ORGANIZING A CARING PARENTS GROUP
Karen & Ron Flowers
Directors, Department of Family
Ministries, General Conference
Why a Caring Parents group?
A Caring Parents group can provide a setting for parents to fellowship and support each other and work through common parenting issues.
Parents need other parents. The encouragement given them through association and interaction with other parents provides an affirmation of themselves as persons, gives them a sense of belonging to a community of others who share similar concerns, and provides opportunities for celebrating the joy and satisfactions of parenting.
Parents can help other parents. In a Caring Parents group, an environment of trust and acceptance is created. Parents experience a sense of freedom to examine their own behavior, to observe others and try alternate ways of relating to their children.
The Caring Parents group is a special application of the ‘small companies’ principle:
“Let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members, but for unbelievers. . . . Let them keep their bond unbroken, pressing together in love and unity, encouraging one another to advance, each gaining courage and strength from the assistance of the others.”-Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 22.
“We meet together to edify one another by an interchange of thoughts and feelings, and to gather strength, and light, and courage by becoming acquainted with one another’s hopes and aspirations; and by our earnest, heartfelt prayers, offered up in faith, we receive refreshment and vigor from the Source of our strength.”-Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, pp. 578, 579.
The Caring Parents group is loosely structured with several parents covenanting with each other to meet on a regular basis for a specific period of time. Size of the group is flexible, though personal sharing tends to be diminished in groups larger than ten or twelve. The group may meet as often as once per week or once in 2-3 weeks. Meetings should be kept to a maximum of two hours, beginning on time and ending on time.
It is important that the group have calendar boundaries, perhaps of 9-12 months at which time the group terminates or recovenants for another year. The school calendar year of nine or ten months has been found by some to provide a satisfactory time framework.
Open to any parent who is interested and committed to the particular goals of the Caring Parents group. In larger churches several such groups may form with each having a different focus such as early childhood training, challenges of parenting teens, single parenting, or ministry to “wounded” parents, who are discouraged by the rejecting attitudes of their adolescent and early adult children.
An individual or couple may serve as facilitator(s) of the Caring Parents group. As the structure of the group is flexible, so the leadership style may vary, depending on the needs and goals of the group and the personalities and abilities of those in leadership. Leadership responsibilities may be rotated around the group during meetings or from meeting to meeting.
Group leaders should be familiar with group process, possess some basic leadership skills, and have a high level of propriety. They should be alert to their own limitations and the limitations of the care group.
Caring Parents groups exist for the purpose of allowing parents to focus on their personal needs, their needs as couples in relation to their children and the needs of their children. Although common bonds and socializing will develop within the group, this must be secondary to the primary task of concentrating on some aspect of the issue affecting relationships. The leader couple may select topics or all members may be asked to suggest issues to be used as topics. The group may construct an agenda for an entire year, for several meetings in advance, or do so on a meeting to meeting basis. Books, tapes, films, exercises or other materials may be used as springboards for discussion.
Discussion Guide Resource for Caring Parents Groups
The following are discussion starters for a Caring Parents Group using passages from the The Wounded Parent by Guy Greenfield. Information for purchasing this book may be found in the Resources section.
Session 1: Asking for Help
When your son or daughter has gone astray, one of the worst things you can do is pull into your shell and hurt. Many of us believe that such problems are so personal that they aren’t anyone else’s business. We think that in time we can handle our own problems. We learn from our culture that we are supposed to be able to stand on our own two feet.
When you feel your family has been torpedoed, you need help. Asking for help, although at first a difficult step for many, can be the first movement toward recovery. . . .
To ask for help is not only to acknowledge our humanity but also to begin the desired healing process. God uses other people to assist in healing in the emotional realm, just as He does in the physical realm.-Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 24, 25.
Session 2: The Pain of Rejection
When children do not live up to their parents’ expectations, the experience is similar to a divorce. This is especially true when the parents’ expectations pertain to morality and religious convictions. This type of divorce is an especially painful form of rejection.
