In days gone by, theirs had been a No House.
If the children asked for something, the answer was,
If the children reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with a no!
If they stepped one metre outside of their mother’s reach — in the supermarket, in the shopping mall, in the playground — they were called back …
Even if Mum and Dad wanted something for themselves, they thought the ‘godly’ answer was no.
Where on earth Mum and Dad learnt this, they weren’t sure. They’d heard it on the radio in Southern USA. They’d read it in books about raising ‘godly’ children, and they’d certainly heard it over and over again from several older members of the community who had observed the three-year-old son’s mischief. Those people loudly disapproved and proclaimed his behaviour was due to a ‘lack of discipline’.
More often than not, that statement sounded something like: ‘What that child needs is a good smack!’
Smacks did not solve the problem.
It’s not entirely surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from the daily lives of this family.
The children each expressed in their own way that life was not as it should be. The four-year-old took control of everything — and everybody. The three-year-old bounced off walls and grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.
Mum appeared calm on the outside — most of the time — but on the inside she was screaming, stressed out and miserable.
Dad, devoted and meticulous, attended to all the needs that Mum did not have the energy or motivation for. His life revolved around working at his place of employment, then coming home to pick up everything that hadn’t been done in the home all day, every day.
If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.
Thank God, the family had chosen a local church where they felt they would be cared for. It took a year or two, but the family was nurtured and loved by that congregation. The congregation tolerated the boisterous activities of the three-year-old boy and provided care for the one-year-old baby while Mum sang in the choir. The eldest was placed in a loving Sunday school class. And the whole family attended frequent Sunday school family days.
One day the Sunday school director, Miss Irene, (who also happened to be the three-year-old’s preschool teacher) took the mother aside and asked in her deepest, sweetest Southern USA accent,
‘Mizz Julie, is there a reason you never say yes to your children?’
That question was one of those moments that changed our family’s life path.
That day, when preschool ended, for the first time I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could, and my children came running. I’m glad they knew what to do — because it was new to me! But it restored that smile that had gone missing.
From then on, at every possible opportunity, I would watch people like Miss Irene in action — in the preschool, in the playground, in the supermarket, in the classroom. And then I’d go home and practise.
I didn’t make it obvious to anybody else what I was doing. I certainly did not ask questions. But I took everything in, and our house gradually became a Yes House.
Miss Irene and her helpers organised a parenting course — a video with Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) and Ross Campbell (author of How to Really Love your Children). While we watched a video and had discussion, Miss Irene and her helpers fed pizza to our kids and kept them occupied in the Sunday school classrooms.
So we became part of a group of parents who were also separated from their own parents. We formed our own little community to encourage, laugh and support each other.
If Miss Irene had criticised what I was doing wrong, I would probably have got in a huff and run off in the opposite direction.
Instead, she prayerfully, lovingly and gently came alongside me and trained me to love my children and my husband.
She invited me to pick up the children early from preschool and let me sit in the playground to observe — and to gradually learn how to join the children in their play, allowing them to sort out minor quibbles by themselves but intervening when necessary.
She taught me to sit with children and debrief with them after they’d had a moment or two of ‘thinking time’.
She taught me two very concise but brilliant rules which we were able to adapt to our home rules: ‘Please be gentle with the people here. Please be gentle with the things here.’
But most importantly, she taught me how to love in a very real way — unconditionally, practically, positively and with an element of fun.
Eighteen years later, our kids have grown into beautiful young adults — and our house is definitely a Yes House. Ironically, for a few years I was employed to stand alongside other parents to encourage them — just as I was mentored through that process all those years ago — and to facilitate parenting courses. And, for years, I wrote a column about family life called ‘Heart and Home’, in The Lutheran magazine in Australia.
Frequently I am asked about smacking, discipline and many other hot topics. But among the most common comments I receive is,
‘It’s a shame that the parents who really need it won’t come to these courses’.
I reply that every family needs community.
Every family needs to know that they are not alone and that there are some tricks that can make parenting easier and even enjoyable.
As far as those parents who don’t come to the courses … there is plenty of evidence that says that for every family that goes to a course or receives parenting help, another 20 families in that community benefit.
Perhaps other families also watch other parents in supermarkets and playgrounds — just like I did!
First published in ‘The Lutheran’ , 2011, July edition. The Lutheran