Sunday, 4 March 2012

Shepherding Tender Hearts

Source for this picture here.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it". (Proverbs 22, 6).

Our teenagers arrived home today from their fellowship weekend. How grateful we were that our prayers for their safe return had once again been answered! It had been snowing, where they had been, although it has rained all day here and is still doing so now as I write. Not at all like the beautiful spring weather we had been enjoying! They had a great time, and felt like they'd learned a lot! Little Bear said to us as we ate our evening meal, that she felt as if she'd grown more, and was more spiritually and emotionally mature, compared with a lot of the girls she had spent the weekend with, even though some of these girls seem to have been given far fewer boundaries than she has been allowed. That pleased us greatly!

One of the greatest challenges of parenthood, as parents of teenagers, has for us been the need to protect our childrens' hearts from the ugly influences of the secular world around us, whilst still allowing them opportunties to interact with wider society as they grow up and become independent adults. When they are small (and particularly if you are homeschooling) it is easy to protect your childrens' hearts. You can monitor their activities, what comes into the home, who they interact with outside the family, and can also teach eager young hearts, through example and instruction, how to make safe choices when they become older. But putting that into practise when they actually ARE older, is still quite daunting! Of course, the solid grounding of their childhood years accounts for a lot, as does the power of prayer and trust in our Father God to guide them. But they are still innocent and tender hearted, at a time when society expects teenagers to be extremely worldly. It is one thing to trust them to behave sensibly and make wise choices, but another to know they are actually doing it when there are so many negative influences at force.

How can we ensure our children remain safe, as they grow older and become more autonomous and independent?

The following are practises and attitudes that we've developed and adopted during our years of parenthood that have worked for us. They are just what we have found to be effective - and I feel our children are living examples of that. They aren't perfect (and neither are we) but I feel we've done the best job we could, under often quite challenging circumstances, and yet we are a close and happy family with shared values and a strong commitment towards each other - and of course, to God. We've learned as we've grown with our children - and that's what I'm sharing here.

Please know that nothing I write here refers to the physical admonishment of children - our blog is not the place for such contentious issues. If as parents or parents-to-be you feel led to use physical admonishment as a way to discipline your children, may I prayerfully urge you first to seek the counsel of your pastor, Church elder or priest, and to pray heartfully about this matter, as it is one that should not be gone into lightly. Suffice to say that in England, it is against the law to discipline your children physically and in all our years of experience of being parents, we personally have never found it to be necessary.

1. Lead by example. I can't stress how strongly we feel that the very best way to encourage good behaviour is to exhibit that very behaviour yourself. For one thing it is hypocritical to expect certain behaviour from you children if you don't also engage in that same behaviour, and for another, once they realise that you have double standards - which soon enough they will - any authority you hope to have will start to be undone.

2. Set firm but realistic boundaries and stick to them. Ensure your children know what is negotiable, and what isn't. It's good to allow them the opportunity to make some choices, and in fact it is easier to enforce boundaries if your children know there are occasions where they are allowed some freedom of choice, but ensure that the selection of alternatives is sensible - don't give them unrestricted choice. Older children ought naturally to have some wider boundaries than younger ones. Unrealistic or unecessarily restrictive boundaries are asking to be challenged.

4. Have standards of behaviour that are expected at all times, whether at home or when out. Teach your children from an early age what is acceptable behaviour, and more importantly, what isn't - and what the result will be, if they disobey you. Don't threaten to punish and then not act on this - consistency is vital to good discipline.

4. Never lie to your children, even over small things, and especially not over things like father Christmas, the tooth fairy etc. It is still deceit, even if your intentions are well-meant. If you feel it is important to subscribe in some way to these fairytale figures, then do so with your childrens' full knowledge that they are just that - fairytale myths that are designed to represent the theme of the season or celebration, and that they are not real.

5. Don't use bribery as a means to get your children to do something they don't want to do. The reward in doing something (such as cleaning their room, homework, or a regular chore) should be intrinsic - engaging in the duty itself, and completing it, is the reward. To expect otherwise is to encourage materialism and greed.

6. Ensure that your days, no matter how busy and complicated, have a basic routine that is adhered to. Routine makes small children feel safe, and older children more efficient. It also helps you to stay on top of things, and feel in control, and the days will run more smoothly as a result.

7. Expect children to take responsibilty for themselves. This is a sliding scale that starts with tinies helping to tidy up their toys and assist with simple chores such as sweeping and putting clothes in the laundry basket, right up to teenagers who manage their own bank accounts, make their own appointments and organise their own daily schedules. Encouraging your children to rely on you to organise everything for them will foster an attitude of idleness and a lack of self-discipline and self-regulation, and will not help to mould them into sensible,responsible, hard working adults.

8. As much as possible, organise social activities and days out around family, rather than friends. Of course it is wholesome and normal for your children to have friends outside the family, but we very strongly feel that those friends should be invited to our home first, so that we are able to ensure that they are people we're happy to see our children mixing with. It isn't overprotective to do this, just loving. Papa Bear wouldn't want me to visit with other women he hasn't met before, so neither would he want his daughter to. It's also important to spend time with your children individually. I know, and so does Papa Bear, coming from large families, that this isn't always easy to achieve. But it is really important. Schedule one-to-one time with each of your children, and make sure that special occasions like birthdays, graduation days and so on, are celebrated. Every child deserves to be made to feel precious in their parents' eyes - they are after all, unique!

9. When it comes to older teenagers and courtship, Papa Bear and I are happy to subscribe to the traditions of our culture, which dictate that an unmarried girl never visits with a boy unless she is chaperoned - right up until her wedding night. Any boy that intended to make a marriage proposal to our Little Bear would need to be able to demonstrate to Papa Bear his ability to support our daughter financially and make a lifelong, Chrisitan commitment to her as her husband. He would need to be financially independent, debt-free, in employment, and to have a good home to provide her with. We would also expect to meet with his family many times before we agreed on a courtship - let alone marriage. Equally, Cubby Bear must establish his own career (he'll probably follow in his Papa's footsteps and join the family business) and be sure of any potential wife's good character and family before thinking of courting a girl. It may be old fashioned, but for us it is the tradition of generations that it be this way and we see no reason to change it.

10. And never forget - the family that prays together, stays together! Make your faith a central, shared focus of your lives as a family. Group devotionals, Bible study and worship are the foundation of a happy family.

"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons". (Deuteronomy 4, 9).