Parent Blog

Parenting a college student is a different stage and requires different parenting skills and perspectives. Sarah Butler and occasional guest bloggers will share some insights to help you on the journey. You're not alone!

Bread or a Stone?

By Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council

I found myself back in Matthew 7 this week, reminded that the Lord invites us to ask Him for what we need. Verses 7 and 8 say, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” The instructions seem clear; when we ask specifically for what we need and actively seek answers, we will find them. Knocking leads to open doors. What I hear is a progression from humble requests to active pursuit to assertive action, followed by a promise that God will answer. It’s a formula, isn’t it? Pray specifically, boldly, and persistently and God will be moved to answer with a yes. Or is there more?

I relate to that passage from a parent perspective. When my children ask for help, I want to provide it. When they are persistent, I find the urgency growing, so I’m leaning in to listen harder to the Lord’s example of good parenting so I have the full picture. As moms and dads and caregivers, we understand the illustration that follows in Matthew chapter 7. Verses 9-11 continue with Jesus saying, “Or, which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” I read that passage and GET IT. My instincts tell me to provide for and protect my kids. Even in parenting young adults, I want to do what I can to add good gifts to their “adulting” years. When they seek me for counsel, I want to give it. When they continue to need support, I want to be there for them. And I know that God, who is infinitely wiser than I and has every resource at His disposal, feels that way a million times over for me and my children--and He is the only perfect parent.

Why then, when I persist in asking the Lord to heal a long term struggle for my child, or curb a character trait I see in them that needs refining, or fill the financial gaps for them that I cannot…why do I not always get yes answers? If God is the ultimate parent, could it be that He never fails to answer but always answers in a way that protects us—and our kids? I know that humans—including both me and my students--sometimes have selfish motives, frivolous desires, or just plain bad timing. Could it be that God’s yes answers are always present, just not always delivered in the way I wanted?

I also get it when Isaiah 55 says that God has higher thoughts than me. As a parent, I know what it means to do what’s best, even if it means allowing a struggle, leaving a gap, or asking my children to try again. Can you hear your inner parent answer your student’s inappropriate request with “Trust me, I know best.” I can even recall, as a younger parent, saying out loud, “Because I said so,” even though I promised I would never let those words pass my lips! We don’t always deliver parental wisdom well, but ultimately, God can give parents a good perspective on the difference between good-now and good-in-the-long-run.

The Lord role modeled when “no” is best for us, too. Often, what looks like an unanswered request is because wiping away the trouble would also erase the lesson that helps us avoid trouble the next time. Natural consequences are a good protector. The consequence can be bread in disguise. It only feels like a stone. However, “yes” can be the right answer, too. If we know what is right and good and withhold it, we are not following the Lord’s example, either. If God doesn’t choose the snake over the fish when the fish meets our needs, why would we, when our kids legitimately need help, withhold what is in our power to offer?

The struggle comes in discerning the difference between the answers that are bread and those that are stones. Is requiring my son to balance school and a job teaching him to be a provider (bread) or is it a barrier to his academic success (a stone)? If I have a rule that he must show he can earn money toward expenses before I make a contribution, have I provided a motivator to work hard (bread) or a condition of performance to earn my approval (a stone)? If I encourage my struggling student to withdraw from a frustrating class, is that support (bread), or does it teach her to bail when commitments get tough (a stone). If she sticks with it, and I encourage her to get tutoring am I teaching her that she is inadequate (a stone) or how to ask for support when she needs it (bread)? If I lend my daughter a vehicle to drive and she wrecks it, is replacing it a provision (bread) or teaching her that someone else will pay for her mistakes (a stone)?

I’ve come to the conclusion that even for my two kids, the answers would be different. What is bread for one might be a stone for the other. I need divine wisdom to discern the difference between encouraging and enabling, and between consequences and conditions. Matthew 7:11 encourages me that I don’t have to be a perfect parent. I just need to look to the perfect example. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” I’m not smart enough on my own, but I am well acquainted with the Perfect Parent. Perhaps I need to ask, seek, and knock while I’m encouraging my student to do the same.

Unwrap the Gifts Again

By Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council

By the time we hit New Years, Christmas is already a fading memory. When we’re asked what gifts we received, it may already be hard to recall. However, I would venture to guess that over the years, there are at least a few memorable standouts, like a handmade baby blanket grandma made that is now a family heirloom or a lovingly assembled photo album of a special trip.

