Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson
Question: There are several single parents in my church who seem to be so needy. I would like to help them, but, honestly, I am barely able to do everything necessary to care for my own family. What responsibility do you think I have to help these other families?
Dr. Dobson: Everyone is busy today. I don't know any families that aren't experiencing fatigue and time pressure. None of us need new things to do, certainly, but I do believe it is our duty to reach out to those who are going through hard times. This is especially true of single parents because their vulnerable children are the ones who suffer.
Many years ago, my wife, Shirley, was working around the house one morning, when a knock came at the front door. When she opened it, there stood a young woman in her late teens, who called herself Sally.
"I'm selling brushes," she said, "and I wonder if you'd like to buy any."
Well, my wife told her she wasn't interested in buying anything that day, and Sally said, "I know. No one else is, either." And with that, she began to cry.
Shirley invited Sally to come in for a cup of coffee, and she asked her to share her story. She turned out to be an unmarried mother who was just struggling mightily to support her two-year-old son. That night, we went to her shabby little apartment above a garage to see how we could help this mother and her toddler. When we opened the cupboards, there was nothing there for them to eat, and I mean nothing. That night, they both had dined on a can of SpaghettiO's. We took her to the market, and we did what we could to help get her on her feet.
Sally is obviously not the only single mother out there who is desperately trying to survive in a very hostile world. All of these mothers could use a little kindness — from baby-sitting to providing a meal to repairing the washing machine or even to just showing a little thoughtfulness.
Raising kids alone is like climbing a mountain a mile high. Can you find it in your heart to baby-sit for that single mother one afternoon a week? Or maybe you can fix extra food when you cook and take it over some evening. Imagine what that kindness will convey to a mom or dad who comes home exhausted and discovers that someone cares about his or her little family. Not only will it bring encouragement to the parent, but one or more children will bless you as well.
Question: In the interest of keeping peace in the household, you have suggested leniency with rebellious teens on issues that don't really matter. What does this mean in practical terms? Give me some examples of demands that would rock my daughter's boat unnecessarily.
Dr. Dobson: Well, you will have to decide what the nonnegotiables are to you and your husband. Defend those demands, but lighten up on lesser matters. That may indicate a willingness to let her room look like a junkyard for a while. Close the door and pretend not to notice. Does that surprise you? I don't like lazy, sloppy, undisciplined kids any more than you do, but given the possibilities for chaos that this girl might precipitate, spit-shined rooms may not be all that important.
You have to ask yourself this question: "Is the behavior to which I object bad enough to risk turning the canoe upside down?" If the issue is that important, then brace yourself and make your stand. But think through those intractable matters in advance, and plan your defense of them thoroughly.
Someday, when the river has smoothed out again, you may look back with satisfaction that you didn't add to the turbulence when your daughter was bobbing like a cork on a stormy sea.
Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family.