Today I’m going to write a challenge to parents, particularly to home school parents, but it is applicable to all parents. When we first started home schooling, nearly 3 decades ago, we were advised to write a mission statement, to remind us why we chose this route and to help us focus on our goals. I’m not sure I ever did that, and probably it would have changed quite a bit over the years. In its simplest form, it would have been to teach my sons to love learning. To that end, I’ve definitely succeeded.
Some of the other goals I may have set – goals which conference speakers directly or indirectly encouraged us to seek – we didn’t reach. There was a lot of perfection pressure in the home school community in decades past. It’s still there to some degree, though the direction may have changed a little. Ultimately, I found making these things my goals often hampered what I’ve come to hold as my most important goal and also put unfair expectations on my boys. All this pressure to present the perfect picture can wrongly imply to your child that he isn’t good enough – will never be good enough.
I discovered some years back that I was starting to develop a “salvation through home schooling” mentality. If I did everything right, my boys would embrace my values, love the Lord and live to please Him. If I parented as well as I was supposed to, I could save my children from choosing sin. Oh, I probably would never have admitted or even recognized that’s what I was doing, but when it came down to it, that’s what it was. One of my mantras now is, “You can’t home school (parent) the sinful nature out of your children.” That’s not your job, and it’s not possible. If it were, we wouldn’t need the saving grace of God. We wouldn’t need Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection to give us true salvation.
Anyway, I didn’t do everything right; I did a lot of things wrong. For one thing, my boys grew up with a mom who struggled with, at times, debilitating depression. Striving for perfection can often lead to depression, by the way. It took some hard knocks to wake me up to what I was doing. My husband once told me I had to quit trying to make our kids fit other people’s standards for them. This too I vehemently denied and I deceived myself. First I tore him down for not setting (“suitable”) standards for our children. Then I beat myself up for not being able to model, much less convince my children to adopt, those standards. I’m here to tell you, you can and should model Christ to your children; this should be our real focus and our constant prayer. You can lead your children toward Christ, but how, when and even if they truly accept His grace is between them and Jesus. They will make mistakes and they will force you to face your own mistakes.
I have watched decades of kids graduate from home schooling. I have talked with dozens of moms distraught over the choices made and actions taken by their adult children. It is hard to accept the brittleness of goals you put so much effort into achieving. I have learned we were looking at the wrong goals.
And so I challenge the present generation of hard-working parents:
If you are doing this (home schooling / raising children) to raise saints for the Kingdom, that is a good and godly goal, but they may grow up to rebel.
If you are doing this for “social security” — that is, so your kids will be your friends, that is a lovely goal for your adult children (younger children need you at a different level), but they may walk away from you.
If you are doing this to raise an academic genius, it’s entirely possible they may end up being “average” students.
If you are doing this to proudly build a tower of success (shame on you) it will likely come tumbling down.
If you are doing this to knit your family tightly together, you may succeed, or it may all unravel.
If you are doing this to keep your children from the world, it may result in them clinging to the ways of the world with all their might.
If you are doing this to earn a badge of honor for yourself, you deserve a badge of shame.
If you are doing this to prove you can, you are always at risk of proving you can’t.
What do you do when you have poured all your energies into a goal which ultimately you have no control over?
There is, I have found, only one purpose for home schooling or everyday parenting of your children which is pretty much guaranteed to get the desired results. That is, you are doing this as an exercise in love and obedience. Every opportunity you take to love and obey is pretty much guaranteed to expand your ability to love and obey. In the process, you will have very likely strengthened your family. Honestly, who can ever have too much exercise in loving those given to us by God? And who can ever claim they aren’t in need of practice in obeying the Lord?
To that end, I have found one response to parenting and home schooling challenges which always seems to work. Love your children in such a way that they will know they are loved. Whether they embarrass you, question you, defy you, hurt you – and they will — respond with love. Read 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 if you need a reminder of what love looks like. That chapter does not just apply to marriage, in fact, I believe it speaks more to how God loves us. It is a model of how we ought to love one another.
If you have to cut off friendships that are hurting your relationship with your children, cut them off. If you have to sacrifice some of your ideals, sacrifice them. If loving your child means readjusting the goals you set for them, then do it. When your child needs correcting, let it be given with love, not anger.
When it comes to the “schooling” part of home schooling, love is what drives you to seek the right approach to help your child understand. Love is what enables you to ask for help when you need it. Love is what gives you the strength and ability to make the sacrifices required. Love is what brings you to your knees in prayer to understand, build, strengthen and enable that child.
Read great books to your children. Teach them the math, science and grammar skills they’ll need. Teach them history, handwriting and health. Teach them to love God, their family, their country. Teach them the life skills they will need and teach them to give of themselves. But also, be sure to teach their hearts to dance. Teach them to laugh and sing and hug. Listen to their heart. Recognize their strengths and come alongside them in their weaknesses. They are not your trophies; they are your gift and your responsibility.
When all is said and done, it is near impossible for your child to succeed in life and happiness if they don’t believe they are loved.