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Parenting Through Family Holidays

At Thanksgiving, we all want to spend special time with family. The holiday is tailored for just these, moments with our most precious relationships and special individuals. Kids, parents, grandparents, extended family and friends are the ones we want close, because they make us who we are.

Throw in a few family birthdays, Christmas, annual holidays, additional family events and our children quickly begin to appreciate family times and the people who are and should be in their lives.

Our children start to understand that mom and dad should be there and if not they ask why.

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As adults who are no longer connected to our child’s other biological parent, we often explain, with valid responses and solid reasoning why it may not be possible for the other parent to be present. These explanations often work as they are taken verbatim by children until the other parent offers a different reason and says they want to be a part of their children’s life.

It doesn’t take long for those ‘why it may not be possible’ reasons to quickly turn to resentment toward either one or both parents. Children can quickly equate the absence of the non-custodial parent with an unwillingness and/or refusal to be part of their unfolding life or to the efforts of their parent at home to keep the other parent from spending time with them.

As the parent doing the heavy lifting of raising the child with responsibilities for taking them to school, feeding and clothing, tending to a hurt  aknee, watching them at practice and games and seeing the ups and downs of their life, we want to make sure they don’t get hurt physically or emotionally.

Our need to protect our kids’ feelings from someone who has hurt us or them has to be carefully managed. Resentment and bitterness towards a parent is not something easily addressed and can be held by children long after their adolescent, teenage and adolescent years are over.

It’s always best to manage child-parent situations in the present with the child having a voice in what he or she wants. Children may not always know, but getting them to express how they feel in their own words makes them part of the process when the dealing with conflicting feelings for parents.

Thanksgiving is a time to share our time with those special to us. Our children learn this quickly and have the same wishes, let’s help them to share in it and be thankful for all that we have.

Debbie Miles-Senior is a Director of Side By Side Services a Supervised Access Centre in Durham

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Fatherless No More

Meeting my father was my lifelong dream.

All my life I wanted to know who he was. Do I look like him? Do I have siblings?

I finally met him when I was 37 years old.

I grew up in a household of women with my mom her two sisters and my two cousins.

There was no father figure in the house. My two uncles came by from time to time.

I asked my mom about my father over and over. She gave a number of excuses. I soon stopped asking.

I hoped and dreamt to meet my father one day and wondered if I would have sisters and brothers.

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As a teenager I learned that the last name I bear does not belong to my father, but to my mother’s husband. They were separated at the time of my birth.

I felt confused, but convicted to find out who I am.

My mother’s family was very fulfilling, yet I felt the vastness of my other self. It was like I was on half of the bed and the other half was empty.

In the late 90’s, I cornered my aunt to tell me who my father was. She did.

In 2002 my mother also confirmed my father’s identity and revealed I have an older sister.

This confirmation was very illuminating and began to make me feel whole.

It turned out I had met my father years before when I was about 26. My mother and I were at a picnic where she and this man in a cowboy hat got along well joking and laughing. My memories of this man in the distinctive cowboy hat were such that I nicknamed him Tex. Since that time I greeted him every time I saw him as Tex. My father later told me how good that made him feel.

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My father told me he always kept update to date with my ins and outs and even kept in touch with my mother.

My mother had her reasons for not telling me about him as both my parents were married to other people when I was born.

Later that year my mother succumbed to cancer and I was alone.

My mother’s support of me was warm and cozy. Her presence had provided an invisible blanket of security I took for granted. When she died, I felt less secure and very alone.

Almost one year later my godmother told me my father wanted to see me. I was so involved with settling my mother’s affairs I had almost forgotten about him and had not thought about what to do about my knowledge of his identity.

My godmother shared insights to my father and his family that had me thinking: “What man wants to claim a 37 year old child?”

With a lot of thought, I agreed to meet with him after the one year marker of my mother’s passing.

I insisted we meet in a neutral space, so our meeting was at the vacant home of a friend.

I asked questions which he willfully answered. I was very firm in letting him know I would not tolerate him speaking against my mom because she was not here to defend herself. He was very respectful in his responses and I was satisfied with his answers. We decided to work on our relationship.

