From One Parent to Another
Hello, my dear friends!
What a time it has been since we last talked. Ever have so much going on that you feel like it is never-ending, and at some point, you find yourself thinking, "Am I on the crazy train?" Finally, it has calmed down, and I can breathe.
I wanted to share a perspective that I usually don't step into. Parenting. More specifically, teaching kids about Jesus and forming a personal faith. Most of you reading this probably grew up in a Christian household and went to a church with your parents or grandparents. Do you remember how there was a Bible out in the open that usually was massive and only opened once a year to tell the Christmas story? At night time, you prayed as a family, and around the dinner table was a place to share moments of personal faith journeys. Maybe you grew up in a Christian household and experienced the opposite of what I just mentioned. You experienced a situation where out-of-context biblical passages excused physical and mental abuse. Or what you saw with your parents on Sunday morning in church was not what you saw the moment they walked through the door at home.
Whatever your experience growing up and the technique of parenting you had as a child, that all goes out the window when it comes to you being a parent. As much as we would like to say we parent the way our parents did, this might not always be true in the sense of discipline and quirky sayings. The moment you look at the pregnancy test and see a positive sign or a little peanut on the ultrasound, it certainly changes everything for you. For many women, it has always surprised me how they have this instinct that kicks in when they become a parent, and they do things that amaze me. When our first child came into this world, we had not taken any parenting classes or birthing classes, as my wife knew that birthing classes and me would not be productive. So, when she delivered, the nurses came into the hospital room and handed us our child, patted us on the back, and sent us out of the hospital. Seriously! They gave us no instructions and no pointers. It took me, my father, and my father-in-law 30 minutes to figure out how to put the car seat in and buckle it. Years later, I realized how we still got it wrong after 30 minutes of trying.
Figuring out parenting is a fun process, especially when people freely share what they did and how what you're doing as a parent is inadequate. The best parenting advice we found early in parenting was not in the younger couples that had these crazy baby food recipes from Pinterest or the random holistic mother blog, but from the older couples. The older couples in our church encouraged and didn't try to fix us, but gave us guidance and support. One of the themes I learned from the older couples we trusted was to parent our children as Jesus Christ taught his disciples.
Figuring out parenting is a fun and challenging experience and one that we have enjoyed so immensely. But what is the main point of parenting?
Here are a couple of observations from a father who is a hot mess, but loves his kids and is trying to figure out this parenting thing.
Being scheduled out to the max has a breaking point.
It used to be that the more activities parents could get their children involved in, the better, especially in a competitive era where some parents attempt to groom their children for top-tier college acceptances and successful careers from an early age. This mentality has always been especially prevalent with parents who have the financial means to support activities, including summer camps, music lessons, or Boy Scouts. We want to provide for our kids and fight for them to have everything we had and more. We even create these narratives that are so unhealthy that if we aren't scheduled out every day of the week and running from one commitment to another, we are failing as parents.
There have been moments where I have had to look at my wife and kids and have this moment of genuine conviction where I apologize for being so busy we have missed just being together as a family. One of the healthiest things I have seen with my family is not scheduling out our evening but intentionally creating open time where we spend it together (random nerf wars, making our own pizzas, watching Mighty Ducks D3 for the 100x, eating together, and sharing stories of our days, etc.) I was asked this question once, and I will ask you now, "What do you want your kids to remember as adults that you did as a parent?"
If you don't teach your kids about racism and gender, others will.
Recent decades have seen a broad shift in conversations around race, gender, and identity worldwide. Even so, most parents admit to still having trouble engaging in essential conversations about race and gender with their children. The 2019 Sesame Workshop "Identity Matters" report found that only about 10% of parents discuss race with their children, with only 6% of those who do being white and 22% of those who do being black. Thirty-five percent of parents in the same survey said they don't really have conversations with their children about social class, and 57% rarely or never address gender. In today's world that is so vastly changing, it seems like we face a new crisis and social issue every day. We, as parents, need to facilitate these conversations and lead them in the discussions. Christ taught his disciples about the kingdom of heaven, how to practice heavenly ethics and morality to those hurting and afflicted, and how God created us and our purpose. We as parents need to lead these discussions with our children.