I can recall favorite gifts but I can’t put my hands on them, because the most treasured gifts are not objects I can hold. The Christmas gifts that meant the most to me look more like legacies that continue to be “unwrapped” again year after year. One treasure is the family recipe for Hungarian Coffee Cake that has been served at our Christmas breakfast for nearly 50 years. A week before Christmas, my grown-up daughter reinforced how important that family gift is to her, too. She wanted to be sure we would celebrate Christmas morning like we did when she was little…with candles on the coffee cake while we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. It seems to be the sweet moments that we want to relive again and again.

Of course, there are also legacy “gifts” that I don’t like remembering. Some of them rotate around a strict grandma who made the holidays more of a test than a treat. In my mind’s eye, I see the pretty dish full of candy in the living room--and recall knowing better than to ask if I could have a piece. Just the memory evokes the feeling of being criticized if we didn’t behave to grandma’s standards. She left a lasting legacy of sorts, too.

Family life wasn’t always so sweet at home, either. As a college student, I remember feeling eager to leave home to get back to campus to escape the stress. By then, my Mom and Dad had hit a tough stretch. They were in the squeeze between generations that I am in now. Health concerns and work pressures had ramped up and it showed in our home. They were building family legacies that were not the kind I wanted to pass on to my kids…discontent, worry, tension, secrecy, and raised voices in the next room. Thankfully, the equilibrium returned, but those lasting memories felt more like baggage than treasures at the time.

I also hit some deeply difficult times when my kids were collecting memories of their parents. I never dreamed that becoming a single parent would be a part of our story. There were days when I thought, “What baggage did my children get today?” While not all that we take with us from childhood is good we can trust that God can use even the deepest trials for good if we allow Him to be our healer.

It strikes me that even my sour grandma actually left me a sweet legacy as God used the memories to help me choose a different way to live. I’m convinced we decide to be like our families or we choose to be different. We can choose to fight a family heritage of anger with a new legacy of kindness. Those of us with a heritage of secrecy can choose to be transparent and forthcoming in our relationships. Both positive and negative legacies can be gifts if we use them to make decisions about how to live our lives.

Billy Graham said, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one's children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one's life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” Continuing to build a lasting example of what it looks like to confront struggles instead of avoiding them can be a part of building a family of faith. Modeling how to uncover the treasure hidden in the trauma can be part of our gift of character to our children.

Recently, my daughter and I were talking about the hurdles we face in relationships. I shared that if I were witness to a significant struggle in her most important relationships, I would not be a bystander, even at the risk of offending her. I would deliberately approach the hard conversations, knowing that my job as a mom is to support her through all that life dishes out.

John Glenn once said, “I'm not interested in my legacy. I made up a word: 'live-acy.' I'm more interested in living.” In this New Year, I’m resolving to be purposeful about having more conversations with my young adult children that take stock of the legacies they are taking with them into their adult years. I am hopeful that I can live in such a way that demonstrates how to keep what works and make improvements on what did not. Learning how to choose what to keep and what to change can happen through honest conversations.

Our young adults will unwrap their legacy gifts again and again throughout their lives. Some will look like family traditions and others will reflect the character we modeled for them. I’ll look forward to helping my kids hang onto the best of both. Hopefully that will still include Christmas cake with birthday candles! 

 

HOLIDAY TRANSITIONS
by Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council

We’ve upset the apple cart again. More change is coming for my family and it will mean we are rethinking the holidays—again. 

When my kiddos first arrived on the scene, change—and survival instincts—drove our holiday decisions. We had to ask, “Is it our job to meet the needs of our extended family at the expense of our own?” For a good long stretch, the answer was “Yes.” With in-laws living four miles apart, it felt easier to figure out naps on the run than risk disappointing the grandmas. Too often, achieving balance looked more like deciding who got the grandchildren for Christmas Eve versus Christmas morning rather than considering what would help the adult children maintain sanity.
 
With college-aged children who begin to have relationships that compete for their time, it’s easy for parents to ramp up the holiday festivities to keep their attention, and their loyalty, at our own tables. Experiencing this with our first college freshman can be tough. Just the awareness that our newly independent college student might want to do something besides help us pull out the Christmas decorations can be one of those “letting go of” moments that catch you emotionally unprepared.

Nevertheless, change keeps coming. Our latest family transition is a happy one. My daughter is newly engaged to a wonderful man and they are both deeply committed to navigating family well. This is the first holiday season that they feel it is important to be together for everything. In this scenario, however, families are 2 ½ hours and a state apart. I reminded my daughter that she and her betrothed need to discuss what is best for them as they anticipate being a family of two. What do they want from the holiday? That will likely lead to setting some traditions of their own and facing decisions about sharing their time. Asking them what they will do to achieve balance may mean asking myself how I will navigate in new territory, too. 