My father told me I had a sister, niece, cousins, uncles, aunts and a great aunt who was 101.

Later that year, I met my sister and niece and my father reintroduced me to friends and people we knew mutually, letting them know I was his daughter.

I felt a lot of people knew our story, but it was not theirs to tell. No one told me, and for that, I am grateful. My mother finally told me and that is the way it should be.

Having a father figure later in life has not been easy.  My father is in his eighties and very set in his ways. He has had no experience raising children and I am a grown woman raised by a group of women with certain values. There are even some class differences.

We have butt heads at times, however we also laugh a lot.

He is not my security blanket and he certainly does not replace my mother’s love. But, I am not as alone as I was before. I am not sure how he feels about me, whether he loves me or not, but we are family, and I feel that.

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All Things Are Temporary – Even Supervised Access

If you are like many parents and in a situation where your time with your children is supervised, you are most likely angry, hurt and frustrated, to name a few. For your child, supervised access comes with fears and anxieties.

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Father and son using supervised access an opportunity together 

Supervised access is an opportunity to be with your child to learn and grow

When helping parents in this process, feelings of having some “stranger” watch them while they visit their children in what feels like a never ending situation is common. Like all things this is temporary. In order to build and maintain your relationship and help your child, the circumstance must be looked at with a positive point of view towards learning and growing. Here are some to help while having supervised access:

  • Take the time to learn about your child, likes and dislikes
  • Involve your child in planning activities
  • Plan out activities you would like to do at each visit, for example, teaching your child a new card game
  • Do a science project with your child
  • Pick a chapter book to read at each visit with a goal of completing it together
  • If your child is young, teach them a new song, dance with them, be silly with them
  • If your child is into video games, learn more about it and if possible play a game with them
  • If your child likes Lego build it with them
  • If your child likes to paint, plan a paint project to do at each visit
  • If the centre allows, have a meal with your child
  • Be silly, laugh with your child and follow their lead

The position you are in might feel like a life sentence however, it is not. Supervised access is an opportunity to be with your child to learn and grow. The situation is temporary and the time spent with your child will last a lifetime. To help plan for a positive and healthy visit with your child seek assistance from an access centre. As they say, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and sometimes even lemon meringue pie.

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I Wish My Parents Had Explained One of Them Would Be Leaving

When the decision to separate is made and there are children involved, it is of vital importance they are told by both parents. In our need to protect our children from this life changing decision and its impact we sometimes miss their needs. A 17 year shares her experience with some common theme from parental separation.

Hello, I am a seventeen year old girl. I live with my mother and my older brother. My parents split up when I was just seven, although I was young I remember it and I remember the pain I went through. I remember coming home from school to nothing in the house….everything was gone, including my dad.

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Even though I was told repeatedly it wasn’t my fault that they loved me and maybe it was for the best, I didn’t want to believe it. I felt like it was my fault and I couldn’t do anything and it hurt. Both my brother and my mom helped a lot,  my mom always made sure I knew if I needed something that I could go to her, it made me feel safe. My older brother stepped in for a bit to make sure I had a good role model and always encouraged me to do my best.

I wish my parents sat down with my brother and I and explained that one of them would be leaving & that things would be changing. I think that would have been easier on me considering I was so young. It was really hard knowing that he wasn’t going to be living there, but I think the hardest part was only being able to see him every other week, he became bitter & I felt like I couldn’t make my dad or my mom happy anymore. As a child I wish I could have had more people to talk to (other than my brother and my mom) because I knew what I said could hurt them. But that trust wasn’t there so I didn’t open up to anyone

I don’t know why my dad doesn’t come around or call, but that is his choice and not something that I did wrong. It has taken a long time for me to learn that.

For any child in a similar situation please know that this is not your fault and remember that prayer will help get you through the toughest times.

In this situation we have support our children. It is important they are told of decisions made and reassured of our love for them. Seek resources if you are having struggles around the conversation your child. At Side by Side, we do our best to service and empower parents and children through this this decision, of separation and divorce.

