I mentioned at the beginning of May that I was thinking a lot about this big responsibility called parenting. There are SO many books, so many theories, so many tidbits of advice out there...even just in blog world. Where would I even start to describe or discuss all the aspects of parenting ...on how to ignore a tantrum, how to keep a easy early bedtime, how to discipline effectively.
Parenting, especially in Christian circles, is like a giant food court of opinions and options - to home school or not to home school, to have 2 kids or 12, to breast feed or bottle feed, sleep training or co-sleeping, feeding on a schedule or feeding on demand, spanking or time outs. I could go on and on giving you my opinions and experiences on all these topics and more but truthfully so many of these things I figure out as I go. I am still learning as my kids grow and their needs change. When it comes right down to it, many of these things don't really matter as much as we think they do at the time. So much of it is personal preference, parenting style , family circumstances, and the personalities of the kids involved. I think the most important thing is to really know your kid and do what gets results for them.
I try to pay more attention to what my kids really need, what they respond best to and how they are actually developing than what other people with a limited perspective might think or suggest (not that suggestions aren't very helpful sometimes...little tips and hints from other moms are very valuable). I do lots of reading to really understand what makes kids tick, what their needs are, and how to keep my sanity in the day to day issues. I find I take tidbits of wisdom from lots of different sources. I tweak parenting "systems" or advice here and there to suit my kids individual needs. That's were creativity come in :)
I've been thinking more this month about who I want my children to grow into. Not a specific talent or job that I want them to have but who I want them to be. What arsenal of character traits are they going to need to go out into the big wide world? What can I be doing now to prepare them to be functional contributing people?....Not simply just educated , pretty and talented (societies standards for greatness).
Writing these things down not only helps me sort all these thoughts but it keeps me accountable and forces me out of the lazy auto pilot parenting mode that I find so easy to slip into.
I have to be intentional as a parent. Its easy to think that as long as the kids are fed, dressed, brushing their teeth regularly and getting a decent education we have done our jobs ( these things undeniably take a lot of our energy). What we forget sometimes is that character traits like integrity, compassion, generosity, perseverance, grace, self control, faith, self discipline, responsibility and courage are generally not learned by accident. They are best learned by example but they are are also taught by experiences, discussions, stories and carefully orchestrated hands on opportunities.
It's impossible to have a child to lie for you and then expect them to develop a sense of honesty and integrity.
It's unlikely that if you lack self control in areas of your own life your children will learn it.
If you are harsh and judgmental of people your children will not learn true grace.
It's almost impossible to put your faith on the back burner of your priorities and expect your kids to develop a vibrant, passionate, joyful faith in the God who loves them.
It's easier to protect our kids from consequences of poor choices or irresponsibility than it is to stand back and watch them face it and learn from their mistakes.
It's pretty hard to teach our kids generosity if we don't live in the world with an open heart and open hands ourselves.
One thing I want to intentionally instill in my children is a confidence in and knowledge of their Creator. This isn't something that I can simply do by indoctrination and hanging up lists of rules to follow. After all that isn't how God leads us to Himself is it? Jesus came to take us by the hand and show us the Father. I must do the same.
This is one area that the idea of raising safe kids vs. strong kids comes in. When kids are little our main job is protecting them (physically and from their own stupidity) but as they grow our job leans more to preparing them rather than protecting them.
In preparing them I want to build them into strong Christian kids rather than safe Christian kids. I've come to the conclusion that raising "safe" kids is a spiritual disaster waiting to happen. They will either become afraid of the world to a point that they want nothing to do with anyone outside their comfort zone Christian bubbles or they will be putty in Satan's hands when they face the world for the first time.
Living a life completely committed to Jesus Christ is never a "safe" life...its is an immeasurably joy and peace filled one..but never safe. He offers us a safe haven for a dangerously amazing life to be lived out. I guess that's what I want my home to be - a safe haven where big decisions can be made, risks can be taken and my kids can explore who they are...knowing ultimately they can trust those in charge.
