Thursday, 29 March 2012

A New Season Of Parenthood

Source for this image here.

Little Bear will be celebrating her birthday soon, and as always whenever one of our cubs celebrates a birthday, Papa Bear and I enjoy looking back over the happy years we've shared with our precious children, and think with excitement and enthusiasm, of all the wonderful experiences they have yet to look forward to. Of course, for our daughter, one of the most exciting of these, will be her marriage! It is incredible to think that in just a few years, likely it is that Little Bear will be a Mama Bear herself, and we will be grandparents! What an amazing thought! We were talking about this at our evening meal today, and enjoying hearing the cubs list all the attributes they hoped for in their spouses-to-be (apparently Cubby's future wife needs to enjoy fishing as much as he and his dad do, but she's got to be able to make apple caramel cake as well as his mam, and not mind if he needs to have the occasional lie-in!). Little Bear was much more theoretical. She wants to make sure her husband has the same values and principles as she does - and so do we!

Visit any marriage guidance website - Christian or secular - and you will find in all of them a list of key qualities that are thought to be necessary for a happy marriage. Up there with all the other important qualities such as good communication, a strong commitment to each other and mutual aspirations, is almost always, the key issue of shared values - a vital foundation for a harmonious relationship, which includes spiritual beliefs, moral standards, role responsibilities and of course, attitudes to child raising.

For Papa Bear and I, this has never been an area of our marriage that has come into question. Because we were raised in the same culture, the same values were instilled in us by our parents and siblings from the earliest of ages, and when we married, it was something that we never felt we needed to disuss, because it was never an issue. We just assumed, without ever talking about it, that our expectations and standards would be the same, and it was accepted, when Little Bear and then Cubby came along, that they would be raised in just the same way that we were, as children. I realise that it is not always this straightforward. If a couple come from very different cultural backgrounds or from different faiths, it must be much more difficult to find that common ground - although I know that it is possible and that happy marriages can and do result even when the 2 spouses are from very diverse backgrounds. However for us, our approach to childrearing has never been an issue of contention, and I know that we are very blessed in this, becuase it has meant for us, a very beautiful and harmonious marriage, with very little if any disagreement (well OK, no marriage is perfect - we do have some disagreements - over things like, which flavour of cheesecake I should make, or whether it's acceptable to eat said cheesecake as a healthy breakfast choise. He he!).

I was so excited when our first baby was a little girl. Papa Bear was too - he has no sisters, so having a wee girl in the family was a great novelty for him! I was so pleased to give him a daughter, and all the joy that she would bring us both. I was especially looking forwards to teaching Little Bear all the skills necessary to assist her in womanhood and marriage, just as my mother had taught me - and her mother had taught her. That is one of the most rewarding things about carrying on the traditions of our culture. I feel as if I am making a very important contribution to the nurturing and upholding of these traditions for another generation, in a society where tradition seems to count for less and less. Our culture will remain intact for my daughter's children, and hopefully her children also. But although this has been an important motivating factor in the way that we have chosen to raise our children, it is not the most important. There is another more significant motivation, which has been that we ensure that our children are prepared for a lifetime as servants of God - responsible, dutiful Christian adults who are able to witness to others their faith, through their behaviour and the relationships they choose. This has been one of the greatest challenges for me as a mother. In a society that is increasingly secular, it has been a great worry to me that our children would be swayed by the negative influences all around them, and stray from the narrow path, for

"wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it"
. (Matthew 7, 13 - 14).

However, as Little Bear approaches an age when she will be ready to marry and start bearing children of her own, we are starting to feel quite confident that we have successfully prepared our daughter not only for a marriage that will mirror the standards and traditions of her parents', but also one which will be pleasing to God. I don't say this to congratulate myself - but out of joy, that our wonderful girl, on the brink of her birthday, has become a young woman we can truely be proud of.

How have we achieved this?

