Thursday, October 6, 2011

sheltering kids (too much?)

Excerpts from a very long, but really good article from Reb Bradley (hat tip: Dave Carlsen)...

It's also available as a booklet, so that says something about its length. He does repeat himself at times, so you can get through it with some skimming, but it's the sort of thing that will require a chunk of time to read and you'll want some quiet so you can reflect on it. 

His explicit audience is homeschoolers, but he's careful to broaden his net to "other family-minded people". More broadly, he's directly addressing a Christian audience, but many of the principles would hold for secular families too.

The intro is probably a bit hyperbolic-- and depending on your perspective, will sound somewhere between naive, weird, or sobering: 

In the last couple of years, I have heard from multitudes of troubled homeschool parents around the country, a good many of whom were leaders. These parents have graduated their first batch of kids, only to discover that their children didn't turn out the way they thought they would. Many of these children were model homeschoolers while growing up, but sometime after their 18th birthday they began to reveal that they didn’t hold to their parents’ values...

As each of my three oldest children reached adulthood I was shocked to discover that they did not conform exactly to the values I had sought to give them. They had retained much of what I had given, but not everything... 

God has opened our eyes to a number of critical blind spots common to homeschoolers and other family-minded people. Bev and I still stand behind what we have taught on parenting in the past. However, we urgently add to it the following insights...

From there, he lists seven "contributing factors": 

1. Self-centered dreams
It is easy for conscientious parents to become “dream” oriented....our dreams, but they involve our children...not just for them, but also for us.  [Especially] As homeschool parents we make great sacrifices and invest a great deal to influence how our children turn out. The problem is that love for children can be lost in love for personal success as a parent...

2. Family as an idol
...preoccupation with results can turn the family into a measurement of success...a badge of honor...determine our security or sense of well-being...idolatry...we look to our family for our significance when it has the most power to lift us up or to demoralize us. It is most obvious in a public setting when we either glory in our children or become enraged when they embarrass us.  Our children are either the source of our pride or our disappointment.

...as my own children aged and I discovered that they were self-determining individuals with their own walks with Christ, I came to the alarming realization that I had a lot of control over their outside, but not their inside...[But] Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son – the righteous father raised two sons who turned out sinful...

3. Emphasis on outward form
Parents are destined for disappointment when they admire fruit in others and seek to emulate merely that expression of fruit in their own children...

4. Tendency to judge
...becomes easy to judge others by our personal standards...proud of our accomplishments...if we make preeminent for our families issues of outward appearance, we will likely condescend to those who don’t hold to our standards...Typically, when we belittle others who don’t measure up to our standards, we will also imagine others are judging us. Consequently, we will find ourselves frequently being defensive...

5. Over-dependence on authority and control
If we think we have total control over how our children respond to our training, we will relate to them not so much as people, but more as soulless animals...parents who want to influence their children during the teen years must not rely strictly upon their authority to keep their children obedient...Winning their hearts means gaining the opportunity to influence who they are, not just what they do.
 
7. Formulaic parenting breaks down relationship
     1. The more we focus on formulas and principles, the more children become "things."
2. The more they become things the less we have significant relationship.
3. The less we have relationship the more we lose their hearts. 
4. Without their hearts the less we are able to influence their values. 
5. Without their hearts, the best we can do is control the outside (for a while)...

If Christians can consistently achieve seemingly spiritual results by human efforts, I ask – where is God in the equation?...

You may have noticed that I skipped #6, because it's his biggest point (one-third of the essay)-- which is noteworthy in itself. Here's what he says there: 

6. Over-reliance upon sheltering
An over-dependence on control in a family is often accompanied by an over-reliance on sheltering of children...Protecting our children is not only a natural response of paternal love, but fulfills the commands of God...but it is possible to become imbalanced and rely too heavily upon sheltering. We do this in a couple of ways.

