Training in Righteousness
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Entries in Parenting (69)


It wasn't my job to be a cool parent

When my daughter was 16, she had a group of friends over. While they were there, I happened to stop in my daughter's room to ask her for one of he CD's. That was in the olden days when people actually used CD's.

One of my daughter's friends thought it was "cool" to have a mother who liked similar music. I don't even remember what the CD was. But at the time, in my vanity, it was a little fun to be considered cool. My husband and I were working in the youth group at that time, and some of our kids' friends did think we were cool. We were the parents who would take car loads of kids to see concerts, who welcomed them in our home whenever they wanted, so that worked in our favour, I guess.

It's tempting, when our kids are teenagers, to want to be considered cool. After a while, we may even adopt their unique lingo. When our kids were teens, the word "woot" was particularly enjoyable to use, and yes, I used it. I probably thought it made me sound even more cool, but actually, I suspect they were all rolling their eyes. We have to be careful that when our kids are teens, we don't use that time to re-live our own teen years, this time with the benefit of some years of wisdom. We are not teenagers, and grown people who act like them look foolish. I know I looked foolish at times, and I'm trusting in the mercy of those who witnessed it.

Recently, while at a meal with my boys, I used the word "stoked." That was a bad move on my part. I don't even know why I used it, except for that I see it used a lot, and by people who aren't teenagers. I see it used by grown up people with children, so I figured, why not? Well, my 22 year old son looked at me and said, "Did you just say 'stoked'?" I was immediately self-conscious, and I turned to my other son and asked him if that was allowed, and he said "I wasn't going to say anything, but it did sound kidnda weird."

Even as young adults, our kids seem to sense that there is a difference between themselves and their parents. 

Of all the hundreds of mistakes I made while parenting teens, the biggest mistake I made was worrying too much about being cool. It wasn't my job to be cool. It was my job to be the parent. And if it meant being unpopular, then so be it. It wasn't my job to emulate their dress or speech in order to show some kind of understanding or solidarity with them. Yes, I had been a teenager once, but to them it was in the Dark Ages.

It was my responsibility to follow Ephesians 6:4, which addresses fathers, but includes mothers:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Recently, as I was teaching what Proverbs had to say about wise parenting, we discussed the possibe ways we could provoke our kids. The contrast to provoking, introduced with the word "but," is bringing them up. The biggest way we can provoke our children is to not do our job. Sometimes, trying to be too cool means we may miss being the parent. The problem with trying to be too cool or too much of a buddy is that when we inevitably have to start being the parent and put our foot down, our child may think, "Why are you being such a drag?" 

Of course, we don't have to be combative or harsh with our children, but there does come a time when we have to be really firm, and that may generate resistance or conflict. Worrying about being too "cool" might make us a little unwilling to do the real job of parenting; you know, the discipline and instruction thing. Looking back, I wish I had shown a better balance.

Now, being a grandparent? I think that wll be the "cool" time, because all of the hard stuff will be left to the parents, and I'll get the fun. Lord, willing, anyway.


Where have I gone wrong?

One of the first things that ever came into my head during a time when we struggled with our teens was, "Where have I gone wrong?" I don't think I'm the only mother who has ever asked herself that question seriously.

We bring our children into the world, and we begin the process of raising them for the glory of God. We care not only for their physical needs, but their emotional and spiritual needs. We teach them the Bible, memorize Scripture, sing children's worship songs, read stories that teach biblical principles. We take them to kids' clubs, church, and youth groups. We do our best to live what we believe in front of them, asking forgiveness as well as giving it, showing mercy, grace, love, and faithfulness. We are not perfect, but we try. It's all so exhausting.

When our kids look as if they are rebelling, it is a natural thought to wonder "Did they hear a thing growing up? Did they learn anything?" At those moments (and I've had a few) I took comfort and instruction from the wisdom of my husband. He reminded me of two important things:

First, God is not finished with them yet. Just because it seems that our kids are walking away from God does not mean that their story is over. And second, if we take the blame for their mistakes, do we by implication take the glory for their successes? 

That last one was an "ouch" moment when my husband first asked me that question, and in the deep places of my prideful heart, I probably was doing exactly that. And I suspect I'm not alone.

Parenting is not a linear experience whereby perfect parenting equals perfect children. The reality is that godly parents do raise rebellious children. Some very godly parents raise children who rebel very seriously, and perhaps are never converted. Salvation is by grace through faith alone, not through family lineage.

