As loud and crazy as my house gets with five little boys, I don’t relish the day they will leave. Sometimes I cuddle the baby and whisper, “You can stay with me forever.” If my husband overhears me, he says, “Oh, no he can’t!” So I whisper to the baby that I will make him a special room in the basement.
But I know in my heart that I am not raising them to live in the basement. I am raising them to be independent, godly leaders of their own homes, churches, and communities. My only reservation is…the basement seems so much safer. How can I keep them safe and prepare them to leave the nest at the same time?
The False Security of Sheltering
I have a couple of readers in the house now. My oldest two sons will grab anything with words on it and read it to me. Recently they’ve been reaching for the newspaper. But I was quickly reminded that the newspaper isn’t rated “G.” The same page with an educational article about the economy had articles about a public official’s affair and a sex-trafficking bust. Time to put the paper away for a little longer.When I see a newspaper page like that in the hands of my sweet young son I get angry. I feel like my kids don’t deserve to grow up in such an evil world. I want to protect them from everything “out there.”But the Bible says sin doesn’t come from “out there.” Sin comes from within. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Not from the newspaper. Not from the politicians. Not from the internet. Sin comes from the heart. “Sheltering” gives us a false sense of security when we take comfort in shutting out the world. We fall for the lie that if we make enough rules and create a completely controlled environment, our kids will be safe. But there is a better way to shelter our kids. Instead of using sheltering to smother and control, we can use sheltering to prepare and equip.
“Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth. Everything in the Bible is the Absolute Truth.”
I can still hear my daughter singing this chant she learned in her two-year-old Sunday school class. My husband and I had her sing it over and over again because of how adorably expressive she was—her clapping hand motions were as loud as she sang. By God’s grace, almost twenty years later, the words of this song are settled deep into her heart. She knows the absolute truth of His Word, trusts in His righteousness for her, and now with a voice that moves me to tears, sings of His truths each week at her campus’ RUF gathering.
But in holding firm to the Truth about Jesus, she increasingly finds herself at the crossroads of our rapidly changing culture and the Word of God. As do we all. Our culture today is very different than it was when I began parenting, and certainly from the world in which I grew up.Truth today is not absolute, and the Bible is not seen as authoritative. Instead, pop culture tells us to do “whatever makes you happy” and “you do you.” Even Christians have bought into this mindset, sometimes without even realizing it. But the less we hear the true gospel and spend time in God’s Word, the more susceptible we become to subtle twists to the truth.
Every time I scroll through my social media account, I see some type of warning about being a helicopter parent. They say kids these days are too sheltered and are suffering from our fear-laden over-protection. I know that I’m not supposed to obsess over my child’s life. I’m not supposed to solve his problems for him, perfect his resume, or rescue him from natural consequences, but I’m wondering, am I a helicopter parent? Are you? And if we are, what should we do instead?
I’m concerned that as a society we’ll panic and swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. In an effort to avoid over-scheduling, over-indulging, and over-controlling our children’s lives, we’ll simply steer our helicopters away, erring on the side of neglect. In 20 years, we’ll discover that our children have grown up without the much-needed presence, wisdom, affection, and support of their parents. Parents will simply “helicopter” somewhere else, obsessing over careers, self-image, health, pets, or whatever.
Simply “flying away” is not the solution.