A rejection of the moral codes of one’s parents will likely be taken personally by the parents. We parents are too wrapped up in our moral convictions to separate ourselves intellectually from those convictions and not feel the emotional pain of rejection when our children disappoint us with their behavior.
When a child goes astray morally, he or she will also inevitably reject the family’s church and all it stands for. This will be embarrassing to many parents. It is so often taken as a sign of parental failure. What will the parents say to their friends at church (especially if the child’s behavior involves the police or a pregnancy)?
God is so identified with religious, church-going parents that when youth rebel against their parents, they will probably rebel against God also. In other words, the will of the parents is the will of God. The lifestyle of the parents is a godly lifestyle. At least, this is what the children think.
This is not a carefully reasoned-out process in a youth’s mind. It is usually a subconscious process of identification. However, if there are any deep-seated feelings of anger on the part of the child toward the parents, one way to strike out in anger is to reject those values, beliefs, and practices that mean a great deal to the parents. If God means much to parents whose child is rebelling, the objects of rebellion will likely include God.
The hardest part of the pain of rejection is the thought that a wayward child has rejected your love. Rejection of love hurts and hurts deeply. At the time, there seems to be no reasonable explanation for the rejection of sincere love. Such rejection seems to be ungrateful cruelty.
Rejection of parental love is a very personal form of rejection. For someone to reject your love is to reject you as a person. This is difficult for anyone to take.
When your child goes astray, it hurts. And it’s all right to hurt if you will use the pain to discover your strengths and weaknesses and to determine to grow thereby.-Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 37, 39, 41, 42, 45.
Session 3: Managing Your Emotions
Pain results from feeling rejected. Feeling rejected by a son or daughter makes a parent hurt emotionally. This is a pain that is as severe as physical pain. Most of us have experienced what is commonly called “hurt feelings.”
Pain also results from feeling disappointment. High expectations for a son or daughter can be easily shattered by his or her refusal to meet those expectations and a decision to go his or her own way (especially when such behavior involves actions contrary to the parents’ moral standards).
It’s all right to hurt (to be disappointed) if you will go beyond the hurt to serious efforts to listen, to understand, to care, to support (if wanted), and to love unconditionally. More important than your hurt feelings is your son’s or daughter’s freedom to make his or her own decisions, even if you disagree with those decisions. If the decisions, in your estimation, are poor ones, then let the consequences be the ultimate teacher. This is not easy to do; it may be part of the pain of being a parent. But (especially for an older teenager or young adult) it may be the only way.
Listening and understanding are better than anger and resentment. Unselfish concern for your child’s problems is better than embarrassment. Asking for help is better than wallowing in self-pity. Resolving grief is better than sinking into it. Pain needs to be transcended by unconditional love in an atmosphere of freedom. Learning from our mistakes is better than indulging in a guilt trip. Trust in God is better than the paralysis of fear.-Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 53, 54, 56.
Session 4: Staying Out of the Blame Game
When your son or daughter has rebelled against your Christian beliefs and values, it is normal to look back over the years and ask yourself, “What went wrong?” But instead of asking, “Who’s to blame?” or “Whose fault was it?” it is so much more productive to ask, “What can I learn from this? How can I best relate to my child now that all of this has happened? How can my husband or wife and I work together in building a new relationship with our child?”
I personally found it to be a great relief the day I discovered that my undershirt does not have a large monogrammed S on the front of it. Likewise, there is no large W on my wife’s clothing. I am not Superman and she is not Wonder Woman when it comes to parenting. The day we both accepted that fact was a day a heavy burden was lifted.
