“You mean we get to take her home?” I remember my wife, Krista, putting into words the very thoughts I had been having since the nurse told us that we would be discharged from the hospital. Our daughter had been born not even 72 hours before we got into our Ford Focus and headed home. Were we ready? We thought we were…
Until we realized that “getting ready” meant much more than baby showers, putting cribs together and stocking up on diapers. In reality, our efforts to make our home a place that was absolutely perfect for our baby girl were vain attempts to control a situation that was out of our hands to begin with. What we only realized in part, was that God was yearning for us to fully surrender our newborn baby over to him. He was still certainly going to use us to raise her, but He had something very important for us to learn that we could not find in the pages of a self-help book. We would learn it by raising the white flag.
In the single act of surrender, we were doing more for our child than years spent striving to be a better parent or know enough about child-rearing. Our surrender meant that we believe God holds the victory in our daughter’s life and that we can choose to join him in it or be his adversaries. Whether or not we were enough as parents didn’t matter if we had gone “palms up” and handed her over. This surrender meant that we would have to become better listeners. We wait for God to speak. He does and we hear, then choose to continue on with the white flag raised. This surrender means that we may not have clear answers. We do not negotiate the terms, we simply trust.
When we raise the white flag and surrender our parenting over to God, he takes us where we are and begins the victory dance. In fact, he invites us to join in with him. When you dance with the Victor, the parenting battles become boogies, the tantrums become tangos, the wrestling turns to a waltz. We dance with God in the joy of surrender and let him take the lead.
It seems that all my most exciting parent observations happen at Chick-Fil-A. I truly think it is because people feel at home there and can just be themselves, letting others glimpse both the good and the bad! Today I got to spend some one-on-one time with my youngest daughter. Given the choice between Moe’s and Chick-Fil-A, my daughters will always choose the latter. I really do love this place. There is no other restaurant that can beat their customer service. You would think that at a place where it is always their pleasure to refresh my beverage that everyone would be at their friendliest. Not so today.
My daughter was playing in the play area along with another little boy who was two years old. His grandparents and I were sitting just outside the glass door, watching where we could swoop in and rescue them at a moment’s notice. Though I may sounds like a helicopter parent, I am not. As you will soon read, I believe with my whole heart that children should experience the consequences, however big or small, of their actions. The price tag only goes up as they grow older so now is the best time to learn the lessons – while the price to pay is minimal. Not too long after she began playing, three older kids sauntered into the play area. When I say older kids, all that really matters is that in their sauntering, they walked past the cow holding the height restriction sign, heads bobbing well above the arrow indicating 54 inches. They were probably 10, 12 and 15 years old. The youngest made a bee line straight up the slide (everyone knows this is on the no-no list). The 12-year-old made her way up the steps and the oldest ran through the little toddler area, around the steps and enthusiastically chased his brother up the slide. My daughter and her little friend just stared blankly at the commotion. As they entered I groaned a little more loudly than I realized because the boys grandparents sitting next to me groaned in agreement. No words were necessary; we all agreed. The older kids were too big to be playing in there, especially with toddlers.
So here, we were left with some choices. As I mentioned above, I realize there are consequences with every choice – even my own. If I swoop in and take my daughter out of there, she will miss out on play time. Chick-Fil-A, until today, had become a place where I could sit and get my beverage refreshed while my kids played behind sound-proof, glass walls. I wasn’t quite ready to leave my mini vacation yet. Another option would have been to go and notify the manager that there were three rowdy kids in the play area. I didn’t feel I could risk leaving her in there while I notify the manager. Though there may have been other choices, I went with a third option. I opened the door as the oldest was making his way up the slide and crouched down where the slide let out and said, “Hey guys, I really think you three are too big to be playing in here while there are little kids running around.” That was it. I didn’t even ask them to leave. I partly wanted to give them the chance to make a choice of their own, but also felt that my statement was just shy of actually telling someone else’s kids what to do! With grumbles they acknowledged what I said and began making their way out.
As I went back to my seat, I gave the boy’s grandparents a look that indicated I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Just as I was sitting down, the older kids’ mom was approaching to enter the play area. I always feel it is better for parents to hear about conversations I have with their kids from me first so when mom made eye contact with me, I said with a smile, “I told your kids I thought they were a little too big to be playing in there with little kids.” Before I could finish my sentence, with a voice loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear and finger waving in my face, she exclaimed, “How dare you tell my kids what to do! NO ONE disciplines my kids.”
