Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Loose Lips

December 13, 2016

Thank you to Becky for alerting me to a new piece of state legislation introduced a few days ago here in California.

Back in 2009, a resolution was passed by the California State Legislature expressing support for a Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California.  It seemed a fairly innocuous, vague resolution without any real teeth or meat to it.  It was endorsed by Planned Parenthood, among others.  Many such expressions of support are undoubtedly passed in our country every year, most of which coming to very little of substance.  The terms aren’t defined, and no specific actions or funding are allocated.  It’s essentially a warm-fuzzy sort of document.

But warm-fuzzy documents can give rise to more tangible realities later on.

So it is that this week Senator Richard Pan (D) introduced  Senate Bill 18.  Senator Pan represents Senate District 6 which encompasses the greater Sacramento area.  He is a pediatrician as well as a Senator.   SB18 aims to “expand and codify” the Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California, turning it from a warm and fuzzy idea into some form of law.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for improving the lot of children everywhere.  But when the government decides that it’s going to assure that this happens, I begin to ask questions.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a “comprehensive framework that governs the rights of all children and youth in California”.  I would argue that this already exists – it’s called the family.  The family is a comprehensive framework that protects the rights of the children within that family.  Certainly there are situations where the family fails in this duty, and it is necessary for an outside entity to get involved to assure the protection of children.  But to assume that the State needs to create a “comprehensive framework” of its own that extends beyond the many agencies and programs to assist children and families strikes me as a bit odd.

More specifically, the Bill prescribes that within five years – by the end of 2021 – this Bill of Rights is enforced “evenly, equitably, and appropriately to all children and youth across the state.”  Why do I need such a framework applied to my children?  My children have a solid family which is their framework.  Now I begin to worry.  How is my framework going to interact with the state framework?  Under what conditions and situations?  And if there is a conflict between the two frameworks, whose wins?  I’m going to make a wild guess here and say that if push comes to shove, the State is going to insist that their framework trumps mine.

The Bill’s premise is that all children are entitled to certain rights.  I would agree, and I would agree that our Declaration of Independence includes those in broad terms, just as it does for me:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These are not intended as necessarily all-encompassing, but they go a long way towards a baseline we can all agree upon.  But this Bill intends to create a series of rights for children that is far more specific.

  1.  The right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest.  This sounds good, but who gets to decide what is in my child’s best interest?  I’m going to go out on a limb again and say that the State is going to reserve that right to itself.  What if I disagree?  Hmmmm.
  2. The right to form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being.  What does this mean?  Who defines healthy attachment?  Who decides what adults they should be required to form such an attachment to?
  3. The right to live in a safe and healthy environment.  Sounds good, but again, who decides what constitutes safe and healthy?  Don’t we have building codes and other things that already determine this?  What does healthy mean, and how is it distinct from safe?  What does environment mean?  Is that physical?  Emotional?  What?
  4. The right to social and emotional well-being.  Who defines these things?  On what basis?
  5. The right to opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical and social development.  Again, who determines the best means for achieving these things?  It sounds as though there is only one way to reach these goals.  Is that true?  If the State decides that my kids will only reach optimal social development by going to school rather than us schooling them, what recourse do I have?  None, I’m going to guess.
  6. The right to appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood.  This seems like an even more pointed attack at my parental rights to determine how best to educate my children.  The current state-sponsored public education system seems to be producing many children who do not have a quality education, and are unable to cope with the outcome of a presidential election, and who can’t bear to hear anything that contradicts their ideas about the world, and who need safe spaces and other means of insulating them from opposing points of view.  Does this mean that the State is going to find public schools inappropriate?  Somehow, I doubt it.
  7. The right to appropriate, quality health care.  Again, who decides these definitions?  Given last year’s fear-based legislation mandating vaccines for as many children as possible in the state, what else is going to be determined to be appropriate and quality?

