Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Kids Are Kids...Not Little Adults

I have spent the majority of my life around children.  I am the eldest of four siblings, my Mama was a teacher when I was growing up, and our family was always at church.  I have never had a season in my life without children being a big part of it.  Our home was always open and full of kids.  I had wonderful examples in my life of people who loved children.  My Mama made sure every child she worked with felt value.  A friend's mom, Jennifer Bradley, fought to make sure every child knew they were special.  Another friend's mom, Barbara Hague, had a home always open to anyone in the community and continually filled bellies with good food.  My Aunt Rose, loved loving children by baking a favorite dessert or listening to stories from any child who felt the need to chatter away (I struggled with that from time to time).  My Grandmama loved all the grandchildren in her life a little more quietly, but she showered her grandkids with a favorite dinner dish, teaching a skill, or making beautiful dresses.  My upbringing was filled with people who just loved being around children and who showed me the power an adult has in the life of a child.

I know God placed a call on my heart to work with children when I was in elementary school.  I can remember reading books from my school library about the missionaries, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong (behold, my Southern Baptist upbringing).  I remember the stories of these ladies giving their all to love others, especially children by means of giving clothing or food or shelter.  I distinctly remember being in our Friday morning chapel.  After the message, I remember feeling in my heart, "Amber-you are going to be a missionary to children."  Now, as of yet, my mission field has been local, and I'm ok with that.  But, I am looking forward to the day when God makes a way for me to be a missionary to children in other parts of the world.  As I grew older, that love to work with and serve children has never faltered.  When I was a senior in high school, my five year plan included graduating from college then becoming a Mama.  I always had the desire for a big family like the one I grew up in.  I wanted four children, and because I do believe in life at conception, I was blessed enough to "have" four children even though I only have two who made it to birth.  When I was in high school, I volunteered at West Buncombe Elementary School every chance I could get.  When I went to Mars Hill University, I tutored 4th graders twice a week, came home on Sundays to lead the children's choir, and spent lots of time with my siblings and their friends.  As I continued my education, I studies sociology with an emphasis on children.  I wanted to understand how relationships effected children.  I kept going in school to receive a Master's of Education Degree with a focus on Family and Community Services.  I had the heart for children, and I wanted to make sure I had the head knowledge I would need to best serve whatever kiddos came into my life.

I tell you all of this to give you my background.  Many of my opinions on children are just that, opinions.  Some of what I talk about comes from the materials I studied while gaining my education.  But, most of what I know about children, I learned from children.  As a parent, I am sometimes told that I am hard on my children.  I probably am.  I have high expectations for Cecely and Titus.  I don't have unrealistic expectations; I challenge them, but I also have learned what they are capable of at different stages of development and learning.  I absolutely know that there have been times when I have been "hard" on them.  For the most part, I think my kiddos and I have a good balance going.  

Through the changes in our world over the past two and a half years, I have watched my children become different people.  I was told more than once that kids are resilient and they'll bounce back from what's happened.  I think, in theory, those people were right...and I have no doubt they were well-intended and trying to be an encouragement when they told me that.  However, I have learned that children, at least my children, are not the kind who recover easily.  In the span of two and half years, my children have gone from being with their father every day to almost a year with minimal contact to spending half of their time with him.  They have gone from having me with them every day, to having me with them half of the time.  They have moved a total of five times and they are getting ready to move again with me.  They have gone from parents who were always together to seeing their parents with different grown-ups.  They have transitioned from being homeschool students to public school students.  They have dealt with the change of a Mom who was available at home all of the time, to a Mom who works full-time.  They have gone from a life of consistency and knowing what's expected to learning how to function in two different households that are run completely different.  They have gone from being a family with two children, to one house with five children, and another house with three.  They have seen Mama be married to Daddy, to Mama being all alone, to Mama dating, to Mama getting ready to be married again.  I am not saying that any of this was/is "bad", but I am saying it has been an unbearable load for children to carry.  Yes, my children have an awesome church family, close-knit friends who have been incredible, and a great support system.  Even so, that is so much for the brain of a child to process.