It's easy to have retroactive "mommy guilt" at my age when I watch young parents raising their children. I see them doing things I now wish I had done. The regret I feel is evidence, once again, that I am failing to remember that God was indeed in control of our lives when they were younger. And He knew what He was doing.

This is where my feelings interfere with reality. I must remind myself that my kids were taught the Word. They all made professions of faith. If they aren't where I hoped they would be now, I cannot take responsibility, and I must continue to trust God that he who began a good work in them will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). Parents will not be perfect. This does not excuse us from working hard to be the best parents we can be, but we must remember that it is the Spirit who sanctifies them, not us.

My children are not perfect, but they are growing up. I am confident that they know the truth of the gospel. Can I make them obey? No. It's up to them. We are responsible to teach our children the gospel, to train them up in the way of the Lord, but the credit for our successes does not belong to us, it belongs to God. If we believe that perfect parenting results in perfect children, we may be disappointed at some point. And we may actually be taking credit which does not belong to us.


Real men eat quiche 

Real men eat quiche.

Real men cry.

Real men read Nicholas Sparks.

Real men like to shoot things.

Real men like to watch football.

Real women like to decorate.

Real women wear dresses.

Real women have long hair.

Real women read Calvin's Institutes.

I think we can all admit those are some silly criteria for determining what is a real man or woman. There seems to be varying opinions about what makes a man and woman "real."

I am clearly naive, because I thought there was very little to understand. Yosemite Sam is not a real man; my husband is a real man, made in the image of God. I am a real woman, not a Barbie doll (or a G.I. Joe). 

Lore Ferguson touched beautifully on this subject here, reflecting on the fact that we are made in the image of God. Being "real" is being created in His image, not something constructed on celluloid, paper machier, or simply in someone's imagination.

Often, what people really mean is that real men/women DO certain things. And more often than not, it's a case of "real men/women do what we do."

In some paradigms, my sons are not "real" men (young men, that is; they're both under 25) because they don't have an interest in taking a car engine apart, watch football, or go hunting. They're musicians; nerd types. What is very real, however, is that they are always kind to young ladies, go to school while working part-time, pay their the rent, cook their own meals, do their own laundry, and take their turn cleaning their own toilets. Oh dear, maybe I have raised them to be women?

As I thought about this, I was drawn to the words in Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Young men may read Chaucer, go mountain biking, or bake pies in their spare time, but those things don't make real men. When we talk about real men, it begins with being created in His image. If we're talking about whether or not someone is a good man or a godly man, that's a bigger question.

Along with recognizing the reality that they are made in His image, if my sons pursue what is in Micah 6:8, I think they'll be on the right track. They won't look like a mature, godly man of 65 at this point in their lives, but I had them here over Thanksgiving, and after viewing my empty refrigerator after their departure, I'm quite certain they're real.


Noisy children are engaged children

I read and hear a lot of young mothers talking about being so jealous for alone time, that they flee to the bathroom. I get that. While I never sought the commode for time alone, I did cherish nap time. Ah, the peace and quiet. I may have been doing nothing more exciting than folding the laundry or washing the floor, but the lull in the activity was always nice.

I went to university part time when my kids were small, and finding time to study was always difficult. I confined it to the night time hours when my husband was home, or during naptime, although, I found afternoon hours more conducive to housework. Naps could easily be interrupted or shorter than usual, so I saved studying for when I could count on being uninterrupted. I did try finishing some Koine Greek homework when my daughter was a toddler, but that was kind of a naive enterprise. 

Being engaged with my kids was important to me. Being there for them; that was why I stayed home. Of course, they had independent play time, and I wasn't always hovering over them unless it was a safety issue, but I stayed home full-time so I could be with them. I did, however, spend too much time on the telephone with girlfriends on occasion. That was the distraction of mothers in the 90's; the telephone. Today, it's Facebook and Twitter.

I don't remember where I heard it, but when the kids were really small I heard a pastor say something along the lines of, "If you want your adult children to spend time with you, spend time with them when they're children." That stayed with me. Being with them and engaging with them was one of the factors that motivated us to homeschool. There were many reasons, but that was one of them.

I've discovered that our kids still want us to engage with them, even when they are young adults. And we need to make time for it just as often as we did when they were younger. 

This weekend, with all three kids home, the house was full of conversation, laughter, and sound. One of the nicest moments was when I heard my two boys upstairs making music together. How I miss the music. I knew I would miss that, and I do.

