Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care, and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child with sensory processing disorder. Have fun!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Am I a bad parent?

Jesse was born with a gleam in his eye; an extra twinkle that spelled trouble before he even knew his alphabet. Our doctor said that Jesse knew he was going to be the middle child even before we knew he was going to be the middle child. (In case you are wondering, Jesse was indeed, the middle child for three whole years.)

I had my concerns as he entered kindergarten. Going to the same school where I had formerly taught and continued to sub and tutor students, I knew all of the teachers. Even before the first day of school I was imagining the awkward phone conversations with his teacher. "Hello, Cindy, can we talk about Jesse's classroom behavior?" Thankfully, the phone calls never came. They didn't need to. I volunteered in the classroom once a week; we had our conversations in person.

And then we moved. To a new community and a new church. I became the wife of the new pastor. And my kids were PKs in a new location. And nobody knew how awesome my children were.

The first Sunday came around and I went to pick up my middle child (who was technically no longer the middle child) from his new classroom. The teacher proceeded to tell me all the things Jesse had done wrong that Sunday. I don't know what it was specifically but it probably included being the life of the party (in Sunday School, where there wasn't supposed to be a party), creating ways to become the center of attention, and then basking in that attention.

Thankfully, the following Sunday, there was a different teacher. While there was a short mention of a few unacceptable behaviors, she sandwiched it between her joy at having Jesse in her class and calling out positive traits and behaviors she had seen.

The next few months went by like this. There were three teachers who genuinely loved and cared for Jesse and for our family. They would be sure to praise whatever good qualities they could find while gently sharing those behaviors that needed follow-up. But every other week, when that other teacher was there, I'd brace myself for a laundry list of bad behaviors. I began to feel so discouraged that sometimes I just didn't take him to class the weeks that she was there. I couldn't handle hearing one more negative comment about my son.

Those weeks, I'd leave feeling discouraged and angry. I convinced myself that I was a terrible parent and that this woman was judging both my parenting and The Good Doctor's ability to be a pastor, based solely on my son's behavior in class.

I share this story because as I talk with young mothers, I hear some familiar words and thoughts:

My child got kicked out of daycare for biting. What are we doing wrong?
My daughter's kindergarten teacher called. My daughter is hitting other children. I feel like a bad parent.

And as they get older, it's the same thing, but with different behaviors:
My son is failing math. Should I have prepared him better when he was a toddler?
A friend wrote on Facebook that all of the girls in her daughter's small group make fun of her daughter. My daughter is in that small group. Where did I fail in teaching her to accept and encourage everyone?

And it goes even beyond high school.

When do we get to let ourselves off the hook?

The answer is, way back at the very beginning. Yes, we need to search ourselves. A few hours in Mommy Time-out, seeking the Lord's wisdom is a good idea. But we also need to realize that our children have the same free will that we do. They are going to make mistakes just like we did and still do. If you go around hitting your peers, then I guess you probably are to blame for your child's hitting in school. But since that's very unlikely, then it's time to stop blaming yourself.

One more word of caution: This doesn't mean that you are free and clear. Remember that I said you need to spend time with the Lord and seek His wisdom in how to work with your child through this phase. You can't blame yourself or immediately decide that you are a bad parent, whether or not the teacher or coach makes you feel as if you are, however, it is imperative that we work with our children's teachers and coaches and whoever else is in a place of authority over our children. We need to have follow-through at home. Our children need to listen and be respectful and they can be taught this at very young ages. Some children need more guidance and reminders than others (take my "middle" child, for instance). But if adults don't enjoy being around our children, if their peers don't enjoy being around them, then they really cannot be salt and light.

And a final word of encouragement: That first grade boy who found the wrong ways to have fun and entertain his peers? He grew up into a high school senior, spending the first two periods of his day interning in a 3rd grade classroom. This morning his cooperating teacher visited our church. As I was being introduced to the teacher, that encouraging and positive first grade Sunday School teacher from long ago was standing next to me. She overheard the cooperating teacher talk about Jesse's natural talent for teaching and his rapport with the 3rd grade children, about his belief that Jesse will make a great teacher in a few years. She threw her arms up in the air and said, "I knew it! I just knew that God was going to redeem that energy and those behaviors!" And she's right.

I thank God for her prayers, for her smiles each week when I picked Jesse up from her classroom, for her love for him and our family. I thank God for redemption. And I thank God for grace. Grace for my children and grace for moms.

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