My mother in law passed away this morning. She spent the better part of her life in chronic pain that was difficult to manage. But her struggles did not keep her from doing the things she enjoyed, like baking, sewing, crafting, making cards and sharing her love of all these things with her grandchildren. This past weekend, after we realized she was heading toward the end of her time here on earth, all our local family, and her son who was not-so-local, spent several hours with her. Eleven of us gathered at her bedside to tell her we loved her, as we prayed over her and sang her favorite songs and hymns. The youngest of us was 3 months old.
Our family represented several decades, an infant and a 3-year-old, a few teens, and others in their 20’s 30’s and 50’s. And I was grateful everyone who lived nearby came. Because deaths, like births, are spiritual times. We question our mortality and consider our faith. In fact, during such times our faith is tested as we ask or think about the challenging questions:
Is God real?
Does He love me?
Why is this happening?
Can I trust God?
These are crucial questions for everyone to ask. If you don’t know what you believe and why you believe it, you are more susceptible to being tossed by every wind of doctrine. And you’ll feel like that, thrashed about and bruised.
I love that my highly inquisitive, 15-year-old was there, making assessments and asking her own tough questions. She was a little surprised, even intrigued, that her Gram’s death affected her so deeply. Experiencing the effect of someone’s death on our heart and mind, is why it is important to allow our children to witness death. Through observing death, we learn how natural the life cycle is. Some day in the future, my daughter will experience others in their last moments on earth and she will be better equipped to handle it because she was able to be with her Gram as she was passing from this earth. In the safe environment of our family, she was able to ask questions about life and mortality, faith and trust in God, what we believe and why, and through each experience she will be able to adjust what she believes. As do I.
Often the first experience children have with death is that of a pet. I remember when my tabby cat Socrates died when I was about ten years old. I was devastated. But I’m grateful I had the opportunity to lose a few pets and, likewise, I’m grateful my children have experienced the deaths of several pets. Caring for pets has given us the opportunity to share our faith and beliefs about death when those animals pass on. Our children need to know our beliefs in order to begin to formulate their own beliefs as they mature.
Our faith, our belief systems, our worldview must be owned. My faith will not carry my children, my husband, my extended family members or any of my friends. My mom’s faith will not carry me. My son’s faith will not carry his friend. Each of us is required to find our own faith and walk in it. And no matter how far down we stuff them, witnessing death can bring all the deep questions to the surface. That is a good thing. While we don’t want to dwell on the tough questions all the time, we need to address them periodically and readjust our belief system accordingly.
Though we all wonder about it, the young ones usually ask if it hurts, and thankfully, with today’s medicines we can tell them that Gram is not in pain. We even met with her hospice nurses and watched them give her comfort care, swabbing her mouth with a lemon infused sponge. The older children will often ask defining questions about what will happen to Gram when she dies. In asking that question they are asking, “What will happen to me when I die?”
One of the first things we, as parents, must do, is address the questions ourselves…what do we believe, and why? Before we can give our children any answers, we need to have at least thought about life and death, faith and belief. And if after thinking, searching and researching we don’t really know, that’s OK. Just say that to your kids. They need to know you don’t have it all figured out. One of the things I’ve told my own children is that even if I don’t know the answers, I trust God and sometimes trusting Him is enough. You can even suggest doing research together. Read the Bible together to find out what God says about it. What is heaven? What is hell? And what do they mean to me?
To help your children build their own belief system regarding life and death, allow them to be exposed to death at young ages. Here are a few take-aways:
Even though my mother in law has ended her earthly journey, her passage helped the rest of us grow. I’m grateful for her. For her enthusiasm and zest for life, despite the daily pain she endured. When you have someone nearing death in your family, I encourage you to allow your children to be part of the family gathering. Let them learn how sacred, and oftentimes fragile, life is. Ask the questions aloud, pray, grieve, rejoice… and give your children time to express what they are feeling. You will all benefit from it.
