This month’s letter is written by Rite and is all about parenting. If you’re not a Mum or Dad, don’t rush away because actually the same principles for parenting apply to mentoring and discipling, so read on. Paul shares in 1 Timothy 3:4 that one of the qualities for leaders is, “He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” So this is an important topic to consider.
These past weeks have been filled with memories of my parents’ influence in shaping my life. My mum died nearly two years ago and this February my dad joined her. It was a privilege to share at the memorial service about his characteristics and the rich deposit he had left in all of his five children. I realised that the most lasting honours of all, are those that your family bestow on you.
So what does a flourishing family look like? Many years ago, Gillian Warren, a board member for YWAM England, wrote a little article using the analogy of gardening to show parents or care givers the essential ingredients to encourage the flourishing of our children. She shared that mature healthy plants don’t just happen, they need good soil, fertiliser, sunshine, water, pruning, time and training. Psalm 144:12 says, “May your sons and daughters in their youth be like plants full-grown.”
As soon as we moved to Spain, I purchased an English book on how to garden in Spain. After living 26 years in Scotland, what did I know about hot weather, dry soil and exotic plants! This can be our challenge in parenting, as we find ourselves on unfamiliar ground and having very few tools to draw from. As Lord Rochester so poignantly stated, “Before I had children, I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories.” So without much training we develop our own style of parenting that is influenced by our backgrounds, cultures, personalities, priorities, time, lifestyles, observations, and our own parents’ relationship with us. So you may see your approach in one of the four parenting styles following:
- Authoritarian parent: they place emphasis on children obeying their parents to the letter (as they are always right!), having strict boundaries enforced in a legalistic manner, often attacking the child not the problem, in order to motivate behaviour.
- Permissive parent: they are too lenient, often afraid to establish definite parameters and guidelines, and become overwhelmed by problems and so usually avoid difficult situations.
- Neglectful parent: they see the child as a burden and so offer no training, no support system and give little of themselves to the relationship.
- Nurturing parent: they are neither strict nor lenient but consistent.They discover the child’s unique personality, potential and purpose in God and are physically, verbally and emotionally supportive.
Healthy adults nurture healthy children. Healthy doesn’t mean being perfect parents or producing perfect children but having the attitude of a learner and continually growing and developing. Jesus himself experienced the parenting process. Luke 2:52 describes his growth: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and grew in favour with God and men.” This sounds like he experienced flourishing in all the developmental areas – intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially. Educators who have spent years researching fields of psychology and education affirm that a child forms his basic attitudes and habits between the ages of 0 and 5. His or her patterns for thinking and doing are almost set in these early years of development. The journey of childhood has always been a part of God’s plan and he wants us as parents to develop and nurture our children to flourish, like Jesus in all of the developmental areas.
Consider the following 4 needs of children (staff). Think about your own early years and place an ‘x’ on the line after each point to rate how your needs were met. Then place a ‘o’ on the line to evaluate how you are fulfilling the needs of your own children.
- Love & Security – good soil: We all have a basic need to feel loved and accepted. Dr. Ross Campbell in “How to Really Love Your Child” talks about each child having an emotional tank. How full the tank is, determines how the child feels about himself and how he behaves. A child will be at his best when his emotional tank is continually being filled through love and encouragement. When you see poor behaviour don’t only concentrate on what needs correcting, but ask yourself, “Does his emotional tank need filling and how can I fill it?”
What was Jesus’ attitude towards children? In one small encounter, he demonstrated the five love languages. Read the story in Mark 10:13-16. He changed the disciples’ agenda and encouraged the children to come (kind action), he made the children his priority (quality time), he lifted them in his arms (touch), he placed his hands on their heads and imparted something spiritually (thoughtful presents), and he blessed them (loving words). We all know how children spell love – T.I.M.E. The time we give them is really a measure of their priority in our lives. Time given says, “you matter; I’m interested in you; you come high on my priority list.” Love has to have some action. It’s not what we say but how we live.
Virginia Satir says: “Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.” The power of unconditional love, acceptance and nurture transforms us. It starts when we are children and continues throughout our life span.
As a dad, Stephe had a commitment to meet up one afternoon a week with our son John at 4 o’clock having processed with his office to leave early. This was an intentional connection point that meant a lot to John. One afternoon as John rushed in at 4pm, the phone rang and another leader wanted a meeting with Stephe. John confidently answered the phone saying, “Dad isn’t here right now, and when he does get home in a few minutes he has another commitment and I am sorry he won’t be available.” This is active love that produces strong roots to keep a child secure, knowing that they are a priority in your life as a parent. This is just one example of a whole host of regular family events and habits that we all looked forward to week by week. The Creator has given to us the awesome responsibility of representing him to our children. Father God loves us unconditionally and our children must become acquainted with his tenderness through our own love toward them. Ephesians 3:17b “Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Leaders, how will (your staff know that you love them?) (place your x and o’s)
- New experiences – water and sunshine: The early years are especially important for experiencing stimulating activities. Consider how you are providing new learning opportunities in the area of play, language and sensorial experiences. Without this, the child’s development will be limited or potentially hindered.
From the earliest days, children are trying to make sense of their world. Their natural curiosity and sense of wonder drive them to experience and understand their world through their senses. The best environment is when they are learning and exploring in a great variety of ways: – by matching, sorting, counting, comparing, learning to name and categorise, by listening, tasting and smelling, by touching, handling and exploring, by recording in pictures and models, by designing, making, guessing and experimenting, by role playing and problem solving…
Did you know that the first sense to develop is smell and that 75% of our emotions are triggered by smell? For me, the smell of cedar, fir and pine trees immediately brings memories of family walks in the forest, camping trips together and hours of making wooden blocks, candle holders and cutting boards with my Dad. “The best things you can give to children next to good habits are good memories.” Sydney J Harris.