My frustration with adults is when they expect children to act like adults.  They are kids.  Let them be kids!  I'm all about rules, structure, plans, etc. (ask my kids if you doubt that at all), but this world is so crazy and life happens so fast, that children are being expected to behave like adults before they are even teenagers.  Cecely struggles at my house because I don't "let her" do as much as she would like...she has learned to take care of Titus when they are not with me, and that is great.  I am so proud of her.  But, I remind her, almost weekly, that I am his Mom, and she is his sister.  Right now, her biggest job is to be an 11 year-old.  She has appropriate chores and responsibilities when she is with me, but she also has the freedom to be a child when she is with me.  It kills me that I have to tell her that it's ok to play.  Cecely battles anger because of all she has seen and dealt with.  And, as she gets older, she has begun to develop a bit of an attitude...some of that is age, some of it is genetics (I'm not pointing fingers--Aunt Andrea), and some of it is because she is sick and tired of all that has been going on.  There was a time early in the separation process where Cecely expressed suicidal thoughts.   Again, for her level of processing, it made sense to her that it would be better to be dead than to feel all the hurt she was feeling.  She could not process all of the grief and loss like an adult, but it often seemed that people expected her to.  There is not a time table on healing or processing...especially for children!

Titus has also changed so much.  Before all of the separation, Titus was a fearless little man.  He was in everything and scared of nothing.  He was a cuddler, but when he was done being lovey, he was ready to explore and play.  He used to talk all of the time.  Now, Titus internalizes a lot of what he is thinking and feeling.  He lets his thoughts build up until he explodes.  It is completely heartbreaking to witness.  Even now and even when he's with his closest family and friends, he wants me right beside him.  He has stopped taking risks, although I coax him as often as I can to leap out and test some things.  Titus seems to be under a cloud of fear most of the time.  When he is with me, the cloud shifts, and I get glimmers of the little boy he used to be.  By the time he levels out, it's back to his other house.  When he comes back, the cycle starts all over.  He has been told to grow up, deal with things, and stop being so clingy to me.  I have also been told to stop letting him come to me and cry when he is scared or upset at night.  Here's the deal...uh, no!  As long as my child is upset, I am going to be available the best way I can to comfort him.  Just because the adults have adjusted to the changes does not mean a little boy has.  Again, there is no timeframe on healing.  

Both of my children work very hard to overcome the battles that life has given them.  They have a strong foundation of faith built from time in God's Word and time in our wonderful church.  They know that they have a circle of people who are safe to talk to when they don't feel that they can talk to me or their dad.  They are having to learn about adult-issues, about consequences to choices, about consequences to decisions that weren't theirs to make.  They are having to learn to stand up for themselves and remove themselves from inappropriate situations when I'm not around to fight for them or to protect them.  I am so grateful that they have each other.  I am so thankful for the family and friends who love them so wonderfully.  I completely hate the turmoil they have experienced.  I hate the changes that have trampled them.  I hate that I have not been able to keep them safe and sound and let them learn the lessons of life at the appropriate time and not at an accelerated speed.

My advice to you, if you know children in your life who are struggling, if they have behavior problems, if they are closed down, whatever it may be, please be patient.  We often don't know the hurt that children are holding onto.  Working in ministry and in the school system, I have learned that picture perfect families do not exist and that every family has some kind of battle.  I ask that if you deal with children that you be extra cautious and extra gracious.  Pray for the children in your life.  If you are able, give them opportunities to be children.  Do not expect them to process or act like you would in a situation...they shouldn't have to...they aren't adults!

My kiddos and me Oct. 2012
Children are a great gift and a wonderful treasure.  The Bible is full of verses reminding us of that!  So, if you are struggling on how to deal with a child, if you know a child who is hurting, or if you just need a word from the Lord, read these:

Psalm 127:3--Children are a heritage/gift/blessing from the Lord...

Psalm 8:2--Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

Matthew 18:2-6--"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Matthew 18:10--See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Mark 10:13-16--And they were brining children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God"...and He took them in His arms and blessed them.

Pray for the children in your world.  Pray for the grown-ups of the children in your world.  Shower them with affirmation and encouragement.  You don't have to be able to fix the situation, just listen.  Love them with the love Jesus has given you.  Remember every child has a story, and most have a heartache.  Be the light the best way you know how!

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