Read an Excerpt
Well-loved children are much rarer than one would guess. Most people in our society unfortunately do not really know how to love other people well. Children who are well-loved will mostly grow up to be loving adults.
GILBERT W. KLIMAN AND ALBERT ROSENFELD
When Something Is Missing:
A Crisis In Parental Confidence
I didn't notice her at first. It was that delightful, animated after-class time when people hang around to talk. Asking questions, sharing illustrations, and sometimes challenging what they've heard, eager seminar attendees grab the last few moments to relate to me what's on their minds about the things they've been hearing.
But, for some reason, this young mother hadn't made herself a part of the after-class crowd. During the laughing and storytelling, she had stayed quietly alone in the back of the meeting room. Then as the group dispersed, she walked to the front. I was struck with her apparent sadness. Reaching for my hand and averting her eyes, she sighed, 'Mrs. Bell.' When did I become Mrs. Bell? I wondered. (Weren't we nearly the same age, this young mom and I? I mean, I am only two teenage sons away from sandboxes and big wheels and matchbox cars. That's not enough time to become distanced by formality!)
'Oh, please,' I smiled and pleaded, 'just call me Valerie!'
She didn't laugh or even smile. Instead, she pressed a folded note into my palm, curled my fingers over the top, and pressed them down.
'Please read this ... but not until the conference is over.'
With that she turned and left the room.
I looked down at the creased paper in my hand. It was moist from sweat. O God, I wondered, what horror story am I going to find at the end of the day when I read this letter? Is she abusing her children? Is her marriage falling apart? What terrible thing has she confided in me?
I tucked her crumpled page into a safe place in my briefcase, and later that night I retrieved it and read what was breaking her heart.
Dear Mrs. Bell,
I just had to write you this note. I am the mother of four children, all under eight years old. My husband is the leader of the weekly children's program at our church. We work with the youth group. I even home-school our children. Everyone thinks we are such good parents. But I know we're not. I've read everything I can find about raising children, but still---something is missing. I've never been able to put it into words before today, but what's missing in our home is relationship. We function, but it breaks my heart to realize how much my children have missed because I don't know how to be the warm, loving mother I know they need. Can you please help me?
And she signed her name.
Something's missing ... because I don't know how to be the warm, loving mother I know my children need.
So that was it! Why had I submitted to her 'read it later, please' agenda? Why hadn't I opened the conversational door just a crack? Now, how was I going to help her?
I thought of all the parents I'd met since I first started speaking up about children's problems. In the past few years I have been crisscrossing the country, challenging people to be surrogate parents for the hurting children in their lives, neighborhoods, and church programs---and people are so responsive! Yet, very often, too often, there have been other responses, curious echoes of the sad note that was pressed into my palm that day. These are not admissions of gross abuse but of a struggle within that is serious and fundamental.
* 'I can see the importance of Christian adults being committed to 'be there' for children who don't have anyone, but, to tell you the truth, I'm not even sure that I'm a good parent to my own kids!'
* 'I'm never sure if I'm doing things right. There are times when I feel so defeated. Is parenting supposed to be this hard?'
* 'My kids drive me crazy. What started as a love relationship has turned into mutual resentment. At night I know they sometimes lie in bed angry at me, and I guess, although I'm ashamed to admit it, I feel the same about them.'
The comments above remind me of one writer's description of the relationship between a mother and her demanding offspring.
* 'The baby is an interference with her private life. ... He is ruthless, treats her as scum, an unpaid servant, a slave.
His excited love is cupboard love, so that having got what he wants he throws her away like an orange peel.
He is suspicious, refuses her good food, and makes her doubt herself, but he eats well with his aunt.
After an awful morning with him, she goes out, and he smiles at a stranger, who says: 'Isn't he sweet?'
If she fails him at the start, she knows he will pay her out forever.'
Or this mother's honest admission:
* 'I am angry at my baby,' she says, describing the end of a long, hard mothering day. 'I yell into his little face for his endless crying and throw him roughly into his crib. Then I quickly sweep him into my arms, protecting him from his insane mother, fearing that I will ... drive my child crazy. For if I interpret the experts correctly, this is not a hard thing to do.'
I've also heard the following comments, which reflect the self-image problem parents experience after dealing nose to nose with a child day after day.
* 'I used to be a nice person. Now A.K. (after kids) I've turned into a raving, screaming, out-of-control witch. I don't even like myself anymore ... no wonder my kids keep their distance.'
* 'I'm the strong-willed parent of a strong-willed child. Relationally we are at a stand-off, and worst of all, I suspect I'm the one who taught him everything he knows.'