Culture, Family, Hardship, Roy Baldwin

“Building Trust or Walking on Eggshells…”

Let me start off by saying that I am not always approachable.

If I was truly candid, which I am about to be, I would tell you that my most important relationships seem to suffer the most when I am not approachable: My wife and my kids.

I am sure if they were most honest, which they usually are, they would say, “dad is loving but sometimes being near him is like walking on eggshells.”

“Walking on eggshells…” I am wondering how many of you can relate to that feeling or phrase.

RABBIT TRAIL: Did you know the phrase, “walking on eggshells,” first started out as “walking on eggs.” Considering how trauma is passed down from generation to generation…I suppose eggshells are all that’s left.

This idea or phrase of “walking on eggshells” implies “to be very careful not to offend or upset someone” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Patterns like these can leave lasting damage in our homes, although mood swings are a natural part of life, it is important for all of us to deal with and manage appropriately.

We see this in foster care, especially when working with vulnerable children and families. Did you know that witnessing abuse (physical, emotional, verbal, neglect) between parents/adults in the home carries the same risk of harm to children’s mental health as being abused directly?

How we emotionally regulate in our homes is critical to the health of our children. If only 4 out of 10 kids are currently flourishing (pre-pandemic) how much of this comes back to our homes and the closeness and connection occurring in our relationships? Oftentimes it’s our dysregulation that leads to fractured relationships. In his book, What Happened To You, Dr. Bruce Perry writes, “Regulation is the KEY to creating safe connection. And being connected is the most efficient and effective way to get information to the cortex (page 144),” meaning, “getting to the place where you can communicate rationally with someone (page 143).” He goes on to write, “If we don’t feel safe, we become dysregulated (page 148).”

Here is a great article on this, “Walking on Eggshells” by Dr. Steven Stosny. He shares, “Everyone in a walking-on-eggshells family loses some degree of dignity and autonomy. Half suffer from clinical anxiety and/or depression. (“Clinical” doesn’t mean feeling down or blue or worried, it means that the symptoms interfere with normal functioning. You can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t work as efficiently, and can’t enjoy yourself without drinking.) Most of the adults lack genuine self-esteem (based on realistic self-appraisals), and the children rarely feel as good as other kids.

Side note: I was reading an article recently that tries to tackle the mental health crisis in our schools…but I feel they miss the point entirely…which is to hire more mental health workers for schools. Make our schools safer by addressing grief and trauma. Although necessary this is tertiary intervention at best. We need to make our schools and communities healthier by seeing emotionally healthier parents leading and loving their children. We need to address the root of this grief and trauma which is happening in the homes…and not to be cliché…but we need to address fatherlessness.

A Fatherhood Class

During the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I had the pleasure of facilitating a fatherhood class at Lincoln Berean Church here in Lincoln, NE. We had dads and some single men from all walks of life and different experiences participate in the class. It was full of amazing conversations and interactions. We spent a great deal looking at data from different studies about dads, looking at some Scripture and unpacking its application in our lives.

One key truth we unpacked came from the book, “Families and Faith Findings: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations” by Vern Bengston (which I have also mentioned before in multiple posts). The study found this to be true – “Parental warmth is the key to successful [religious] transmission” (p.186).

As I reflect on this idea of parental warmth, I think of relational or emotional safety. I think of closeness. I think of connection. I think of trust.

I love what Dr. Henry Cloud says of trust, “Trust fuels investment…trust is built when it is reciprocated (gives/receives).” Trust or relational warmth helps grow and fuel any relationship and its not optional. We are giving or receiving this emotional “currency” in every interaction.

Is it any wonder that our faith grows in proportion to our trust? Think about all the areas in your life where you do not trust. What lives there? Fear. Anxiety. Control. How much of that fear then carries over into the areas of my life and into the relationships most important to me?

Am I trustworthy? “Am I approachable?” If not, then why am I not? What inhibits my ability to be that trustworthy person to God, to myself and to those I have a direct impact on?

“Fire can warm or consume, water can quench or drown, wind can caress or cut. And so it is with human relationships: we can both create and destroy, nurture and terrorize, traumatize and heal each other.”

Dr. Bruce Perry (“The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog…”)

Practical Application:

I know I have been processing a lot about how I can be more approachable to my family. Why should everyone else get my best? They shouldn’t. I have to become so much more self-aware of my own emotional fuel tank and make sure I am not just physically present at home. I have to be emotionally invested. I have to be aware of my emotional triggers.