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Parenting From the Sideline

So the story goes something like this… three days before my teenage son Myles’ (not his real name) progress report was due, he text me to say “Mom, I need a tutor for math.”

In a normal situation a parent would commend their teenage child for taking this initiative.  However, this is not a normal situation.  Myles who is currently in grade 11, has always taken the laid back approach to high school and his grades.  As parents we push, coerce, force, threaten and sometimes hold their hand, but sometimes nothing changes, this was this case with Myles.

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We spent many a day taking him to tutors over the years and having his older cousins speak with him, but neither his marks or laid back approach showed no improvement, nor was he any more serious with his studies.  So in grade 11, we made the decision we will no longer coerce or hold his hand. We instead decided to sit on the sideline.

Many conversations happened with Myles at the beginning of the current school year. He responded by being irritated and stating “I’m fine. I’m now ready to get serious, let me do it on my own.” So, we sat on the sideline.

Fast forward two months later, “mom I need a tutor.” My first reaction was to scream “I am not coming off the sideline!”  With frustration, I jumped in yelling, giving him ‘the speech.’ Unfortunately for him and us his report card was the same, minimal signs of progress.

To help us better understand this process I asked questions. When do you sit on the sideline and let your child use the skills you have taught them and when do you jump in?  In hearing others share, a common theme was heard; it depends on the child, your parenting style and your ability to step back and give the child the chance to learn from their mistakes. As I continue this high school journey with Myles, I timidly make the decision to sit on the sideline and to jump in ever so often.  In this process, I am reminded of what I was told as a child “If you can’t hear you will feel.” As I do this I see Myles making positive progress.

 

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Change is Good; For the Sake of Our Children

The idea of separation was terrifying for me.

I was afraid of the effects on my children. All that my children had ever known was a happy home with mom and dad that loved them, and now we were breaking that up. They were too young to understand why and I was afraid they would be scared and confused by all the change. I thought about how this would affect their relationships as adults and what resentments they may feel toward me. I had a long list of reasons why I would be ruining their lives. All these reasons prolonged our decision to separate. So I thought, maybe if we waited until the children were older and could better understand, it would make it easier, but what type of happy home would we be providing.

They needed to see a relationship of love and respect, happy individual parents that can be positive role models – that became our goal. Separation and divorce are awful no matter how you look at it, but I was set on making it the best I could for all of us. I wanted them to know their mother as a strong independent woman that respected herself and deserved to be happy too. Keeping the focus on what was best for my family and not worrying about other’s judgment or opinions was key.

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After the distraction of the change ended; new home new routine etc. the struggle was and continues to be the alone time. The reality of not being a part of my children’s lives every day hit me hard. Not being there for all the moments, not having a say in the new people in my children’s lives, all the control that is now not mine, this hit me hard. I remind myself that my children have a great father who has always been and continues to be involved in their lives as a positive role model and although it is difficult I have taken solace in that. I have my kids 50 percent of the time; it is difficult when they are not with me. But just as difficult when they are with me, keeping up to the ever growing demands of a now five and seven-year old alone and can be overwhelming.

I leaned on friends to talk me through some rough days. Also having someone close to me that can be a non-judgmental sounding board was my savior, providing me a logical “non-emotional” option in my way of handling situations and my way of thinking. I lean on my ex-husband at times, he more than anyone could understand me; after all he was going through the same thing and knows me well. We support each other; I am extremely grateful for our continued parenting relationship. We have remained focused on what is best for our kids and have avoided disagreements in trivial things. We discussed and planned openly every aspect of our separation and moving forward. We sought out some professional help on how to best communicate the transition when it came to the kids; this was very helpful. Our communication is key although challenging at times.

Our goal was to make the best of the situation if being happy parents as a married couple wasn’t going to work then being happy parents separately was going to be the best we could offer. I wanted to teach my kids about positive relationships, and that alone helped with the guilt of separation. If there is one thing I have learned, it is not to hold on to resentment and to move forward, anger and blame are anchors.

Consistency and routine help to provide some sense of stability, with both myself and the kids. Maintaining a healthy relationship with my ex-husband has also helped in attempting to enforce similar rules and expectations at home. We want our children to feel they are still being parented by both of us. We all know that kids learn quickly how to manipulate situations so as a united front we move forward.

