We have a program every Sunday at a local motel we call the “Children’s” program. It certainly started out as a children’s program. We did crafts and played games with the children and had a great time.
After a while, some of the parents starting coming out to help us. They quickly became some of our best, most helpful volunteers. Then some residents who had no children at all started coming out and helping too. Now it seems we have as many adults attending as children. They dive right into the activities. They love doing the crafts and want to play the games. If we bring Play-Doh, they happily take their share and start creating. If we bring Hidden Pictures, they jump right in and have a hilarious time. Or, they just like to sit and talk to us.
I finally realized the adults wanted to be part of what we do. We’re fun to be around and, they desperately need something to distract them from the realities of their hard lives for 5 minutes. They love their children with a passion and they bear the burden of knowing it’s their responsibility to see their children have everything they need, when they know they can’t possibly provide it all. They feel guilty, stressed and discouraged.
Some organizations we know stick to their guns and only allow “children” in their Children’s Programs. No ifs, and or buts. You’re 13. You’re out! Adults, no way. I feel sorry for them because I think they’re missing a wonderful opportunity. The parents are for the most part a hardworking, decent group of people who are worth knowing. The adults aren’t just parents. Many are lonely senior citizens, left alone by their families, with only a lonely room and 4 walls to talk to.
We’ve come to love and value the adults as part of our “Children’s” program too. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that by serving the children you’ve taken care of everything. You haven’t. Children don’t live in a vacuum. They come with parents, who can use a smile, a hug, a pat on the back or even a good joke to laugh at once in a while. Taking away their stress for a time allows them to shake off some of their sadness and discouragement. That motel room is very small and very volatile when emotions are flaring. Providing a stress release is an intangible service whose benefit is immeasurable.
When you help children, you help the parents. But when you help the parents, you help the whole family.