Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No Regrets

Recently I was talking to a good friend of mine, someone who is in her late 60’s and been a missionary literally her entire life.  Godly, gentle, and very, very wise.  We were talking about parenting, and I said something about teaching children “first-time obedience.”

She chuckled.  “Oh, is that what Christians are teaching now?  In my day, you were supposed to count to three.”
And of course, as any of you know who have read recent Christian books, counting to three is anathema.  Tantamount to something like.....high frutose corn syrup.  If you count to three, your children will certainly end up doing drugs.

Yet, interestingly enough, this friend of mine has three wonderful, godly children.  One of them has a PhD in ancient languages, or something like that.  They are certainly not hobos. 
And you know what else?  They went to boarding school. 
I have realized recently, I actually know a lot of people who went to boarding school, some as young as third grade.  They are all pretty amazing people.  And you know why they went?  Because back then, it is what was expected of missionary parents.  I think, “I could never send my 8-year-old to boarding school.” 
Except that I believe that first-time obedience is important.  Because it is, right?   Right?  I know that first-time obedience is good and boarding school (or public school, or whatever) is bad.  Because, ummm....
Why do I think that again?
Because everybody does.  And everybody knows that's what you are supposed to do. 

Of course, there are reasons.  Backed up by five explicit points of Scripture.  Of course.  Which I then should have my children memorize. 

Don't you think the missionaries of the past backed up their parenting choices with Scripture? 

I have struggled a lot these past five years as a mother.  You’ve read about some of it here.  And I have made some progress.  Yet still, for a long time, was this burden of guilt on me.  This feeling that I just wasn’t getting it right.  That if only I did more crafts, or more read-alouds, or taught them more Bible verses, or the names of more countries—then I would be a good mom.  Because, it seemed, that’s what everyone else was doing. 
But recently I read an article that really changed my perspective.  It’s called The Seven Blindspots of Homeschooling by Reb Bradley.  First, let me give a disclaimer here:  I think homeschooling is great.  By posting this link, I am not intending on criticizing homeschooling.  I have many, many friends who homeschool, and it’s possible that if we ever live in the States, I could join those ranks myself.  It’s one of the reasons I got a teaching degree.  Now, currently I think I would be compelled towards public school for my kids (more on that some other time), but that’s not to say that I would never consider homeschooling.    
But really, Bradley's article is not about homeschooling.  It’s about a certain type of Christian parenting—basically the type that says, “If you do this and this and this, and don’t do that, your kids will turn out perfect.”  And though I’ve never ascribed to all the “techniques” that Reb Bradley writes about, the one thing that was the most encouraging—life changing, really—for me, was this idea:
There is no formula. 
There are no guarantees.
There is no system to follow to ensure your children will turn out “godly.” 
None.
None.
None.
There are biblical parenting principles, but they are pretty basic:  Love unconditionally. Teach obedience.  Disciple.  Build relationships. 

And then what?  Your kids will be perfect?
Nope.
Then you leave the rest to God.  And His sovereignty.  And His work in their lives. 
Because no matter how much I train, how much I discipline, how much time I spend with them, how much I shelter, there are no guarantees.
And that is why a parent who homeschools her children from K-12 may have a child who turns out to be a godly gem, and a parent who prayerfully, tearfully sends her child away to boarding school at age 8 may also have a child who turns out to be a godly gem.  Or on the other hand, the opposite could happen in either situation.  Reb Bradley gives plenty of examples. 
The truth is, there is freedom.  Freedom to prayerfully choose how I want to discipline, and to what extent. Prayerfully choose how I want to educate my children.  What I want them to wear, how much media to expose them to, who their friends are.  I can look at my own personality, the situation of my family, my children’s dispositions….and I can choose. 
Of course there is freedom in Christ.  Didn’t I know that already?  Isn’t that what the gospel is all about?  So why then, do I get so uptight when I think I am not following the “parenting rules?”
Probably because, I assumed that those rules were supposed to “work.”  So reading this article was like heaving a huge sigh of relief. 
Oh.  Those rules don’t necessarily “work” after all.
I don’t need to worry.  Or feel guilty. 
And then I remember….Oh yeah, I went to boarding school too.  For my 9th grade year.  My parents were in Ethiopia; I went to Kenya.  I don’t know who cried more—my mom or me.  We didn’t feel any pressure for me to go—we just both knew that it was the right choice. 
And it was hard.  I cried a lot.  There was no internet back then.  I got to talk on the phone with my parents once a month.  My mom and I handwrote letters to each other each week. 
But you know what?  It was one of the most incredible times of my life.  Not necessarily fun.  But my maturity grew in leaps and bounds.  My faith in God became my own for probably the first time.  It was, certainly, one of the best things that happened to me. 
Reb Bradley writes, “Sometimes as parents we give ourselves way too much credit for the power we have in our children’s lives.”
Amen.  May I remind myself of that daily as I seek to do my job well, without any regrets, and yet ultimately know my children are in God’s hands. 

(But I'm still afraid to count to three.  :-)
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