Joey's school grades are dropping. What's going on? And why are so many kids having behavioral problems? Parents want to know. Is life tougher for our kids than it was for us?
The search for answers may lead us to uncomfortable spots—our homes and our workplaces. Since 1969, research tells us, parents' time with children has diminished an alarming 22 hours per week. And according to Harvard researcher S. Jody Heyman, parental involvement matters. When parents are unable to deal with school difficulties, educational achievement falls, and behavioral problems increase.
The increasing demands of work are taking a toll on American families. Compared with a decade ago, people work 10 hours more per week. How to balance work and family is a hot discussion topic.
When work intrudes on family time, children suffer. "Quality time" is a misnomer. Children need quantity when it comes to parent involvement. The amount of time invested is directly related to the degree of psychological adjustment.
We invited a panel of teens into our adult Sunday school class to discuss the topic "How the media influence our families." Tom (not his real name) was the darling of every mom in the group. His love and respect for his father brought tears to our eyes.
"My dad is always there. He listens, guides and helps me make decisions about what to watch and listen to. It's not so much that he's telling me what to do but that he knows what's happening in my life. I know he cares. And when I screw up, he always prays with me."
Tom makes it sound simple. But the opposite of his experience—the lack of parental supervision—is directly linked to our kids' involvement in drugs, alcohol, delinquency and sex. And it's not coincidental that more children get into major trouble at home between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m—the time of day most likely to be unsupervised by working parents.
Parents from all socioeconomic strata are distressed. Unfortunately, the response by some parents is to lose interest in their kids. A study by a Temple University psychologist found that almost a third of high school students' parents simply disengage from their kids.
The solution far too often in the white suburban church is to chide working mothers. But studies show that children do better academically when mothers have good jobs but also have the flexibility to take time off to meet their needs. And for the working poor and single parents, having a job is not a matter of choice but of survival.
So what can be done to ease the tension between work and family time commitments? Make whatever changes you can to spend time with your children and be involved in their lives. Here are some suggestions:
Turn off media and minimize adult distractions.
Be less selfish about your own pursuits. Focus instead on improving your relationship with your child.
Find employment that will allow for flexible time schedules, jobs close to home, telecommuting, home business or schedules that accommodate the needs of your children. This may mean a pay cut or lack of promotion, but the trade-offs are worth it.
Schedule parent-teacher conferences in the evenings, during your lunch hour or on breaks.
Network with your children's friends' parents. Don't allow children to be unsupervised after school hours. Arrange a rotating supervision schedule or a time at a local YMCA or community program.
Become emotionally involved with your children. Don't allow work to drain you to the point of exhaustion.
Stay spiritually strong as a family. This requires praying together, reading the Word and intimately walking with your Father.
Though you may feel overwhelmed by work and family demands, simple changes such as turning off the TV every night can produce powerful effects. Ask God to speak to you if changes are needed, particularly in the area of work. Then trust Him to help you find ways to make those changes.
Dr Judith Wallerstein is a respected psychologist known for her research on the long-term effects of divorce. Her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study, has created a media stir. Divorce, she confirms, is not an event children quickly get over. In fact, the effects of divorce on children are profound and cumulative.
In her study, Wallerstein followed 130 children from 60 middle-class families in northern California for 25 years. Her findings are depressing when it comes to how children of divorce fare. These now adult children tend to have lower-paying jobs and fewer years of college than their parents; unstable father-child relationships; a history of vulnerability to drugs and alcohol in adolescence; fears about commitment and divorce; and negative memories of the legal system that forced custody and visitation.
But the most distressing finding was that children of divorce do not get better with time. Instead they develop problems that tend to peak when they are in their 20s and 30s. Wallerstein and co-authors Julie Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee report that because, as children, they lacked healthy models for marriage, they often have problems with commitment and intimacy as adults.
Children, it appears, have very different experiences with divorce than their divorcing parents. While the latter go through periods of high conflict and emotional pain, they tend to heal within three years of the experience. Unfortunately, the effects of divorce on children linger for life.
Many Christians have applauded the results of Wallerstein's longitudinal study, feeling it supports the need for a lifelong marital covenant. However, not everyone in the body of Christ is rejoicing. In fact, one group of believers feels more weighed down than ever.
When the divorce findings were released, I took a summary copy to a Christian divorce-support group I was facilitating. The group members' reactions bordered on hostile.
I heard comments such as: "I don't want to hear the research findings. It's like hammering another nail in the coffin." "How many times do we have to be told divorce hurts children? The church already does a great job reminding us of that!" "I know divorce has negative consequences. I live with them every day."
The groups' message was, "Stop telling us how bad divorce is." They were tired of being judged or seen as failures. What they wanted was hope.
