For my parent’s generation, they never talked about money or sex! Those topics were private, off-limits and topics I was taught not to ask others about (i.e. – don’t ask someone how much money they make). Today, for better or worse, these two topics are more comfortable for many and often find their way into conversation with much more ease and much less wide eyed “what did he just ask me about” wonder!
But, alas, there is one topic that seems to have moved into the “can’t touch this” category – parenting! In a society where the individual reigns supreme, the idea of parenting has become a topic that is the ultimate decision of an individual and, more than almost any other topic, can be a topic that causes strong, visceral responses when someone dares encroach into this world and offers advice, suggestions, or correction.
For just that reason, I thought I should write a blog and offer advice, suggestions and correction on parenting! Ha! Kidding!
In all seriousness, as I approach this topic, I recognize that I don’t have the credentials to be the authority on this topic. I have 4 kids, my oldest is 8, I haven’t dealt with puberty, teenagers, dating or any of the nuances of raising children to adulthood. As I write this, I have one child screaming and 3 others running around the house playing a questionably harsh game of tag. The jury is still out on my parenting skills!
But, I began working in student ministry shortly after I graduated from student ministry, and over the last 18 years of serving in different ministries and capacities, I have observed a number of trends and learned a substantial amount about parenting. I have witnessed some of the worst parenting on planet earth, but I have also seen some of the most Godly, Christlike moms and dads walk through life with their children. And, from these observations, I want to offer a few simple observations that, by God’s grace, Tracy and I strive for each day as we attempt to raise children who are committed first to the Gospel of Jesus. So, here we go:
Stuff – I am a material guy living in a material world! Ok, so it doesn’t quite work the same, but you get the point. I’ve always struggled with the 10th commandment (don’t covet), but it’s something that Tracy and I decided early on that we would not let take control of our family. In Philippians 4, Paul talks about learning how to make do with a little and with a lot and that he learned to be content in all situations. So, for Paul, this led him to say, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.
As Americans, we’ve often become obsessed with the new, nice, impressive or interesting. To put it simply, our kids don’t need all of that. Sometimes, it’s good for them to go to a thrift store and buy a book or a used toy. I think when we raise our children to NOT EXPECT the newest, latest and greatest, we are giving them a better opportunity to worship Jesus instead of money, to desire to be about His kingdom instead of the latest cultural trend.
And, again, I may not have the position to say this…but, parents, stop putting pressure on yourself in this area. Do what you can for your kids, teach them to be grateful for the small things and celebrate when you can enjoy those things. And, model this to your kids! We have made it an event in our families when our cars hit 200,000 miles. My last car, a Toyota Camry, even hit 300,000 miles and we LOST OUR MINDS! It was a lot of fun!! Fun doesn’t have to be expensive! My favorite memories as a childhood were in my grandma’s ABOVE GROUND (read: cheap) pool, when my mom would take my brother and I to the park on our hand-me-down roller blades and when we would drive to Connecticut in our used station wagon.
There’s a subcategory here I want to give some special attention to – phones! As cell phones have become more prolific and common for teenagers, they have also emerged as the #1 problem that parents have with their teenagers. I recognize that it is very common for young people to have phones and that they often stay in touch with each other via phones, social media, etc. But, I have also witnessed the incredible temptation, easy access to all that the internet has to offer and the lack of filters that come with the average adolescent. So, while we are still a few years from really making this decision, we are looking to others who have gone before us. And, there is a family who we see as mentors in our lives who have 2 teenage boys who seem to be moving towards being Godly men who are also respectful, care about others and are generally nice people. And, they don’t have a phone! And, while there’s no guarantee of this connection, it is a plan that seems to provide their children with the Christlike accountability they need while giving them the opportunity to begin to exercise their independence. So, at this moment in time, the plan for the Benfield family is probably going to be to do something like what they do – have an extra phone for the family – but not one that is specifically assigned to a teenager.
Parents, the dangers of the phone and the access it provides to the internet cannot be overstated. This is a different world than you or I experienced as a teenager. I’ll move on from this topic, but I would encourage parents to educate yourself on social media, cell phones, the internet, etc. If you don’t know what to do or have questions, get in touch with me and I’d love to talk to you.
Time – I think the principle has already been stated above, but your kids need you, they need your time. And, believe me, I know it’s hard to balance it all sometimes. Again here, I think our American addiction is to activities instead of quality time together. Take some time together as a family to find something that you all love. Our family loves board games and puzzles (nerd alert), American Ninja Warrior, swimming, and playing super loud music while we pretend like we know how to dance (here’s a hint: Tracy got moves, I do not!). I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, but there are weeks where I find that I’ve lived in the same house with my family, but I haven’t spent quality time with them. If my goal is to shepherd my children to be men and women of God, I can’t let that happen! I need to give them what I consider an asset that’s as valuable as anything else: my time.
Gospel Priority – Last thing – make the Gospel a priority. Read God’s Word. Read it for yourself and let your kids see that. Read it to your kids out loud. Read a book about God’s work to your kids. We are currently reading a book about missionary stories in Africa to our kids and it’s one of the coolest things ever! Our kids (and me too) sit wide-eyed as we see the stories of God’s work and the miracles that He accomplished in the midst of impossible situations. Make it a priority to be a part of the church, the body of Christ, as much as possible. Join a life group, serve in a ministry, see the Holy Spirit at work today!
My last comment on parenting will be this – be willing to learn! Tracy and I have made it our goal to find parents who are older than us and we have tried to learn from them and find out what they did! Truth be told, most of my suggestions about parenting don’t come from my great ideas, but from time I’ve spent observing Godly men and women who have parented their children with grace and Christ-like commitment to their families. Ultimately, that’s our goal!
Until next time…