THE FUTURE OF THE FAMILY SERIES
MOM’S THE WORD – HOW TO PREPARE FOR FAMILY TRANSITIONS
LISA AND ED YOUNG
MAY 12, 1996
ED. A baby cries out in the middle of the night. Mom’s the word. Your feet are stung by fire ants. Mom’s is the word. You have just been cut from the volley ball team. Mom’s the word. After a three year dating relationship, you have been dropped. Mom’s the word. When you skin your knee, when you need help with homework, when you are thirsty, tired, cold or wet, you guessed it, Mom’s the word. When a tattoo parlor wants to etch a name on your biceps, Mom’s the word. When the television camera pans the sidelines in a football game, Mom’s the word. On this weekend here at the Fellowship of Las Colinas, Mom’s the word. And every day around the Young household, Mom’s the word.
LISA. Mom is the strongest fiber in the family fabric. In this role she is expected to transition her family from birth to adulthood and oftentimes her aging parents from independence to dependence. She transitions her children from diapers to driving, colic to college, mother’s day out to marriage. She transitions her aging parents from retirement to recliners, from walkers to wheelchairs and from dentures to death. Moms and Dads are continually facing the challenges of change. And today we are going to look at how to prepare for family transitions. Let’s first look at the changing job description of a parent.
ED. Our job descriptions, parents, are always changing, in transition, in a state of flux. If we are going to understand the specifics of this changing role, we need to equip our children through teaching and modeling. The Bible says in
Genesis 2:24, twenty-three specific words regarding the family. Most pastors and teachers concentrate on the second part and they miss the first part. This is mentioned five times in the Bible. Any time God mentions something once you had better listen, but five times, He is saying that you had better get this one down. Let’s read the text together. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” We love to talk about the cleave part, don’t we, the intimacy part in marriage? We can’t talk about cleaving, though, until we first get into the leaving part. And the leaving part happens when parents realize their job description is always changing. The parental process is a slow transfer of title. Methodically, intentionally we are teaching our children to leave. It starts the moment the doctor slaps our little infant on the rear and starts them crying. That is when this leaving process begins. And we must get into it and we study it and we are about it, if we really want to make great children for the future.
How do we do it? How do we equip our children through teaching and modeling? We do it by modeling how to make decisions. We need to model decision making for our children, concerning relationships, concerning spiritual issues, concerning vocational choices. Our children need to see us make decisions. When we make them, we should bring them into the equation. We should say, “Honey, do you realize what I am dealing with here? I want to check it out first through God’s word, next through prayer, next through Christian friends.” Husbands should do this, wives should do this. Single parents should do this. Children are watching. They are paying attention. We teach and model how to make decisions.
I love what the Bible says in Ephesians 4:1, “…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” If we are in Christ, we have an awesome calling, a worthy calling. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is abuzz over Channel 5’s video expose of all pro, wide receiver Michael Irwin. We have seen Michael up close, and personal. A hidden camera caught some things he said and some things he did in a car. I want to ask you a penetrating question. What if a video cam was in your car for the next couple of weeks recording every word, everything you did. It would be kind of scary, wouldn’t it? Maybe for some, no, maybe for some, yes. If you are a parent you have got a hidden camera following you around every single day. They are little mini-cams called kids. And they are watching and they are listening and they are taking it all in. Now the world sees the edited version. Our kids, though, see the uncut, unedited version. We need to model true decision-making power. The choices, parents, that we make today are the same choices our children will ultimately make. Equip your children through teaching and modeling.
Secondly, permit your child to assume responsibility. Lisa has many wonderful qualities but one of the best qualities, as a Mom, is how she deals with the whole responsibility issue with our four children.
LISA. The other day we were out in the yard. We had a kite that we found under a bed and Ed thought that he might be able to get it in the air. The children were excited because we had passed somebody in a field flying a kite and we knew that we could do likewise. We ventured out into the street with the kite, put the sticks in place and Ed proceeded to run down the street. Why don’t you take it from here.
ED. Lisa was kind of laughing. The kite was being kind of wobbly.
LISA. The kite was kind of on the pavement.
ED. A couple of times it got caught in the trees. It hit our house. We would nurse it back to health, tweak its design, etc.
LISA. Eventually, Ed let out a little more line and he ran a little faster and the children were clapping a little louder. The kite went into the sky. It was soaring beautifully. The multi-colored kite had finally gotten way up and the line was spinning and spinning, pleasing Ed since it sounded like a rod and reel. Let me tell you a secret. We have flown a kite before with the kite attached to the rod and reel because you can let out more line that way. That’s an inside tip from the Young family. This time he was using a little hand-held kite string holder. The string went out and out and out until finally there was very little string left. In fact, it was held on by a knot, all the string was out. We are reminded that our children are very much like that kite. Gradually, as parents, we let out the string and sometimes they will fall into the trees. We brush them off and tweak the process a little bit. They might crash into the ground on occasion but we are there to help them and teach them and to help them get off the ground again. Eventually children will soar into adulthood just as that kite soared into the clouds.