The Bill indicates that solutions will be “research-based”.  What level of concurrence in research will be necessary in order to use it as the basis for a specific solution to one of the areas above?  How will the State enforce this “comprehensive framework”, and what recourse will parents have – if any – in disagreement with this framework?  And as is typical, what recourse do parents have if the solutions imposed through this Bill turn out to actually be harmful, rather than helpful?  If you’re going to force me to do things to and with and for my children that I don’t want to do and don’t think are helpful to them at all, what recourse do I have if I turn out to be right?  If your research turns out to be faulty?  If special interests dictate questionable applications?

I don’t doubt that the intent of improving life for children is the actual intent here, but I dislike the idea that somebody outside of my family is going to make those decisions for me, particularly in the current ideological and intellectual climate.  How is the State going to make meaningful legislation that is broad enough to be applied to every family in the State?  I don’t think that’s possible, which means that the alternative is that some families are going to have their rights overridden by the State.

This seems like a really bad idea.  The State unfortunately may need to intervene in situations where children are at risk through neglect or abuse, and I am grateful for such services.  But to expand beyond this to create legislation that applies to all children and families is very overreaching.  I hope that this Bill does not pass!

Truly Safe Spaces

December 12, 2016

Long-time readers know that we home school our children, and that my wife helps lead a home-schooling cooperative.  It’s mostly a means for about 300 home schooling families to communicate, sharing resources, ideas, field trip invitations, and any number of other miscellaneous items with one another via a somewhat moderated (and very unwieldy) e-mail list.

Part of what my wife coordinates is a weekly play date at a local beach or park (depending on the time of year).  It’s a great way for people new to the area or new to home schooling or both can come and meet others and integrate into the community.  Over time, she’s made some really good friends with a handful of other home schooling moms who come regularly for their kids to play together and for them to talk together.  They’re all very different people, to be certain, and were it not for home schooling, they might never have crossed paths, let alone become friends.  There’s a mutual respect and appreciation which has developed despite different home schooling approaches and backgrounds.

So it struck me recently, as she was talking about a conversation that had happened the day before, how destroyed our society is.  The conversation among the mom’s veered over to the issue of vaccinations.  One of the mom’s felt it necessary to remind or warn the group that this is a controversial subject.  How sad.

How sad that a group of adult women who are highly capable and educated, who have known each other for some time and have grown to truly appreciate one another, feel like they have to warn each other before talking about a controversial subject.  As though because it’s a controversial subject, they’re suddenly going to turn on each other and become nasty and rude and dismissive?  As though it isn’t possible for intelligent people to reach different conclusions on a topic, be able to discuss the topic respectfully, and remain committed to one another even if nobody changes their mind as a result of the discussion.  As though there are things that we shouldn’t talk about because it’s just too risky.  As though issues and our stances on them are what defines and determines our relationships, rather than mutual respect and appreciation.

Home schoolers, of all people, ought to recognize not just the benefit but the need to model healthy dialogue and intellectual discourse to their children.  To demonstrate that it is possible to disagree without disparaging.  That someone who reaches a different conclusion than you is not necessarily an idiot or deranged or less of a human being than you are.  If public schools are more and more prone to ideological indoctrination that makes people intolerant of others – all in the name of tolerance – then truly those educated outside of that box are going to need to know how to communicate with one another, how to engage in true intellectual discourse rather than just name calling and ad hominem attacks.

The great fallacy of our age is that there is only one right solution to any given situation, and that anyone who holds a position different from our own must be wrong and bad and stupid.  The problems that face our society are nothing new.  They have been around as long as people have, despite the shiny gadgets we have that are new.  If solutions have eluded us for thousands of years, the odds of one group having the silver bullet solution and everyone else being raving morons are pretty low, it seems.  And perhaps focusing on issues and challenges, rather than on political associations and ideologies, might be a better way of moving forward together.

If our education system is a mess, I don’t really care if a Democrat or a Republican is the one who comes up with a better solution.  If we really want to slash our national debt, it’s going to require a new alternative to what has traditionally been championed by one party or another, if only because party-politics prevents any plan from being implemented very well.

