Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Real World Parents

Esmé's Mom here...

You may have sensed an underlying current in posts of late - a sense of frustration in the area of discipline - a sense of needing to do more in teaching Christian values and beliefs to my daughter - a sense of wanting to stamp out the narcissistic self-centered tendencies she we all have and instill a spirit of servanthood.

I am feeling convicted to do more, though I'm still grappling with what "more" consists of.  I'm planning to resurrect Mission Sunday in May, but that's just a start.

One great book I recently had a chance to review is Real World Parents:  Christian Parenting for Families Living in the Real World by Mark Matlock.  (We're giving it away over at Winning Readings, by the way.)  

Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Families Living in the Real WorldI love some of the interview questions author Mark Matlock answers, and wanted to share them here:

Why don't you devote more time in the book discussing kids' behavior?  Shouldn't parents teach their children to behave?

That's a good question.  When my kids came along, though, and I started making my way through all the different kinds of Christian parenting books, I noticed that a lot of them focused on helping me figure out how to raise well-behaved, well-mannered kids.  And while that's an important element, not much focused on raising kids to have hearts that seek after Christ.  Of course we can't force that kind of spiritual openness and connectedness with God onto our kids, but we can learn to create in our Real World homes environments that promote such growth...

What we don't want to generate are well-behaved kids who mindlessly follow our directions without ever willfully owning the faith in Jesus they see in us.  The goal of parenting, in the long run, isn't for our kids to be known for how well behaved they are, but for how well they know and respond to God.

Since changing our children's behavior is not the point of parenting, what should parents be focusing on?

In a way, our children's behavior is kind of like the tip of an iceberg.  From countless illustrations we all know that the part of the iceberg that sits above the waterline is just a fraction of the object's total size.  As such, you could conceivably make all kinds of alterations to the exposed part of the iceberg - i.e. the outward stuff (behaviors) - without significantly altering the iceberg itself.

What we've got to get at in our own lives and in the lives of our kids is the 80 or so percent of the berg that's under the waterline.  In our illustration, that represents one's worldview.  We believe that our behaviors are ultimately driven by our understanding of the way the world works, of what we believe to be true and false about the universe, of our perception of reality.

Why don't more parents communicate God's worldview to their children?  What would you say to those parents who aren't sure to begin?

Too often we believe it is the church's job to tell our kids God's story, to make sure they know God, Scripture, and their responsibility to follow both.  But research shows that the teenagers who really take ownership of their parents' understanding of the story of God are the ones who have heard and seen it at home.  As researcher Christian Smith puts it, a parent is "the most important pastor a teenager will ever have."

But don't worry!  This is not about holding family devotionals or any other prescribed "spiritual activity."  Every four or five months my own dad would hear some program on Christian radio about family devotions, and he would come home determined to make the idea work for our family, but it never worked because in our house, that felt forced and unnatural.  And yet, all four of my father's sons grew into men with a real passion and appreciation for God's Word.

Why?  Ultimately we were convinced of the world view contained in the pages of Scripture because we saw our parents openly endorsing it, talking about it, learning from it, and living it out day after day, year after year.  That was enough for us - despite the failed attempts at family devotions.

I don't know of any other way to communicate God's story than living in it ourselves day after day - to make talking about God and God's Word as natural a part of our family life as talking about school or sports and what's for dinner.  If our kids don't hear and observe that God's revelation through His Word is important to us, why would we expect it to be important to them?

See www.realworldparents.com for more info.