Kay Kuzma: Dialogue with an Adventist with a passion for family values

Watch her teaching on satellite television. Sit in one of her seminars. Talk to one of her college students. Or read any one of her numerous publications. You will instantly discover that Kay Kuzma is a person with a passion–a spiritual passion for family values and happiness. Married to a biostatistician and a mother of three grown children, Dr. Kuzma (known by most as Dr. Kay) is a well-respected educator, author, and public speaker. Whatever she does carries a concern for today’s young families–their survival at a time and in a culture that seem to erode the concept of togetherness and family time, so valued not so long ago.

Dr. Kuzma graduated from La Sierra University, obtained a masters in child development at Michigan State University, earned an Ed.D. in early childhood education from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is the founder and speaker of Family Matters, a non-profit Christian organization established in 1982 to promote wholesome family relationships. She has published more than 35 books, written hundreds of articles, appeared on numerous television programs, spoken at many women’s retreats, conducted seminars on parenting and marriage, and hosts a daily radio program, Got a Minute for Your Family? currently syndicated on more than 800 outlets.

Kuzma’s writing career began as part of a husband-wife New Year’s resolution some years ago. Her husband, Jan, suggested that each of them write an article during the year. “He wrote two,” recalls Kuzma with a chuckle, “and they were both published. I wrote one, and it was rejected.” After the rejection, she says she never thought she would write again. But a few years later, she read an article promoting spanking as a way to discipline children. She says, “I was infuriated! I was so angry that I yelled at my husband, ‘How can they do this?’” He replied, “If you feel so strongly about it, don’t yell at me; write a rebuttal.” When Dr. Kuzma saw her first article in print, she says, “Something happened to me. It was as if God placed a burden on my heart to write.” She sees her success as a calling and gift from God and believes that He has opened the door for her to share an important message with the world. As a result, thousands have been blessed.

The Association of Adventist Women, recognizing Kuzma’s contribution, recently honored her with the 1998 Woman of the Year award in family life.

What do you see as the most important challenge facing the family?

The character of our children. If we train our children appropriately in the early years, and treat them in such a way that they see God as a loving God, many problems will be alleviated. Character development is a very broad assignment, because it includes basically everything—behavior, thoughts, attitudes, desires, and emotions. I’ve tried to focus on building a comprehensive program that takes kids all the way from the birth through high school—as they prepare for marriage and the rearing of the next generation.

Most parents don’t take a parenting course until they are having problems with their children. When their two-year-old stomps his little foot and says “No!” parents begin to think, “Well, how can I get him to say ‘Yes’?” My suggestion is that before a baby is dedicated, parents should take a short course to learn about character development. They should be taught how a child develops and what they can expect at different stages. That’s why I’ve developed the baby dedication materials and helped with the Ladder of Life series (published by Review & Herald).

How can people have a marriage relationship that will not only last, but also thrive?

Start at the beginning. Even before marriage, it’s very important to make appropriate decisions. It’s easy to “fall in love” with anybody, if you share enough of yourself with them. But many of the people who you fall in love with are not the kind of people who would be easy to live with.

In marriage, commitment is absolutely vital. If both have a commitment to each other and to their marriage, then they can face any difficulty with God’s help. Through sickness or financial loss or whatever the crisis, they can work it out if they are committed to their marriage. Love can be renewed.

Look at marriage as a series of relational “banking” transactions. You make certain deposits into your spouse’s account and certain withdrawals. If you’re making too many withdrawals because of your criticism or anger, or because you’re not spending enough time together, you’ll soon find your love account will have little or nothing left. And if you’re making too many deposits into someone else’s life who is not your spouse, or they are making deposits into yours, that person’s account will grow in your heart, and you’ll begin to fall in love with the other person. That’s how affairs start. So the goal is to keep your spouse’s love account full to overflowing. Be very careful about withdrawals.

Many college or graduate school students are busy trying to juggle a marriage, children, course work, and a part-time job. What can they do to make their lives a little more manageable?

It is very difficult to raise a family and pursue an education. I encourage young people to get as much education as possible before they have children, because generally with more education they can demand more flexibility in their future employment, which will allow them to be with their families when it really counts.

When you’re trying to go to school and you have a spouse and children to support, it is a time–demanding situation and something generally has to give. In too many cases, children end up getting the raw deal—they spend hours in daycare and only see their tired parents when they get home. They often grow up without the parental attention they need to really feel loved.

If student families are beginning to feel the stress of too much to do and their children are suffering, they must re-evaluate and plan their educational training and careers to fit the stage of where their families are. It may mean making financial sacrifices, but if you meet the emotional needs of your spouse and children, then everything else will come in time. You’ll have an opportunity later on to get your education and the job you’ve been wanting.

Don’t try to do it all if your family ends up being sacrificed.

And don’t try to accomplish everything alone. Humble yourself and ask for the help you need from your church family or friends so your children don’t have to suffer. If you’re stressed out, with raw emotions, you will probably take out your frustrations on the people you live with. A good support group can help you through such situations. Also, parents whose children have grown are wonderful resources. Often, they would enjoy taking care of a baby while the mother is in an evening class a couple times a week.

Many times when people are in difficult situations, they are afraid to see a counselor for help. How do you encourage them to seek help?

I advise them to look at counseling as a tutorial program—like an independent study class in graduate school. You can go to a big class for general advice or to counseling for individual tutorial help where you can learn much faster and move more quickly toward solutions for your problems.

Small group programs can help people learn why they do what they do. Drs. Ron and Nancy Rockey, members of the Faith for Today family health ministry team, believe that the majority of people who have emotional problems can, with the Lord’s help, deal with these situations if they have the correct information. Rockeys have developed an excellent set of videotapes and manuals that can help students learn about themselves (contact Faith for Today or Family Matters).

The knowledge the Lord has given us to heal broken relationships is incredible. Those of us who believe He is coming soon should know that God wants the hearts of the parents to be turned to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents. And I believe the Lord is helping us put this information together so families can find healing and be ready for His return.

What would you say to students as they face important decisions in their lives?

As I look back at my life, failures have always been steppingstones to success. I really think that any person who reaches success does not do so in a vacuum. In my life, a network of family and friends cared enough to give a little extra of their time to encourage me and help me get above and beyond where I ever thought I could go.

God gave me this vocation. It was not my plan, but God opened the doors. When we are able to get an education, it is a gift that we get from those who encourage us and it is a gift from God. Because it is a gift, we have a responsibility to do something for others. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:18, NIV).

Interview by Michael Peabody. Michael Peabody is a law student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. His e-mail: mike@I-empire.com. Dr. Kuzma’s address: Family Matters; 990 Red Hill Valley Road, SE; Cleveland, Tennessee 37323; U.S.A. E-mail: 74532.333@compuserve.com

Toll-free telephone number for Family Matters ordering information in the U.S.A.: 1-800-309-5683.