There shouldn’t be any issue that can’t be discussed, particularly among people who respect and care about each other and yet may have different attitudes on the topic.  Sharing different perspectives, learning about how and why people think differently is hugely important.  It’s important for us as adults but also important for our kids as well, and I’m grateful that my wife has a place where this can occur, and where our kids can watch and hear it happening.

The alternative is that we aren’t allowed to discuss anything, and that’s truly deadly for all of us.

Looking Forward

July 30, 2016

As a Dad, I of course love my kids.  I anticipate with joy each day of their lives ahead of them.  I’ve marveled as they’ve grown from ideas to bumps in a belly to wriggling, pooping aliens to wobbling toddlers and laughing balls of wonder and enthusiasm and into kids on the edge of adolescence and adulthood.  I look forward to watching them grow and launch into the world.  I pray and hope the best for them, and want to do a good job of preparing them to be the best people they can be.

So says any decent father, ever.  No big deal.

But all that being said, I think I’m probably a bit overly realistic, too.  I love my kids and think they’re amazing, but I don’t necessarily think they’re going to be President of the United States (remember when that was an honorable thing to aspire to, the pinnacle of possible achievement as a citizen?).  I don’t think they’re going to be elite movie or TV stars, or top athletes raking in scholarships and then endorsements.  I don’t presume that they’ll have their names engraved in history.  I could be wrong, and I certainly will be happy to admit that if I am.  But my assumption is that my  kids are going to grow up to be ordinary people.  Regular folk.

I wonder if that’s a common parental assumption.  I was flipping through the latest Costco magazine and the opening advertisement was for some sort of children’s nutritional supplement or vitamin or something.  A young child with Einstein-like hair was smiling, gazing presumably into his bright and amazing future.  The tag line was something to the effect of how this product is preparing all the little Einsteins of the future.

But all of their customers’ kids are not going to be Einstein.  It reminds me of my favorite quote from The Incredibles – an exchange between a super-hero mom and her super-hero son about not using his super powers.  She  tells him that everyone is special, to which he sulkily replies “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Every child is a future Einstein.  Every pee-wee football player is destined for the NFL.  Every clever kid is the next Robin Williams.  Every kid that can sing is the next Taylor Swift or whoever.  Nothing but the stars, baby!  Nothing but the top!  Every single one of you all crowded there at the top.  Sound great, doesn’t it?

But what makes Einstein remarkable and an inspiration is that not everyone can be him.  Not everyone was as brilliant as he was.  Most people weren’t.  Most people still aren’t, which is why he’s still a big deal.  Not everyone is as talented as Leonardo da Vinci.  Not everyone is as talented as a top musician, or as skilled and inventive as Thomas Edison.  That’s not the way the world works, by and large.  Most of us are going to fade into obscurity beyond the small circle of friends and family who know and love us.

Which understandably is not a cheery thought.  It can easily lead one into a bit of a funk.  I realize that as a Christian, it’s easy for me to interpret the world and life this way through my faith.  Of course we all die.  Of course the world is going to hell-in-a-handbasket.  Of course Christians are being persecuted.  Of course the election is depressing.  What else should we expect?  We have an enemy and he’s dedicated to our destruction.

Which is why I was reminded of this essay recently, a reminder that my faith is not one that justifies pessimism or fatalism in a passive way.  Yes, we have an enemy that hates us.  Yes the world and the people in it suffer because of this enemy.  But we have a hope in Christ that sustains us and strengthens us, the glass of the hurricane lamp that allows the light within us to continue to shine regardless of how the tempter blows around us.

My hope for my children is not an opportunity for exploitation by the business interests of this world, however.  I have a hope for myself  and  my children, but it isn’t a hope that is going to be increased by buying every product and service that promises to craft them into the champions of tomorrow.  I’m pretty sure Einstein wasn’t taking multi-vitamins or nutritional supplements.  Edison didn’t graduate from Harvard.  It is not the world that makes me or my children exceptional, but rather the God who created us unique in all of time and space, and has promised to gather us to himself through the gift of his Son, Jesus.