So here was my suggestion to them. Don't ignore the findings because you feel judged by them. Be informed of the possible ramifications in order to know how to pray.
Do this: List out the possible consequences of divorce from the research. Then take each one and pray over the related part of your child's life.
For example, take the finding that says children of divorce have difficulty with love and commitment later in life. Pray specifically about this. Ask God to break that pattern in your child's life.
Strengthen your relationship with Him so that your child sees a healthy model of love and commitment to a heavenly Father. Trust God to do as He promised--restore what was stolen.
Children don't have to repeat negative family patterns if you identify them early and begin to make changes. Here is a simple way to pray:
"Lord, I break dysfunction (mention the specific difficulty) over my child now. The enemy is under my feet, and I'm telling him to take his hands off my child.
"Lead this child into the knowledge of Your love. Help him or her experience it in such a way that there will never be doubt about the power of love.
"Help me be obedient in my covenant with You that I may be blessed. Let the intimate relationship I have with You as my Savior be the one that impresses and molds my child."
If you feel hopeless about the divorce research, take heart. God can take what's probable, according to the research, and render it impossible.
But you must know what you are up against in order to fight back with prayer. Use the findings to specifically target intercession for your children--and watch God's transforming power restore them to wholeness.
Today's parents must work harder than ever at building satisfying and affirming relationships with their kids. When I was younger, parents didn't have to depend as much on communication and closeness to keep their children in line. They could control and protect them, more or less, by the imposition of rules and the isolation of their circumstances.
My folks understood that system. They had a million rules. There were regulations and prohibitions for almost every imaginable situation. Coming from a minister's home in a very conservative church, I was not allowed to go to the movies (which were remarkably tame), or to dances, or even to use mild slang.
I remember being reprimanded once for saying, “Hot dog!” when I got excited about something. I'm still not sure what danger those words conveyed to my dad, but he warned me not to say them again.
There is a major difference between men who genuinely love their kids and males who sire children
The Old Testament prophet and miracle-worker Elisha lay sick in his bed. The king of Israel heard of his grave condition, rushed to his side and cried: "'O my father, my father'" (2 Kin. 13:14, NKJV).
Why is the king calling Elisha his father? They weren't related. But knowing the nature and character of a father, there is good reason for speculation.
Could it be that in the eyes of the king, Elisha's divine ability to perform miracles may not have been his most impressive quality? During a critical moment when the heart's deepest feelings emerge, the king doesn't call him man of God or prophet extraordinaire. He calls him what he knew him to be—father.
All across the U.S. there is a desperate need for men to take their place in the home. But there is a major difference between men who genuinely love their kids and males who sire children.
In fact, fatherhood is so special that God uses it as a metaphor to describe His relationship with us. Spiritual fathering is a rich blend of leadership, strength, courage, the ability to provide, compassion, wisdom and love found nowhere else in the human experience.
Though we must celebrate and appreciate brave single mothers who devote their energies to making sure their children are cared for, nurtured and developed, they are not fathers. There is a fundamental difference in the way fathers influence the lives of their children. I can remember how my father touched my life.
He was a factory worker stuck on the second shift. But on Friday nights he would come home, wake me up and carry me off to get our hair cut by a friend. Midnight trips to the barbershop did seem a bit unusual, but it was during those times that we would bond together. We'd sit and munch on a bag of goodies until his friend arrived.
But the real goodies were the words of wisdom my dad shared with me. He could make the world make sense with his stories, anecdotes and instructions. I actually thought he knew everything about everything.
My father spoke with authority, but he did it in a way that made me feel included and special rather than intimidated and fearful.
Sometimes I'd eavesdrop on his conversations with the barber. It was so exciting being in the middle of grown men talking business. But I discovered that he was also a father to his friends. They turned to him for counsel and advice.
Many years have passed since our last midnight meeting. My father now rests with the Lord. But I still remember his words, guidance and love. Some of the wisdom I'm credited with today is actually insight he passed down to me.
But the structure of families over the years has changed, and not for the better. Too many decisions, I fear, are made based on musical lyrics and people who are idolized in the culture.
The apostle Paul saw some similar problems in the church at Corinth. His observation prompted him to write: "Though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers" (1 Cor. 4:15).
We will never know why the king of Israel stood over the frail body of Elisha weeping and saying, "My father, my father." But we do know that walking on water, calling fire down from heaven and making axe heads float pales in comparison to the greater miracle—having access to and benefiting from a spiritual father.
I pray, Lord Jesus, that You send us more fathers and give us the wisdom to turn our hearts back to them.
