I am a parent. It is a joy and a challenge with a constant swirling maelstrom of shifting choices, demands and expectations and my children – in the midst of this – just keep on growing, keep on changing, getting on, and adapting to life on fast forward!
We can feel adrift as parents, struggling to understand or keep up with cultural trends and the latest tools for engaging with the online world of our digital native children.
I want to say to youth workers that parents, people like me – can be your most valuable team members, partners in ministry and champions for your work with our children and young people.
I want to say to parents that, whatever you think sometimes – your relationship with your children and teenagers matters hugely to them. You are the greatest influence on their life in terms of their sense of well-being and also, if you are a Christian, their spiritual formation and life of faith.
Seriously, as parents – we are flippin’ important.
Recently, the Children’s Society produced their latest “Good Childhood” Report. Understandably, there were some headline grabbing stats such as, “Fifth of 14 year old girls in UK have self harmed.” In addition, “Gender Stereotypes” drew some attention, then – tucked away in the BBC report is one sentence, “The report also suggests happy family relationships are the biggest influence on children’s wellbeing.” That is it, one line. You can read the BBC article here ::
The Children’s Society itself does mention family and the home environment a bit – but it seems odd that policy recommendations, the challenges to improve things for children and young people are directed at schools, local authorities and Government.
Here are the two graphs that highlight the difference close relationship with mothers and fathers make, these are in the Children’s Society Summary Report which you can grab [here].
Other stats bear out the impact and influence of parents, from YFC Generation Z report for example, when young people were asked, “Who or what influences the way you think about faith / religion?” 73% of young people said “family”. Teachers and Friends were a poor second with 36% and, that massive beast of a thing we call the online world? What influence did that have . . . 11%. Unfortunately, for those of us who (maybe as-well as being parents) are youth workers our influence on this topic is, er, just 9%.
I could go on – the evidence out there is overwhelming!
However, sometimes the story we tell ourselves is different from that reality. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “I’m letting my kids down.” or “I don’t know how to talk about faith.” Some of this is just natural, none of us have a manual for parenting that clues us in on how to balance the demands of getting through the day with work, chores, rest, relationships and the expectations we place on ourselves all mixed up with our rapidly growing and changing children who – at times – seem to be sorted and balanced and a delight to be around and, at other times – are an inexplicable enigma!
Add to this the patronising demands from school – “please only pack a healthy lunch for your child – no chips or pasties” or “please attend this VITAL day exploring social media and your child – because without us hosting this event, you will be lost in the online sea.” I might be going overboard, but when children continue to spend more time at home than at school it does seem weird to me that schools expect us to need them to help us parent our children – rather than the school coming to us for advice. Maybe this only adds to our feelings of inadequacy!
Whatever you think of how your are doing with your parenting – please know this, you hugely matter. What you say and do is being paid attention to by your children. Invest time in them, encourage them, show interest in their lives, don’t leave them to the “so called” professionals.
Whether it is a youth worker, teacher or pastor – these people will come and go in your children’s lives. What I’ve discovered though, as my children grow up is not that they need me less as a parent – in fact they need me more, it just looks different – I’m no longer tying show laces and sorting out bath time; I’m not packing a bag for every eventuality when we nip out to the shops – but, they need me to listen about their day, they need me to pay attention to their anxious thoughts, they need me to be present. The closer we are to our kids, the greater their sense of well-being. They might not TELL us they love us for it day in and day out, but – all that we do, all that we invest, all that we make time for tells them how precious, valuable and special they are to us.
Being a parent – there is nothing like it.Don’t do yourself down, be conscious of your impact and be a life affirming, loving influence on your children!