So pessimism, no.  Realism, yes.  It’s difficult to balance and I undoubtedly do a lousy job of it.  But Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians as to the nature and source of our present reality and our future hope.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

I need to remember this as a Christian as well as teach it to my children, and I never noticed how beautifully super-hero mom’s discussion with her super-hero child also speaks to this:

Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.

Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.

The world wants us to fit in.  This means we are to go to work and spend our money.  It means we are to believe the advertisements and the slogans, the party platforms and the campaign promises, the hype and the glamour and the Photoshopping and the digital effects, as though the world is the fullness of all that we could want or hope for.  But we in Christ have been given something better.  Our dad has given us amazing power that makes us special – but the kind of special that anyone can receive and stand on level footing with us.  Our exceptionalism in Christ is not exclusionary, as opposed to the world’s exceptionalism that sooner or later requires the culling of the weak so that the strong might thrive.

That’s the exceptionalism I want and hope and pray for my children.  Not necessarily that their names will be written in the history books of the world, or that they’ll be viral YouTube stars or enjoy the praise and recognition of the world on the world’s terms.  Although if that happens, I pray my kids remember me and buy me nice things in my old age!  Rather, I want and hope and pray that their names will be found in the Book of Life, that their exceptionalism as unique creations of a loving God will be celebrated in his Glory forever, regardless of whether the world considered them much of anything at all.

And you won’t find that at Costco.

 

Jesus Loves the Little Children

July 9, 2016

…so why don’t we?

That’s the basic thrust of this video.  Warning – if you’re prone to epilepsy or have other issues with choppy graphics, close your eyes and just listen.

This guy is part of my denomination.  We actually overlapped at Seminary, but I don’t think I ever met him.  He was producing videos back then that were even more frenetic.  He has an in-your-face sort of fervency that is refreshing but also can be difficult to watch – though certainly no more difficult than the in-your-face fervency so prevalent elsewhere in our culture in directions I disagree with.  This guy serves in a relatively small congregation in North Dakota, but he produces these videos that reach lots and lots of people.  At least I hope they do.

I don’t always agree with everything he says or how he says it, but this video is helpful in two ways.  First, it addresses a critical issue in American Christianity – namely the decline of American Christianity – from a perspective that you don’t see in many books or other debates (namely because you don’t make a lot of money by telling churches that the key to increasing their membership is to have more children).  Secondly, this is an example of what you can do with technology, something our own congregation is discussing as a future focus of our ministry.

I can’t (and won’t) do what this guy does, but it’s a good demonstration of what can be done, in some manner, through a well-edited online video.  Concise teaching in an accessible format.  He makes a point, makes it strong, and then it’s done.  Hey, wait…maybe I should do more sermons like that.  Hmmm.  Nah.

Trying to solve the dilemma of shrinking churches without acknowledging in some ways the shrinking demographics of our population as a whole seems unwise at the very least.  God does like babies.  We have been taught many erroneous ideas about them – that they’re a drain on resources, that the world is in danger of overcrowding/overpopulation, that there isn’t enough to go around, that education and the debt it now requires is more important than starting a family.  We need to question our presumptions and assumptions about how we decide how many kids to have.  I don’t think this is the only solution, but it certainly is part of the mix.

Choosing a Future

June 28, 2016

As a parent, I spend a fair amount of time wondering what my kids are going to be like as they grow older.  Who will they marry?  What sort of vocations will they be drawn towards?  How will their personalities and abilities manifest themselves over the course of their lifetimes?  How can we as parents best encourage and equip them best for that future?

And how can we guide them to take into account the changing cultural landscape of our country?  How can we guide them so that they can live their lives consistent to their religious beliefs even in their vocations?  Increasingly, this is a question that every parent ought to be asking themselves and talking about with their kids.

