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Entries in Parenting (69)


When your child sees a troll in the mall

Many years ago a good friend of mine told me a very funny story. Her son, four years old, was with her as she entered a mall. There were two sets of doors: one from the outside into a the foyer, and one between the foyer and the actual mall. There was a pay phone in the foyer. As she and her son approached the first set of doors, outer doors she spotted a woman on the phone. Knowing her child as she did, she tried to distract him. Children that age don't always have a lot of tact. However, she was not able to prevent his observant little eyes from seeing this woman, who was clearly a dwarf. Breaking the silence of the space between those two sets of doors, were the little boy's said excited cry, "Look, Mom, a troll!"

Well, you can imagine my friend's humiliation. Trying to usher him out quickly, she told him to be quiet. As they opened the door into the mall, he said in amazement, and still audibly: "Look, she even has a little purse!" That was a fairly humbling moment.

Humility. Parenting small children helps us in that regard. With small children, we see that despite all of our training, guidling, instructing, and leading, children refute our fond notions of how much control we have. Children will do and say what we don't expect. In fact they will do what we are raising them to do: act independently.

This does not change when our kids become young adults. Their independence proceeds. Suddenly, they make decisions which may puzzle us. Whose house did he grow up in? How did she come to that conclusion? Older children humble us less in the foolishness typical of childhood, but more in the regular reminders that though we have certainly influenced them, ultimately, they are God's creation, made in his image to reflect him. While they will reflect their upbringing, there is no guarantee they will mirror us exactly. Cloning is not the objective. While of course, we want them to love our God and embrace the faith heritage which they were raised in, that may look different from their parents' lives. My children already have different lives than I did at their age. My oldest is 27, single, and sharing an apartment with her brother. At 27, I had two children, a husband, and a mortgage. 

There is often a lot of competition among young mothers, and it doesn't always subside as kids grow. Instead of taking pride in our child's ability to read independently or tie his shoes, we take pride in whether or not the child is in professional ministry, how many children they have, or what their jobs are. It is a bad habit in both cases. While we raise our children, pouring ourselves into them year after year, it is still God who blesses. Taking pride in their success or complete responsibility for their failures only reveals that we think we have more control than we do. Frankly, I'd rather not think I control my child. I rather think the Spirit of God does.

Watching my adult children as they grow and mature is humbling, although not like my friend in the mall. I see that despite my many failings in teaching them, they do the right thing. Despite the occasions of my own bad example, they show compassion, kindness, and mercy. And despite the times I failed them, they continue to show love toward us, and include us in their lives. I don't get to see them as often as I would like, and I do have one child who isn't very good at keeping in touch, but  I'm thankful for how they have grown and how God has blessed them.


Our goal is not compliant children

I was recently at a baby shower where the hostess read from a devotional. I didn't find out the name of the author or the devotional because as soon as I heard its contents, I felt it was not worth remembering. The passage described two kinds of children: compliant and defiant. Of course, the point of the passage was to discuss our preference for the compliant child. I was immediately on guard because I had quite compliant children, and I discovered that compliance is not the goal; the goal is to raise children to love and serve God, and the two aren't always synonymous.

Compliance is something we like as parents because it means our job is easier. Isn't it easier to ask only once instead of repeatedly? A refusal to do something means we have to deal with the situation. A lack of compliance means much more work. When our children are compliant, we praise them, because we like it. Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving verbal encouragement to our kids. However, for a child who has a natural disposition for pleasing others (and yes, some people are just wired that way) it is soon observable that being compliant makes life easier for everyone. And compliance is an outward thing. It does not guarantee an inward transformation. Haven't you ever complied with something you didn't really agree with in order to make things easier? To demonstrate grace? 

If I focus too much on compliance, will it extend into other arenas, such as peers, school, and later work environments? If that is my goal, what is the consequence? A better goal is to raise our children in the instruction and disposition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) and then entrust them to God to take responsibility for their lives. Yes, we want our children to obey, but compliance is not the ultimate goal. Conflict in families is inevitable. We are all sinners. Those occasions of defiance are opportunities to practice godly conflict resolution. We can't avoid conflict with our children. 

The trouble with focusing merely on compliance is that our attentions are increasingly drawn to the outward rather than looking more closely at what is going on in the child's heart and mind. When our kids are compliant it is so easy to assume that they are doing well, that there are no issues. But for some children, compliance is simply a way to cover up deeper issues. Young people can be outwardly compliance but inwardly struggling and even rebelling. I'm not making this up. I witnessed it in all three of my children. And yes, I was too concerned with compliance than I was with helping them grow and mature. And yes, I regret it. 

