I recently received an email from a friend who is feeling that her children are slipping away from her, becoming more and more involved in things that she and her husband feel are “worldly” and not in line with the Christian lifestyle they want their children to live. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as my girls are getting older. They are facing more and more situations and influences that are very different from those they have experienced and been taught about from their father and I. Lately, I’ve seen mom’s of children just slightly older than mine struggling over their daughter’s new found desire to wear or (in the case of head coverings, not wear) certain types of clothing that are don’t mesh with things they have been taught. And I ask myself: how can I prevent my children from going down a path very different than the one we as parents would chose for them. And even if I could, should I?
It’s a tough question with no easy answer. I think what it boils down to for me is this: are they doing what they’re doing for the glory of God?
I expect, and even encourage, my children to find their own path. They will not, and should not, continue on with all of my convictions throughout their lives. *I* haven’t even maintained the same values and convictions throughout my Christian life! But what I pray is that any beliefs they hold, any differences in lifestyle they have that are different from mine and my husbands, are differences that come about through prayer and a relationship with God. I pray that our differences are not bound up in their desire to be like their friends, but in their desire to be like Jesus.
So how do we keep our children from embracing all the world has to offer? How do we keep them seeking after God, and not the latest teen craze? I remember the words of Michael Pearl in an article entitled Jumping Ship, where he advises that parents who don’t want to lose their children focus on finding activities that can be done as a family – projects to be completed and obstacles to overcome together. If children are searching for an identity, they need to find one – right in the midst of their family.
It is my opinion (based on prayer but not experience) that children who are searching for an identity need to be directed toward a worthy identity they are capable of obtaining. The girl who wants to be like Brittany Spears should not only read about Amy Carmichael, but be given the opportunity to visit and care for orphans or become a big sister to a child in need. The boy who wants to impress his friends with a new leather jacket or a great pair of shoes*, should be given the opportunity to visit the poor or the lonely. There are so many worthy projects that children can be involved in with their families that will help them to shape their identity and self-worth. While their peers are pouring over articles discussing the latest teen pop star, my children can be dreaming up ways they can bring a smile to the face of an elder at the local nursing home.
It wouldn’t surprise me if, once they had tasted a life of ministry and love for their fellow men, my children were no longer interested in pursuing the latest hairstyle or fashion craze.* It wouldn’t surprise me if, once they had discovered the joy of serving others and the feelings of pride and self-respect that go along with making a real change in someone else’s life, they were no longer content to “keep up with the Jonse’s” of their generation.
At some point, my children are going to stop being my charges and start becoming my peers, and it will happen much sooner than I think I’m prepared for. I pray that when that time comes, I will slip willfully and lovingly into the role of supporter and friend. I pray that I will gracefully allow them to make their own decisions – even the wrong ones – and I pray that they will trust me to be a safe place for them to share their hopes and dreams, victories and failures. I pray that I will have earned that trust.
Here are two excellent articles that deal with these types of issues, both written by Michael Pearl. Although we don’t agree with everything he has to say regarding child rearing, we do feel he brings up some excellent points and has a lot of good advice for parents striving to raise their children in a Godly manner.
Insulate your Children from Within “Parents somehow think that if they can just keep their children isolated until they get to be older teenagers then the danger will have passed. If we protect our children until they are old enough to leave home, but fail to prepare them within to triumph over the world’s alluring environment, we have not protected them at all; we have actually made them vulnerable. An unused character can grow as weak as an unused limb. Worldliness is not a condition of the world; it is a condition of the soul.”
Jumping Ship “You cannot take it for granted that your children are going to adopt your perspective on life. It takes serious commitment and wisdom to duplicate your heart and soul in your children… You must sell your children on your worldview. It must be an active and aggressive sell… Teenagers are forming their values based on what they see as valuable. No one can give another person his values. Generally, everyone values what promises to fulfill his deepest desires. If the thing you offer your children does not appeal to them, they will reject it, as they should.”
*This is not to say that keeping up with clothing or hairstyles, shoes or jewelry is wrong or sinful. Personally, I happen to love clothes and shoes and I have a 6 year old little girl who is quite the fashionista herself. :) It’s not the desire to express ourselves through clothing or hairstyles or jewelry that I find fault with, but the desire to use these forms of expression to define ourselves based on what the world thinks of us. I want my children to love hot pink boas and animal print jackets because they think they’re pretty, not because “everyone is wearing them” or because they want to identify themselves with the guys and girls who do. I wish I could pour my heart out on paper to adequately explain what I mean, but unfortunately the words just aren’t there. I want to have my children’s hearts. I want my opinion to matter to them, long before their friend’s opinions do. I want them to seek my council about the clothes they wear and the music they listen to. I want them to pray and ask God what kinds of books they should read or movies they should watch. I want them to seek God above all else, and not be “conformed to the world.” The only way I know how to do this is to win their hearts through love and support and to keep them through meaningful relationships and ministry toward others. Do I limit their access to the world? Absolutely. But my relationship with them needs to be more than keeping them away from things the world has to offer. It needs to be about providing them with opportunities to discover what God has to offer them. My children are searching for their identity. I believe that it’s my job to help them find it.