Transparency is healthier than a false narrative.
When we parent and do a decent job, our kids look at us as superheroes and think we can do anything. Then as they get older, we do two things. We try and keep a perfect front to the children, and through their childhood, we force ourselves to have two lives, the one we portray to the kids or the one we have. The problem with this is I believe as much as we try and put on a front of false narratives, the kids eventually see through it and feel as if the parent has lied to them. I get it as a parent that I want to protect the kids at all costs, but hiding them from our imperfections makes them feel inferior when they see their imperfections. They think less of themselves because they don't see ours. The second thing I see in parents that worries me is that they never tell their kids anything about themselves. It's easier than creating a false narrative like the first one, where we build ourselves to be perfect. Instead, we let our imperfections show, and our struggles are on display, but we never engage with our children to talk about life and its struggles. If we don’t talk about it, then it doesn’t exist.
As a pastor, I hope that what is being lived out in front of them every day is open and honest, which lets them be involved in our lives. We dialogue through personal struggles and how we have dealt with them. The stories we share help shape the very basis on which our kids will be able to fight their battles when they come. Sharing our testimony of how God brought us out of hardships and how he has helped our lives moving forward is the greatest weapon we can pass to our children to defend themselves in this challenging world.
The church should be the priority.
Families that used to attend 3 out of 4 weeks now attend twice a month. Families that used to attend twice a month now attend once a month or even less. A recent study by Barna gives us valuable insight into families' church attendance patterns and their attitude toward the church in general. Barna identifies two groups.
The "practicing Christians" group numbers 63.5 million and are people who are the most committed to their faith. This group attends church a minimum of once a month and says their faith is very important to them.
The second category is what Barna calls the "churched adults." This group numbers 124.4 million and attends church at least once in six months. This is the group that we affectionately call the "CEOs." Christmas and Easter only. Easter and Christmas are generally high attendance times for most churches. On these weekends, everyone shows up simultaneously, hence the higher attendance.
We are raising a generation of children who will be Biblically illiterate if they continue only to attend church once a month or even less. They will grow up not knowing how to defend their faith or even articulate essential doctrines found in the Bible. Think about this – what if a child only attended school one week a month? They would miss so much important teaching, wouldn't they? They would have a hard time making good grades. The comparison can be made with how often kids attend church as well. If they miss 50-75% of the teaching, they will have a shallow faith that may not stand when tested. Athletic success is a good thing. Academic success is another good thing. Social success. Financial success. These are good things, but the most essential success is a spiritual success. It should be the number one goal for parents to have for their children.
There is a photo someone shared with me that I would like to share.
It is a photo of my son Carson going up to the altar to pray. We have open prayer time at our church, where we invite those who want to pray to come forward. We split it into two sides. The left side is where you can go if you want people to pray with you, and the right side is where you go if you want to pray by yourself. This is the best part of the service to me; typically, the altars are full to the point where the church is looking into purchasing new altars so we can get more room.
Carson has been very curious about the church and has spent a couple of Sundays sitting by me during the whole service instead of being at the children's church service. After church, the questions he comes up with are always fun and challenging (even as a pastor), but he has been asking about prayer in the church. He started going up to the altar by himself on the right side because he just wanted to pray by himself; he looked at me before he went and said, "Don't follow me!" A couple of weeks ago, he went to the left side which is where you go to have people join you in prayer. He went over, and people joined him in prayer, and they prayed. After service, I talked with him, and I asked why he went up to the altar on the left side and didn't go to the right. Carson's response was what I pray for every day as a father. He said, "I am struggling with something at school, and I knew that is where I go to seek help and prayer for my struggles. I knew the church people would be there for me." Is my kid perfect?…no. Right after that, he kicked his sister, but teaching our kids that the church is a place of safe haven and where we join our family of believers, and they are a part of that is an enormous body of support. They can feel comfortable coming and learning and seeing the kingdom of God alive.
Every day I learn something new about parenting, and I enjoy this crazy journey with my wife. I hope you, as parents, know as you are reading this know it's okay not to have everything figured out; stop comparing yourselves to other families and love your children as Christ has loved you.
Grace & Peace,