Helen Smallbone - How To See Our Kids For Who They Are

Single parents know parenting alone is hard. And, when our kids are all different - with different temperaments, personalities, struggles, and behavior traits — it is hard to know how to guide them effectively and, at the same time, how to be OUR best for them - uniquely and individually.
We recently talked with Helen Smallbone about this very thing. If you are familiar with Christian music, Helen’s incredible parenting skills have impacted you. She is mother to Joel and Luke of For King and Country, and daughter Rebecca St. James. She hosts an incredible podcast on Access More called MUM LIFE Community and she has raised and homeschooled seven kids.

Two verses come to mind when talking about raising a family.

Deuteronomy 6:7 NIV And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Proverbs 22:6 ESV
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Helen says one of the ways she looked at raising her kids was found in a very uncommon word related to parenting - vocation. From her perspective, that word could be explained as ‘calling’. What specific ‘purpose’ or ‘calling' has God put within each of our kids? Her encouragement is - “when you look at your kids, look for what has God created them to be, and [ask]how can I encourage them on that journey?” This changes the way we view our parenting.

One way Helen did this was to keep a journal when her kids were little so she wouldn’t forget the significant moments. Then, every year on their birthday, she would write what she calls a ‘summary’ of who she saw so later on they could be reminded of parts of their childhood.
Often, even early on, our kids have glimpses of the desires, dreams, and visions God has placed on their lives that we can tend to forget later in life.

Helen is a big believer in the importance of leaning into the Holy Spirit. There is no one set of rules that applies to the unique characteristics of our kids - what works for one may not work for the other. Asking the Holy Spirit specifically, “who is this child becoming, who have You created them to be?” allows us to guide them on their journey.

Helen acknowledges the difficulty in parenting various personality types, talents, and dreams because they’re all so different. One way to do this is to allow them to try different things to see how it goes. One size does not fit everybody, and ‘trying things on’ is a big part of figuring out gifts, direction, and passions. It allows our kids the opportunity to fail or succeed and find their niche.

Other keys to helping our kids discover a vision for their lives is having the hard conversations and being an accurate reflection of what you see in them. This dialogue is a critical part of leading them in their calling. As parents, Helen says they had to encourage their son Joel, who was pursuing music, that on his own he may not have the same vocal ability as someone like Justin Timberlake, but that he could bring something really special musically if he coupled up with his brother as a duo. And thus, for King and Country was born. Sometimes, the perceived disasters or limitations in our lives are actually God guiding us into what He has for us. Helen shares that it’s important not just to offer empty encouragement but to be an accurate reflection of our children’s gifts and also the “right size view” and reality of the world they’re about to enter.

She also notes how careful we need to be to not compare one child to another while expressing accurate reflections of their limitations and opportunities.  Competition between siblings is a natural part of raising kids but this can be especially hard when it seems like one child has an easy path while others struggle to find their way. She shares it is important to paint an accurate picture for our kids of the costs associated with pursuing every calling or dream they consider. For instance, a child who is a track athlete might come by their talent naturally but to be great at anything takes a lot of hard work which is often unenviable and unseen. Helping siblings celebrate and have respect for the challenges and the victories noticed in their differences helps quell jealousy and competition.

It’s also important to be careful not to become single minded and focus on negative things when our kids misbehave and become a challenge. Part of seeing our kids for who they are involves understanding that their behavior is not always indicative of their heart, especially when they act out. Helen’s challenge to herself, and to any parent, is to look for the moments the child has done something right and spend equal time focusing on that and rewarding it. It takes multiple compliments to offset one negative comment so look beyond the behavior to the child's heart. This is especially important because misbehavior, defiance, and disobedience is, more often than not, a symptom of a bigger underlying issue. It is important as parents to make a concerted effort to spend time with our kids to uncover what feels restless and unsettled in them. Sometimes it can be a small perceived injustice. Other times it could be something monumental that they don’t know how to discuss until we take the time to bring it up. 

Finally, and most significantly, when our kids seem like they’re off course, especially when they’re adults, never underestimate the power of prayer. It’s crucial to lean into the Holy Spirit at every step of our parenting journey. Our children will have to go through some tough stuff.  and we need to remain hands-off enough to allow God to be there with them and avoid the temptation of stepping in and trying to fix it ourselves. We need to realize that some of the toughest and most challenging things any of us go through in life are the very things that define our calling. In those situations, Helen recommends we see ourselves in the father's role in the prodigal son story. We want to be the good father but we seldom realize that the good father actually lets the son take the money and go. He waits until the son is broken and has learned some life lessons outside of his care and is ready to embrace him again.

Instead of taking on the role of fixer, we need to be able to say to our kids honestly, ‘I’m sorry, but I think you’re going have to go through some tough stuff. And I’m not going be able to help you with those things. There are consequences and actions that you’re just going to have to walk through and I’ll love you through it all.” Being a safe, consistent loving presence even as our kids have to encounter difficulty from their own choices speaks volumes in the long run.

Helen emphasizes again the importance of leaning into God with our kids. “Never pass up an opportunity to pray with your kids, not just for them. It invites the Spirit in, in such a deep way, praying right then and there if they ask for it.” Helen also encourages us, as parents, to act on our love, not on our like. From time to time, we may not like the way our kids are acting, and they may not like us in the moment either. In those cases, understand the power of touch. For Helen, she had the freedom of telling one of her boys in the middle of a dispute, “I know you love me and you know I love you, but right now we don’t like each other. That’s okay. Give me a hug.” That moment of touch melted some of the tension.

The wisdom Helen shares about seeing our kids through God’s eyes rings true and is evident in the deep connectedness of her large family. They have experienced unique hardships and joys. There have been the moments they have been in dispute or not “liked” one another but through it all, their love for one another and God’s love for them prevailed. They have remained close to each other and to God.

Ultimately, we are to look for how God sees our kids - beyond how we see them. As parents, it is our job to try to tune in to what God is doing and who God created them to be, and to pray constantly with them and for them. Remember, the posture of parenting is on our knees in prayer.

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