Thoughts on how to fight back
Nearly every day we are bombarded with stories of troubled teens and young adults, struggling with their identity to the point of desiring sex changes, of the rise in drug use, of young men shooting up schools, of the high rate of depression and anxiety amongst college students, and of growing loneliness among all populations. Like many parents, I want to spare my children those troubles, but unlike previous generations, our culture seems to breed troubled children faster than ever before. Even Christian parents struggle to raise their children in a culture that is designed to draw children away from their family and faith. I’d like to argue that parents need to make radical changes to their conceptions of what it means for their children to be successful and for what that means in raising them in day-to-day home life. What good, hard-working families have done in the past will not suffice in today’s environment.
I recently posted to my social media account about some adjustments we made to our home life, sparking fruitful questions and conversation among friends. Along with a photo of cookies waiting to be baked, I said:
We made some big changes to our life this fall which required some sacrifice. But the end result was more time for me to be home. Probably sounds crazy that a stay-at-home mom needs more home time, but homeschooling is a full-time job now and I needed time to be home and not schooling. My kids are getting older and we don’t have forever with them in the house; I want their memories to be of cookies and good food and a warm home, not of mom frantically driving them all around town to various activities. So here’s to cookies and good memories!
One friend asked what specifically we had done to “slow down for family time” and mentioned, “Our society places so much emphasis on [activities] and I’m wrestling with going against the grain.” She’s right. In order to succeed in life (or so we were told growing up), a kid needs to get good grades, go to college and get a good job. In order to get into a good college, kids are encouraged to be involved in school sports, student government, and a variety of other activities that not only showcase the student’s talent and abilities, but hopefully lead to ever-more-competitive scholarships. That often means extra-curricular activities multiple nights a week, sport commitments requiring entire weekends dedicated to tournaments, not to mention church events or other community activities to which a family might be committed. With multiple children in the family, even if mom stays at home, it’s difficult to have regular family meals, and those sports weekends would require splitting the family up at various fields, tournaments, and locations so that there is very little time spent together. Families have no time for family worship, and often skip corporate worship in lieu of competing sports commitments. The result: a group of people who share the same last name, but have their own distinct, personal goals often at odds with the well-being of the family unit. Well-meaning Christian parents seem surprised when after years of this, their kids go off to college and abandon the faith they grew up with and the political convictions their parents believe in.
So what can a family do? How do you raise Christian children, grounded in their faith and secure in their identity? Each family is different, but there are certain principles that can be followed by families wanting to fight against current cultural trends. First, back to the basics: every stable family starts with a dad and mom committed to each other and to the well-being of their children. Having a stable family requires personal sacrifice from both the husband and the wife, but that sacrifice will produce good fruit not only for the parents, but also for their children and subsequent generations. Second, there must be a family hierarchy. The husband is the head of the wife and of the family, and the children must submit to their parents (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). Third, but by no means least in importance, the Christian family must make their faith a priority. Go to worship every week. Be involved in your local congregation. Seek to serve those in your church. Practice hospitality. Diligently teach your children the faith.
There are several other guiding principles that I want to touch on briefly before moving on to the focus of activities and sports. Children need their moms at home. This doesn’t mean that a woman can never work outside the home, but the guiding principle should always be to serve the family. If the mother is unable to properly care for her children and maintain the home because of outside responsibilities, then the whole family will suffer. Children will struggle from lack of discipline and training, and this will snowball into all kinds of chaos and hardship for a family. In the same way, fathers need to be involved in training their children, helping their wives, and leading the family. Another guiding principle is on education: currently, the public school system is falling apart, more focused on indoctrination than education. However you school, families must make the sacrifice to protect their children from destructive ideologies and influences in the public school system. Lastly, a brief thought on media and technology: don’t give your child a phone without the necessary safeguards. Restrict internet access to the bare minimum and keep it under strict supervision. Be aware and think critically about every show or movie your kids watch.