Take for example, the job of pharmacist.  Seems like a straightforward enough job.  Fill prescriptions.  But what if you believe that abortion is wrong?  Should you be made to fill an abortifacient prescription?  Doctors traditionally have not been required to carry out certain procedures that contradicted their moral code – such as assisting a patient to commit suicide.  Likewise, pharmacists have long been protected from fulfilling prescriptions that violate their conscience.  The entire industry, in fact, revolves around the reality that not every pharmacy can stock or dispense every conceivable drug, and therefore they refer customers back and forth to each other for a variety of reasons.

But now, in the state of Washington, a pharmacist is no longer allowed to refer a customer to another pharmacy for religious or moral reasons.  If a customer walks into a pharmacy and asks to fill a prescription for the morning after pill, that pharmacist must fill the prescription.  At least, they must fill it unless there are other, non-religious, non-moral reasons for referring the customer to any number of other nearby pharmacies.  They can refer customers elsewhere for other reasons, just not for religious or moral ones.

Seems like a rather calculated directive aimed at quashing religious/moral objections.  Seems like something the US Supreme Court would be interested in hearing, since it directly affects First Amendment rights.  Except the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the appeal on this issue.  Much to the disappointment of some of the members of the court, such as Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts.   Their dissent is very informative and worth 15 minutes of your time to read.

Increasingly, the question next generations of Christians will need to ask themselves is what sort of vocation can I fulfill that allows me to follow my religious convictions, that won’t require me to violate my conscience just to earn a living?  Traditional exemptions and exceptions are under attack and are likely to continue to be eliminated, and that needs to be taken into account in considering education decisions as well as job-hunting and career decisions.  Congregations might want to consider special workshops for parents and teens to discuss these sorts of things.  I would think it would be an appropriate topic for youth groups as well.

Is your congregation or ministry staff addressing these issues with your youth and parents?

You Don’t Say?

June 21, 2016

The link to the actual report is broken, but this summary is hilarious – particularly in the conclusions he draws.

The study apparently studies the transmission link of certain ideologies between father and son (yet finds no such link between fathers and daughters).  The person summarizing the report dutifully notes that the results of the study should clearly cause people who hold these certain ideologies to question their reliability, since the reliability of their parents is hardly certain.

He conveniently ignores the reality that the same rates of transmission are likely there for people of opposite ideological positions.  He also ignores the fact that the reliability of a particular parent is not indicative of the relative helpfulness or propriety of a certain ideology.  You can have a parent who is terrible at math who still manages to convey a sound mathematical principle.

The author then helpfully extrapolates further to apply the study’s rationale to religious beliefs.  Again, if your religious beliefs are influenced strongly by your parents, you can’t trust those beliefs and certainly can’t argue for their validity against a belief system promulgated by someone else’s parents.  Once again, the reliability of the parents does not in and of itself invalidate the truthfulness of their religious beliefs.  One evaluates religious beliefs not on the caliber of the parent who instructed us in them, but in the actual content of the belief.  How does it match reality?  Do I have any means of validating the truth-claims set forth by that belief system?

Furthermore, the logic of the author of the summary could be extended further to teachers, professors, and other influential persons in a child’s life.  How is it that what is transmitted through these sources is necessarily more reliable or accurate than what is learned from parents?  Some interesting presumed bias!  The assumption seems to be that there would be alternate, better sources of influence on children besides the parents, sources that would not be prone to bias of any sort.

 

Drawing Faith

June 18, 2016

Last Sunday I confirmed my oldest son.  It was a wonderful experience to get to work with him intentionally over the past year and a half to prepare for that day.  Wonderful to watch him articulate his faith, to ask questions and think about the faith and make sense of it for himself.

