I have awesome kids. I love them. I’m proud of them. I think they’re fun and cool and obviously, two of my favorite people on this planet. They are amazing people, in their own right, and because of that, I firmly believe they will do amazing things here on this earth. BUT what I do not believe, for even second, is that they are perfect. I do not think, even a little bit, that they are incapable of doing wrong, of treating others badly, of making poor, and sometimes stupid, decisions . . .
Before anyone comes at me, it’s not because I’m a “mean mom”. It’s not because I’m trying to throw my kids under the bus or make them look bad. It’s because, very simply, there’s not a single one of us, that is incapable of doing wrong. There’s not a single one of us that gets it right all the time. There’s not a single one of us that is without sin (Romans 3:23) – which is why we so desperately need our Savior.
I have a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old and raising them is a constant and very humbling learning experience. I’m far from an expert, and just when I think I’ve figured it out, everything changes. As they grow and grow up, I’m having to constantly stop and re-evaluate why and how we are doing what we are doing. Our oldest is right at six months from turning 16. He’s no longer a child. He’s definitely not an adult either, but he’s moving into young adulthood. I’ve said it in this space before, and I’ll say it again, that means a lot more freedom, a lot less of mom and dad stepping in and making decisions, and a whole lot more responsibility. It also means that when the right choices are or are not made, the consequences tend to be much bigger, for better or for worse, and we will not play the rescue game no matter how badly we want to . . . no matter how sad it makes us or how much we hurt. Because in the end, I’d rather both of my kids learn the hard lessons now, while they’re still under our roof, than when they’re out in a world that is far less forgiving.
Here’s the thing, my kids know this. They’ll be the first to tell you, we love them fiercely, and we don’t cut them much slack. But we also, try to operate from a place of grace and mercy. Yes, we hold them to appropriately high standards . . . they are two very different people with very different strengths and challenges, so the standards and expectations don’t look identical for each of them . . . but we do not expect perfection. We do expect them to put forth their best, to do all they do with excellence, and when they mess up, to apologize, seek forgiveness, and move forward.
For those that don’t know, my son attends a private, Christian school. There are those that don’t understand why we chose this route for him and trying to explain is often met with a certain amount of disgruntled-ness from others. Most people assume, erroneously, that we totally hate public schools and public education. My daughter attends our local public school. Due to her special needs, it is currently the best place for her. The school she attends has some of the most outstanding faculty, teachers, therapists, admin, custodians, cafeteria staff . . . the list goes on . . . I have ever seen, and she has experienced tremendous growth while in her school. Further, as someone who taught public school for ten years, I believe in the mission and importance of the public school system. Having said all that, we chose a Christian school for our oldest because we value the lessons, both academic and otherwise, that are taught from a biblical worldview. That’s what we wanted (and want) for both of our children . . . to be taught and learn from a biblical perspective.
A couple weeks ago, I had the time to pop in for the weekly chapel service at my son’s school. It’s not often I’m able to do that, but I never regret it when I take a couple hours out of my Wednesday morning to stop in. As I sat there amongst, the 200 hundred or so kids, from Pre-K through 12th grade, and watched them worship Jesus, I couldn’t help but think, “This is why we do what we do. This is why I love this school. This is why he is here.”
Do academics matter? Absolutely. In three years, my oldest will be preparing to graduate high school and head to college. It will not be the pinnacle of his life (at least I hope not), but just the start of what should be a grand adventure. And I believe, we believe, that a strong academic foundation is hugely important as he heads into higher education. What about athletics/sports? What about all the extras? Do I care if he has all the opportunities that could possibly be afforded to him? Yes and no. I, of course, want to give my child all the opportunities to grow and develop, and I truly believe our little school does a fabulous job of making sure the students are given every opportunity to become well rounded individuals of great character. BUT . . . there’s that word again . . . nothing is as important as his spiritual development. That academic foundation, the sports and all the other activities, matter very little if my child doesn’t learn to love and live for Jesus.
This is where it gets all wrapped up in my parenting . . . actually, in our parenting . . . I’m so thankful I have a spouse who is my partner in this. We, my husband and I, don’t think it’s the school’s or the church’s or anyone else’s job to spiritually raise our children. It’s our job. Period. What the school and church and placing them around individuals who love and walk with Jesus, who hold them responsible, does, is to help reinforce what we are trying to teach at home. It’s backup, if you will, for what we’re trying to instill in them each and every day, and as I’ve learned, our kids will often listen to others when they won’t listen to us. That’s just a reality of raising teenagers, in particular. Ultimately, it’s up to them to make the choice to walk with Jesus. Because that is not something we can do for them, and no amount of coercing or control is going to save them.
All that to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about what matters as a parent and especially, as a mom and the, admittedly, less “chill” parent in the equation. What doesn’t matter? What I should do and not do? When I should step in and when I should pull back? This is where I have landed (if these seem random, it’s because they are):
- My kids aren’t perfect . . . as I’ve already said . . . and when they do something wrong, we must hold them accountable. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
- The older they get the tamer the mama bear becomes. I spend a lot more time praying and a lot less time stepping in. They have to learn to, respectfully, speak up for themselves and others (and yes, I fully believe that there is a time to step in . . . I said “tamer” not “totally tame”).
- I generally don’t do for my kids what they can do for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I never help them or do anything for them. I cook, clean, and do laundry on repeat, but they also need to learn to do basic life things, on their own, without me swooping in.
- Integrity matters . . . serving Jesus matters . . . yes, I want them to grow up and be successful people, but if they do it without Jesus, then they’re doing it all for the wrong reasons. We’re not just raising good people. We’re raising God people.
- As I stated earlier, they have to choose to walk the walk. They have to choose to serve Jesus. That’s not a choice I can make for them, but you’d best believe, I’ll do everything I can to point them in that direction.
- They are not my besties . . . hugely unpopular opinion, I know . . . but they don’t need that from me. As they grow older, and the relationship between parent and child evolves, the balance does change. I do far less telling and a whole lot more guiding with my oldest at this point, but at the end of the day, I’m still mom, my husband is still dad, and my kids don’t need to fulfill the role of best friend for me. Besides, that’s my husband’s job, and if you don’t have a spouse (or yours isn’t fulfilling that role) then find another healthy, Godly, adult to build that relationship with. I believe, that when we shift into the role of best friend with our children before they’re mature enough to really be in that role (read: independent of us), we risk having major blind spots, especially to their mistakes and poor choices, when they need us to see clearly.
- I cannot do this without the Holy Spirit. I’m imperfect. They’re imperfect. It’s a recipe for disaster without the One who is perfect. So I try my best to daily submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and believe me, on the days when I fail to do that, we crash and burn real fast.
Dr. Ken Wilgus, Feeding the Mouth That Bites You (check out the book and the podcast), has rapidly become my favorite Christian Psychologist. He pushes back hard against so many things we think are normal and healthy in parenting, not only within the culture but within the church, and he has challenged me time and again to step back and let my kids grow up. One thing he says (I’m paraphrasing a bit) is basically, “We need to parent ourselves right out of a job”. That’s not wildly popular in a culture that says, “You never stop being a parent or a mom . . . ” but popular or not, I believe it’s biblical. It’s not that we stop being a parent, but there is a massive difference between being a parent and parenting an adult. I believe God intended for us (if we are physically, emotionally, and mentally capable), to grow up and become independent of our parents. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a relationship. It actually is the opposite. That relationship changes and shifts from obedience to honor. Independent, key word being “independent”, adults are not called to obedience of their parents (that’s an entirely different topic). There should be a shift from guidance to, yes, friendship, and that is a huge blessing. But, there’s a time and a place for that, and it can only happen when and if we do the work up front to build that healthy foundation that leads to Godly independence in our children.
*As always, here’s my caveat: Special needs parenting is a whole different world. My goal with a child with special needs is to raise them to be as independent as possible for them. As far as loving Jesus, well I think for some special needs children, it comes far more naturally than it does for many of us, and we’d do well to look to them as an example.