ED. Lisa, I would say, too, concerning the kite, when we let more and more line out, more and more responsibility to the children, they will soar. It is a gradual process. You don’t give a ten year old all the line.
LISA. We can see this in the scripture. Matthew 28:18 says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'” Just as God has given authority to His Son, we, as parents, are to give authority to our children. I would like to give you three hints on how to do this. The picture of the kite is beautiful, it seems so easy, we will let our children soar. But how do you know just how much responsibility your children can handle?
I will use our children as examples, bless their hearts, they kind of get picked on but they seem to do OK with it. The first tip is to identify the child’s holding power. Determine through their age or maturity level just how much responsibility they can handle. We have children from almost two to nine years of age. There are things I would allow LeeBeth, our oldest daughter, to do that I wouldn’t dream of letting our two year olds or our four year old son do. So we have to carefully look at their age, at their maturity level and determine just how much responsibility we can give them.
Secondly, we need to start with something small and move to something larger. Our twins at the age of six months can assume some responsibility. This might shock you, but they could sit unattended or unassisted on the floor by themselves at seven months of age and play with the measuring cups. Now that doesn’t seem very major to you, but for me it was a big deal. They could entertain themselves. Now I was quite close by, five to eight feet away working at the kitchen sink, but they were having a time of independence. Our son, EJ, is four years old. Now EJ loves to go to the grocery store because that means he has hopes for a donut. He usually ends up with a bagel. The reality is a bagel. The hope is a donut, the reality is a bagel. Sometimes he wins. They have these wonderful carts now at our grocery store where I am able to put the twins and EJ into seats that are part of the cart. It has been great for me. When we come back from the grocery store, EJ wants to help unload the groceries. He wants to be as strong as the store sacker is. Also, he wants to be as strong as Ed, but right now it is the sacker. I don’t give EJ the bag with the big glass bottle of apple juice and the carton of eggs. That is not smart. I give him the bag that has two roles of paper towel. Just recently I noticed that EJ has done a really good job carrying that paper towel in. So I have added some responsibility. Now EJ can carry the eggs. This is risky but the Youngs live life on the edge so we give him that opportunity. I open the lid of the carton and tell EJ, “There are twelve eggs inside which I checked at the store. They are intact, no cracks. Your job, if you choose to accept it (mission impossible) is to take these eggs to the kitchen.” I told him to walk slowly and hold the eggs up close to him. He has to maneuver some steps so it is a real tricky deal. Sometimes it takes EJ as much time to get from the car to the kitchen as for me to unload the entire car of groceries. But that is OK. He makes it with success. I have moved from a small job to a little bit larger responsibility. Now this may seem silly, but if we expect our children to hold responsibilities in their teenage years and their adulthood, then we have to start with a foundation when they are very young. It builds from the time they are babies until they are adults. The third thing is to applaud their successes and teach from their failures. We are first to identify their holding power. Secondly, start with small responsibilities and move to larger ones. And thirdly, applaud their successes and teach from their failures. Now just recently it was time for one of those major room cleaning events for our daughter, LeeBeth. We had had such an event three months ago and it had taken about three hours to sort through the things in her room, to dispose of some clothes that needed to be given away, to organize. It took a long time. Well, she wasn’t looking forward to doing this again. I wasn’t looking forward to doing it again. But these things take place. LeeBeth persuaded me that she could handle this on her own. She said that she didn’t need me to participate. Twenty minutes later, LeeBeth completed a task that had taken the two of us three hours before. I wondered what the secret was. I opened her door and the room was spotless and beautiful. But then I thought that it was probably a little too good to be true. I opened the closet door. She had proceeded to put everything into buckets in the bottom of her closet and pushed them behind the clothes. I guess that she thought that if it was out of sight it was out of mind. That didn’t work. I asked her what would happen when she needed various items. She admitted that she would have to dump the buckets out and find what she needed. So, she had taken this responsibility, had not been quite successful with it. I applauded the fact that her room looked good. You have to find something good in any situation. But I pointed out that we needed to do it a different way so that when she needed something it would not require a lot of time. We made it a teachable moment so that the next time she will have success when performing this responsibility.
Irma Bombeck wrote in her column about a mother’s love. “I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your bedroom, a job that would have taken me fifteen minutes.” That is so true. We need to allow our children to assume responsibility.