Clifford L. Frazier and his wife, Pamela, co-pastor City of Life Christian Church in St. Louis. The Fraziers are the founders of The Battle for the Family marriage and family seminars, which they conduct both nationally and internationally.
Have you ever wondered why your kids are like night and day? One is a spitfire, and the other is a sweetheart. Many parents are interested in knowing what these differences will mean for their kids long-term, beyond everyday issues of discipline and family harmony.
Some time ago, I conducted a survey of more than 35,000 parents to help answer those questions. It is described in detail in my book Parenting Isn't for Cowards, but let me boil down 11 of the most important findings. These conclusions represent common traits and characteristics that may or may not apply to every child in each category. They indicate what typically happens with very strong-willed children (SWC) and very compliant children (CC) as the years unfold
Know the difference …
1. In the human family, there are nearly three times as many SWCs as CCs. Nearly every family with multiple children has at least one SWC.
2. Male SWCs outnumber females by about 5 percent, and female CCs outnumber males by about 6 percent. Thus, there is a slight tendency for males to have tougher temperaments and for females to be more compliant, but it can be, and often is, reversed.
3. The birth order has nothing to do with being strong-willed or compliant. These elements of temperament are basically inherited and can occur in the eldest or in the baby.
4. Most parents know they have an SWC very early. One-third can tell it at birth. Two-thirds know by the first birthday, and 92 percent are certain by the third birthday. Parents of compliant children know even earlier.
5. The temperaments of children tend to reflect those of their parents. Two strong-willed parents are more likely to produce tough-minded kids and vice versa.
6. Parents can expect a battle from SWCs in the teen years. Fully 74 percent of SWCs rebel significantly during adolescence.
7. Incredibly, only 3 percent of CCs experience severe rebellion in adolescence, and only 14 percent go into mild rebellion.
8. The best news for parents of SWCs is the rapid decrease in their rebellion in young adulthood. It drops almost immediately in the early 20s and then trails off from there.
9. The CC is much more likely to be a good student than the SWC. Nearly three times as many SWCs made Ds and Fs during the last two years of high school as did CCs. Approximately 80 percent of CCs were A and B students.
10. The CC is considerably better adjusted socially than the SWC.
11. The CC typically enjoys much higher self-esteem than the SWC. Only 19 percent of compliant teenagers either disliked themselves (17 percent) or felt extreme self-hatred (2 percent). Of the very strong-willed teenagers, however, 35 percent disliked themselves, and 8 percent experienced extreme self-hatred.
As every mother knows, there is no respite from parenting. When my teenage daughter became pregnant, I had to find a way to nurture her and confront my own issues at the same time.
My daughter Windsor had been sleeping a lot. She would come home from school and take long naps before dragging down to dinner.
She was keeping company with a young man who was pleasant, but had few ambitions. I didn't prevent them from seeing each other, but I certainly hoped their relationship would soon run its course.
Windsor accused me of being judgmental and not trusting her. Our relationship became volatile and frustrating. I was keenly disappointed and even questioned God about these developments.
One afternoon Windsor came and sat beside me on my bed. I saw fear in her big blue eyes as she confessed that she suspected she was pregnant. My mind raced. I tried to prepare myself for what lay ahead as I embraced her and told her it would be OK.
I was not sure that I was ready to deal with all that might come if we found out for sure. But a friend urged us to go for a pregnancy test immediately. I drove Windsor to the doctor's office.
My mind raced ahead. I wondered: How would we handle this? Could I protect her? And what about my own reputation? What would people say now? I was a single mom, and I was not prepared for this. This was not supposed to happen in our family-not to me, the daughter of Billy Graham.
The doctor confirmed that Windsor was pregnant. Still in the doctor's office, I looked into her eyes brimming with tears and held her tightly as moans escaped from her inner depths. Our lives had just been changed forever.
What Now? - What do you do with the information that your 16-year-old daughter is pregnant? I knew Windsor was wounded already. She was feeling guilty and ashamed, and I should not add to it. She did not need more rejection from me.
At some point, too, I would have to confront the many issues involved and face my responsibility. In spite of my love, tears, prayers and efforts at discipline, my child had made bad choices with serious consequences.
To ease my confusion, I reached for a devotional book, and it opened to Bible verses about peace. I read: “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thess. 3:16, NKJV); and “'My presence will go with you”' (Ex. 33:14). I felt a peace that was not my own.
Windsor made the first big decision herself-she did not want an abortion. I was thankful for that. When she informed her boyfriend of her pregnancy, he said he did not love her and did not want to marry her.
I contacted a local crisis pregnancy center to find out what resources they offered. Their counselors were understanding and helpful. They provided me with the names of unwed mother homes, but these were far away or seemed to be too rigid.
