"Mom Says/Dad Says," an exclusive Christian parental advice column by Gregory Slayton, former U.S. Ambassador to Bermuda and author of the best-selling book Be a Better Dad Today: Ten Tools Every Father Needs, and his wife, Marina Slayton, author of the new book Be The Best Mom You Can Be. The Slaytons have been featured on Fox and Friends, Focus on the Family Radio and numerous other media outlets. They donate 100% of their royalties from parenting books to fatherhood and family nonprofits.
Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, Governors Jeb Bush and Sam Brownback and Pastors Tim Keller and Luis Palau, among others, have endorsed the Slaytons. In their exclusive series for The Christian Post, both Marina and Gregory will answer thoughtful Christian parents seeking to raise their children up in the goodness of the Gospel and the Glory of God. If you would like to have Marina and Gregory answer your questions, please contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parents Question: Our daughter just called to say that a classmate at her college committed suicide. Sadly, this was not her first experience with a fellow student taking his own life. When my husband and I were in school no one even talked about suicide, but now it seems to be almost an epidemic. How can we make sure it never impacts our own family?
Mom Says: Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans age fifteen to twenty four. Even more incredible it is the fourth leading cause of death for kids between the ages of ten and fourteen.
Each day in America there are an estimated five thousand suicide attempts. Experts believe that four out of five teens who are contemplating suicide give some kind of warning signs to the adults around them.
Why do so many parents seem to miss those signs? And how can we as parents raise kids who will not break in the face of the brokenness all around them?
There are many factors that contribute to young suicides — some of which are beyond our control as parents. What is absolutely within our control is the deep sense of love, value and belonging we can and must give to our children.
One of our top priorities is to help our kids learn WHO they are and WHOSE they. If we don't help them understand those basic facts, how are they going to develop a deep sense of self? 21st century culture, their equally vulnerable and insecure friends, and our 24/7 media will not help them. But our kids can and will derive their security, their sense of self, from their family as they understand that they are deeply and richly loved just as they are.
Kids take their identity from their families first. Given the challenges of twentieth first century parenting, it takes strength, enduring love and patience to sustain families through stressful times.
Almost all parents will say (when asked) that their kids are their top priorities. But their calendars frequently show a different reality. Under pressure from juggling too many balls, it's easier to skip family dinner or Johnny's concert (again) than to tell your boss that you simply cannot stay late (again) tonight. But the "tyranny of the urgent" has great costs in the long term. For some families, suicide is one of them.
When we are actively involved the lives of our kids we will be in a position to understand … and help them understand … the world around them. Helping our daughter to understand the fatal choice her acquaintance had made was not easy. Once again it turned on parental neglect and willful ignorance of their daughter's increasing cries for help. The step-dad didn't really care — and the mom was apparently too busy at work to notice that her daughter was descending rapidly. Too busy … until it was too late.
Yes, it might cost you or your spouse that next promotion or that big raise. But NO ONE ever thinks at the end of their life "Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office." Don't fall into that trap. And don't endanger your children by focusing too much on money or business or whatever it might be.
Show them your love every day. Help them to know that they are loved deeply and truly … and by this they will know that they are lovable, valuable and special.
Thanks for loving your kids so much and asking this important question.
Dad Says: I read an article recently about the suicide epidemic in our old town of Palo Alto (Palo Alto is where Stanford University is located — it is the heart of Silicon Valley).
In it a mom asked, "What is the difference between the teenager who recently killed himself and my kid? Really almost nothing. There is no safe space. My kids could be next."
We lived in Palo Alto for ten years with our four children. Despite (or was it because of?) the great affluence of the region, there was very serious dysfunction even on our block.
One of our daughter's friends had parents who announced: "We have a problem. We are getting a divorce and neither of us wants to take you."
As you can guess, the daughter went straight downhill to disaster.
With so much dysfunction around us, our own homes have to be our kids' safe place — not just for our own kids but also for their friends. There are fewer and fewer adults who have the time to open their homes to be a fun, safe place for the kids. Many grandparents live too far to be a daily presence in our children's lives. We have worked hard to open our home to our kids' friends because it is clear that many of children's friends just don't have a safe place to hang out. It's a little thing but it does make a difference.
Coming from broken homes ourselves helped us understand that we had better not depend on hopes and dreams, but we needed concrete plans to build our family. Hope alone rarely gets you where you want to go.
In the Bible there is a great verse for families: Without vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).
Families require vision. That's why we each devoted a full chapter in each of our books (Be a Better Dad Today and Be the Best Mom You Can Be) to how a family can build a "Noble Family Vision." Get your whole family going in the same direction, and on the same page, with respect to where you are going together and how you are going to get there. That will help each family member understand his/her importance to the whole family … and in life.
With suicides becoming a tragic reality for too many of our kids, we have to focus on helping our kids build their inner core. As a society, we focus too much on material things, but it is the intangible which gives life meaning.
Many of our kids are asking "What's the point?" That question is best answered over time, in the love of a family.
As Christians, we know there is a point to life. In fact we know that life, despite its challenges and heartbreaks, is beautiful.
In the words of the famous 23rd Psalm "lo, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me …"
Let's be God's comfort to our kids; their rod and their staff when times get tough. Let's be there for them in thick and thin, to help them walk through the valley of the shadow of death … and into the light of life.