Leading Meetings with a High-Need Child
Maggie Heeger Griffin
Madison, Alabama, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 1, February-March 2001, p. 18
When I was a Leader Applicant, not all that long ago, I had serious doubts as to whether I'd be able to effectively lead a meeting. My children were young and required just about all of my attention. My 18-month-old daughter was friendly, outgoing, and active, but my three-year-old son was totally the opposite -- clingy and unhappy even when held -- the ultimate high need child! Judging from how meetings had gone up to this point, I didn't have much confidence for the times to come.
I'll tell you quite frankly that my early days as a Leader were very challenging -- but they did get better. Let me share some hints that helped make those challenging times a little easier.
I found it helped to plan ahead. My son wanted me to be with him constantly. Since my goal was to spend more time in the meeting room, I needed to find ways to achieve that. Joe enjoyed crafts, so I packed a basket full of crayons, paper, dot-to-dot books, and templates for tracing. I tried to include items that would be special enough to hold his interest. They didn't have to be new, but not something he played with every day. I also packed other quiet amusements -- colorforms, puzzles, and lacing cards. A few non-messy snacks were also included in the basket.
Before the meeting, I talked with the children and explained why it was important for me to talk with the women at the meetings. I explained that the mothers wanted to learn about nursing and that I could help them learn and they could help by allowing me to speak with the women for a while. Then I'd be glad to go to the toy room with them to play. I asked them for their suggestions to make the meeting more enjoyable. While driving to the meeting, we reviewed the plans we'd made.
At the meeting, I selected a spot to sit where we'd all fit comfortably, where Elizabeth could have easy access to the toys, and where I'd be able to walk around when necessary.
Be realistic in your expectations. A child who has never been able to sit through an entire meeting won't suddenly develop this skill -- it takes lots of time. Plan to leave the room occasionally with your child. Let the women at the meeting know that you'll be responding to the needs of your child as they arise, and encourage them to listen to their babies as well. Know that you'll be providing a living example of LLLI philosophy in action. You will show that mothers can be with their children and do other things as well.
If you have co-Leaders, count on them for help. In my case, I knew that Joe wouldn't be happy having anyone other than me amuse him, so I didn't even try it. Instead I depended on my co-Leaders to take over leading the meeting if I needed to get up quickly. While it may seem to you that your leading abilities are compromised, mothers are usually impressed by your patience and dedication, which speak just as loudly as your words. If you don't have any co-Leaders, take a "baby break" during the meeting if necessary to regroup with your child.
After the meeting, allow yourself lots of free time to regain your composure. Leading with a high-need child is draining! If you lead a morning meeting, try to have an easy dinner on hand, a frozen casserole to reheat, or something simmering in the crockpot. Do your best to keep other activities to a minimum for the rest of the day. Doctors' appointments and errands can wait for another day if possible. Your children will want extra time to reconnect with you.
Above all, try to keep it in perspective. There's an old adage that says, "This too shall pass," and it really does! Now, several years later, I lead meetings with no interruptions from my children who are both in school. Believe it or not, I sometimes wish for those "old" days. Being right in the trenches made me a credible authority on parenting. Now I wonder if mothers have any idea of what I've gone through to get where I am.
I feel I've earned my wings, and I enjoy the freedom of solo leading. Each phase in life has its own rewards as well as challenges, and it's up to us to make it a positive experience. Remember what an inspiration you'll be to others -- and keep smiling!