Side note: As a follower of Christ, I have to take some ownership of my own walk but what I cannot do is think I have the ability to change myself…or clean myself up. I need Jesus to do the work in me that I often try to do myself. I must offer myself as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2)

I shared a critical perspective of this in my post, “Sincere Faith Cannot Be Outsourced” and the important role the Gospel and my sincerity plays in this work of trust and emotional warmth.

Below is an exercise I recently did through a small group my wife and I are a part of with some other couples. The 9-month experience is a program through Trueface Ministries called Trueface Journey. The “Trust” exercise provides a prayer as well as an assessment that I found to be quite challenging and convicting. It exposed some areas where I am not trusting the Lord… I hope you find this helpful. It’s a great self-reflection tool… and an exercise you could discuss with someone you trust to be loving and honest with you.

FINAL THOUGHT:

I wonder if the areas in my life where I am not trusting God are the very areas that cause others to “Walk on eggshells” around me? Scripture speaks of this. “Husbands, in the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect…so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7) and “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). Does my lack of trusting Christ lead to my stress and anger? Yes it does. Truly trusting His work replaces the eggshells I offer with the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

My prayer is that those we love most would feel the warmth of His love through the sincerity in which we live our daily lives and taste of the fruit His Spirit.

Community, Culture, Faith, Family, Ministry, Roy Baldwin

We Are Failing Children

The intent of this post is not to blame, shame, or politicize data. I also don’t want to oversimplify a very complex issue. I simply want to share a perspective I don’t hear talked about a lot in Christian circles. (This is the first of two posts.)

It is difficult for me to watch the news and scroll through my social media feeds nowadays without a sense that at some level we are failing children and youth on an unprecedented level. It’s everywhere. Postmodernism is redefining everything. Yuval Harari in his book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” provides some excellent descriptors of postmodernism: “Modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarized in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power...Since there is no script, and since humans fulfill no role in any great drama, terrible things might befall us and no power will come to save us or give meaning to our suffering. There won’t be a happy ending, or a bad ending, or any ending at all. Things just happen, one after the other. The modern world does not believe in purpose, only in cause.”“Meaning and authority always go hand in hand. Whoever determines the meaning of our actions – whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly – also gains the authority to tell us what to think and how to behave.”

If postmodernism contends that there is no objective truth…is it any wonder that children are suffering?

I typically have the following filters: a deep transformative view of the Gospel (good news); the sacredness of every life; the loss and trauma of our world. I have worked with at-risk and vulnerable children for decades and in multiple venues and situations. These filters I have are not just merely sentiments…they have been forged in the fire of life.

So, as I think about the sentiment of “we are failing children” there is a deeply personal part of this for me that comes out and that I have to process.

There are stories and faces of the young men and their families that had a huge impact on my time at EGA (residential care facility serving the 5 boroughs of NY City). As I served as a houseparent with my wife at a residential school, loving and supporting a home of 8-10 girls (70+ girls in 9 years). The lives, the stories, the joy, the loss. When I think of our own family journey of 27 years of marriage and three kids. It’s been a hard but beautiful adventure. There have been some really amazing and beautiful moments but there have also been hardships and losses.

Why are children failing?

I firmly believe that the family unit has been outsourcing and abdicating its responsibilities for decades (generations) because the very institutions meant to support and partner with families, such as schools, churches, and government, have effectively neutered the authority of the family by telling families, “we can do it better than you,” and “we know better than you.” (Whoever determines the meaning of our actions – whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly – also gains the authority to tell us what to think and how to behave.”)

In essence, how dare you show up to a school board meeting and express your concerns about what is being taught or talk about the safety of your children without being labeled or looked down upon.

How are we failing children you ask? Let’s look at some of the data:

  • Prior to the pandemic less than half of children in the US were flourishing according to a study out of John Hopkins. Children who are flourishing are directly connected to the strength (resilience and connection) of the parent/child relationship.
  • Since the pandemic, these indicators of children failing have gotten worse. According to the CDC: a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health; 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless; 55% reported experiencing emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including swearing at, insulting, or putting down the student.
  • 11% experienced physical abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including hitting and beating
  • 29% reported a parent or other adult in their home lost a job.
  • Teen suicide is up (31% increase from 2019-2021) – and a fivefold increase in suicide attempts in children ages 10-12 (2010-2020)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that hospital visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 jumped 51 percent between February and March 2021. For boys, that number increased by 4 percent.