Thinking back on the situation, I realize she and I aren’t really as different as I felt at that moment. We were both acting out of the protective instincts God gave us. I was trying to protect my daughter, she was trying to protect her children. I may have reacted differently than her if the situation were reversed but her reaction came from the same place mine did. I have thought all day about what her life may be like. Has she had it rough? Have her kids been through things that I could never imagine? Hearing her say, “NO ONE disciplines my kids,” I was thinking about how they were missing out on the blessings of boundaries. Rather than saying that, I fumbled through an apology and tried to explain that I was concerned for the little kids but she was not interested in hearing anything I had to say. She quickly got her kids, got her food and went to eat outside. The little boy’s grandparents were in just as much shock as I.
So, was it in my place to say something to the older kids in the play area? Under the right circumstances I think anyone could justify it, even if there are other ways of removing my daughter from the situation. Really, it’s not a question of what was going to be best only for my daughter. What happened to me today is a sad indication of where a lot of families find themselves. I was able to brush off rather quickly being scolded in public by another parent. The lasting effects of today’s run-in at Chick-Fil-A are going to take their toll on the three kids who missed out on a teaching opportunity from their mom. I certainly do not want other kids to learn their lessons at my daughters expense. The cost now might have been a few bumps and bruises for the little ones and some temporary guilt for the older. The cost later on could include hospital bills and years or remorse. I have no earthly idea the impact of my actions on those other kids. Their mom might not really be bothered by their carelessness around other people. Or, perhaps as they were sitting around eating their spicy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, a conversation was happening that might have been neglected otherwise. I can handle an irate mom, complete with finger waving in my face. If, indeed, no one disciplines her kids, she will have much worse things to be angry about later on.
This week I have been at the Orange Conference. A three-day event for ministry leaders who have as their primary interest a partnership between the church and the home. To be honest, I felt a little out-of-place. This past August my job as a full-time children’s minister ended and since then I have been taking up the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent, homeschooling my kindergartener and chasing our 2 year old around the house! Attending the Orange Conference last year, I was focused on attending classes that would help me to equip the volunteers working under my leadership and networking with other ministry leaders from whom I had much to learn. I happened to bump into a few people I have met over the years who, through Facebook and twitter, know vague details about where me and my family are at. A brief exchange between me and another children’s ministry leader who I look up to a lot, left me feeling insulted for the first time about my “at-home” status.
He asked me what I was up to and if I was ministering anywhere. I replied, “Yeah, I am staying at home and homeschooling our daughter.” His first response was, “You need to get a job, buddy!” I don’t recall exactly what I said to him in response. I fumbled through a kind response, hoping to end the conversation quickly, hoping to communicate that I consider it a privilege to minister to my children at home. I always found it shocking when I would hear a report of people diminishing the importance of the role that stay-at-home moms have with phrases like, “So, you don’t work?” or “Don’t you miss having areal job?”
Stay-at-home moms, today I can honestly say, “I know how you feel.”
Still praying through this one. I know God is using my current situation to draw me closer to my daughters. In a world where the positive relationship between a father and his girls has such an invaluable impact, I cannot afford to let such comments deter me from giving my daughters my very best. They need to know that right now, raising them full-time isn’t something I am settling for. Every dad has a calling to disciple his children. Father’s of girls have the additional responsibility of showing them what it means to be loved like Christ loves the church. It’s impossible to estimate just how valuable the time I spend with my girls is during this season of life. Only God knows what it is worth and how much my life will be blessed by it.
A friend suggested I blog about homeschooling. This will be the first post I make about our decision to homeschool our children rather than send them to public or private school. I don’t intend to highlight the pros and cons of each decision, rather to just share our personal reasons. A children’s minister I follow on twitter has written several good posts that are objective and thorough if anyone is considering and would like some things to think about. Check them out here, here, here, here, here and especially here.
So why did we choose to homeschool? The answer can be summarized in one word: discipleship. We believe that our primary role as parents is to disciple our children so that they will become life-long followers of Jesus Christ. If we have accomplished anything as our children transition into adulthood but we haven’t done that, I believe we have failed in the responsibility God gave us. Homeschooling was the best way for our family to accomplish those goals in a way that we felt was adequate. We certainly do not believe that homeschooling is for everyone. We also believe that many children who are raised with a public education are incredibly devout people of God. This was simply the best decision for our family.
A couple of reasons why we felt we could disciple our children better with them learning at home than at a public school.
1. Character. I remember hearing that many schools are now required to have some sort of emphasis on character building. I am extremely thankful for this. It cannot however be catered to the character building needs specific to my own children. Each one of our two daughters has very unique gifts as well as unique flaws. At home we are able to address the character traits that are most needed for each of them. One way we have decided to do this is through our “Nifty Fifty” memory verses. Each week we learn a new memory verse. Since I created the list myself, I could choose some verses that show what God’s word says about character. If our older daughter is having a hard time showing kindness… next week’s memory verse is on kindness!