The noise, however, interfered somewhat with completing a Sunday school lesson (good thing it was 90% done on Thursday night), a book review, and a post for Wednesday. At first, my reaction was to ask people to be quiet. But then, I thought twice. These kids are not here together like this often. This sound was a blessing. I told myself to chill out, and instead of trying to battle the noise, I just did something that didn't require a lot of concentration, and allowed me to just be there, available for anyone who needed me or wanted to converse with me.

Young adult children still want to be able to engage with their parents. They still want to know we're interested in what they're doing.  Sometimes, the questions are hard, and sometimes, we don't have the answers, but they want to know we still care.

One of the things parenting has taught me is the depth of my own self centeredness. It's tempting when they're older to think they don't need us. I should know this; even at my age, I want to know my parents care about what I'm doing. My three children all wanted to come home for Thanksgiving weekend. I think I've experienced the truth of that pastor's exhortation. The more time we invest, the stronger the relationships will be.

Make time for your kids, whatever age they are. Talk to them, listen to them, laugh with them. Be willing to be put out for them, even it if means you have to sacrifice something of your own. Do it because God has been gracious to give you children. Cherish those gifts, even if it gets a little noisy.


Nurture family, not utopia

My daughter knows when to send me something I'll find interesting. This morning, she sent me an interesting snippet about what she's researching alongside with her supervising professor. This is no surprise. Reading and studying, interesting things we find; these have always been something we have both loved. She emailed me very early this morning, even before I was awake. Now, I would never have expected that when she was sixteen years old. She always had such a hard time getting up, and preferred to work like a night owl.

Yesterday, I sent her an email to suggest a recipe I knew she would like.  If you had asked me when she was sixteen if I envisoned myself swapping recipes, I would have expressed doubt. My daughter has always been a book lover, but getting her fired up about domesticity was always a challenge. I, who enjoy cooking, baking, sewing, knitting, and quilting, bemoaned the fact that my daughter was going to leave home and not know how to sew on a button. The unreasonable side of me thought there was something inherently bad about this.

Of course, time has mellowed those ridiculous worries. My mother always said that young people change the most between 18-25, and I believe her. Whereas I don't think my daughter is going to be picking up knitting needles any time soon (which is okay!), she has shown a love and commitment for cooking good food for herself, which I know will follow her into her home someday when she has a family of her own. Living on her own, and the time between being a teenager and now has matured her.

It is not just with domestic issues that, when our children are 16 or 17, we bemoan their lack of perceived progress. Sometimes, because, cognitively, they sound grown up, we want them to behave as if they've had all of the life experience we have.  Maturity can only come with time. A young person will not demonstrate godly wisdom at every turn any more than their parents will; and we all know that we, as parents, don't always show it.

A friend of mine sent me a quotation from Francis Shaeffer that I think is worth pondering:

Utopianism is terribly cruel because it expects the impossible from people. These expectations are not based on reality. They stand in opposition to the genuine human possibilities afforded by the realism of the Scripture. Utopianism can cause harm. In the home. In the man-woman relationship, nothing is more cruel than for the wife or husband to build up a false image in his or her mind and then demand that the husband or wife measure up to this false romanticism. Nothing smashes homes more than this. Such behavior is totally contrary to the Bible’s doctrine of sin. Even after redemption we are not perfect in this life. Utopianism is also harmful in the parent-child relationship. When a parent demands more from his child than the child is capable of giving, the parent destroys him as well as alienates him. If we demand, in any of our relationships, either perfection or nothing, we will get nothing.

How often was I guilty of not wanting God's best for my family, but rather, some sort of Utopia? We homeschooled for nine years. One thing about homeschooling: there are moments when, under the pressure of those who are against us, and challenge us, we are tempted revert to a determination to have the perfect family, just to prove them wrong. That's a bad plan. In the end, we will make more of our family than is actually good. Yes, we love our family and our children, but I can tell you from personal experience that they can become idols as well.

All that to say this: 16 year olds grow up. They don't think like 16 year olds after a while. At least, mine have shown this tendency. As an aside: just because a 19 year old boy plays video games does not mean he's on the road to being a bad husband.  I know a lot of good husbands who waste a whole lot of time on Sundays watching a ridiculous game with guys in tight pants.

When we despair that they'll never mature, we need to be patient, and allow God to do the work in them that He will surely do.