parenting advice (to the younger me)

I remember a time when my (oldest) children were little—we only had four at the time—before we ever thought about home education as an option.  I remember the sense of awe I had when I met those venerable ladies who had HUGE families (six children, eight children—unthinkable!) and managed to school them at home. I remember the pedestal upon which I placed those ladies—how I thought their homes must be spotless and how “together” they had it. Most of all, I remember wishing I knew the secret to raising children who were as kind and smart as their children were.

And then I got to know those ladies. And I realized they were….human…like me. Their carpets had stains, their children sometimes disobeyed, and their homes were not always spotless. And their children—well, some of them were exceptionally bright, but most of them were just average kids whose parents had allowed them to cultivate their talents and passions into shining brilliance. Likewise, some of those teens had exceptional people skills, while others were just….weird.

Now, I find myself on the other end of the spectrum. While I still have small children here to nurture and teach, I also have adult children—proof of what did (and did not) work!  And I find myself fighting against the pedestal….because young moms look at veterans the same way I once looked at those ladies who had gone before me.

I was asked once what we had done to raise such great kids. (And okay, I will be a boastful mom here and agree that I have great kids.)  Honestly, though, it is in spite of me, and not because of me, that my children have any good qualities.  But I have learned some things to do….and not to do….through painful life experience, the example of those who have gone before, and from my own emotional healing.  I would like to share with you a few “tips” on how to be good parents. (Caution: tongue-in-cheek ahead.)

1) Make sure you are more concerned with appearances than with reality. This means that you should use a different tone of voice with your children than you do with friends or strangers, nag your children about making good impressions, only do what “looks good” to others when you are out, and in general live like a hypocrite as much as possible. Your kids will learn how to look like “good kids” in public where it counts. Legalism is your friend in this area.

2) Make sure you spend as much time “serving the Lord” outside your home as possible. Remember—your husband and children are a distant third to the church and the demands of people who do not have children at home. Make sure you always say yes. Your children will learn that real ministry is outside the home, where, again, it looks good.  

3) Make sure your kids know that they must be the best at everything they do. They should perform above average in all subjects, and they should have a special talent—be it sports, music, or some other athletic or artistic talent—that they dominate. Make sure they know that their value is tied to how they perform. They will become people-pleasers with low self-confidence! Society needs more people like that! (The pursuit of perfection and not the pursuit of excellence is key. )

4) Never be authentic. You should hide your feelings, your shame, your sins at all cost. Make sure you put up a front behind which you can hide. Make sure you never confront the lies you believe. Above all, spiritualize everything! You can hide a lot behind spiritual-sounding statements.

5) Remember that your children reflect who you are and that their main job is to make you look good. They should have no hopes, dreams, opinions or political persuasions that are not completely in line with what you want for them. They should think exactly as you do, and if they do not, you have failed. And when they become adults, every choice they make is actually your responsibility, and if you do not control them, you have, again, failed.

6) Major on the minors! Their hair cut and hair color are vastly more important than whether they love Jesus. If they read Harry Potter, or Goosebumps, you are a bad parent. If your adult child dares to get a piercing or tattoo, that should be grounds for disowning—how dare they do something so visible that would reflect badly on you! 

7) Use your love as a way to manipulate and control your children. Your love should be completely based on performance and whether they toe the line.

8) The home school curriculum you use can make or break you. You should buy all the latest programs to be just like your friends.  Above all, make sure you do exactly as your guides tell you to do—home education was never meant to be individually tailored to your children.

9) Teach the way YOU want to teach, regardless of how your child learns. You must be allowed to enjoy teaching, after all! They will adjust. It doesn’t matter how God designed your child. It is your child’s job to bend to your will. Dying to self in this area is a myth. You are teaching them at home, for goodness sake! How much more “dying” should you have to do, anyway?

10) Make sure your older teens are never exposed to people who think differently than you do. You must shelter them from the world at all costs. Keep them in the sheltered bubble so they are never polluted—don’t worry, when they go off to college, they will know how to handle themselves around others because they will be strong in their own convictions. They will be able to browbeat any person who is different, and they will be excellent witnesses for the Lord as they do so. Ignore the fact that Jesus and the disciples spent most of their time with the unwashed masses.

And now, time for true confessions:  I have, at one time or another, done most of these. It has been through the Lord’s mercy that my children survived my dismal ideas of “good parenting”, by which I mean the ideas directly related to making sure *I* looked good. As I have been freed from needing to look good before men (and women!), I have also been freed to let my children be who God wants them to be, and not who I wanted them to be. It means that our oldest daughter has (gasp!) an owl tattooed on her foot, and that I don’t get upset when my teen daughters want to color their hair purple (and, yes, that really did happen) or when my teens want to listen to something other than 104.7 The Fish (Christian radio).  It means that I am freed to love my children for who they are, and to not withhold my approval and love because of what they are not. It means that we have healthy boundaries, rules that make sense, and the ability to know which battles we need to fight.

Learning these hard lessons of what not to do (and, conversely, what to do instead) has been a process. It didn’t happen overnight. Our children have not all made the best, godly decisions. We have dealt with the heartbreak of a child who has chosen his own way over God’s way as an adult. But we have also seen how beautiful it is when an adult child is her own unique, fearfully and wonderfully made person who LOVES Jesus and lives as a testimony to Him, owl on her foot and all. We have watched our teens blossom into helpers for families with small children. We have seen our older children choose to nurture the younger ones. And it is beautiful!

If I had to do it all over again I would tell that young mom (me) with the four children to relax. I would tell her that the only opinion that matters is the Lord’s. And I would encourage her that raising godly children is a process of authentically walking with the Lord, not a show for others. I would encourage her to face her fears and the lies she believed.  I would tell her that the journey ahead would be more difficult and more rewarding than she could ever, in a million lifetimes, imagine. I would tell her that parenting and homeschooling would reveal to her the depth of her sinful nature, and that the healing she would eventually find would help her rest in God’s grace in a way she never imagined possible.  I would remind that young mother that she would make mistakes, and that her children were little sinners just like her–in need of God’s grace just as much as she.   Most of all, I would slip my arm around that tired, emotionally drained, worn-out mom and I would tell her that she was doing a good job–not because of her own effort, but because of God’s grace.

It’s a message I need to hear frequently.

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