With the Coronavirus changing the way we live, many of us are searching for ways we can focus on our families, live for today and find peace within our homes. There is so much we cannot change, but what we can, may be changed for the better
By Leslie Holmes, Childhelp Foster Care Family Recruiter
Chaos. It is all around us. Every time we turn on the television or open our computer, we see it. Even sitcoms make us laugh at the craziness and drama of others.
But what if we decide we don’t want the chaos anymore? What if we choose to commit to a simpler, calmer life? Perhaps you have been thinking of adopting a lifestyle in your family that lends itself to tranquility … or at least an attempt at it!
Ryan and Cindy Atkinson have done just that. From the beginning, they decided to make relationships the priority in their home. And a year ago, when their family of four brought 3 more children into their home to foster, they studied the situation even more. Cindy and Ryan knew that meeting everyone’s needs would quickly drain them if they didn’t set some ground rules for the family. I sat down with Cindy to find out how they do it. What she revealed can help any family struggling to calm the chaos. Here are her tips:
Have a Family Member of the Week
If you are a parent of more than one child old enough to talk, you know how often you are asked questions and how much competition there is about literally everything: picking the movie, the last slice of pie, the top bunk … you get the idea.
Ryan and Cindy solved this by having a family member of the week. That child gets to choose many of the “special” items on their week, thus eliminating much of the arguing and many of the questions. The child of the week gets to pick the books that everyone will enjoy, plus choose the one that is read each night to the family, all while spending a little extra solo time with mom or dad. This special child also gets to choose the movie for family movie night, or make any of the other coveted decisions that can easily cause an argument. Problem solved.
Limit Technology and Sports
Ryan and Cindy have discovered that the “pay off” of technology offers few dividends. Parents think the convenience of the iPhone babysitter or marathon Disney channel sessions relieves them of problems, but in reality, behavior becomes worse.
Cindy says outside play, crafts, and creativity lead to much happier, satisfied children. Of course, this puts a few more demands on their time as parents, but Cindy says it is absolutely worth it. “Being a parent is a ministry,” she says.
Cindy and Ryan view connecting with their children as the most important part of parenting. When asked “can I have a phone?” by their foster daughter, it was easy to explain to her how addictive phones can become and how much more time they will have to spend together if those are limited. This sweet child, after years of not having her needs met, was content with the idea that someone was choosing to spend time with her. She finally has attentive parents who see time spent with her as a treasure.
With limits on extra-curricular activities, they are able to make the evening meal a priority. At least six nights a week the family gathers for dinner. There are always lively discussions and conversations that happen around that table! Balance is something that is difficult to maintain, but somehow, this family has found it.
Marriage is a Priority
When you have five children who all want the attention of mom and dad, time together as a couple can easily slip by the wayside.
Cindy says that even in the midst so many needs, both parents make time for one another. The couple make dating a priority, and Cindy says they are grateful to have family members who understand the importance of what they are doing and are more than willing to care for the children while Cindy and Ryan have a night out. Right now, during difficult days with so many closures, those nights out can be as simple as a long walk but it means time to talk and share as a couple.
They seems to understand that without the foundation of a healthy marriage, everything else can quickly fall apart. Cindy added that Ryan is quick to protect her when he knows she is being pulled in different directions.
The couple has set a few rules to protect their time together: All the children are in bed by a certain time. When younger children wanted to pop out of bed extra early in the morning, a bedside clock was the solution and a time set for getting out of bed. This way, even when a child awoke, they would stay in bed a bit longer — often falling back to sleep.
Protecting that time together is smart and allows the children to see that both parents value the time they spend together as a couple.
This one might seem to be a no brainer, but kids need to know that mom and dad are real people they can trust.
When one child overheard the discussion with the Biblical counselor about what “thing” they were working on with each child, he asked Cindy, “Mom, do you have a ‘thing’?”
Cindy was able to be honest about her shortcomings and helped her foster son see that all of us have a “thing.” None of us are perfect, and being able to be honest about areas that need work or ways that we fail is something that good parents recognize as good discipleship. Children need to understand that their mess-ups are forgivable and that we are all a work in progress.
When children from hard places understand they are allowed to make mistakes, many times their very soul is calmed. The fear, uncertainty — and chaos — of their own mind is calmed and they learn to relax.
One of the greatest blessings this family has been able to enjoy is the bond their foster children have established with their birth sons.
One of their sons, Caleb, is a special needs child, and frankly was the excuse this family made for not fostering sooner. Watching this special child connect with such unconditional love has been healing for their foster children. No matter how the new three have behaved, Cindy explains, “Caleb is always waiting with a hug.”
The foster daughters have quickly become extra hands and “mother” to Caleb, an added blessing to Ryan and Cindy. Cindy is quick to give God credit for this match made in heaven. This family expressed that what they thought might be an extra burden, was transformed to a blessing. Both Caleb and Silas, their other birth-son, have embraced their new siblings, and all are learning what it means to give a little more, make a little more room, and be a family to those who need one.
Childhelp is so grateful for the amazing work this family is doing to help children heal
For many, being stuck at home during the COVID-19 crisis is a burden, but consider how precious “home” is to a Childhelp foster child. This is a time we can all use and share tips to calm the chaos and open hearts. This blog originally appeared at Childhelp Foster Family Agency of E. TN, where Leslie often shares a look at the families that open their hearts and homes to children in need and the work of her incredible Childhelp team.