**This article was originally written on March 13, 2018
Article by Ruth Grunstra
All Rights Reserved
"What can I do mom? I'm bored!" So goes the dreaded complaint of summer. If you are like most moms, you have an immediate response that might go something like this, "If you can't find something to do, I have plenty of housework for you!" My kids learned early on to engage themselves or I'd find some chore to occupy their time. We all know that play is considered a child's work, and that playing outside is fundamental to our child's growth. For years I searched yard sales and auctions to acquire inexpensive outdoor play equipment for our children. One time I came home ecstatic because I had won a school auction for a huge pile of pieces from a disassembled, redwood jungle gym...with no instructions on how to reassemble it. My husband dubbed it, "Ruth's Folly" and I don't believe we ever got it back together correctly. The good news is kids don't need a lot of fancy equipment to play. But they will thrive if you can offer them a safe, interesting outdoor space.
“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
When I was about 7 months pregnant with Lydia, our youngest, we took our family to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore to pick out books to read on our vacation. I remember that Katy, who had just turned 3, chose “The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread.” I was surprised she didn’t get a brightly colored children’s book. She and I discussed my concerns, but I soon realized that despite being the tender age of 3, she already appreciated beautifully rendered illustrations. Very young children can show aptitude in an area and as parents it is vital we learn how to notice what draws their attention. We need to encourage our child’s interests.
Leaving her was the easy part, driving back alone was a different story. As a mom, you always know in the back of your mind that your child, in fact, all your children, will leave home someday. Some will chomp at the bit and cannot wait for the opportunity, while others are more reticent. Katy falls somewhere in the middle. She is in a period of life when she is figuring out her future – at least the next step she should take. All of us must navigate the uncharted territory in front of us at some point.
“NO!!!!” And with that declaration, 3-year-old Grace stomped her tiny foot with all the strength she could muster. She left me in no doubt about her wishes. This scenario was not an isolated event…I remember well those days of small, stomping feet and strong expressed sentiments. As the fifth of eight children, Grace was in a constant battle for recognition and attention. And her early years provided me a wonderful opportunity to learn and understand why children refuse to obey us or do outrageous things to be noticed. This then illuminated some insights that helped me to parent her better, and ensure a level of peace and respect in our home.
How to create a blueprint for success
Katy and Lydia, my two youngest daughters, are having a sleepover this weekend. The fun began just because they wanted to see their friends and catch up. Not so different than I feel about my friends, except we don’t do sleepovers. Although I love for my girls to have their friends over, and for them to connect, I was less than enthusiastic about the timing of this get-together. The girl’s shared bedroom, bathroom and bunk bed were in rough shape. Along with the multiple leftovers from their older sisters’ occupation of the same room, they have added two dressers, a huge swivel chair and more clothing than I care to mention. To my knowledge, no one wears much of the clothing anymore but somehow it keeps getting stuffed into drawers. Don't judge me, but I gave up on their room a long time ago. But knowing they had friends coming soon rekindled my concern and I just couldn't shake it. Something had to be done.
I am fascinated by the interactions and family dynamics on the new TV show, "This is Us." My daughter Grace and I work hard to get time to share it so we record every episode. That way, we can steal some time together to watch it. I won't reveal anything here but the character of Randall intrigues me. He wants to belong, to know where he is from and why he is different from everyone else. The show is slowly revealing his journey. One of my primary goals every year is that my children know they belong. So this year, much to the chagrin of my youngest, I gave them matching pajamas to wear on Christmas.
Bam bam bam rat a tat tat Bam bam bam rat a tat tat...
All I could hear were the pounding beats of my oldest child, Cliff, practicing his drums. And I tried to appreciate it. Really. I did love that he wanted to play an instrument, particularly after he stopped taking piano lessons, but the banging noise coming up from the basement would get to me. There was no good time for him to practice. At least if anyone was home. I began to resent it, until his teacher made a comment that completely changed how I thought about his drumming.
"Be careful! Don't fall!" I hate when those words escape my lips. It's not that I want my child to be injured, but I want to raise strong, confident kids, and we all know words have power...to build or destroy. I clearly remember moving into our current house. The box I was carrying was huge, extremely hard to maneuver through the front door, but my struggle with it paled in comparison to what I found inside.