The next thing we need to do in this changing job description is to delight in their destiny. This simply means that parents are to find joy and fulfillment in seeing their children soar into adulthood. This great day is coming when the kite will fly. God found the light in the destiny of His Son. We read this in
Matthew 3:17, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” There is a recurrent phrase found throughout the Bible which state, “This too shall pass.” This has been a family verse for the Youngs for several years now. It has been pasted on our refrigerator, on our bathroom mirror – a mighty verse for us. When the twins came home for the hospital as infants, I just thought, “This will never end.” Parents, don’t forget that there are many phases to go through in this child-rearing process. We are never in one station for very long. The sleepless nights of infancy, this too shall pass. The testing toddler, this too shall pass. The intense teenager, this too shall pass. We should always look forward to what lies ahead because as our children grow in their independence, this means growing independence for parents. I look forward to the day when I can enjoy some hobbies, enjoy some work that I would like to do, enjoy experiencing things with Ed as we gain more free time. Delight in your children’s destiny.
ED. We have looked at the changing job description of a parent. Now let’s change gears and look at the changing job description of an adult child, a grown child. Many of us would be considered adult children. I Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” First of all, we have to accept our adult status.
LISA. I think that nowadays we can see a trend going on in our society. A fifth or more of 25 year old single adults are living with their parents at home. They prefer the cocoon of comfort rather than living on the rugged plains of reality. We ask ourselves why? It is true that they just want to live at home and be comfortable or are there other reasons for this?
ED. Focus On The Family conducted a survey recently with 2,600 young married adults. The results of the survey staggered their staff. They found that the number one problem that young married adults deal with is the inability of their parents to release them. In other words, their parents want to control them. Oftentimes this is a well-meaning motivation. But it goes back to Genesis 2:24, leave and cleave. Why do parents like to control their children? I think that right up front a lot of parents live their lives vicariously through their children. They want to accomplish through their son or daughter what they did not accomplish. “You will play football because I hurt my knee in the ninth grade.” “You’ll go out for cheerleading and the volley ball team because I didn’t get a chance to do that.” So some parents live through their children, control them and keep them in a one down relationship. Another reason parents control their children is the need reason. They become so enmeshed and immersed in the lives of their kids, they put their marriage on the back burner. They are afraid of letting go of their children because if they do they will have to relate once more to their spouse, and there is no intimacy, no communication, no real love there.
Another reason they like to keep control of adult children is the fear factor. They are afraid that something might happen to their children. They might get into an accident, might stumble or get messed up financially. Well-meaning parents struggle with this. Now for the leaving part to take place, there must be buy-in from both sides. The parents must realize that the power structure is moving from a vertical power structure to a horizontal power structure and also the adult children must accept their status. Yet parents control adult children like Jim Henson used to control puppets. We talked about the string on the kite, there is also the puppet string. We control children with money, don’t we parents? We will by clothes, a vacation, help them with the rent. Sometimes these are good things, yet it is a string. Then we control them through guilt. “Who bought you the car?” “Who paid for the vacation?” Another string we use is the rescuer string. They get in trouble and we rush to rescue them. We don’t let them flounder or fall and learn some stuff. We want to control them and keep everything intact.
Families are always in transition. Parents are always in transition. Adult children are always in transition. What do you do about it? How do you help this process of leaving and becoming an autonomous, self-supporting adult. You go home, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “Mirror, I am an adult. Look at me. I am 25 or 26 years of age.” Next, talk to God about your adult status and then verbalize your adult status to your parents. Sit down with them and say, “Mom and Dad, I love you. You are awesome. I know you want to give me great advice and when I want your advice, I will ask for it. But, I am an adult so treat me like one.”
Also, learn how to make decisions on your own and respectfully disagree with authority figures. That means that you will have to say no to some of the toys and trinkets and parties and perks that your parents want to give you. Lisa and I have had to say no to some things. It is part of leaving and it is part of cleaving. Accept your adult status.
The second one is as old as the fifth commandment. Honor your parents. Today, we honor our mothers. Somewhere between the maternity ward and the retirement home, most of us will have to care for our aging parents. Think about it. The same parents who took you to the bathroom in the middle of the night, the same parents who fed you, who put clothes on your back, the same parents who carted you to the bank or to little league, God says you will have to care for them. And oftentimes you will have to do the same things for them. The fastest growing age group in our country is the sixty-five and older age group. Half of these individuals will require nursing home care, yet 90% of the ones in the nursing homes will not be able to afford to pay their own way after twenty-four months. That means, caregivers, like you and me will have to step in and assist and minister and help them as we realize our changing role as adult children.
