Question: When the pandemic began, our two college age kids returned home and continued their studies on the internet. Although we love having them home, we have a problem. From the time they were very young, we had house rules: they were to keep their rooms clean and get their laundry to the laundry room for laundry day. They also helped with dinner dishes.
Now they’re like two people we don’t even know. Their rooms are a mess and, even though we’re willing to do their laundry, we have to look in their rooms for clothing to wash. We know college studies can take time and attention; however, we’d like to have the house rules the way they were before they left home. We’ve told them this, but it hasn’t done any good. We don’t want to have conflict in our family and, with few exceptions, our home has always been peaceful and calm. Is there something we can say to change this?
~ Overburdened Parents
Dear Overburdened Parents,
I’m so glad you reached out for fresh perspectives. I want to begin by acknowledging the hard work and sacrifice required in raising two children over the years. To grow children and still maintain a “loving home” is much to be proud about. Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart!
Here are a few questions to consider: What is the end goal here? Cleaner rooms? Responsible future adults? Upholding the house rules? Keeping the peace? It sounds like there are many goals here and none of them are being reached – no wonder you’re overburdened.
Here are a few recommendations: Take a deep breath and thank God for the quality of your burdens. They sound like great kids who are navigating their way through the fog of adulthood – it’s never a painless journey. Remember the “end goals” I asked about? You cannot achieve all of them perfectly – something has to give. Consider adapting the house rules established from childhood; as they grow, the rules can alter and change with time and with greater trust. In the long run, the goal of rules are never for the rules themselves but to shape character, inspire wisdom and create healthy boundaries where all parties can flourish.
You may want to consider changing your own modus operandi (i.e., mode of operation). Part of adulting is to be responsible for your own laundry and dishes among other tasks. If you don’t pay their taxes then maybe you should consider not doing their laundry either. Never underestimate the power of “running out of underwear.” I promise you that when they have no choice but to either walk around without underwear or wear the same one for days (I pray they don’t) then they will feel a great urge to do it themselves, just like they would if they were staying in a dormitory – although I take this last bit by faith – not knowing their risk level.
Lastly, being a peace-maker is different than being a peace-keeper. If your goal is to keep the peace, then crucial conversations cannot take place and personal growth will cease. Tension and conflict aren’t always a bad thing; they can be healthy catalysts for necessary change when allowed to exist within a vulnerable, safe and loving space. And it seems like your home is a place full of love.
Well, to wrap things up remember that tension and conflict are okay; stop doing their laundry – they need to start adulting in this area; buy more paper plates and keep the fine china off limits; find creative ways of updating your old house rules; and, finally, the keepers of the internet password hold the most power in a home with teenagers and millennials – don’t be afraid to use your superpower if need be – technological leverage is God’s gift to all parents.
Pastor Emanuel David
Dear Peace-loving Parents,
I hear your struggle between feeling good about the parenting that you used to do easily when your children were young, and the current challenge of parenting two young adults. Those two parenting styles require altogether different methods if you wish to maintain a peaceful family home. I, too, have found myself with two 18 year olds in my home and want to share with you a few ways to maintain healthy boundaries while giving them the freedom to be who they are (which can change by the week, by the way!).
I am very relieved to hear that the main issues for you and your spouse are housekeeping-related. Those things are fixable! Whereas problems with drug or alcohol abuse, or mental health issues such as depression, are much more serious for all concerned, and require professional help. I understand that you have tried talking to them and have gotten no results. I suggest that you schedule a mandatory family meeting where all can express their feelings, and come to a peaceful resolution. I have found that it works extremely well because the young adults feel “heard” and there is “focused” time together (perhaps putting all silenced cellphones in a basket before the meeting starts).
Maybe you have been unknowingly trying to get them to listen to you while they were on their devices texting, or on Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook or Twitter?
Most importantly, I strongly urge you not to go into their bedrooms in search of laundry. You may think you are being helpful but you are not helping them learn to handle their own laundry and you are not helping yourself when you continue to treat them as children. As young adults, they need their own private spaces. Believe me, when they run out of clothes to wear they will miraculously figure out how to do the laundry themselves. You must respect their space just as you want them to respect yours. Try asking them what they would do in your place with house guests who do not contribute to the household chores. How would they feel if you refused to cook, clean or pay the bills? This is a way to engage them in compassion, helping them to learn to walk in another person’s shoes.
The great philosopher Khalil Gibran said that our children are not our own and, though they are with us, they do not belong to us. In his book, “The Prophet,” he said, “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.”