I spent so many years making sacrifices in the name of family that I missed some of the joy. As much as we want our children with us on the holiday, I recognize they are more likely to want to be together when I avoid guilting them into it. Adulting includes making decisions about moving forward. I do not want to be the one holding my daughter’s holiday decisions hostage in the name of “we’ve always done it that way.” As it turns out, the two of them enjoyed a meal together with us on Thanksgiving Eve and then drove to be with his family for a meal on Saturday. Neither nuclear family had them on the holiday, but we each had a precious window of attention and practiced our attitude of gratitude for the time we had together. 

I recognize that sometimes family change brings a lot of chaos without as much reward. Some of us have experienced a first Christmas as a single parent, or a first holiday after losing a parent of our own. Christmas comes despite cancer, deployments, or natural disasters. It’s not a lot better for families torn by conflicts or personality clashes. Stress can be inevitable. Honestly, for your student, just the transition from college life back to full-time family can be enough to upset the family balance. Holidays, as much as we look forward to them, also escalate tension.

My heart’s desire is for my adult children to enjoy being with me as much as I enjoy being with them. That means recognizing that change is inevitable and making my share of allowances to keep holiday stress at bay. I would rather be known as the great compromiser than the great complainer as we navigate to the new normal. I am choosing to be satisfied. This year Christmas with my family will be on Saturday the 23rd instead of Monday the 25th, but we will have it nonetheless, and I’ll get to attend Christmas Eve worship service without having to come home to lay the table for the next day. It is going to be great. 
 

OVERCOMER STORIES
by Sarah Arthur Butler, Parent Council

I love a good underdog story. When it’s time to choose a movie to watch, I’m the one voting for inspirational tales like Hidden Figures and Lion, or suggesting a return performance for enduring films like Hoosiers and Apollo 13. I might even be brave enough to view grave hardship when it underscores a triumph of character like those in Hacksaw Ridge or Schindler’s List.

Maybe I like those stories so much because as a student services professional, I am privileged to witness real life overcomer stories. By this point in the semester, it’s pretty clear who is sailing ahead of the academic pack and who will struggle to hold on to their grade point average. It is both a fact and a fallacy that the transcript is essential. I know that that magic number is critical to achieve a degree, but in the grand scope of things, it is not the only outcome of value from a collegiate experience. When a student learns a hard lesson well through tough circumstances, has to retake a course to prove that they can do it, or balances more responsibility at the cost of top scores—they are still truly winners.

As a former administrator of a Christian school, I had the opportunity to see teachers in action during routine classroom observations. It was inevitable that my own academic successes and failures would influence my view of a well-run classroom. I was an “A” student in most things but I was not—I repeat NOT--a natural athlete. It always felt unfair that my physical ability was the sum total of my grade in required PE classes. Perhaps that is why my best-of–the-best observations included our physical education instructors. Their grading rubric was designed to assess attitude, effort, and sportsmanship right alongside accomplishment of physical skills. Winning the game indicated less about performance than the impact on the team. Even the least gifted athlete had a chance at a top score when their ability to encourage others, their determined attitude, and their consistent hard work paid off. In fact, with those factors ranked high, some of the natural athletes got lower scores than their less gifted peers!

Isn’t that true of work, too? As an employer, I would rather hire someone with great character and a demonstrated work ethic with a less-than-stellar GPA over a candidate with a 4.0 that never had to study hard to get A’s. I rarely look at a transcript as a judge of employability. Instead, I am listening for the overcomer stories, the hard fought lessons learned, and the comments on character from former employers and instructors. God promises rewards to everyday people based on their attitude and conduct. Period. Ephesians 6:8 says, “Because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” Whether in school, work, or relationships, what our students demonstrate about who they are is ultimately more important than a score on an exam.

By this point in the semester, it is likely that your student has hit a few challenges, regardless of their grades. As parents, we can be mindful of our opportunity to affirm their transformation and not just their transcript. When disappointment comes, we can gently ask, “What do you think the Lord wants you to do with that?” When challenges stand in the way of achievement, we can reflect on the changes we see in their maturity and convictions. Parents have the unique ability to affirm that the rubric of life is based first on the honorable traits that they are building as they work toward the goal of a degree. We are, in many ways, the registrar for the record of renovation in their hearts.

I’m reminded of the film Seabiscuit, the true story of a down-and-out trainer transforming a temperamental and undersized horse into one of the most successful thoroughbreds in history. It is rewarding to see the underdog cross the finish line first. It’s also important to remember that for our students facing hurdles, crossing with character may be the greater victory.