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Entries in Parenting (76)

Sunday
Sep092018

Why I could not be pointedly aloof.

Last week, I saw a person re-tweet something by a woman named Megan Hill. I am not familiar with who she is. Her comment was:

One of the best things my parents ever did for me was to refuse to treat any boyfriend as if he were another member of the family. They were friendly, but pointedly aloof until the day of my wedding. 

The Best of Intentions

I am very familiar with a parents' desires to set boundaries in the relationships between their kids and their friends. I longed for my children to wait to pursue serious relationships until they were older. At the time we homeschooled, courtship was all the rage. I told them that was the goal; they listened. And they did exactly what we did not want them to do.

In light of the fact that our kids would not hop on board with our plans, I felt like the best thing to do was at least be aware of their relationships and befriend their friends, whoever they were. Any of my kids' friends knew that when they came here they would be treated as if they were one of my own. It didn't matter who that friend was. And we had a lot of teens in this house over the years.

It wasn't always like that, however. When the kids were younger, we lived down the street from a family whose mother had some personal struggles and the kids ran wild. I did not do enough to help those kids. I was far too worried about what influence those kids would have on my kids when I should have done more to help them. So when our kids started high school, I made sure things would be different. When my son brought home a skittish young girl in 10th grade, I was anything but aloof. And I have no regrets.

Someone in Need

She came from a troubled home. She was without a father and her mother was mostly disinterested in where her daughter was or what she was doing. In addition to teaching her the gospel, taking her to church, and feeding her, I mothered her. When her mother's poor financial choices impacted her daughter, I made up what was lacking. And I'm not talking about luxuries; I'm talking about basic necessities in a teenage girl's life.  When she had conflict with her mother, and showed up here, we didn't turn her away.

The relationship ended. And it was difficult for everyone involved. And yes, it felt like I was losing a child. Perhaps we were wrong for not stepping in and forbidding our son to spend time with a spiritually immature girl (something you can't actually do once they are in public high school). Perhaps we didn't have enough control over our teenagers. But when you are confronted with someone in need of love, you're not thinking about how you'll feel in 15 years. And when your 16 year old son desperately wants to show compassion to someone in need, you want to affirm that. We gave to her when she was here, we felt sad when she walked away, but we know we did the right thing in loving her and caring for her; in not being aloof, but warm and welcoming. I think I was right for getting up on those winter Saturday mornings so she could be at work by 6:00 am when it was -25°C with a windchill.

The Message We Send

When our children are younger, 8 or 9 years old, we are not hesitant to have them bring friends home and welcome them to the home. Even if our female child brings home a male friend. But when we start putting up walls and changing the way we treat their friends because there could be a romantic entanglement, are we actually contributing to a subtle combative attitude? The opposite sex is one to be guarded against. My own children have said something like that.  One of my sons once commented that in 8th grade a guy is allowed to be friends with a girl but once high school starts, he has to start looking at her like she's a temptress, and she has to be afraid she's going to cause him to stumble. I wonder if as a parent, my aloofness would not simply send a message to the friend: "I think you could be trouble." Is that how I want to be with my kids' friends? No.

It is appealing to think we can shield our children, micromanage their lives, and protect them from everything, and when they are young and foolish we should. But there is also a place for letting them fail when as they are learning to use wisdom. I could not be aloof out of fear of what being too welcoming would do. Over the years, I have become more cautious in all relationships, but aloof is one thing I just can't manage. I've been on the receiving end of aloof more times than I can count. It kinda stings. It's unfortunate that the word choice was used in the tweet. I was also a little disappointed that it received so much support, but I don't really belong to that group, so I guess I should just let it go.

My daughter is engaged. I have no plans to be aloof with her fiance until July 2019, and then minutes after the ceremony turn on the love. What would that say to my daughter?

Saturday
Sep012018

Thoughts from a baby food jar

When I was out walking my dogs recently, I came across an empty, clean baby food jar along the curb. I know the family who lives at the house has an infant, so I assumed that the jar was a remnant from recycling day. I thought about how gross baby food is, and how I was glad I made my own baby food.

After I had my first child, my mother-in-law gave me a cookbook about the benefits of homemade baby food. After comparing a jar of puréed peas with the vibrant green of my own concoction, I was hooked. Learning about nutrition for my children as infants became something I took very seriously. You could say I was vigilant about the possible danagers of bad nutrition. Although I didn't know it back then, but vigilance is a big part of my personality. If you're looking for the possible dangers out there, I'll tell you what they are. Whether it's the risk of poor infant nutrition to the dangers of not doing your homework, that is me.