All you have to do is read Hebrew 11:34-40 to realize that God doesn't promise us as believers a carefree "safe" life. All you have to do is look a little closer at our Christian brothers and sisters around the world to see that we are living in a "Christian" Disney land here in North America. Will my kids be strong enough to live outside that land of make believe or will they crumble when they leave the safety of its walls. I think if we give our kids an airbrushed version of faith instead of the raw, passionate, confident variety we set them up for spiritual mediocrity at best and spiritual annihilation at worst....and somewhere in the middle is bound to be a lot of spiritual confusion.
When an army is training for the future they are first allowed to practise in carefully thought out simulated scenarios that reflect the true nature of the dangers that lie ahead. Why would I send my kids out into the world without first having equipped them with what they will need to stand strong in it, without first having let them practice or "cut their teeth" under the careful and vigilant watch of a parent.
So many well meaning Christian parents raise their kids in hermetically sealed Christian environments....kind of like little eco-dome's of religion often infused with a good dose of legalism. As long as they are surrounded by good programs and clubs, good kids, and good Christian calisthenics it is assumed that they will absorb what they will need to know (which may have worked in past generations in a completely different society than we live now). All of these things are fine , good and even very helpful. The catch is its not just what our kids know in their heads ( or has maybe gone in one ear and out the other)...its what they have discovered first hand that will give them a strong faith.
We ,as parents, cannot under estimate our intentional role in leading them into the front lines of culture ourselves, helping them navigate and develop the faculties needed to survive. Not only survive but thrive and make a difference. If we live in fear of every influence and possibility, we are forgetting one major factor in the equation. Its true that the world is full of pitfalls , dangers and horrible influences that our children are vulnerable to , but there is one thing that trumps all those other factors. We serve a mighty powerful God, he had the first word and he will have the last. My kids need to experience that fact for themselves and intimately touch that power.
Making "safety" and comfort our first priority tells our kids that we cannot trust God to do what he says He will. It shows kids that our own limited logic and reasoning is more valuable than keeping our hearts tuned into and trusting the Creator of the Universe. Safe Christianity isn't about Jesus Christ at all ...it is more about a Western middle class teddy bear version of Jesus Christ. We are probably the only Christian's in the world who have the luxury of being lazy, unaware and content with mediocrity. Being refined by fire is something that is still usually optional for us....for my generation anyway (what the next will face is still unknown).
The Almighty God of the Universe has become a Santa Claus figure, Jesus is nice, faith is a hobby, being a Christian is to strive to be a "good person", Christianity is a tidy list of do's and don'ts and we raise kids who are irrelevant, impotent and illequiped to be a light in the world. We are the ones raising the next generation . We are the ones who will be held accountable for that generation and the world that it creates.
I'm not advocating reckless parenting...that would be throwing them to the wolves (the dangers of the world) with out first being prepared and equipped. Teaching opportunities and hands on experiences must be calculated and well thought out by us as parents...knowing what our kid are ready to process at that time.
Teaching our kids faith in a sterilized over protected environment is like teaching our kids to swim on the living room carpet. They can learn the different strokes, the theories and even the chemical make up of water....but they will not learn to swim until we take them by the hand and lead them into the water ourselves. On the other extreme we don't just throw them in the deep end, cross our fingers, take a seat and sip a latte. They must get wet and so must we. We must show them how to swim by doing it ourselves.
Every time God made something He followed with stating that it was good....notice he didn't call anything he made safe. The ocean is magnificent and awe inspiring but we must never underestimate its power. Will my kids be able to ride the waves in exhilaration or will they be the ones to never step off the beach? Will they know how to harness the wind and set sail or will they be tossed around by it. Will they influence the world or will the world influence them? Will they know who to turn to when they face danger? The side effect of raising spiritually strong kids is you usually get safe ones too. They are never more "safe" than in the center of Gods will.
As parents we need to recognise our children's God given abilities as well as acknowledge and take account of their liabilities. We need to give them tools to deal with their inherent shortcomings (tendency to over analyze, excessive fear, hot temper, shyness, stubbornness, bossiness, perfectionism) to turn them into assets or at least have some self control over them.
We need to build discipline around and encourage their natural talents, abilities and personality "bents" to give them a sense of confidence. All this takes effort and goes back to really knowing our kids.
I want to raise strong kids that know first hand just how wonderful, awesome and mighty their God really is. I pray that, armed with that confidence they will be equipped and willing to step out and live an amazing adventure called a life of faith.