Windsor had heard enough preaching. She needed a balanced approach and did not want to be manipulated into a decision. The search was frustrating, and we clashed often.
As her mother, I was the safest person for her to take her anger out on-and she did. I love my daughter so deeply. I can honestly say I was never ashamed of her, although I certainly grieved for her and with her.
To show her how much I cared, I listened and listened some more. I heard things I did not want to hear. It was hurtful. Arguing was futile, but often I fell into that trap.
My daughter needed to be able to trust me with not only her angry outbursts but also her deepest thoughts and fears. I rarely let Windsor see my own anguish and doubts, which is one way I failed her.
Eventually I needed counseling. It forced me to take responsibility for my anger, doubt, guilt and shame.
The Need for Nurturing - Anyone involved with a child in an unplanned pregnancy becomes part of a complicated journey. I found others to lean on and allowed those I trusted to comfort me.
I was blessed to have a wonderful friend who was also a counselor by profession. Sara Dormon often provided a home, counseling and support for women with unplanned pregnancies. She took Windsor into her home, and walked her through the realities of parenting and adoption.
Although she changed her mind just about every hour, Windsor eventually decided to release her baby, a girl, for adoption. She was on a roller coaster of emotion to the very end.
My daughter pulled at my heartstrings and pushed all my buttons. Windsor needed me as never before. But she was more difficult than ever. There were days I didn't want to face another decision, argument or emotion. I didn't want stamina; I wanted out.
To keep going, I had to nurture myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. I did things I enjoyed. I went antiquing and read books for pleasure more than for self-improvement.
But despite my efforts, I became depressed. The help I received from wonderful doctors and counselors helped me make decisions and kept me from spiraling downward emotionally.
Anger, Blame and Forgiveness - My life was altered by Windsor's choice. People looked askance at her and at me. I was mad about this.
I was angry with these people, with Windsor, the young man, myself and with anyone else who happened to cross my path. My anger wasn't rational, and I frequently lashed out. I was angry with myself for being angry and needed to find someone to blame.
I blamed Windsor's father. He was not there for her as she grew up, and he rejected her early on. He left a huge void that she desperately wanted to fill. I felt, too, that the church let us down. And I was angry with God because He hadn't intervened.
Unloading the anger began when I made a conscious choice to forgive. I told God about my decision and asked for His help in carrying it out. The first day I had to remind myself of that decision 100 times.
Forgiveness does not mean being tolerant of bad behavior. Nor is it about denying reality, excusing sin, avoiding conflicts or ignoring the consequences.
Forgiveness looks the hurt straight in the eye, calls it for what it is and says to the offender: “I relinquish the right to make you pay. I give you the opportunity to make a new beginning.” It costs you.
My heart had been deeply wounded, and the healing process wasn't always smooth and pretty. But the more I practiced forgiveness, the greater my capacity to forgive became.
Asking forgiveness of Windsor, her father, God and others for my harshness and anger was the hardest and most humbling thing I ever had to do. But even if my daughter continued to hurt me with her choices, that couldn't stop me from making the decision to forgive every day. I saw it as my responsibility, and I didn't wait for Windsor to ask for my forgiveness-I gave it.
A Shared Journey - My daughter spent nine months thinking of very little else but the baby within her. Windsor loved this child more than anything.
I admired Windsor's courage. She knows this now, but back then she did not think I cared because I kept so many of my emotions to myself. Windsor needed me to cry with her, but I carried my grief inside.
After Windsor released her daughter for adoption, she attempted to return to her routine. She soon found that she didn't fit in with her former friends at school or at church. Naturally, she gravitated toward those who didn't make her feel bad about herself. She began dating again, and things deteriorated rapidly, to the point where she moved out of my home.
After nearly a year of this behavior, she informed me that she was pregnant again. I wept; I could not go through it again. I told her she was on her own this time, but I would not abandon her.
I remember how I felt when Windsor told me that she was not going to release this baby for adoption. I got up, hugged her and told her that I was glad she was settled with it and could move forward. When she left the room, I picked up my Bible, and my eyes fell on the verse, “The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1).
In my heart, I felt an unexplained peace that could only have come from God. Windsor and her baby boy belonged to Him, and He would take care of them.
The Scriptures tell us that God is with us in the midst of our heartaches. Jesus not only experienced life here on Earth in all its agony, but He also became human so that He could understand and comfort us in our need.
It has taken Windsor and me years to uncover all the areas have needed forgiveness. When, finally, she asked my forgiveness, we both cried. The healing continues today.
Ruth Graham is the third child of evangelist Billy Graham and author of several books, including In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart (Zondervan) and I'm Pregnant...Now What? (Regal), co-authored with Sara Dormon, Ph.D.