"LEADER" On-line: Vol. 10, No. 1
Parenting with a Husband in Prison
by Ann Edenfield Sweet
Parenting is difficult enough these days without the extra burden
of incarceration. But that is exactly what is happening in America
today. Children are being raised without fathers or mothers because
they are in prison. A Department of Justice report reveals that
one in 40 children in America has a parent in prison. A staggering
76% of inmates report having had a relative in prison. This generational
pattern of incarceration has to stop!
Twenty years ago, my husband was given a 15-year prison sentence.
I was then a stay-at-home mother of four young boys. The baby
was on oxygen with failure to thrive. I had an IRS
lien of over $3.5 million. The IRS also told me I couldnt
make over $30,000 per year or theyd garnish my wages. The
picture was not pretty! On top of that, I had to be mother, father,
breadwinner and comforter for my boys.
As I laughingly say, I didnt have to die to find out
that some people came to my funeral. I quickly learned
that I had few friends left. The rest of my acquaintances treated
me like a leper. But as hard as it was on me, we cant forget
that often our children are treated that same way. Therefore,
we must do everything we can to build our self-esteem as well
as our childrens self esteem.
These are some other things I learned about parenting while
my husband was in prison:
- I had to take care of myself. This meant maintaining a positive
attitude, staying well groomed, and getting adequate sleep to
maintain my health and energy.
- I had to get very organized. I found ways for the boys to
help me maintain the house and yard. Although I had little money,
the incentive of Friday-night pizza and a rented movie after
cleaning was completed worked beautifully. The clean house on
Friday night prevented me from being a nag all weekend,
and we all felt better in a clean home. Treating us all to pizza
and a movie was a small price to pay.
- I really couldnt afford it, but I found that allowances
actually saved me money in the long run. More importantly, allowances
taught my children to budget their money wisely. They learned
that spending all their money on candy meant they might not have
money for fun weekend events. Learning this lesson at an early
age is invaluable, and giving an allowance also removed me from
being mean mom. They chose how they wanted to spend
their money and could get mad only at themselves for poor choices.
- I feel it is important to share your situation about a spouse
in prison with the principal, teachers, counselors, coaches,
and friends and neighbors you can trust. The key word here is
TRUST. Hopefully, they will become your ally at school and help
to keep you informed about your childs well-being and attitude.
When my oldest son was 24 and I was ready to publish my book,
he told me about his first day as a 6th grader in his new middle
school. He walked into the cafeteria for his first lunch and
a kid yelled across the room, Arent you the kid whose
dads in prison? What a terrible way to start school,
and he didnt tell me for 13 years!
- I believe in the African proverb that it takes a whole village
to raise a child. That is certainly true when a parent is in
prison. I encourage the parent at home to get their child involved
in as many sports and activities as possible. Coaches, teachers,
and congregational leaders can become role models and/or mentors
for your child. Boys with fathers in prison especially need strong,
positive role models.
- Through the incarceration, learn to turn to family and friends
for help. Dont try to do it all yourself.
- It is also important to remember the parent in prison. He
or she is still a parent. Try to find ways to include them in
their childrens lives. Send copies of report cards and
school papers. Encourage your children to write. Share parenting
issues and try to discuss possible solutions. Remember also that
it always seems easier to find a solution away from the heat
of the moment and after the fact. Learn from your decisionsright
- 98% of all inmates are released from prison, so your spouse
may soon be home. Maintain open, honest lines of communication
with your spouse.
Ann Edenfield Sweet is the author of Family Arrested:
How to Survive the Incarceration of a Loved One and the founder
of Wings Ministry, an outreach organization based in Albuquerque,
NM. For information, go to WingsMinistry.org.
Click for Active Parenting books and
videos for families with a parent in jail.
Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 2005 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.