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How to hold on when times are hard

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by Jamie Roach

These are unprecedented times.  Knowing what our kids need from us during this crisis can be hard.  But being what our kids need us to be proves to be exponentially harder.  Like a friend recently emailed me, “They’re scared, out of their routines, cut off from their friends, unable to do the things that gave them confidence and a feeling of competence, no sense of when this might end and life will go back to ‘normal’.” 
I don’t believe simple answers will be enough. What our kids need in the midst of these anxious days is for us, as parents, to be a non-anxious presence. Our very presence can help to regulate their emotions, calm their fears and provide for them a way to view the future with hope. 
So how are we to be present with our children in the midst of COVID-19?  How can we HOLD them in the midst of this storm in a way that offers peace, hope and love? 
To HOLD our child is to communicate “You are loved” and “You are safe.”  Hold our children too tight by being overly anxious and overly protective (helicopter parents), and we risk strangling them.  On the other hand, if we loosen our grip too much, grant them too much freedom before they are ready, we risk dropping them (avoidant parenting).  But let us consider a third way to HOLD our children that teaches them how to be loved and how to love. As we HOLD our children, they discover who they are, that they belong and that their lives are significant. 


Honor the sacred within them.  

Honoring our children begins with the understanding that we were all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Our children may be small and young, but they are also holy and sacred.  The image of God is indelibly imprinted on their soul. Christians participate in the tangible life of Christ as the Christ in them connects with the Christ in others. This is the incarnation and begins by seeing and honoring Christ in our children. 
Honoring our children means we see them as they truly are and not just as we hope they one day will be.  Seeing our children as holy or sacred prevents us from relating to them as property, as something we own and control.  Rather, we see them as belonging to God and given to us as gifts to love and care for. As they grow, we learn we are responsible to our children but not for them. Honoring our children is about acknowledging and activating the agency within them in responsible ways.
What can you do during this time to honor your child? Many families are navigating new schedules and routines with online school. Consider giving your kids some agency in developing that schedule. Or for younger kids, allow them an appropriate number of options in other ways, such as choosing their breakfast or outfit for the day. (As a general rule, the younger the child, the fewer options they can handle).


Open your heart. 

The trouble with many parents isn’t that they are not perfect, but that they think they need to be.  Our kids do not need perfect parents; they do need parents who are present. In order to HOLD our kids, we must remove our masks and armour so we can relate to them as our authentic and vulnerable selves. Being our true selves includes being appropriately transparent with our own feelings of failure and wounds. 
Much of American culture has taught us to never show weakness because it might scare people away, or we fear they will use it against us. But I have learned that being honest with my kids about our shared humanity unites us. When we open up our hearts, we provide a safe space for our child to rest, we give them a place to call home in the midst of life’s storms. We become an anchor when the wind is strong and the waves are high. We don’t need to be perfect, just present as we really are.  
What can we do, as parents, during this time to open our hearts to our kids? For some, it might mean sharing your own concerns or fears to the extent it’s appropriate for your kids’ ages. For others, it might mean a more intentional ‘no device’ time in the evenings where online work and school are exchanged for face-to-face connection.”


Listen to their heart (without judgment) or Listen for their pain. 

Because one of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be truly seen, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is noticing them, accepting them and loving them as they are.  We do this by listening to their heart. This involves not only paying attention to their behavior, but more importantly, to the pain that is driving their behavior. This invites us to be more curious than judgmental.
Recognizing our child’s deeper pain will elicit pain in our hearts and it is through empathy that we enter deeply into one another’s lives. Empathy unites two hearts while judgment separates them. Ironically, when our children are known and accepted as they are, they discover the freedom and courage to grow and change. The security that comes from the former enables the courage necessary for the latter. 
What can we do, as parents, during this time to listen to their pain?  The next time your child behaves in a manner that is unacceptable, ask them with compassion, “Why did you do it?” Then suspend judgment and be curious, listening for the underlying motive that drove their behavior.  Oftentimes we will hear a legitimate need or pain in their heart that drove the illegitimate behavior.
You can then begin working with your child to discover healthy ways to meet the heartfelt need expressed by their behavior. Perhaps you discover they got on their phone when you asked them not to because they are feeling incredibly isolated and lonely.  Seeing and feeling their sadness and their desire to be loved and accepted will be incredibly helpful to you.


Delight in them.

“Joy is the serious business of heaven,” writes C.S. Lewis. How often do our children see a smile on our faces and hear delight in our voices when we are talking with them? Reminding our child how much joy they bring us simply by being themselves is critical. Additionally, laughing together is an important ingredient to connecting with your child’s heart.
According to brain science, laughing together wires our brains together. In other words, laughing with our children intimately connects us to them and them to us. Therefore, we ought to constantly be discovering things to celebrate in our children. We can focus on the gifts we see in them rather than only celebrating the victories.  Also, we can do activities together that are fun and bring us laughter.  
While current circumstances mean that many of us are ‘stuck at home,’ try to make the most of this time with fewer social commitments and distractions. There are lots of ways to connect and have fun together as a family. This could include going for a walk, watching a funny movie, playing games, telling stories, singing, dancing, creating and exploring. Get creative! And remember, being able to laugh with our children begins with being able to laugh at ourselves. 
While this is a challenging time in so many ways for each of us as parents – personally, spiritually, economically – it also offers an opportunity to attune closer to our families and to God as we seek healing in our nation and world.


How can Youthfront be praying for you?

If you have any prayer requests during this time, you can email Jamie at jroach@youthfront.com or call our main number at (913) 262-3900.
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