LISA. My Mom and Dad are the primary caregivers for my maternal grandparents. Mom and Pop are in their 90s. Pop was born in 1900, so that is easy math for me. He is still a very active person. They both live in their own home about a mile from where my Mom and Dad live. Now my Mom and Dad are in their early 70s. They are the ones that go over at least once a week. My Mom washes and rolls my grandmother’s hair. She cleans the house. She helps with the preparation of meals or sends leftovers from their own meals. My Dad works out in my grandfather’s yard. Pop is still very active. He has his own garden and he does some of the yardwork himself.
Being a caregiver is a very challenging job. It is one, though, that my parents would not trade for anything else in the world. There is an underlying secret here though that I am sure some of you might identify with. My mother grew up in a family of six. She has three sisters, one being a twin to her, one older and one younger. They were raised during the depression. It was a very difficult time. Money was tight. There were not a lot of conveniences for my grandmother. Actually, at one point my grandmother moved in with her mother for help. My grandfather was a police officer with the Columbia police department in South Carolina. He worked very long hours only to come home to diapers, diapers and diapers. My grandmother shared some insights with me when our twins were born. She told me that they had cloth diapers and no washing machine. They went out and scrubbed them on a board in the back of the house. Her twins were born at home, not in a hospital. They did not have the convenience of formula so at the time the twins were born, my grandmother was just weaning the first child. Quite a different life style. Times were very tough. My grandfather is a very hard and calloused man. My mother was subjected to some verbal abuse and some other things that I don’t know about. In other words, she grew up under some adverse circumstances. Now I respect and honor my Mom and Dad and I can say thank you to them for giving me such a model on how to honor parents. My parents have looked at that scripture verse and not added conditions to it. They have not said, “Well we will honor our aging parents, if they were fair to us as children, if they treated us with respect and disciplined us at just the right time, took care of us and provided an education for us.” They didn’t add those conditions to the contract. My parents honor and respect and love their parents just because God says it. My mother has had to forgive some things for which my grandfather has not asked to be forgiven. She has taken that same grace which God has given her through His Son, Jesus Christ, and channelled it into her forgiveness for the things that happened when she was a child. That has allowed her to effectively minister to my grandparents. I can tell you that my grandparents are a joy to be around. We go home and have a wonderful time. My grandfather has mellowed so much in the later years of his life. He is a different person and I believe that a lot of it is due to the ministry of my mother and father.
I would like to offer you two suggestions for dealing with your aging parents. Number one, make plans for such a time. Ed and I are already discussing how we, with his brothers, and me with my sister, will help care for our aging parents. My sister lives in Columbia and she will likely be the one who will assume a lot of the responsibility. But just because I am 1,000 miles away does not mean that it is not equally my responsibility. I want to share that with her and plan for that day. As you plan for that day, incorporate your parents into the planning. Don’t act like they are nonexistent and you are making all the plans on your own. According to their age and stage of independence or dependence they may be experiencing, bring them into the decision making process. Number two, above all, make use of their wonderful information. You parents have a wealth of information to bestow on you. Ed and I treasure the times that we go home and sit at the feet of our grandparents and, with our children, hear the stories that they have to tell. Ed is just wonderful at asking questions and getting them to talk. One of the main topics of conversation is about professional wrestling. My grandparents believe that wrestling is completely true. My grandmother has even sent a get well card to one professional wrestler who was in the hospital for an injury. So we sit around the table and talk about professional wrestling. But we go a little deeper than that. On our last trip, Ed asked my grandmother what it was that caused her to fall in love with Pop. It was a wonderful conversation. We laughed. There were some serious moments there talking about their early married life. But it was a treasure not only for he and I but for our children. I love to talk to my Dad about the war and what he experienced when he was in Germany. I love to talk to my Mom about what she did as a young mother. So tap into that resource and bring them into the equation in planning for the future of aging parents.
ED. You know, when I die I doubt that the first question God is going to ask me will be about the ministry here at the Fellowship of Las Colinas. He will definitely ask me that question, but that won’t be the first one. I think he will ask some prerequisite questions like, “How did you treat, love and honor the wife I gave you. What did you do with those four children? Did you truly show esteem and love and sacrifice to your parents?” The greatest message I will ever preach will not be behind this plexiglass pulpit, it will be living on the rugged plains of reality with my family.
We have families in many different situations here, some going through a divorce, some single parents, some families experiencing problems. Some families are having some great times now. I can tell you something. We are fellow strugglers in this process. It is our prayer that you join us on this pilgrimage because if we seek the Lord, if we do what His word says, the future is definitely bright for those of us who are in the family of God.