I think it’s natural as parents to wonder if our kids are getting it.  The it might be anything – honesty, integrity, compassion.  But most importantly for my wife and I is that our kids get the faith.  That we show and speak our hope in Jesus Christ clearly and honestly to them and with them, so that they carry on that faith once they leave home.  We want them to know that our faith as the most important thing in our lives, and that we want them to receive it as such in theirs, appropriately for their age.

But you always wonder.  Which is why moments like Confirmation are beautiful opportunities to glimpse what is going on behind their eyes.  But sometimes those moments come in other, unexpected and different ways as well.

As I was puttering about at church before a wedding this afternoon, I noticed a drawing on one of the kids’ clipboards that we give to younger worshipers.

photo (35)

Ed is a member of our congregation who passed away a few weeks ago.  This was drawn during his memorial service, a fact I confirmed with the 11-year old artist, our daughter.  At the top is the Aaronic benediction.  At the bottom was her note to Ed.  “I did not really know you, but I hope I will know you someday.  We will all miss you.  I bet Jesus is very proud of you…”  Jesus and Ed have their arms around each other’s shoulders.

I think she’s getting it.  The hope.  The tension of now and not yet.  The anticipation.  The realization that we are bound together by something deeper and greater and more eternal than mere familiarity.  We are bound together in our hope in Jesus Christ that one day we will get to know each other someday.  Truly.  Perfectly.

I figure that she learns this more from her mother than me, and I’m fine with that.  As long as she gets the faith.

Get Over It

April 2, 2016

I take great pride and pleasure in the fact that my children are growing up with an awareness of good music.  Now, what you define as good music may be a matter of debate, but I’m doing my best to provide them with some cultural perspective.  I want them to be able to identify the Beatles and other major musical groups.  I like that they appreciate various types of music.

I don’t appear to be alone in this.  I have noticed for years that my Facebook friends often post pictures of themselves with their kids at concerts.  They take pride in introducing their children to what they consider to be good music.  They are proud that their children (at least for the moment) appreciate the same music that has been meaningful and beautiful in their own lives.  It is a matter not just of parental pride, but a sign of good parenting, it would seem, to inculcate in your children an appreciation of not just music in general, but particularly music that is meaningful to you as the parent.

So, for those people who claim that they don’t want to pressure their children into church or Jesus or religion, who claim that they want their children to decide for themselves what they believe, cut it out.  Get over it.  Quit dressing up your own apathy or your own residual issues as some sort of enlightened parenting technique.

Would you let your children grow up thinking that Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga or Nickelback were the pinnacles of musical accomplishment?  Would you let them grow up without never having heard the Beatles?  The Rolling Stones?  Simon and Garfunkel?  Depeche Mode?  Chuck Berry?  Substitute the musical act/genre of your choosing here, but don’t pretend that you don’t have strong feelings on the matter!  Or substitute books and literature if music isn’t your thing.  The point is that as parents, we are excited to introduce our children to things that we consider beautiful and worthy and true and good.

Is Jesus beautiful and worthy and true and good?  Is He good enough for you as a parent?  Then why in the world wouldn’t you share him with your child?  Might your child one day reject Jesus, decide that He isn’t for them?  Might your child one day decide that Pink Floyd really was overrated and that Kanye really is the most amazing musician ever?  Perhaps.  You can’t control that.  But what you can do is introduce your child to what you believe to be good and true and right and beautiful.

Would you rather sleep in on Sundays?  Frankly, I’d like to sleep in as well.  But don’t pretend that your own desire to sleep in is somehow an enlightened way of providing your child with a truly objective experience of the world.  Don’t presume that your failure to take them to Church, to read the Bible, to talk about the meaning of faith in day to day life is somehow going to result in a child who is more spiritually centered and mature.  Don’t presume that your private, undiscussed, unlived faith is somehow going to be communicated mystically to your child about the same time in their life as they discover the opposite sex, get their driver’s license, and begin heading out into the Big World on their own.

