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Silence or counsel?

My mother hardly spoke of it. But when she did, even in old age, hurt haunted its telling.

On a Sunday morning, right after worship, Mom took my two brothers and me to visit her parents. I was in second grade. One brother was in kindergarten, and the other was three.

The Adams’ farm was our Disney World. It thrilled us with live acts starring chickens, dogs, pigs, and cows. Its mud and muck, ladders and lattices were playgrounds. Adventures always awaited in the barn, haymow, machine shed, and an assortment of outbuildings.

But not on this day. Mom warned, “Do not leave the house. Do not get your good clothes dirty.”

Of course, my kindergarten-age brother and I chafed under being tortured in my grandparents’ living room by adult conversation. When we realized that Mom was fully engaged with her parents, we tiptoed toward the door and eased into the backyard.

We were escapees for only a few minutes. Transformation to ragamuffin doesn’t require longer. Our shoes were caked with mud. Our pants glowed with grass stains. Our white shirts had smears of something unspeakable. Mom’s voice shattered Adventureland. “James Allan! David Dean! Get in here this instant.”

Punishment should have been swift and painful. But Grandpa stepped between Mom and us. “Fran,” he said, “you should have realized this would happen. If you didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty, you should have had them change.”

An instant later we were on our way home. Grandpa saved us from the hurt of a spanking, but Mom experienced the hurt of feeling disrespected and shamed by her father.

Mom’s story urges me to evaluate how well I show respect for my daughters’ parenting. My daughters are great parents. I admire their wisdom, commitment, and sacrifice. However, from time to time, I do feel I have advice to offer. Then I struggle with choosing counsel over silence. I know my Savior’s advice about “speaking the truth in love” and saying “what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:15,29). Gratitude for his grace prompts me to honor his words, but applying his advice is challenging.

Several questions help with that challenge.

  • Is there a risk of significant harm? (By the way, I’ve never answered that question with yes.)
  • Is this the right time and the right situation for sharing my “wisdom”?
  • How can I give advice in a gentle way that shows love and respect?
  • Have I put the best construction on the situation? Do I understand the backstory?
  • Have I asked, “Is there a way I can help?”
  • Is this a difference in parenting styles or is this a parenting problem?
  • Have I taken my emotional pulse?
  • Have I asked Jesus for advice? Have I talked this over with my wife?

Now it’s your turn. Parents and grandparents, have a conversation.

James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their 10 grandchildren.

How can we help our children cope with disappointment?

I asked my writers’ club to weigh in on this article. The club only has three members: my two nine-year-old granddaughters and me. We meet once a month over hot chocolate or coffee. I buy.

“Would you like to write an article with me?” I asked. “The article is about helping third-graders deal with disappointment. I’ll see that you are included in the byline.” The whole club cheered in approval.

We started by drawing pictures of disappointment. What appeared on our worksheets were drawings of Earth fractured into two pieces, a sobbing heart, and a skull and crossbones.

Then we made up some synonyms. The club introduced me to sorpair (sorrow+dispair), desanguish (despair and anguish), and dishappy.

We talked about things that cause feelings of disappointment. The list started with frivolous items (e.g., when McDonald’s ice cream machine doesn’t work). But it soon turned to real disappointments (when I ask God to help me to stop worrying but he doesn’t; when I make a promise and can’t keep it; when I work hard and realize that I did something wrong or did it for nothing; when someone is mean to me).

“So what’s the best way to handle disappointment?” I asked. Their answers were insightful. Take some quiet time, they advised: “Curl up on your bed and eat ice cream or doughnuts. I go to my room and think. Watching videos can be good.”

Then the advice shifted to involving others: “Finding someone to give you hugs and kisses works.” I was glad to hear, “Don’t give up; try again.” Best of all I rejoiced that my granddaughters counseled, “Read the Bible. Pray to God. Sing hymns.”

I had been mulling a motto in the days before the club met. Often when disappointment strikes kids it’s because they encounter one of life’s many unfairnesses. “When you are disappointed,” I asked, “how helpful is this saying, ‘Life is unfair but God is there’?”

One club member answered, “It doesn’t exactly help me, especially when I’m worried.” Bless her for her honesty. But she also penned on her worksheet, “1 Thessalonians 5:18” (“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”). Bless her once more.

The other club member wrote a poem, “When life hands you some sadness And you know you’re falling fast, Remember that on Judgment Day God will take us home at last.”

How can we help our children or grandchildren deal with disappointment? Invite them to talk about it. They may end up encouraging you through your own disappointments.

Special guest authors Ellie Lambrecht and Cadence Learman joined contributing author James Aderman for this article. 

Let your child feel disappointed

One of the great challenges we face as parents is watching our children suffer or struggle. It is easy to want to make everything comfortable for them. Disappointment is a part of this life on earth. We have expectations. When reality doesn’t match up to our expectations, the discrepancy is disappointment.

I think the very first thing that we must do is let our children feel disappointed. We live in a culture that believes everything should feel good. Disappointment is a bad feeling. Often as parents, seeing our children uncomfortable makes us uncomfortable. We say things like, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Or “Look at the bright side.” The problem with this is that they don’t learn to live with or in the disappointment. We tell them to change their disappointment.

Jesus provided a beautiful example of sitting in disappointment when he wept for Jerusalem. He was very disappointed. He sat in the disappointment and cried. His Father didn’t come to him and say, “It’s okay, Jesus. I’ll make it better. Don’t feel that way.” His Father, our heavenly Father, let him cry.

So how do I teach my children to deal with disappointment? The first thing I do is model what it is like to deal with disappointment. If I am disappointed because something didn’t go my way or someone hurt me, I tell them how I am feeling. I don’t want to hide it from them. I want them to see that I get hurt. I want them to see that I pray in the midst of it. I ask them to pray for their momma as I struggle.

As challenging as it is, don’t try to fix their disappointment. Talk through it. We talk about the expectations and the reality of the situation. Were our expectations too high? Did someone not meet our expectation? Is this an opportunity to show forgiveness? Even if the expectation was unrealistic, the feeling of disappointment is very real. Teach children to put words to their feelings. Let them hear you say you are disappointed. Have them say out loud that they are disappointed.

Finally, let them grieve the situation. Let them be sad or hurt. Invite our God into the hurt and sadness. Let the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do the true healing.