It sounds like you have raised these young people with love and caring, and that you appreciate having them with you now, despite the circumstances. Focus on clear communication and healthy boundaries and find some joyful activities you can all do together and your home will remain a place of peace, with love at its center.
Rev. Karen Mitchell
Question: My neighbors’ baby recently died suddenly and the cause of death is listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. He was only 7 months old, born healthy and was a happy little guy. We attend the same church and often I would babysit so the parents could go out on date night. We’re all overcome with grief but I’m really worried about his parents. They really think they’re being punished and keep going over and over what they did that would bring God’s wrath on them. We’ve had hours of discussion about this. I tell them they did nothing wrong, but I’m not getting through to them. Help!
~Grandma Next door
Dear Grandma Next door,
What an extremely sensitive and challenging situation! There is nothing more devastating than the death of a child. Death itself is difficult but when a child dies it’s as if the world stops. A child’s death is not something we recover from; it stays with us each and every day – only the impact, or intensity, diminishes over time. Our God alone is the one who can heal a heart that has faced this depth of loss.
When trauma, loss or injury happens, as humans the first thing we want to do is blame one another, blame ourselves or even blame God. Many times, like that of your neighbors’, we can feel as if God is punishing us for things we may have done or not done. Each of us faces loss and grief differently based on our past hurtful experiences as well as the beliefs held by our families of origin. We must receive comfort from God’s word knowing that this is where His truth can be found. What we know is this – God is a God of comfort. Ps. 147:3 says, “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” (NIV)
Psalm 34:17-18 says, “Yet when holy lovers of God cry out to him with all their hearts the Lord will hear them and come to rescue them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain, and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.” (TPT)
A simple thing we can do to come alongside those who have lost a child is to ask parents what part of the day is the most difficult for them? One woman I know said, “When 3:00 comes everyday and the neighborhood kids are all getting off the school bus and my son is not, I am in a heap of tears everyday as I scan the crowd looking for him…” This precious woman’s friends made a decision that for several weeks they would pray for her at 3:00, text her, call or visit to help her though this initial season during that most intense time. This side of heaven we may never understand why God allows things like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, cancer in children, or other terminal diseases. It is hard to conceive that a loving heavenly Father would allow things like these to take the lives of our children if He has the power to overcome all sickness and disease. But we live in a broken world with free will and suffering is a part of this life here on earth – but thankfully this is not our eternal home. As Christians who have experienced the death of a child we must hold on to the faithful promise of God’s word from the book of Revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Precious Grandma Next door, I am so thankful your neighbors have you! I am thankful that you can encourage them to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus – the author and finisher of their faith. Let me encourage you to continue to speak truth to them and not allow their minds to accept the blame the enemy of their souls would love for them to carry. Jesus told us in John 16:33: “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Our prayers are with your friends and you, Grandma – as Paul said in Phil. 4:7, “That the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” and that the God who heals and restores all things would allow His presence to bring them and you healing body, soul and spirit in this coming season.
Pastor Debbie Sayovitz
Dear Grandma Next door,
I cannot imagine the heartache and trauma of losing a child, especially so suddenly with no explanation. In seeking to understand why we often reach to faith for explanations. And, unfortunately, sometimes our understanding is marred by images of a wrathful God who brings punishment and terror.
I think my advice is twofold: First, I hope that the couple, along with any other children they may have, would get grief counseling from a licensed provider. Something like this is far too heavy for them to bear on their own. The work of grief in this magnitude is long and difficult, and they need someone who can guide them through it.
Second – and this is the work you are doing – is they need help in reframing their story in light of God’s mercy and love. I am reminded of the disciples’ question when they encounter a blind man in John 9. “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” And Jesus rejects the very premise of such a question. Jesus’ intervention in this moment came so that God’s grace might be known in this man’s life. In our desire to see the world as ordered by cause and effect, bad things must occur because we are bad. But God reverses the order, favoring life and love over death and despair. In the midst of grief, this message can be hard to hear.
You ask how to get through to them. My encouragement is that you become the faithful presence of God, embodying the love that you have come to know and that they desperately need. When they are overwhelmed and overcome, your very real presence can demonstrate a glimpse of God’s grace to them. I hope your church will do the same: become the body of Christ, bearing one another’s burdens, incarnating grace.
My prayer is that you will find your own faith strengthened by this work as well, even as you grieve. As you seek to hold on to God’s love, may this love hold on to you. (Philippians 3:12)