Parenting is hard work, and it doesn't come easy. I grow continually frustrated with parenting advice that tries to make it look easier than it is. Ultimately, when we want it to be easy, it's for selfish reasons. Parenting is a vocation, and that brings with it challenges and joys. Trying to make it easy just reduces it to a task like any other, and honestly, it just isn't.

Our goal in parenting is to raise our children for God's glory; to teach them God's Word, to provide discipline and love. If compliance is our only goal, I think we ultimately settle for something less.


The challenge of precocious children

My children were all early speakers. My oldest was barely a year old when she began pointing at things and asking "that?" I would carry her around our home and tell her the names of things. My two boys were also early speakers. They were, in a word, precocious. When we began homeschooling, I could see that they were very bright students, and teaching them the academics was actually quite a breeze. 

As a lover of learning myself, watching them grow and learn was a joy. It was no testimony to my teaching skills that they learned. They were just wired for learning. The problem with that, however, is that when our children are very bright, and sound older than they are, we are tempted to think they grasp more than they do. Some children can grasp cognitively what they are really not mature enough to truly understand.

This becomes a matter for concern with regard to spiritual issues. As parents, we raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We set boundaries for conduct. We teach them the gospel. We read the Bible. We tell them how knowing Christ ought to be lived out in the daily things. They may nod in assent because they can make sense of what we're saying, but as we know as adults, knowing something doesn't mean we always obey. 

I was reading Amos on the weekend as I prepared for Sunday school. In chapter 4:6-13, God is calling his people out for their sins. He points out that even when he sent them a chastening hand, they still did not return to him. That phrase, "yet you did not return to me" is repeated five times in that passage. This is so much like us, isn't it? We know the truth, we are corrected when we stray, and yet we resist submitting.

This is also true of children. But sometimes, as a young parent, I mistakenly took cognitive understanding for heart understanding, and I think you can guess where that road can lead. Outward behaviour is not a guarantee of true compliance. In a parenting course my husband and I taught based on the Ezzos (what were we thinking?) we were told that if we had outward compliance, evenetually it would manifest itself in heart understanding. It might; but it might not.

My children could give the answers we wanted. But that could not change their hearts. Only God can change someone's heart. What we as parents need to do when our kids are young is to extend mercy. Children are immature. It takes time for them to learn the heart lessons. A child can have a genius IQ, but that doesn't mean he's going to obey the Biblical commands we set before him. 

I can't help but think I should have been more merciful toward my children. I unwisely took their intelligence and ability to comprehend things as evidence of heart change. No wonder I often took their disobedience with such alarm and feelings of failure. With intelligence, it is a matter of honing it; with faith, it is a matter of the Spirit sanctifying one, and that is not my job. I am not the Holy Spirit. I should have been more patient as they grew up. I think I expected far too much from them. 

I Corinthians 13:7 reminds us:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It should certainly bear the immaturity of our children as they grow up. That doesn't mean we excuse sin, but it does mean we show mercy when it's required. After all, our example of extending mercy will be something they may follow later on in life. 


The tree grows near the fallen apple

We've all heard that phrase "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." As I've watched my children become adults, its truth has become more apparent. Each of my three children are like me in one way: they become very consumed with the things they love. With my younger son and my daughter, it is being consumed with learning. With my older son, it is his music.

As I have watched them, I have learned a great deal about myself. I have often thought that their passions could become things that distract them from the Lord. Recently, it has been impressed on my own heart how I am not immune to that temptation.

I love the pursuit of study. I love studying the Bible, doing word studies, structuring passages, looking into the background, observing the way the writer used the language. I love seeing how the biblical doctrines have been derived, and reading about the pursuit of hammering out those doctrines throughout church history. I love to see how other Bible students, pastors, especially, have approached the same text that I am studying. It is this love that spurred me on to go to seminary. I'm not good at many things, but I'm good at learning. It drives me.

But, of course, it can trip me up. Just as I have exhorted my children that learning and education in and of itself won't redeem anyone, I have to remember that the pursuit, while necessary, is not knowing God fully. In fact, we can comfort ourselves that our spiritual life is going well because we are studying and have a hunger for the Word. But that's not enough. It has to reveal itself in the very fabric of our being, and where the rubber meets the road is how we relate to those around us, both people we know and the larger world.