I love words. Witty word-plays, puns, and even the occasional double entendre. But "snark," the younger, looser brother of wit, all too often spills out. Not to mention snark's granddad, sarcasm, who carries a well-honed edge that cuts like teeth. Unfortunately, I can wield those word-swords with the best. So for about as long as I can remember, I have been trying to control the words that exit my mouth.
To think before I speak.
We were standing outside Isaac's new apartment saying goodbye when I saw it. A tear. Welling up in his eyes. Then I realized they were streaming down his sister Grace's face, and puddling in Lydia's eyelashes. The dam broke and I declared I couldn't leave knowing he still needed trash bags. This all took place yesterday after we drove our youngest son to his new apartment near the campus of Virginia Tech. Recently accepted as a transfer student into the Engineering program, he is ready to make his mark in and on the world. But I'm not. I never really am ready. Even though I've done it 5 other times. It just doesn't get any easier.
It’s not every day you get an education about raising diligent and cheerful kids by someone laying floors in your home, but today I did. Jim is not only a friend, but an incredible contractor, builder, and cabinet maker. If you can envision something, he can build it. Right now Jim is building an apartment in our basement for my parents, who have already moved in with us since their house sold quickly. And this week, during the day, we are watching grandsons, Blake, who is 3, and Cayden, who is 9 months. We always have a houseful. Today Blake was more than intrigued by all the construction and at first stood quietly in the doorway, watching the flooring go down. Before long though, Blake was in the room chattering away, asking questions about what they were doing. The workers are great guys, 2 are Jim's sons, and were more than happy to throw answers and questions right back at him. Then I heard Blake in another room. I went in and found Jim and Blake sitting on the floor figuring out how to start the flooring in that room. Jim had Blake handing him screws as he put down the first board. When they finished, Jim gave Blake the box of screws to carry as he said, “Come on Blake, we have work to do!” And Blake cheerfully trotted after him. Jim gets it.
The memory of reaching the summit of Mount Sneffels in Colorado, with my dad in 1975, is one I will never forget. Sneffels was my 2nd 14,000 foot peak and I was hooked on adventure. In fact, the musty smell of old canvas still floods me with incredible memories. Every summer, my family would camp around the country with our trusty Army surplus canvas tent.
I’m convinced that being heard is a human need. Every night after I was in bed, for as far back as I can remember, my mom made a point to come to my room, sit on the edge of my bed and let me talk. If I didn't just start talking, she would ask me how my day had been. Or she would ask specifically about some part of my day, or what I had learned. Every night she made a point to engage with my heart, hear me out, find out what I was thinking and feeling. My mom made it crystal clear that she really wanted to know me. And it felt good.
While I was doing my 30 minutes on the elliptical one day last week, I tried to find something worth watching on TV and ended up watching an ancient episode of Lassie. I was blown away at the parenting techniques used by the dad of Lassie’s owner, Timmy, a young boy of about seven.
If your time with your child is limited, the best way to ensure you have special moments together is to plan! Then chill out. Realize most of your plans will be usurped by the ubiquitous mess or unexpected interruptions and delays. But without a plan in the first place you will not regain lost ground. With a game plan you have half a chance of redeeming the time.
Reading to your children, especially your baby, is one of the best bonding experiences. Start with board books that have limited words and big bold pictures. Young children like to memorize favorite books and will remember the words they memorize.
Life is exhilarating
Life is fun...
It can also be hard...
Really hard. And frustrating. And maddening.
Years ago I remember my Uncle Bob commenting on how I spoke to my 5 year old. She was not very tall and I got down on one knee and looked her straight in the eye. Every time she looked away I gently took her chin and turned her head back and said, "Look in my eyes and listen to me."
Make the most of your time, for it is short. Way shorter than you think.
Hi I'm Ruth
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your child? My husband and I had the first of our 8 children in 1984 and our youngest in 2002. We've been married since 1980 and we are always learning new ways to engage our children. We would love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know what you have found that works and what doesn't, or ask me a question.
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