If this data is true, (and there is so much more data) then why are we not talking more about this? Why are children, after spending more time at home during the pandemic, seem to be worse off? Research tells us that the healthy parent/child relationship is critical to the long-term resilience of children and leads to better outcomes in children and adults than anything else. If children are doing worse, then what does that say about the health of homes and families? Our children should not be worse off…

This doesn’t mean we start shaming parents, although there is plenty of blame and ownership to go around with how parents are raising their children today. If you ask most parents, they would probably tell you, “I was just following the norm and expectations of taking kids to school, loving my child, being involved in their activities, occasionally taking them to church and they will turn out ok.” At some level, the pandemic ripped open these norms and expectations and the data doesn’t lie…our children are in trouble.

Things are not ok and these very institutions have betrayed (intentionally or not) the sacred trust that should exist to help protect the family and children even if it means calling out the very unhealthy behaviors that probably should be addressed in families. I know many teachers and school personnel that feel absolutely helpless in dealing with many of the behavioral issues and challenges in schools either by their own policies and/or what is tolerated for fear of reprisal and threats by parents. It’s not healthy on any level.

The Role of the Church

As I process what is happening culturally, what role does faith and the church play in all of this? Is this another institution that has missed the mark? I often hear the following sentiment from parents whose children are no longer in their homes and who have “walked away from the faith” yet attended church most of their lives and wrestle with regret about not being a better parent to their children: “I just wish I knew sooner what they needed from me.”

Well, why didn’t they know sooner?

It’s because their primary and life-giving role is not elevated within the walls and programs of the church. It’s a secondary or tertiary intervention at best to help parents when it should be a primary role of the church to equip and inspire families to thrive and flourish.

On a regular basis, parents need to be reminded from the pulpit that they are their child’s number one pastor and then offer and design innovative ways to help them do that. Church Programming such as Sunday School, Youth Group, Retreats and Camps, and many other programs are meant to support the role of the parent, not replace.

Somewhere along the line, we have bought into the idea that a youth leader is better suited to teach our children about Jesus than parents are. We let them handle it – after all, they’re “cooler” than us. They understand scripture, have a better understanding of the pressures teens face, and probably have some training on how to make a better impact on their lives.  Most youth leaders I know play a huge role in teens’ lives and in most cases the previous descriptions are true (cool, relevant, and can teach the Bible).

But that doesn’t mean I outsource my child’s faith.

I hope you do not hear criticism of the amazing work we are doing in our churches, that being said, we can no longer pay lip service once a year to a child’s dedication of the important role parents play and then never mention it again.

How is Faith Actually Transmitted?

Research (i.e. Families and Faith, Vern Bengtson) and scriptures (i.e. Deuteronomy 6) instruct us that parents play the most important role in faith transmission. As Christian Smith (professor and author, “Souls in Transition”) has stated about the role parents play, “Parents are their child’s number one pastor.” I don’t believe that is hyperbole.

We are failing children because we are not respecting the design God has created in the way faith is transmitted.

If my main role as a man (husband and father) in my house is to be pastoral in my home, how would that change and influence my everyday life? I would suggest that being pastoral is not optional. It’s a part of the design. As a dad, whether I am present or not, I am passing some sort of “faith” tradition down to my children. They will then live their lives accepting or rejecting the truth which I have modeled and taught them by the way I have lived and loved them. Do I lead with a Gospel centered worldview or a postmodern worldview?

The truth is we are impressing something onto our children. If not us, someone is waiting to impress something onto them.

There is no substitute for the direct investment a parent has on their children. As many scholars and researchers will tell you, no one can replace or even come close to the impact a parent has on the faith of their children. Our faith is something we cannot outsource to someone who has them for one to two hours a week. We need to find partners in youth leaders and in the church to help reinforce a strong faith, but their key role is to come alongside to support.  It is my job as a parent to find key adults and communities to speak truth, love, and grace into their lives, and trust me…most youth leaders want to see you involved.

Final Thoughts

This is a complex subject and at some level, I have not given it justice. Working as the CEO for a faith-based child placing agency (foster care and prisons) where we stand in the gap between many of the institutions I described above, I see every day how we are failing children. Every day I am tired of the poor outcomes despite the many amazing individuals who work in these fields working desperately for better outcomes for kids. The truth is… it starts with these very institutions to stop playing the hero… and focus their strategies and programming around inspiring and equipping moms and dads in their families with the tools and truth that actually lead to better outcomes in them and in their children AND ultimately point to the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus (who is the ultimate “hero” of this story). There is no way around this truth. There is no way around its created design.

Look for post #2 on this topic as I go further into defining a critical aspect of faith and how faith is transmitted.