Recently, my friend and I spent some time looking at Matthew 6:24-36, where Jesus exhorts his listeners not to worry. He says in verse 33 that we are to seek the kingdom of God. Have you ever thought what that means in a practical sense? It sounds grand and very godly, but what does it mean in practical terms? Yes, it means knowing the Word, but it also means being conformed to the principles of the kingdom, doing and being what is consistent with kingdom principles. In his commentary on Matthew, Dan Doriani gives some helplful suggestions:

Seek the King, love him, and trust Him.
Pray for the kingdom.
Evangelize for the kingdom.
Submit to God; obey him. 
Pursuing work that pleases God.
Have an eye on social reform.
Pursue righteousness in public places.

In that last one, Doriani elaborates:

It also means restraining something as small and personal as our tongue -- checking a sarcastic remark or refusing to repeat a morsel of gossip.

Wow. Seeking the kingdom means keeping my mouth shut more often. Seeking the kingdom is indeed a very individual, personal activity. It means evaluating my conduct, motives, and attitudes regularly. Yes, it can involve concentrated study, but it also involves the little daily things. 

As those of us who are mothers can attest to, knowing about infant care through reading baby books is much different from what we learned in those few months of motherhood. Knowing how is not always really knowing. We can know what the kingdom principles are in our heads without manifesting them through our hearts and into our lives.

I have always known that to be true, and there have been times when I have been complacent about it. Sometimes it takes watching someone else to see ourselves more clearly. One thing I have learned recently is that when one is busy seeking the kingdom, she doesn't have a lot of time to be distracted with other things, whether it is worry and anxiety, or things that have little value. It is encouraging to me that I can continue to learn. And these lessons don't come from books, but are lived out, and those are the ones that endure.


The "Neat Kid" syndrome

Years ago, when my husband and I were teaching teen Sunday school, there was a student I wasn't quite sure about. He was a bit of a trouble maker, a little disruptive, bordering on disrespectful, but with a charming smile and disposition. He seemed to be well-liked, but he reminded me a little too much of a class clown who knows how to charm the teacher. One of the other leaders did not agree with me about this young man. She thought he was a "neat kid," and thought his outgoing nature said something about his Christian character.

Today, this young man is not living for the Lord. In fact, from what I understand, since he left high school, his life bears very little resemblance to that of an individual professing to be a Christian. I am not even aware that he claims to be a Christian. Meanwhile, there are many quiet, reserved, unassuming young men and women who were never viewed as "neat," but who are today thriving in their relationship with the Lord.

We talk about how the culture of celebrity has infiltrated the Church, but I think at the root of a cult of celebrity is a cult of personality. We tend to think that an outgoing personality is evidence of a sanctified life. Someone who will get up and share without hesitation, or is willing to get up in front of people and speak must be someone who is using his gifts for the Lord. The shy, apprehensive individual must be hiding his light under a bushell, no?

Often, these outgoing people are viewed as natural leaders because they are willing to take the leadership. In my experience, however, often the best leader is the one who is cautious about taking it on. I tend to be very suspicious anyway, but I'm always a little apprehensive about the individual who talks more about his leadership than God. Our task is to live so that attention is given to God, not ourselves.

My husband would never have been considered a "neat kid" growing up. He was bookish, physically small, and avoided the spotlight. Even today, he does not like having attention drawn to him. That doesn't mean he is not a godly man. He loathes small talk, and at a gathering, he's not the one kibbitzing with everyone. More than likely, he's on the outer fringe of the room wondering when he can go home. But he's trustworthy, discreet, kind, and humble. When I was a youth leader, I loved to see quiet, serious kids, and I didn't like it when others perceived them as some kind of dead weight simply because they were afraid to get up in front of others and share a toothbrush with five other people or eat some grotesque concoction while being blindfolded. 

One thing my kids have shared with me now that they are adults is that teenagers can often learn to play the game well. If a kid grows up in a church, he quickly sees what kind of conduct garners approval from parents and leaders. A kid can fake it for a long time within the confines of the youth group. When they get out on their own, or there is a crisis, the reality of their faith is proved, regardless of whether they are a neat kid or bland as dry toast. When we're watching young people grow, looking for spiritual fruit rather than a charming disposition is far more crucial. Sometimes, a "neat kid" can be covering for a lack of spiritual fruit, while someone less gregarious is demonstrating meekness or humility.

God can use people even if they aren't "neat." Even boring, serious folks like me can be used.