Our culture can be notoriously hard on parents of young children. There are so many unrealistic expectations coming from the media, well-intentioned friends and family members, and our community—all of whom seem to have an opinion on how a small child should be raised. It can seem like everyone has an opinion about how a child should be fed, disciplined, schooled, and entertained. Between the high energy levels of young children, irregular sleeping patterns, and famously fickle temperaments, adults who love and care for children ages 0–5 can feel exhausted—physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually.
Wouldn’t it be great if families with small kiddos had a safe place to go where they could take a break from the scrutiny and actually feel encouraged? Wouldn’t it be amazing if the place they came was their church? Here are three easy things we can all do right now to help create a sanctuary for adults with littles:
- Check our hearts: Take time as a team or as individuals to revisit (and reevaluate) the goals of your ministry. After a while, it’s easy to settle into an “us vs. them” mentality—this can lead to thinking of parents as adversaries, in the way of us doing our jobs. “Why do they always bring their children late? Why do they keep feeding them sugary breakfasts? Why don’t they care/teach their child right/discipline them properly?” We may think that we cleverly disguise our judgement with our smiles and sweet voices, but parents are rarely fooled. If this is something you’re struggling with, take the time to pray to see parents through God’s eyes. Remember that caring for families isn’t getting in the way of your job, but rather a critical part of children’s ministry. When our hearts are focused on the compassionate care of families, this overflows into the way we interact with parents.
- Create encouraging spaces: Review your check-in and check-out spaces and procedures—are they a positive place to be? Is there a place for families to sit nearby to organize their belongings (and kiddos) and regroup before and after church? What do those spaces feel like? Can you decorate those areas with encouraging posters, literature, and scriptures? Is there someone nearby who can lend a hand and tell parents they’re doing a good job? When we’re intentional about our physical environment, parents can relax and feel safe (and even might feel more comfortable asking for help when they’re feeling overwhelmed).
- Communicate grace: Create and share a list of encouraging phrases among your children’s ministers and volunteers that they can use regularly to boost weary parents. In addition to phrases that mean “you’re doing a great job,” a well-placed “this is totally typical behavior for this age” can also be encouraging. When we communicate grace, parents can feel at peace with leaving their children in your care (and that grace can be what holds them up the rest of the week!).
Phrases that hurt: “You look tired,” “You’ll miss this when it’s over,” “Just wait until you hit the teen years!” “Maybe if you just . . .” “They don’t do that for me—I don’t let them.”
Phrases that help: “You don’t need to apologize (for a child’s tantrum, messy hair, mismatched outfit)—this is what preschoolers DO!” “I love when you bring Taylor to class—they’re the highlight of my day!” “Don’t worry about being late. Getting small children to church is like herding cats! I’m impressed that you came anyway! Good job!” “I can’t wait to see you next week!”