Part of my success at school is due to my vigilance. I am probably average intelligence, but what I lack in that area, I make up for in hard work. I am both determined and vigiliant. The problem is that vigilance can become hyper-vigilance, and that feeds a tendency to be anxious. Everything becomes a possible threat. Everything becomes something to be managed.

The danger of being too vigilant as parents is that we may begin to rely on our own vigilance to ensure a good spiritual outcome for our children. We may begin to believe that as long as we are doing the right things and saying the right things, our children will do exactly what we expect them to do. Spiritually vibrant children become a product of keeping track, encouraging, and exhorting. Unfortunately, that formula leaves out the Holy Spirit. My vigilance does not engage the Holy Spirit in the lives of my children.

One of the most devastating things for a Christian parent is to have prodigal children. For those who did "everything" they could, it is especially devastating because it makes one disillusioned. Where did I go wrong? What did I not do? Where did I fail to be vigilant? The reality is that vigilance child rearing does not produce disciples of Christ. The Spirit of God does. As parents, we are only vessels of the truth and examples of what we teach. That is all we can do: teach and model, teach and model. And of course, we can pray. 

Vigilance is helpful in many ways. It keeps me on track when I have set goals. It makes me productive. But taken to an extreme, it can be my ruin. Only as I look at Christ and his sovereignty and sufficiency can I resist the temptation to overdo it. Ultimately, I have to be willing to let it all go and cast myself on Christ's love and mercy.

I'm really happy that I made my own baby food. It was cheaper, and it made feeding my children enjoyable. But considering their bad eating habits as teenagers, it didn't produce a permanent situation. And if I had fed them baby food from a jar, I'm pretty sure they would be just as healthy as they are today.

Monday
Jul302018

Watching them leave

My brother and his wife came for a visit on the weekend. Their daughter will be leaving home in the next few months, whereas all three of our kids are on their own. The process began eleven years ago when our daughter left for university, followed by one son three years after her, and then two years after that, our youngest. We have basically been on our own for the past six years.

The fact that it was a process softened the initial difficulty somewhat, although that first year with my daughter gone was hard, because I know what university campuses are like, and as a mother, her safety was a concern for me. But I had two boys at home and I was busy. It wasn't until the last one went that I began to realize what a huge adjustment it truly is.

Once one child leaves home, the family dynamics change; even in the closest of families. Our young adults meet new people, forge new friendships, and their world is opened up. The longer they are gone, the more independent they become. They have lives of their own, and weekend visits may not be as frequent. And when you do try to arrange a family time, schedules begin to collide, especially when there are boyfriends and girlfriends in the mix. At one time, our children all lived fairly close to one another, so it was easy for my husband and I to drive in their direction and find a location to eat a meal together or do something fun together. Now, with my youngest one married and living in another location, it's not as easy. 

Adult children also make decisions we may not like. And no, it's not always an act of rebellion. Even godly children will make independent choices. We're raising individuals, after all, not clones. It can be hard when they make decisions we don't like. It's not as easy to speak into their lives when we don't see them daily. And sometimes, we do better for them by saying nothing. If we are not sure that we have taught them the gospel well or given them the guidance they need, there is not a whole lot we can do about it. What we can do is trust God, and know that he loves them far more than we ever could.

Looking back now, I can see that the process of my children leaving was a major life change, and that fed into my tendency toward anxiety. Outwardly, I seemed to be okay, but inwardly, I really wasn't. We invest a lot of our identity into our children. I did especially, because I was at home with them all their lives, and we homeschooled. This is not to say that I have regrets about my choice. I don't. I'd do it all again. Adjustment to their absence was something that didn't come easily. When all three were gone, and I looked into the very quiet, often empty days, it was not easy, but now, praise God, I'm in a better place. God has been working on my heart, reminding me of where my true identity is and how much he loves me, sending me to seminary, and showing me the benefits of it being just my husband and I again.

There are benefits. We love having the kids visit, but we also love our own space. We love being able to do what we want, eat what and when we want, and not have to share Netflix. And some of the matters which were our responsibility aren't anymore, and there is freedom in that. The pressure is off even while it can be hard. We are here for them when they need us, but we have lives to live, a God to serve, and goals to work toward.

This fall, there will be parents who are sending off their children into the world. It will be hard. And there will be change. As soon as we understand that there will be changes, it's easier. But God knows all about these changes, and he works within them. That should comfort us.

Tuesday
Jul102018

But, what if you did everything?

I read an article this morning which upset me. I don't know the author other than that she is a mother. In her article this morning, she encourages other mothers to be diligent to teach their children the gospel. She suggests that if a mother is not taking the time to teach her children the gospel, then that mother should question her own salvation. My emotional reaction at my initial reading means I should probably not go into detail with some of my questions, but the one thing I really found most troublesome was her admonition to parent in fear.