To all women and men if I can say only one thing it is, do not fight over trivial things, fight only for your kids happiness. If that means keeping your opinions to yourself then try, avoid the conflict unless it is detrimental to your kids well-being.   Ask yourself does it matter to the kids or is it only me that it bothers. What your parenting partner does is only of your concern if it affects the kids, it’s tough but in the big picture, life will be easier when you can remain friends.

I still have to remind myself it will get easier, and my kids will always love me no matter what.

just a parent- By Sonia Scott

 

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Untested allegations of abuse or family violence

Mary Wells, BA, BSW, RSW

Supervised access to children is becoming a more frequent occurrence for families where there are allegations of family violence or abuse, or where a parent is alleged to have addiction or mental health disorders.

Supervised access may be done in the offices of a child protection agency, a family court clinic or by a private, supervised access professional.

canstockphoto3265631Once a decision has been made that there should be a period of supervised access, consideration should be given to the impact on the child in a supervised access setting. Planning and preparation ahead of the visits should be developed in consultation with the access supervisor, the referring professional and the parents to maximize this as a positive experience for the child and parents.

Factors that should be considered include:

  • The developmental stage of the child
  • A history of the family’s interaction that lead to the decision that access must be supervised
  • Whether the child may have directly suffered as a result of abuse or neglect
  • Where there is an allegation of family violence, the extent of the exposure of the child to the violence should be explored

canstockphoto8677454Referring professionals may have this information and if so should inform the access supervisor. If the referring parties do not have this information, it may be appropriate for the access supervisor to meet with the child for the purpose of making the assessment and a plan for addressing unresolved issues. This does not mean the issues have to be “fixed” prior to the access. It does mean however, that the supervisor will be prepared to intervene effectively to support the child.

Parental preparation of the child for supervised access

How the child is prepared for the supervised access can have a significant effect on both the child and the parents. Here are some do’s and dont’s for preparing a child for access:

 For custodial parents:

  • Reassure the child the supervisor will ensure the visit will be safe and as pleasant as possible
  • Do not instruct the child to attempt to gain any information from the non-custodial parent
  • Try to neutralize and normalize the situation for the child. For example, explain that “sometimes it works best for children to see their parents with somebody else present”
  • If a parent is very anxious about the access, discuss this with the access supervisor or other professionals who are helping you so they can keep your anxiety from affecting your child both before and after visits

For parents whose access is supervised:

  • When you see the child at the beginning of the visit, you can explain that you are visiting this way because sometimes, in some families, it works out best for children to see their parent with another adult who helps out.
  • Discuss ahead of time with the access supervisor what to expect during the visit (length of time, location of the visit, what you may or may not bring to the visit).
  • Discuss ground rules for the supervised access. For example, you will likely be told that you must not discuss court, family finances, the other parent or their family in front of the child. Do not ask the child questions about the other parent. These are often difficult issues for parents who can only see their children under supervision, and sometimes the parent forgets or breaks the rules. With the access supervisor, work out a signal that the supervisor can use to let you know you need to stop saying or doing something. This should be a signal you are comfortable with that the supervisor can use to not cause you to lose face. For instance you could ask the supervisor to say “Not just now”, or “We’re getting off track here” and you can agree to be guided by that signal.
  • Be aware that the access supervisors are expected to take notes and report on the visit.
  • Ask the supervisor if you can debrief with him or her after a visit and in preparation for the next visit.

Supervised access can be a significant opportunity to help the parents and the child in working towards a positive outcome for the whole family. Thoughtful, child centered preparations can make supervised access visits an opportunity for healing and growth as the family moves forward.

 

 

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Tough Love or Just Discipline Positively

If you are a parent like me who is trying to learn the best way to positively discipline, you would likely hear many suggestions and ideas and more often than not, you would hear “do tough love… don’t enable the child.”

Parenting comes with many do’s and dont’s, some things valid some not. It sometimes rattles me when I share and vent about disciplining my child and then hear a response, ‘do tough love’.