2. Biblical integration. I don’t have a background in education but I have spent a lot of time in the Sunday school classroom. I feel I have a thorough knowledge of the God’s story and the players he used throughout history to accomplish his purposes. It’s a blessing to be able to refer to stories from the Bible to help illustrate a particular lesson. For example if our daughters are doing their phonics (learning to read) lesson I will try to use some word examples from our morning Bible lesson or the week’s memory verse. The Bible is full of numbers and things that can be numbered so for early elementary math, I never have issues finding examples.
3. Peer network. One of the biggest objections to homeschooling is that children do not get socialized in the same way than if they were in a classroom of 20+ other children. This is true. They don’t get the same kind of socialization. We simply decided that wasn’t a bad thing. Every Friday we join 20 or so other families for a co-op called “Classical Conversations.” I will go into more detail another time about the curriculum but as for socialization, the kids are divided into ages and meet in classrooms with their peers. Our daughter has 8 other kids in her class. They interact together as they learn and are encouraged to cooperate with one another. She has a presentation each week in front of her class and after class is over all the children eat and have play time. We have arranged another get together with homeschool families at our house where the children have a music and spanish lesson. Following lunch they are taught science and art through Skype with Krista’s mom. We are happy to choose the children and families that our daughters interact with. At some point in their lives I am sure they will begin choosing their own friends and our hope is that they will have a better framework for choosing their buddies.
4. Parental influence. Discipleship is not taught – it’s caught. Krista and I believe we are the most influential people in our daughters lives. This is a blessing God has given to parents but there is also much demanded. They are watching all the time to see if what we say and what we do matches up. Having our daughters at home has a way of forcing mom and dad to be on their best behavior. I take great pride in knowing that our daughters get to watch my wife and learn from her. I consider it an awesome privilege that I have extra time to show them how a man ought to treat a lady. They are watching and catching. Krista and I set the standard for what healthy relationships look like for our daughters. If we pray that our daughters will grow up loving God and loving others more than we do it’s easier not to settle for selfishness in our own walk with Christ. We can show a relentless pursuit of God that happens all day, every day and it will be built into the rhythms of their life.
That’s probably enough for now. Its been an exciting journey as we started homeschooling this year. I will share how it got started in another post.
We all like second chances. Today we went to the Spring Hill Country Ham Festival. All sorts of booths and vendors were set up. Many had little games for the kids similar to those you find at a carnival or a fair. When I play games like washers or hit the balloon with the dart, I always feel like I am going to do better the second time around. I heard a kid today ask if he could have a second chance at a game he’d not done so well on. When he continued to have some difficulty, he asked again, “Can I have a second chance?” I guess sometimes we need third chances…or fourths…
Krista and I decided a while back that in order for things to function well in our house, every now and then we need to be allowed by each other to have bad days. This does not mean we give each other free reign to disregard the feelings of family members. It simply means that every now and then, you have a bad day and an extra measure of grace is needed to simply get through.
With our children we decided we would start giving “Do-Overs.”
It’s probably not hard to believe that in the house with a kindergartener and a 2-year-old that we get the occasional scream between sisters. They are both quite good at it and didn’t seem to need much practice to perfect it. Often our curious toddler will decide to push the buttons of her older sister and the response is ear-deafening. Though we don’t always respond with a good example this is a prime situation to offer “Do-Overs.” We say to our five year old, “Wow, I am so sorry she treated you like that. Would you like a do-over on how you responded.” Our daughters know that we are much more likely to intervene if they have tried to work it out on their own and have been unsuccessful. We simply like for them to give it a go first. Perhaps we are catching a little back talk after we have asked them to do something. Simply asking, “Would you like to try that response again?” shows that we disapprove of their first response without them feeling like they are incapable of getting it right.
We feel this extra measure of grace every now and then is a good concrete way of helping them to understand something about God which is very abstract. I certainly do not understand everything about God’s grace. Giving “do-overs” to our girls gives us something that we can refer back to and even incorporate scripture. 2 Peter 3:9 says,
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. “
If we were to reword this as parents, it might read:
“Your parents are not slow in helping you succeed in life. They are patient with you, not wanting you to suffer, but to arrive at the right way to handle things.”
Usually if given the option of a do-over or a consequence kids will choose a do-over. It’s a great chance to share the great news of Jesus with them in the process. He has given you do-overs!