If you’ve stuck with me so far and like the rich young ruler can say, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”, keep reading! You have a stable marriage, go to church every Sunday, Christian school/homeschool your kids, but you want them to be successful, have fun and enjoy their childhood, like all the other kids. Daughter is in dance class or volleyball. Son is on the football team or plays tennis or basketball. Piano class here. Karate there. Every night of the week, an outside commitment. Gradually, as the kids get older, the family dinner is gone Wednesday night. Then Thursday. Tournaments Friday and Saturday. No time for family worship on Monday: basketball practice. And quietly, unnoticeably, as the kids have gotten older, the family is pulled in different directions. Mom feels the stress; Dad is concerned about Mom and the family, but isn’t it good for son to be in sports? Or daughter to do that debate club? This is how she gets that scholarship! Son could play for that top school! And if the “have to get into a good school” pressure wasn’t enough, while Mom is watching the team practice, she feels the pressure as the parents chat about finding the best coach, being on the best team. Dad doesn’t want to say no to son adding another sport: son needs to grow up to be strong, learn to juggle responsibility, be a team player. All good things! In short, just because parents are trying to protect their kids from the world’s influence, they don’t want their kids missing out on common life experiences or being left out of all the fun activities their friends are doing.
But what happens when a family is pulled in different directions? Each child is working toward his own personal goal and mom and dad facilitate it all. The family becomes a group of individuals that share a last name, rather than a close-knit group focused on long-term preservation, spiritual development, and character growth. We are in rough times, spiritually, culturally, politically, and the best way to fight against that is to have strong families and communities. The family first is the bedrock, the foundation of any community. How do you pull the family back together? By saying “no.” Not to everything of course, but as far as you are able, structure your family life to be home for a main meal (typically dinner, but that might vary from family to family depending on each family’s specific circumstances). Make sure you take time for family worship most days of the week. Set aside Sunday for corporate worship, focus on Christian training, and for fellowship with other believers, particularly those in your own church. Set aside a regular time to do a family-focused event: game night or movie night (we do Friday family movie night; we also recently introduced Monday Mystery Night where we eat special snacks and drinks and my husband reads a short story mystery – you can be creative according to your family’s unique interests and personality). Limit your kids’ activities, even if it means not joining the best soccer league or picking a lesser tennis club because it doesn’t require mom to spend hours every week commuting to the best one. Maybe your son or daughter will only have one sport or extracurricular activity (or none!), but that’s ok.
When your son or daughter feels left out or is disappointed about the change, it is tempting as a parent to shield him or her from pain. Being left out occasionally and for a good reason (due to theological or philosophical conviction) as a child will train your son or daughter to stand strong when the whole world is against them. They won’t be surprised or feel the loss as much when they’ve done it before in small matters and they know there is a long-term benefit. And really, even though they might lose out on a temporary childhood friendship or activity, what they gain (close family relationships, character, Biblical wisdom) will ultimately be of greater and more lasting value, so much so that the “loss” or “sacrifice” will be as nothing compared to that eternal weight of glory they gain. Explain it to your kids. They can understand it, and even if they don’t understand fully right away, they will appreciate it as adults. They will know that their parents loved them enough to say no.
Even if you are the only one in your church or school or social circle thinking about these things, do it anyway. You going against the grain might give someone else the nudge to go against the grain too. Courage is contagious. Maybe your neighbor or your best friends at church will be encouraged to follow your example, creating a tighter community with like-minded people.
Finally being different, being set apart and having a close family creates a sense of identity and purpose. Today so many young people are confused because they don’t know who they are, what they believe, or what their past is: they know nothing. They are adrift and depressed and confused to the point of trying to change their biology! But by doing things differently from the status quo, we as parents give our children a solid foundation that our kids can rely on. They don’t have to question who they are because we’ve told them and shown them and lived it for them their whole lives. And that will anchor them as they go into the world.
*Image Credit: Pexels