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Entries in Parenting (72)


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.


Walking over the parenting threshold

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the woman a reward. (Psalm 127:3)

Today, my little girl, my firstborn, turns 26 years old. My husband teased her yesterday, asking her, "How does it feel to be into the first year of your late 20's?"

July 21, 1989 was a day very much like today, a little overcast, hot, humid, threatening rain. I remember the day we took her home, as we settled her into the car, sweating from every pore. I was drenched when I finally got in my seat, but it was more than the heat. It was the fact that I was very aware that I was beginning a new life.

I've heard people say, "Having children isn't going to change me." All I can say to that is "shame on you." It should. How can it not? We are given responsibility for a life, a stewardship from God. He is giving us these little people for a season to raise for his glory. How can we not change? Even if we don't make conscious changes (which we have to), they change us. Our children change us.

Marriage quickly reveals our selfishness. Having children maginifies those occasions. As we feel grumbly waking up in the middle of the night, or wondering when we're ever going to be able to use the bathroom alone again, our desire for personal comfort and ease is revealed as we parent. It's a daily exercise of putting our children first. No, we don't have to give up everything, and yes, I think women should still have other interests while they raise their children, but it's not the same as it was when they were yet unborn. Three years into being an empty nester, I am more fully realizing how much time parenting demanded of us. This morning, I was able to wake up at my leisure, have my tea in the quiet, read without interruption. It wasn't always like that. I had my years of being dragged from slumber, not getting to shower until afternoon, and not getting to read until late that night when they were all in bed. It's part of the deal; you can't have the blessing without the work.

And it is a blessing. My children have brought out my tendency to be selfish, but they've also been agents of my sanctification. They have inspired joy, laughter, sober thinking, and a constant reminder of God's goodness. They've made me laugh and cry. I'm sure I've made them do a lot of the latter. They have brought me moments of pride where I feel about ready to burst. Praise God, today, we have a good relationship. I'm enjoying watching the adults they've become. I still worry about them. I'm sure my boys, especially, wish I wouldn't worry so much about them. Even though I look into the faces of adults, in my mind's eye, I still see their tiny vulnerable faces when I look at them.

Parenting is like walking over a threshold. Once you get over that marker, you can look back and remember what it was like before, but you wouldn't go back over if you were given the chance. I'm grateful to God for my children, and for every moment of parenting, good and bad. I trust they will be merciful to me when they remember my shortcomings. I'm looking forward to, Lord willing, watching them receive the blessing of parenthood themselves some day.


When does it get easier?

Adjusting to changes as a parent is something that doesn't happen immediately. Yes, there is that moment when the first one goes, when you stand there watching her walking across the parking lot, or down the driveway, or maybe as she boards a plane. The first one is gone and that moment of awful anticipation comes and goes. But it's done and you have survived.

And then the next one goes, and you've done this before, so it's not so bad. And then the next one, and maybe the next one, and so on. But then there's a moment when that initial shift from having kids at home to having no one home passes, and there is a sustained silence in your life as a mother. Yes, you have other things going on in your life. Yes, you're busy. Yes, isn't technology wonderful that you can text your child daily if you want?

Adults have adults lives, and young adults are busy. They are in the process of moving away from us, not coming home. They have jobs, lives, friends, concerns of their own. We cheer from the sidelines because this is what we've raised them to do. We are happy for them, but we miss them, and we know that time together is the stuff of building relationships, and our time with them is precious now.

When you think about it, having kids move away from us is a huge change. We go from knowing all of the details of their lives to knowing basically nothing. We aren't there to see they've had a bad day. We can't see when they need something to eat. We don't get to see the things going on in their lives. Suddenly, maintaining those relationships becomes a lot more work. And let's face it, young adults don't see their parents as their peer group, and in reality, their friends know more about them now than we do.

Whatever extra jobs or vocations women have, when we become mothers, we never stop being mothers. We can say that we aren't going to be like those mothers who can't stop talking about their children. We have minds of our own; interests; hobbies; we watch the news, follow politics, and juggle social media. But no matter how much of the other things we have going on, motherhood is a significant determiner of who we become as we age. I would not be who I am today had I not raised the particular children I have raised. They filled my every moment. I fed them, clothed them, talked to them, read to them, educated them. Everything was really about this task of raising the children God had graciously given to me.

I thought it would be easier at this point, eight years since the first one left, and three since the last one left. I often wonder if women who had careers while their children grew up find it easier once their children are gone. Maybe that's why so many women do a little happy dance when the kids leave. Don't get me wrong; there are benefits to having an empty house, but I'm afraid that I'm still a work in progress in this empty nest thing. I'm grateful that my children are fairly close so that if we do find time to visit, it isn't onerous.

I cling to the promises I've been reading about as I study Ephesians. God has raised me up with Christ to show me the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward me in Christ (Ephesians 2:7). Recently, Becky wrote at Out of the Ordinary, reflecting on times when life is hard. She counseled us to reflect on the small things It's good advice. Sometimes, a lot of little things make one big thing. I pray for eyes to see the small things.