Take responsibility.  If you believe in God then you should want your child to as well.  Do the work.  Talk the talk and walk the walk.  But don’t pretend to be virtuous when you’re really being lazy.  If you’d spend the money and time to wait in line for tickets so your kids could go see the music group that was most influential in your life, take the time (and – gasp! -maybe even spend the money) and take your kids to Church every Sunday so they can hear about the man you believe has saved your life for all eternity.  Talk about that man through the week so they see that it’s not just an hour on Sundays but rather a way of thinking and being and living and loving that is the essence of the Christian faith.  Just like you blast your favorite tunes at home.

And if it troubles you that you aren’t equally excited to live and share your faith, maybe some time in prayer and conversation is in order for you.  Maybe that’s something your kids can be part of, too.  If it really is a matter of life and death instead of just aesthetic preference, it’s worth taking the time and effort to sort through.  Both for you and for them.

 

More Stats

March 3, 2016

Or perhaps, less of them.

As homeschooling parents we want our kids to be successful, just like parents of children who go to private or public schools.  However rather than relying on a neatly organized presentation of what the child will learn, we have to make decisions on what to emphasize and how to accomplish it.  Enter guilt.  Lots and lots of guilt and uncertainty.  What if we do the wrong thing?  Nobody seems to question school systems about this.  But maybe they should.

Like this guy does.

I’ll reiterate that, like Professor Hacker, I’m not anti-math.  But what I am is perhaps more pragmatic or realistic.  If my kids are interested in a career field where advanced mathematics is required, I’ll make sure they get the resources they need to be as successful as possible.  But if they don’t envision such a trajectory, why force them to learn these things just because the school systems do?

I’ve stunk at math since they introduced the alphabet to it in 7th grade.  Up until then I loved it.  Once x and y got involved, I hated it.  Geometry was a bit more interesting, but only because it was a respite from algebra.  All my friends were jostling for seats in AP calculus class but I was satisfied with just completing the bare algebra requirements to graduate high school.  I took algebra again in college.  And again a few years later in college.  Some of it was a lot easier than it was in high school.  That’s nice, to think that the brain is growing and developing skills and all.

But I could probably count on one finger the number of times I’ve needed to know the quadratic equation.  Likewise, my life has never depended on the ability to correctly calculate the angle of one wedgie-thingy of a triangle.  It could be easily argued my aversion to mathematics is directly proportional to my dislike of it early on.  But I don’t think the reverse would be true – that if I had really liked math I would have gone into a math intensive career.

We send kids to school for years and years and then to college and they struggle  to interpret the nutritional information on a can of beans, and to know how to make sense of that data both in and of itself as well as when compared to another can of beans.  We have kids who apparently, despite completing math and college, aren’t able to realize just how much debt they’re getting into with student loans.  We have kids who don’t seem to understand the problems with routinely spending more than you make.  These are all critical life skills that somehow schools don’t have resources to require, but they will require everyone complete advanced algebra and geometry.

Not that this argument will make me worry less or feel less guilty for making decisions as a home-school parent, but it’s something to keep in mind to help me fall asleep at night.  Someday my kids may come back and criticize me for the decisions we made in their education, and we won’t be able (or inclined) to pass the buck.  Decisions were made.  Mistakes were undoubtedly made.  I’m pretty sure there is no one-size-fits-all perfect education model or schedule of classes, so we have to focus on what we think is important, identify where our kids strengths and gifts are, and encourage them to fly in the directions God plants in them.  They may not like that answer, in which case I’ll have to wait until they have kids, and then see if there is any understanding, or at least forgiveness.

Teaching Youth

December 7, 2015

The question has only come up a few times in my relatively short ministerial career.  Serving two congregations with overwhelmingly retirement-age parishioners has minimized what I presume must be a common refrain in more diverse congregational demographics.

Why don’t we provide Sunday School during worship?  That way the parents can focus.

