Every other day lately it seems like I receive a new coupon telling me what I can buy my mom on her special day in May. In the restaurant world, Mother’s Day is seen as one of the busiest of the year. We will buy flowers, jewelry and candy to tell those we love all about our love for them. Once we have celebrated this day our eyes as a society will be turned to the dads.There will be mass jokes about grilling, fixing things and sports. Moms and dads all over the globe look forward to these days filled with handmade cards and mystery breakfasts in bed. After all who doesn’t want to celebrate their parents?
The trouble of course is that the traditional family is no longer traditional. This puts many of us and our students in a deep conundrum on these days. What if your parents are divorced and remarried and you have four parents? Do you hurt the heart of your biological mom if you acknowledge your stepmom loves you too? What if your mom or dad is no longer present in your life for one reason or another and you are actually being raised by someone else? What if your parents are divorced and are now with a same sex partner? In this particular blended family you could potentially have three moms and one dad.
The teen years are also filled with a push and pull of even feeling close to parents at all. I hear often from teens at this age that they feel disconnected and invisible at home, while parents are telling me their kids don’t want them. Parents are hungering for a sentimental card while a child may not want to write it.
So how do you help students who may be struggling on these holidays?
Remember They Still Want THEIR Mom & Dad
Maybe you are thinking this isn’t an “issue” in your group. It’s just a day that will come and go, like any other. Let me tell you they are thinking about it. They are wondering how to respond and what to do. Many students I have met from the most difficult family situations deep down are waiting for their mom and/or dad to still show up and be their parents. Often times in these situations we like to take the attitude of, “Well you know, your parents are a train wreck anyway.” (Even if we never say it out loud.) We may not be able to “fix” the home life, but we can remember deep down they love their parents and actually long for home to be a place of wholeness.
Many churches do something special for the congregation on Mother’s and Father’s Day. While you are no longer taking the time to make cards in Sunday school with students, they are aware of those difficult Sundays. You may not even know the depth of an at home struggle or how kids really feel about what is going on. Be aware of sweeping statements that talk about family. Recognize you may not know everything that is going on, but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore it either. Take time in your group to help students see all of the people in their lives that support them. They may need to see the Lord has filled in gaps of their extended family with others who love them radically.
Talk To Those Who Need It
Just because that boy says he is alright with his mom’s cancer diagnosis, doesn’t mean he isn’t wondering if this will be the last. The young woman who lost her dad suddenly this year to a heart attack is secretly dreading Father’s Day, as is the one you know who has a dad in jail. Perhaps they have a parent in the military who spends more time deployed then at home. We don’t always consider these “real” holidays so we don’t always acknowledge them well with our students. Be on the look out for attitude changes in students leading up to these days and see if they need someone to talk to. Take the time if needed to take a student out and just talk to them about whatever is on their heart.”
It’s Ok To Say I Love You
There is no card that says, “Sometimes you let me down, but I still love you anyway. Happy Parent’s Day.” If you have a student that feels like they stare at all of the cards that carry sentiments that don’t fit, let them know they can still tell their parents they love them. More importantly let them know that loving your parents whoever they are is “normal.” For those from blended families or being raised in non traditional settings, let them know that loving all of your parents or those that “act” as your parent does not minimize their love for anyone else.
You may decide to share some stories of imperfection from your own childhood. Be cautious to not share too much or to minimize what a student is feeling. However, sometimes our students need to know that there is no such thing as a family that has it “all together.” What is most important is as you head into Mother’s and Father’s Day remember it isn’t status quo for your whole group.
What do you do during these times of the year?