God’s forgiveness is clearly promised and eagerly offered. Confessing your perceived mistakes to your son or daughter is not so easy. Timing and place will be important. Only God, working through your good common sense, can impress you to know when and where that will be. But do confess your mistakes to your child. However, do not expect your child to readily respond in kindness and forgiveness. He or she will need time and some maturity to know how to respond. Someone has to take the first step in reconciliation. When you do your part, leave the response in the hands of God and in the will of your child. Be patient.
Don’t dwell on the past. What has happened has happened. Laying the blame on another is neither your business (you are not omniscient) nor a productive procedure. Avoid berating yourself for your “parental failure.” Jesus died for our sins. We need not nor cannot atone for them. Learn from the past as best you can (although our memories and perceptions are often poor). Reach out to bless your child as best you can at this late date with love, acceptance, trust, and encouragement.-Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 67, 69, 73.
Session 5: Building a New Relationship
A wounded parent can neither correct all the mistakes of the past nor bring a son or daughter back to the relationship that existed five or ten years earlier. Present realities must be squarely faced and accepted. Although you may not agree with your child’s lifestyle, values, or behavior, it will help the family situation greatly if you can merely accept the fact that “this is the way it is.” Such acceptance will facilitate immensely your next move: trying to build a new relationship. This will not always be easy, nor can it be done quickly, but you can start in this direction.
All parents should be working themselves out of the job of being parents and easing themselves into the relationship of being friends of their children. This is especially true of wounded parents. I am not suggesting that you cannot be both parents and friends at the same time during the early formative years of your children’s lives. By the phrase the job of being parents, I mean the role of parenting. But as children grow up, the role of parenting by father and mother should diminish while the role of friend should increase.
You don’t have to compromise your moral convictions or religious beliefs in order to be open in communication. If your son or daughter has moved out of the house or lives at a distance due to location of a job, you can still call or write, but keep the conversation or subject on a nonjudgmental level. He or she knows how you feel about value differences between you. Your son or daughter wants to know if you still care, in spite of differences. Is a communicating friendship still possible? You will have to decide.-Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 87, 96.
Session 6: Finding Creative Possibilities in Disappointment
Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure. . . .
It does mean you haven’t succeeded yet.
Failure doesn’t mean you have accomplished nothing. . . .
It does mean you have learned something.
Failure doesn’t mean you have been a fool. . . .
It does mean you had a lot of faith.
Failure doesn’t mean you’ve been disgraced. . . .
It does mean you were willing to try.
Failure doesn’t mean you don’t have it. . . .
It does mean you have to do something in a different way.
Failure doesn’t mean you are inferior. . . .
It does mean you are not perfect.
Failure doesn’t mean you’ve wasted you life. . . .
It does mean you have a reason to start afresh.
Failure doesn’t mean you should give up. . . .
It does mean you must try harder.
Failure doesn’t mean you’ll never make it. . . .
It does mean it will take a little longer.
Failure doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. . . .
It does mean God has a better idea.
Robert H. Schuller quoted in Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 102, 103.
Session 7: Supporting Each Other
The church is engaged in a major spiritual war in the midst of a hostile and secular battlefield, and the church is suffering many casualties. The injured need to and can help each other.
Your wounds of disappointment, heartache, and discouragement as a parent can be filled with purpose and meaning as you reach out to other wounded parents to heal their injured spirits.
If you will allow God to use this situation to work through the problems you are facing, it can be an unusual opportunity for God to reveal Himself in a most powerful way to those who are watching how you respond. I have known of several wounded Christian parents who have told their stories time and again to interested people and have related how God continued to bless within their homes. Even in the midst of seemingly tragic circumstances, God was able to bring about miracles between parents and children. People do not ignore that type of witnessing. Such shared faith is never artificial but has the ring of reality.-Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 110, 111, 117.
Greenfield, G. (1982). The wounded parent. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
White, E. G. (1948). Testimonies for the church, vol. 2 . Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1948). Testimonies for the church, vol. 7 . Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Reprinted from Karen & Ron Flowers, Passing the Torch. Silver Spring, MD: Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1992.