The scenario goes like this: you call your friend upset about something your child has done. “I can’t believe this child! He knows he must catch the 4 :00 o’clock bus for his game and again he misses the bus. He is now calling me to get him.” Your friend reacts by saying “Let him miss his game, that’s the only way he learns its called, ‘tough love’.” You sigh because you are again left confused and angry by this reaction of ‘tough love’ that does not help you or your child.

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Positive discipline can include a variety of options

 

The question arises, ‘What is the true meaning of ‘tough love’ and how can we use it to teach our children?’ There is a verse in the bible which says ‘God disciplines those he loves’. Nothing mentions that he administers ‘tough love’ to those he loves. ‘Tough love’ to me has no place in parenting and disciplining of our children. When this phrase is mentioned there is only guilt, with feelings of being unsure in your parenting. You leave your child to take the bus you feel guilty, you pick him up, you feel guilty and sometimes furious with yourself and the child.

So what do you do? Why can’t we just parent and discipline our children with love. Why do we need certain words and phrases that create more stress and confusion in our parenting.

There are several attempts to define ‘tough love’ such as “love or concern that is expressed in a strict way especially to make someone behave responsibly.” An article also describes it as “any parenting in which the child experiences some negative emotions that are part of a learning process.

I would recommend to eliminate ‘tough love’ and just discipline because you love your child. Our ultimate goal as a parent is to love and nurture our children, which includes discipline. So, sometimes it’s ok if Sammy goes to his friend’s house and for the fourteenth time asks if you can pick him up. As the parent you have to decide the reasons to pick him up or not. Sometimes there is no wrong or right decision you just do.

In the end, we know as parents we have the best and most challenging job in the world and we do the best we can. Again, our job as parent is to love and nurture our children and with that we discipline. As noted by Dr. Kevin Leman on parenting and discipline, “discipline is a privilege.” “Having the opportunity to give your kids direction, teaches them a valuable lesson that can help them avoid some long-range disaster, or that will contribute to their character development.” That is the privilege and the joy of parenting.

For more information on Side by Side Services – Supervised Access Like us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter at @SidebySideServi

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The Range of Supervised Access – From Supervised to Unsupervised

 

If you are the parent who hacanstockphoto23651678d or has to have visits with your children supervised, the question that would likely be asked is “Why,” and for how long.

This situation is often frustrating with feelings of anger and resentment. To help dismantle these feelings and help build a healthy relationship for parents and children, these questions need to be looked at from all sectors: the courts; lawyers; access centres; parents and the family.

When a decision is made by the courts for supervised access, it is made in the best interest of the child. However, this decision is seen as only temporary. The reality is that if there are no goals or steps to increase and develop the relationship between parent and the child, the courts decision feels like forever.

When the parent (often the non-custodial parent) and the child begin this process it feels like a dark cloud with no hope of movement or change. Sometimes the parent and child access visits continues with no understanding of their relationship, no known progress.

When the decision is made for supervised access the question to address is how long will the duration be and how will the parent and child transition from one stage of supervised access to unsupervised in the best interest of both.

It is of great benefit to a parent child relationship that they are allowed the opportunity to develop their relationship through supervised access. When the decision is made, all sectors including the parent, need to be inline with the goal for access and the healthy development of the parent-child relationship.

When looking at this decision of being temporary and transitioning from one stage to another, the following issues must be considered with commitments:

  • Does the parent understand the reasons for supervised access, does the child;
  • What are the concerns around the parent-child relationship that need to change;
  • Does the parent need to seek services to address those issues;
  • Has the parent and child made progress in their relationship;
  • Does the access centre provide ongoing support to parents through this stage and updates on parents in their progress;
  • Does the access centre provide teachable moments to parents when needed;
  • Does the access notes show the progress of the relationship;
  • Does the goal for the lawyer and parent match to reach the next stage of access, increasing to no supervision.