1. ...more concerned with protecting our kids from that which is bad or with putting into them that which is good?...we must give them that which strengthens them spiritually and morally...I protected my oldest children from harm more than I invested into them health. I certainly taught my children a great deal about God and Kingdom living – we saturated them with the Word and Kingdom stories. Their lives were full of outreach and ministry, but comparatively, I was most intense about sheltering...what thing Dad would declare off-limits next...When protection from the world becomes the defining characteristic of Christianity, we shouldn’t be surprised if our kids grow up and forsake the lifeless “religion of avoidance” they learned from us...

2. Sheltering is a critical part of parenting, but if parents keep it their primary focus, the children will grow up ill equipped to handle the temptations in the world...sheltering does not transform the human heart...Growing up isolated from temptation can develop a child who appears spiritually strong, but the appearance is not reality...
 
a. Take time to teach them about God and living in His kingdom. I emphasize this particularly for dads who are careful to shelter, but rarely get around to actually instructing their children in the faith...
 
b. Pass on a pure faith...
 
c. Expose them to the world a little at a time, so that they will not be overwhelmed by its attraction when they finally face it. Just as babies raised in germ-free environments more easily contract diseases, so also do Christians who have not encountered the world... 
 
     d. Take them into the world on the offense, not defense...I want to be with my children when they encounter the world, but not merely so that they will survive it. Survival has to do with self-preservation, and is concerned with self, not others. Like a good captain I want to be with my children, so that I can lead them offensively into battle...

A major problem for us may be that we do not have what we need to give. We lack a kingdom view, so cannot give it to our kids. The sheltering mindset common to homeschoolers sometimes creates inward-focused families...God’s goal for us is not that we raise strong family-minded children who grow up and meet other strong family-minded children, who then marry and raise more strong family-minded children, who grow up and do the same. That line of thinking is totally self-centered and renders God’s people impotent as warriors for His kingdom. God’s goal for all His warriors is to continually reach out to the lost in the world. That is why we are here.
 
e. Cultivate a loving relationship with them...

f. Help them find security in their relationship with you...

I believe that a primary reason we can over-rely on sheltering is because it is the easiest part of parenting to do. It requires no planning, little preparation, or expenditure of energy...an aspect of parenting that is effortless to do, yet seems to promise an extreme impact. I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it lazy parenting, but I will say that investing into our children does take a lot more work and much more time.

On point #4, there's a fine line between pressuring children in a public context and explaining the higher expectations of being in public and instructing/practicing with them what that will look like.

Big points: 

-Don't invest in your kids to the point of idolatry. Part of this is the middle-class American dream and its relation to Christianity and secular families as well. 

-The way I've said this for years: I think I can, mostly, get my kids to behave themselves until they're 18. But that's not my goal. How to accomplish that? Good question, with good but not utopian answers in prayer, godly counsel, candid and transparent living, teaching/mentoring vs. commanding, and so on.

-You can easily raise kids who end up falling on either side of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. 

-If you find yourself judging others and being defensive, consider that a sobering barometer. 

-If you think of parenting as a formula-- within your own family or for others-- take care. 

-Is protection from the World the defining characteristic of your approach to parenting? Is avoidance the defining characteristic of your approach to Christian living?

-Do you have a Biblical worldview-- or just a semblance of polite middle-class morality? Do you have more focus on what you don't do-- or what you do? 

-Why do many Christian kids "leave" the faith when they go to college? Evil college professors (not me, of course) are a convenient scapegoat. In most cases, we haven't prepared them properly. They are not thoroughly equipped for the task and the life change and the freedom.

4 Comments:

At October 7, 2011 at 11:39 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Wisdom from J.C. Ryle (hat tip: Dave Carlsen)

http://www.raisinggodlychildren.org/2011/09/train-your-child-with-all-tenderness.html

 
At October 8, 2011 at 7:07 AM , Blogger Rusty Russell said...

Great summary and conclusions, my good friend. Thanks for posting.

 
At October 8, 2011 at 11:53 AM , Blogger Andy and Tamara said...

Very interesting. I struggle often over whether my kids are too sheltered and what will happen when they leave for college.

 
At November 7, 2011 at 2:24 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

http://www.worldmag.com/articles/18783

 

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