I parented in fear, and it was disastrous. I was too often ruled by fear, and I believe it had a negative impact on my parenting, including my the spiritual growth of my children.

My children were taught the gospel. In our homeschool, in church, in kids' clubs, youth groups, Sunday school. We had regular conversations. My husband and I were their Sunday school teachers for a while, and we had a youth Bible study in our home regularly for a few years. We were active in teaching them. But today, I have a child who has wandered and not yet returned. I don't talk about it because it's no one's business, it would be disrespectful to my child, and because that child's story is not over yet.

This writer encourages mothers to be fearful about where their children are headed spiritually, and she encourages them to question their own salvation if they are not doing enough to teach their children the gospel. There is nothing wrong with self-examination and a healthy fear, but my concern is that some young mother reading that piece is going to take that admonition to an extreme which will possibly lead to a lot of false guilt later on. I've been there. The blame game. What didn't I do? How could I have done better? 

What if you did everything and your child still is not living for the Lord?

It has taken me many years to find peace with my own situation. I cannot begin to articulate the depths of the grief and sorrow my heart bears. Some days, if I allow myself to think about it too long, I'm in trouble. I must turn my trust to God. I cannot live in despair.

If you are a young parent reading this, please don't parent in fear. Parent with a healthy understanding of what God's word says; and it says that judgement comes for those who don't believe. But also parent with hope knowing that your child's salvation and spiritual development are overseen by a sovereign God, who can, and does, work despite all of your mistakes as a parent. No, don't neglect to teach your children; but remember that you are not the author of your child's salvation.

Resist the temptation parent in a daily mode of fear that all your efforts will not be enough. Fear is not always rational, and becomes irrational very easily. It causes us to make rash decisions without thinking through things clearly. Fear leads to guilt and recrimination later on. And when our kids don't comply with our teaching, it can cause strain in our relationships with them. Don't parent in fear. That is one of the worst things I ever did.

If your children are living with an active, healthy faith, don't thank yourself. Give thanks to God.

Friday
Jan262018

Is it the fear and pressure?

One of the things I really enjoy about my Greek class is that there are college aged students as well as seminary students. Every class, as the room fills up, there is the inevitable chatter as people sit down and wait for things to begin. I enjoy hearing their banter and laughter. I enjoy hearing the funny things they say. It reminds me of when my own kids were that age. What is different, though, is that I know that there was always a point when my kids were home when the banter and jocularity became an irritation and I told them to be done with it. When you get a little distance from your own parenting, and they're not your kids, it's a different experience.

It's the same with smaller children. When we have opportunity to babysit for a young family, it is enjoyable because we get to spend time with interesting little people and then we get to go home without any worry. Once, a number of years ago, we babysat an infant for a number of hours, and when the mother and father returned, they were apologetic because they were away for so long. I was not bothered at all. I would sleep well that night, and I didn't have to worry about a thing. I know that will be the joy of being a grandparent some day: our ultimate job is not to raise them even if we do have a lot of input. The pressure is off and can we enjoy them.

One of the things which robbed me of the joy of the moment in parenting was the fear: am I making a mistake? Am I doing something wrong? Will this have long term consequences? What will people think? That last question was something I asked often because I was very aware of the scrutiny that we put other parents under. I did it myself; that eye raise toward a parent whose child is muttering in church; that "tsk" when we observe a young person doing something behind his parents' back. Very often, when our kids are young, we are evaluated on how well-behaved our kids are. When I think about it, that's a lot of pressure to put parents and children under. Children shouldn't have to be the means by which their parents are evaluated. Christian parents can have very outwardly complaint children who actually live with very rebellious hearts. Yes, we want obedient children, but not so we can be applauded or avoid criticism; it's so we can teach them about life long obedience to God.

I think this pressure on being the perfect mother is partly an overflow over the notion that a woman's worth is in her ability to mother. If that is where we get our primary value, we'd better do it right. Parenting is a godly work, but that is not what gives a woman value. What gives her value is the reality that she is created in the image of God. One of the things I learned a lot about when I wrote a term paper about abortion is that personhood is not a matter of function but essence. I am not a person because I am able to walk, think, speak, and serve. I am a person because I was created by God. My value is not a matter of being a perfect mother caring for my Better Homes and Gardens home while wearing Prada. I'm still a person as I putter in my house in my faded jeans and sweatshirt, and the dustbunnies waiting for my attention. And as I deal with a problem child.

I have no idea what kind of bad memories my children have taken away with them. We all have negative memories of our childhood. If they do remember me as a mother who was always fearful and under pressure, I can only hope that they are merciful, and that when they become parents, they will have understanding.