Well, partly it has been an unconscious, regular setting of examples. I've written about this before - and I will say it again - we believe that it is essential, if you want your children to behave in a way that you consider acceptable before God, that you do so yourself. Children's minds are like little sponges - they soak up everything around them, that they see and hear, and it is therefore so important that we guard our tongues and our minds, when we are with our children. It's surprising how difficult this can be - but it is really important. It is all part of the self-denial that goes with being a parent, that is not so much about putting your child's material needs before your own (though to an extent this is important too - we would always see our children fed, clothed and kept warm before ourselves, though that goes without saying) - but is about considering how your conduct will shape the future conduct of your child, and having enough will-power to ensure that at all times, you are modelling the behaviour you wish for them to exhibit, even when you don't feel like it, or don't feel you should have to.

It has also meant ensuring that from the earliest ages, our children have been raised to know God, and to know that He is central to everything in our lives. What an essential factor this has been in their upbringing, as it was in ours'. It has meant taking part in worship, daily devotionals, Bible readings and studies, and understanding what a Christian life means, in practise, in everyday life. It has meant that having been given this grounding, then encouraging our children to make decisions for themselves, as they get older, using their Christian faith as a benchmark for measuring whether those decisions are acceptable or not. This trust has had to be cultivated - it did not come easily to Papa Bear or myself, but we have both found it to be essential, to equip our children, as young adults, for a life where they will not have us to help them in every aspect of their lives, as they had when they were younger. If they have had a good solid Christian grounding, then they should (and do!) make decisions that will be pleasing to God, and that will enable them to continue to live a wholesome, productive and Godly life away from the family home.

We don't expect that our children will want to move too far away - they've both chosen to stay at college here at home, instead of moving hundreds of miles away to study like many of their contemporaries. We're very flattered that they have chosen to do this, and see this as one example of how our nurturing of their values, using the models that we ourselves grew up with, has grown deep roots within their hearts, and blossomed so that now, as young adults, they are making choises themselves, that reflect these very values which we've instilled in them. Values such as kindness, humbleness, meekness, forebearance and forgiveness (Colossians 3, 12 - 13), love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, gentleness and faith (Galatians 5, 22). This element of trust is essential if we are to allow our children to "leave and cleave" in the way that God commands in Genesis, Chapter 2. Our job is to provide the tools for a lifetime of good works - and to do this, we have to let our children leave us, and make their own way in life.

What are some of the skills that are necessary, for a young woman entering into adulthood with a heart to serve? Apart from the qualities that I've listed above, I would add to this a number of practical skills that I've taught Little Bear from an early age (Papa Bear has done the same for Cubby, but that is for another post) -

Budgeting and frugality - including how to manage on a very limited income
Home organisation - storage, furnishings, essential items
Sewing and Mending
Laundry and ironing
Hygiene and cleanliness
Scheduling and timetabling
Bookkeeping (at the guidance of her husband)
Modesty, purity and humility, including the choice of appropriate garments, headcoverings and conduct around men who are not family members
Biblical Submission
Childcare and education
Charity work including ministering to the elderly and sick, and fundraising for various organisations

I've also taught her some fun crafts that she'll be able to use to make her first home look pretty too! She's almost as nifty with her knitting needles as I am - and dare I say it - although she's still a teenager, she's a better pastry maker than her mam already!

I'm looking forwards to the next few years, as we get to know the young man who will be courting our daughter, and share in the precious joys of their marriage and early days as husband and wife - living out God's plan for them, just as Papa Bear and I try to do in our own marriage. We believe that as we watch our daughter and her future spouse grow together, the characteristics and qualities of their marriage will reflect those in ours - and by this we can measure the success of our own union, which we believe to be as solid and unshakable, as our faith in our Father God is. It's so exciting to think of this next season of parenthood, which we are sure will be just as rewarding for us as all the other seasons have been - and I hope and pray that the grounding we have given both our children, will be sufficient for them to enjoy the same contentment and joy that we have experienced ourselves.

"Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.
For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.
For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.
He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.
Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her.
She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.
Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many
". (Proverbs 4, 1 - 10).