Along with new experiences it’s important to maintain regular family customs and habits that bring connectedness and security. Parents have a privilege of creating incredible memories for their children that will last their lifetime. This doesn’t just happen spontaneously but requires creative, intentional planning. What an amazing richness we have in YWAM with so many opportunities to experience outreach with our families. Travelling to new nations, adapting to different cultures, discovering fresh expressions of creativity, and the privilege to focus on serving and loving God and others.
Last week we were just returning from a ministry trip and experienced the constant crying of children on the plane. Looking around we immediately noticed the parents didn’t have a ‘Mary Poppins bag’ with them! You know the kind – with all sorts of exciting activities to enjoy on the journey. The children were bored. We remember well the days when our hand luggage was full to the brim with “kids fun stuff.” We need these bags at home too and continue to develop creative additions. The challenge is that creativity can take time and is often messy. But for kids fun is usually messy so we need to get used to it! (Leaders if your staff meeting this week is pretty much the same as last – it will be boring!!) (place your x and o’s)
- Praise and Recognition – Fertiliser: At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the Father said, “This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him.” Luke 9:35. We see so many films where the plot includes the hero searching for their Mum and Dad’s affirmation. They desire the validation of their lives and blessing on their destiny, just as Jesus received it as he started his ministry. Parents need to remember how powerful our words and opinions are to our children. “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24
It is important to praise effort and not just achievement. Otherwise some children will always be overlooked. Everyone needs praise, appreciation and recognition – not only in academic achievement but also in social skills, kindness, cooperation, patience and so on. If we look for what is positive in our children and share those observations, we will be reinforcing those qualities. Behaviour that is appreciated is often repeated.
In all my years working with children and schools, my greatest challenge is not dealing with children’s overconfidence but raising up children with deep insecurities. Stephe tells me that he grew up with parents in England, who were hesitant about giving too much praise for fear of the emergence of pride! “Perhaps once in every hundred years a person may be ruined by excessive praise but surely once every minute someone dies inside for lack of it.” Cecil Osborne.
Parents can become so obsessed with their work, careers, study, pleasure for themselves, hobbies or their own interests that their ears are not available to hear their own children and therefore at a loss to know how to encourage them. Instead of flourishing, children will slowly wilt and languish, when parents neglect words that bring life. (Leaders, when was the last time you encouraged each of your staff?) (place your x and o’s)
- Responsibility – repotting and training of young plants: The best thing we can do for our children as they grow and mature, is gradually allow them to do things for themselves, solve some of their own problems and learn from their mistakes. Of course, we need to consider what is developmentally appropriate and have the right expectations for the different ages. “You cannot teach a child to take care of himself unless you let him try. He will make mistakes and out of these mistakes will come wisdom.” Henry Ward Beecher. Too often, children are expected suddenly to take responsibility, without having been given consistent training. Even the youngest in a family can be responsible for simple jobs and can begin to understand the difference between right and wrong choices.
Children learn through imitation and by watching the important adults in their lives. As parents we are modelling attitudes, behaviour and character. We are the living curriculum for them to observe, relate and learn through. In terms of influencing children’s behaviour, the familiar computer adage – “What you see is what you get” can be paraphrased to: “What childrensee is what youget!” We teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are. What are some of your behaviours that you have now observed in your own children? (desirable and undesirable!)
Here is an example of dealing with a negative behaviour and helping to bring a sense of responsibility to the child. When your child defiantly refuses to stop screaming in anger at you, wait until a calm time later. Then say, “We have a boundary in this house that screaming is not OK. You can be angry and talk about your anger at me, but screaming bothers people. If you cross the boundary of screaming, the consequence will be losing playtime after school for that day.” We want to be teaching children they are responsible for their behaviour.” (From Townsend’s book “Boundaries with kids.)
Be intentional about making a list of qualities that you desire your children to embrace in order to be mature flourishing adults. Each conversation, every crisis, every act of discipling should foster those qualities in them.
There are two ways we can get something done around the house. The first way is to have your child help. That means you need to: a. Enlist them. b. Train them. c. Direct them. d. Supervise them. e. Redirect them. And finally you will need to recapture and re-enlist them when they wander off. It can be pretty exhausting, especially with little ones, and the finished job often isn’t quite up to your standard. The alternative is doing everything alone. This is faster, better quality of work and has far less aggravation to deal with. The children, however, miss out on learning to take responsibility for themselves, others, and their environment because of lack of consistent training.
A family is a circle of people who love each other. With wisdom, patience and love, you can create a place where your children can feel safe, secure, and free to grow and learn, and where they can become responsible, respectful and resourceful people. (Leaders, how are you intentionally training and mentoring your staff?) (place your x and o’s)
Not trained Trained
No one ever said it would be easy to be a parent: it is undoubtedly one of life’s demanding, time consuming and often unappreciated jobs. But it isn’t always easy to be a child, teenager or young adult these days either. Have patience, work toward trust and closeness. Love and understanding coupled with some solid skills and ideas will help you find your way to being the best parent you can be – one who parents from the heart. Pray consistently and place your family in his divine hands, acknowledging that he will work in supernatural ways doing the things our own hands could never do.
The sixty minute father – Rob Parsons
How to really love your child – Ross Campbell
Positive Parenting – Elizabeth Hartley–Brewer
Parenting course: www.new-wine.org/resources/family-time
How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk – Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
The 5 love languages of children – Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell