Q: What's your opinion about overnight group activities for elementary-grade children? We want our kids to have fun with their friends, but we're concerned about exposing them to inappropriate influences.
Jim: As the dad of a fifth-grader myself, I completely understand your struggle. It's a sad fact that we live in a world that is increasingly dangerous and unhealthy for our kids. As parents, we must be mindful of what our kids are exposed to when they're in someone else's care.
I realize we can't keep our children in a safe cocoon forever. Eventually they'll face external threats and temptations, and as parents, we're responsible to equip them for that challenge as early as possible. It's important to look for appropriate opportunities that will allow your kids to step out from under your immediate oversight a little bit at a time.
For us, however, we've elected to encourage our kids' growth in this area through avenues other than sleepovers. (Although we've done them in rare cases where we've known the families well.) Your situation and comfort level may be different. If so, I'd simply encourage you to exercise due diligence with every invitation. You might consider meeting with the adults responsible for supervising the overnighter. Find out where it will be held and what activities are planned. If you're well-acquainted with the person in charge, there's probably little to worry about.
If, however, this sleepover is being held in someone's private home and you're unfamiliar with the parents, I'd suggest that you meet with them beforehand to make sure that their values and perspectives are in line with your own. If this is a school- or church-sponsored event, you may discover that the teacher or leader would love to have you volunteer as a chaperone.
Q: My husband and I divorced when our now-10-year-old son was 3. He visits his dad frequently, but unfortunately gets little attention from my ex, who's now remarried and has started a new family. My son tries to be brave, but I know he must feel hurt and rejected. What can I do?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Yours is a heartbreaking situation, and my heart truly feels for you. Witnessing your son being neglected by his dad is painful, and you shouldn't dismiss or minimize your feelings -- both for you and your son's sake.
After you've acknowledged and sorted out your own emotions, it's important that you give your son the opportunity to identify and express his feelings, too. This is because children can't grasp the complex dynamics of broken relationships. They don't see things for what they are, and often assume guilt for the breakup, believing that they've done something wrong. Don't wait for your son to bring up the subject. He probably won't, especially if he's trying to be brave.
Next, try to uncover what's at the root of your ex-husband's emotional neglect of your son. It may be that he's avoiding you, his new wife is interfering, there's financial strain, etc. Whatever the reasons, he needs to understand and feel the weight his actions are having on his son. You're more likely to achieve this goal and agree to a solution if you appeal to his emotions, rather than by shaming or harassing him.
Finally, do everything you can to find a good man who can encourage and serve as a positive role model for your son. You might approach your father, someone from church, or a trusted teacher, coach or neighbor about the possibility of spending time with your boy. Your son will be sure to benefit, even if his father doesn't participate.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.