As part of the intake process for supervised access it is important the parent is helped to identify the things needed to help maintain a healthy parent child relationship. Both parties should work to increase access with the goal of minimal to no supervision. At Side by Side Services, we help parents work towards this goal. This begins at the first contact with the parent and the family. Please visit our website for more information sidebysideservices.ca or call us 416-518-1569

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Out of the Mouth of Babes

 

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Recognizing that our children are on their own individual journey means being self-reflexive

 

I must have asked Mathew (not is real name) a million times to eat his dinner. He must have sensed my exasperation because he responded with, “If you keep talking to me like that I will not listen to you.” He was so matter of fact. I turned to him immediately ready to ask “who do you think you are talking to like that?” My own Caribbean socialization and upbringing was now at the forefront of my consciousness. My child had just turned 4, I thought to myself, and here he was disrespecting me. My mind was racing; I wanted to quote Proverbs and Ephesians respectively. He needed to be obedient and, honor his mother so that his days would be long upon the land. Notwithstanding, Mathew would be oblivious to whatever scriptures I wanted to quote, I wanted to repeat them anyway.

In truth, I was worried that somewhere along the line I had given him permission to speak to me in whatever manner he chose and, that is unacceptable. Instead of repeating the verses and thoughts that was ruminating in my head, I took a deep breath and, asked Mathew, “How was I talking to you.” He promptly responded, “Not nice.” I then remembered the scripture “out of the mouth of babes.” My son had stood up for himself; he knew that my behavior was unacceptable and was obviously not intimidated to say so. I did not particularly like the feeling of being humbled (who doesn’t struggle with pride?) by my 4 year old child. In that moment and other moments, I have been forced to examine my own behavior and attitude about parenting, which is also intricately related to my own expectations.

“Mathew asked, ‘why do I have to keep reminding you to pray,’ I’m tired of asking you to pray.”

Let’s face it, my friends and family know that I’m perpetually busy; I move, walk, and talk fast; Will (my partner) jokes that a leisurely stroll with me is like a marathon. I get things done! This attitude is sometimes manifested in my parenting which doesn’t work well with a 4 year old especially at dinner time. I sometimes get frustrated with how long Mathew takes to eat especially when there are other activities to complete before bedtime. For Mathew, life is not a rush! So when he called me out on my tone, I had to admit that he was absolutely correct; he deserved to be treated with respect. Living in rather hierarchical culture-where parents epitomize authority and are supposed to be all knowing- admitting to and apologizing to a child is foreign. Our ego will not allow that kind of submission. In moments like these, as parents, we are forced to confront our own contradictions. We insist that we want to raise autocanstockphoto23651678nomous children who grow up and contribute to society. Yet, we take certain interactions like the one I mentioned with Mathew out of the equation; we often fail to see these as moments of growth for ourselves and our children. We love and appreciate our children as long as they abide by the rules we have put in place, such as “not talking back,” which seems to be interpreted as impertinent.

That moment with Mathew (and I have had many more) made me realize that he is precisely the kind of child I want him to be. I recognize that my son is intelligent and capable of articulating his feelings even if it is at the expense of my ego. It’s not enough to want our children to be independent thinkers while placing limitation on them if it appears ever so slightly that they are challenging us. As a process, parenting is difficult, because it requires that we let go of some the norms and ideals that we hold dear to our hearts because they no longer work. It means recognizing that our children are on their own individual journey that is separate from ours. It means being self-reflexive, (not over-reactive) which is sometimes my tendency. It means listening to our children and valuing their ideas, feelings, and perspectives.

Thus, a few nights ago, as I lay beside Mathew as it’s our custom; he asked, ‘why do I have to keep reminding you to pray,’ I’m tired of asking you to pray.” While Mathew has been the one to pray, several months ago, he would ask that we pray out loud. I’m more accustomed to praying silently. He was obviously annoyed; I chuckled and then prayed. The next morning I had a conversation about his response to my forgetting to pray; he reiterated his reaction. I then admit that yes sometimes mommy does forget to pray, which is not intentional. Mathew then said, “O.k. mommy, I will always remind you to pray after I pray.” Our children can be the best teachers if we remain open and receptive.

Dr. Karen Flynn is a Toronto native living in the U.S. She is an associate Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies and African American Studies, and at the University of Illinois and author of Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora.

Follow her on Twitter @KarenFlynnPhD

 

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