well being in our hearts. Take those vacations, make it a family affair, and plan ahead with the whole gang. Be involved with your children in their extra-curricular activities. I had the joy of coaching all four sons their first couple of years in little league. Establish a weekly family time and protect it! Establish meaningful traditions, especially during the holidays. Our annual Christmas treks to Santa Rosa, California from Joplin, Missouri remain one of our most memorable family experiences. We would drive straight through (the record was just over 31 hours!) The kids would see who could stay up the longest with dad. On one such occasion, two of the boys were still awake about 1 a.m. as we were crossing the panhandle of Texas. I had classical music playing softly while the rest of the family was asleep. Off in the distance there were flashes of lightening streaking across the sky. The lightening flashes seemed to be in perfect synchronization with the classical music. It was as if God was putting on a music video just for us. It was an awesome experience, and we will never forget that heavenly light show. But a tradition can also be something as simple as “waffle Saturdays.” Establish traditions, for they are important to family health and individual well-being.

Years ago the late Senator Paul Tsongas, after learning he had cancer, re-evaluated his time with his wife and kids. After a rare meaningful evening with his family, and realizing there may not be many more evenings like this, later said, “Nobody on his deathbed ever said regretfully, “I wish I had spent more time on the job.” Time with family is the most precious gift that we can give. It is precious because you cannot get it back once it is gone. My wife and I now live a great distance from our immediate and extended family. The walls of our house are plastered with family pictures through the years. There are many times I sit at our dining room table and ruminate as I look at these pictures and think, as us older types do, “Where has the time gone?”  

Today, families are being torn apart by all kinds of external pressures. That is why we must be proactive in guarding our time with family. The choice is ours.

“Through wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
By knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.” 
(Proverbs 24:3, 4, NKJV)

John Dreschas was quoted in Delores Curran’s book, Traits of a Healthy Family, “Now is the time to love. Tomorrow the baby won’t be rocked, the toddler won’t be asking why, the schoolboy won’t need help with his lesson, nor will he bring his school friends home for some fun. Tomorrow the teenager will have made his major decision. Love today!