My first job out of college was at a domestic violence shelter.I was twenty-one years old, newly married, and the ink on my college diploma had barely dried when I took the job as a counselor for women who were caught in violent relationships. Though I had the heart and desire to help these women, I was sorely prepared. Though I had learned a lot about the helping field in college, I had little experience.I was underqualified. I knew it and the women I helped knew it.Fast forward a number of years later when I was expecting my first child. I had read dozens of parenting books. I had taught parenting classes as part of my counseling work. I had talked to every mom-friend I knew to get their advice on various aspects of motherhood. But when I held my newborn son in my arms, I knew it. I think he knew it too.I was underqualified. Incapable. Insufficient.Underqualified MomI’ve always been an independent sort. When I have a goal, I work hard and pursue it. I may seek advice or assistance along the way, but ultimately, I know if I want to get to where I’m headed, I have to do the work that’s required. I faced motherhood the same way. I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person; I like to be prepared. So I bought all the books, studied all the methods, and read all the research.I applied myself to motherhood the same way I did a project or paper in college. I put everything into it the way I did my work. But unlike other things in life, motherhood did not fit so neatly into a box. My children did not always conform to what the books said. The methods often failed. The research often turned out meaningless.As a result, I was humbled. Like the stretch marks forever etched in my skin, motherhood stretched me beyond what I was capable of within myself. I learned that I was weak and insufficient and couldn’t rely on my own resources or strength. I had to face the truth that I couldn’t depend on my own wisdom. I couldn’t find help and hope in methods. I couldn’t make life work for me.If there’s one thing motherhood has taught me, it’s that I can’t do it on my own. I need help from outside myself. I need Jesus.
Homeschooling was a lifestyle I never dreamed I would tackle. After all, aren’t homeschoolers the type that sew their own clothing, study dead languages, concoct their own toothpaste formulas, and name all their children obscure Bible names like Beulah and Festus? I was certainly not outfitted for such an undertaking. I can’t sew in a straight line. Crafting gives me hives. And spelling is a struggle, so there’s no way I’m teaching Latin or working with names more challenging than Tom or Pam. Bottom line – I would never homeschool my own kids. Until I did.God has used this journey of homeschooling to grow me. I have learned many creative parenting skills and life lessons. I have learned how to hide for indefinite amounts of time from my children. (I spend A LOT of time with my children. Don’t judge.) I have discovered under-appreciated celebrities like Bill Nye, the Gator Boys, and Barney. I’ve also learned how to sneak an extra half-hour of sleep in the morning by leaving Pop Tarts and juice boxes outside my bedroom door.In all seriousness, homeschooling has given me the opportunity to disciple my children day in and day out. There have certainly been days when my crew acts like their own cut-throat reality show, “Survivor: Homeschool Edition.” But then there are other days full of warm snuggles, delightful books, and heartfelt conversations in which I praise God for these moments I have to pour into my children.Discipling our children is not a separate task from the discipline of parenting. To disciple our children is to teach or train them. No matter how we choose to school our children, no matter whether our children live full-time with us, no matter the age of our children, our primary job as Christian parents is to teach our children to follow after Christ. There is not a separate category devoted to teaching our children the things of the Lord. In Deuteronomy 11:18-19, the Lord gives his people this command:You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.Reaching our children’s hearts for the sake of the Gospel should be the primary focus of each day. The Lord never tires of seeking after us. We should be no less diligent in pursuing the hearts of our children.
I grew up in a church that publicly honored mothers on Mother’s Day. At the entrance to the sanctuary, they placed a box of little carnations to be pinned on the blouses of women with children as a sort of badge of honor. During the welcome, the pastor would ask all of the mothers to stand. It is right to honor mothers. So much of their sacrificial work is performed in middle of the night moments or behind closed doors, and it is good to affirm their efforts, stirring them up to love and good deeds when they may be tempted to feel as if no one sees or their work doesn’t matter.This ritual to honor mothers was certainly a help to me growing up. My selfish childish heart needed to consider all the ways that my own mother laid down her life for our family and to thank her for it. I remember feeling proud of my mom as she stood during the public acknowledgement of mothers. I also wondered why she always cried, and I remember seeing that most of the women cried during this part, seated and standing alike. Despite all of the beautiful opportunity that this holiday offers to affirm the role of mothers, it can also be a trigger, exacerbating deep seeded pain in those with children and those without. For this reason, Mother’s Day provides the church not only with an opportunity to “see” the unseen work of mothers, but to acknowledge the unseen pain of all women, caring for them by reminding them that our God is El Roi, the God who sees.