My daughter has this pet phrase right now that she says in this sing-song high pitched voice whenever something uncomfortable happens– “Aaaawk-ward!”

Makes me think of the time I was at a romantic comedy movie with just my mother and sister-in-law, sharing a bucket of popcorn, when a particularly hot and steamy scene took over the whole screen and we all just froze. In a panic, I worried about what they were thinking and what I should do until it was finally over! Awkward moments have happened to me as I worked with small groups of kids, too. It’s pretty much a given. Some of them have no problem just laying it all out there as you frantically decide on the right way to respond. One thing I’ve found to be increasingly tricky as a leader are holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I’ve noticed a trend—that more and more kids don’t have both of these (or sometimes they have several). And when we do those special crafts, pray or ask a question about mom or dad, I’ve noticed a variety of responses. Some of the more outgoing ones shout out that they don’t have one. Others sit hunched over, wanting to disappear so they don’t have to deal with it.

I was curious if it was just my church, so I did a little research. And I was surprised to learn from a professor specializing in family culture from Fuller Seminary that 55% of women having babies are actually under 30 and single. So as a leader, I started looking more carefully at the list of kids’ names that make up my roster. I wrote down what I knew about each kid and their family. It was amazing what I discovered—more than half of my group didn’t live with a mom and a dad. I was also shocked (and a little embarrassed) to realize how little I knew about some of their home lives. This realization helped me to be more intentional in looking for opportunities, especially one-on-one in quieter moments, to ask more questions and really listen to their answers, thanking them for sharing with me.

I also became more aware of those times when the activities or questions from the lesson assume that every kid or teen has both parents at home. I started tweaking the language and giving another option—like if you don’t have a dad at home, who’s an adult in your life that’s like a dad to you, supporting or challenging you—so that everyone could participate.

One time when all the parents were picking up, I bragged on a pretty active boy in my group to his younger single mom. She just started crying. Talk about awkward! She got it together enough to say that it had been a really long time since anyone had something positive to say about her son. And she felt so alone. She was glad for someone else to see the good and say it out loud. That maybe her kid really would turn out all right.
It wasn’t that hard to adjust and put myself in their shoes.

As class sizes in schools continue to get bigger and extracurricular activities get more competitive, I’m really not sure there’s another place doing what a small group can—creating a safe spot for every kid to feel like they belong and that you, the leader, really see, know and care about them. It really makes those awkward moments worth it!

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