Let me say as the father of three, I can empathize with this request.  It sounds so perfect, in so many ways.  My wife still talks about those years when the kids were very young.  Years where she wondered why she bothered to get the kids to church at all, since she spent the whole time dealing with them either in the sanctuary or in a cry room.  Years of mutual frustration.  Her frustration with not being able to pay attention the way she would like, to truly worship the way she would like, and the children’s frustration with an environment and expectations different from the rest of their weekly routine.

So I get the question.  But my answer has always been, and will remain No.  Sunday School won’t be offered during worship.  

I’m not trying to be heartless.  I don’t desire to have others suffer because our family (particularly my wife!) suffered.  I have what I believe are very good reasons for this stance, despite being able to fully empathize with those who make the request.  Increasingly, research  backs up my assertion that separating kids and parents during worship is actually hurtful to the children, rather than helpful.  So here is a quick list of reasons why I won’t agree to Sunday School during worship.

  1. Families should worship together.  Your kids learn by watching you.  They will learn worship by watching you as well.  This will take time.  It will require accommodation.  I can well remember sitting in the balcony at Emmaus Lutheran Church as a small child, doodling on the bulletin.  I also remember that at a certain age, I wasn’t allowed to do that any more.  I was old enough to pay better attention.
  2. Worship must be taught.  We understand that we need to teach children to read and write and count.  Worship needs to be taught just as intentionally.  It is not intuitive, contrary to popular opinion, particularly if the format of worship doesn’t mimic other activities the child is exposed to during the week.  Children learn to sing and dance and have fun by watching videos and listening to music and having fun and silly time with mom and dad.  Where else are they going to learn about how to engage in worship other than in church?  Odds are there is nothing else like worship in their life.  Don’t skip that opportunity for teaching!
  3. This is the parents’ job.  I know that might sound harsh, but it’s true.  It is ultimately not the church’s job to teach your kids to worship.  It is your responsibility.  The church should work with you in this respect, but it cannot replace you.   Sending your children off to Sunday School is not worship.  It might be fun for the kids.  It might be educational.  It certainly would be a relief to you!   But it is not worship.  Make the investment to teach your children to worship.
  4. The worshiping congregation needs children in it.  This may sound a little strange, but I’m convinced that it’s true.  Worship involves our response to the gifts of God, but it is primarily about God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament.  Worship, therefore, is not a production.  It is not supposed to be flawless.  We are flawed!  So when we begin to view small children with their fidgeting and their outbursts and their loud voices as a problem rather than a blessing, we’re beginning to take ourselves too seriously.   This goes for pastors as well as parishioners!

There are things you can do to help this process of teaching your kids to worship.  There are things that you as parents can do to keep yourself sane during this span of several years.

  1. Ask your pastor for help.  Sorry, I can’t sit in the pew with you and help keep your child occupied.  But I can help ensure that there are resources for you to assist you.   Ask your pastor for a copy of the sermon, either an audio recording or the script (if you want to have fun and a good laugh, ask for both and then compare them!).  You might not be able to completely focus on the sermon, but you can read or listen to it another time.  Also, talk with your pastor if you’re picking up negative vibes from the congregation.  If people are making rude comments, etc. the pastor should know about it.
  2. Ask your congregation for help.  You don’t have to do this alone, nor should you.  There are others in the congregation who would no doubt love to sit with you and help occupy your children.  Here’s a wonderful chance for your children to begin building important relationships with members of the congregation!  Here’s a chance for some older children in the congregation to sit with you and help both model appropriate church behavior and interact with your kids, taking some of the pressure off of you.  You  can also ask your congregation to provide crayons or pencils and Bible coloring pages to help occupy your kids.
  3. Ask your spouse for help.  The challenge of teaching children to worship should be a joint effort between mom and dad.  Try to share those duties evenly, and be willing and able to talk with your spouse about how they could be of help to you, or to find out how you could be of better help to them.  Strategize.  I suspect Jesus may have such strategizing in mind when He gives his enigmatic exhortation in Matthew 10:16.
  4. Know when to walk out.  For most parents, when their child does something in church the effect is amplified ten-fold above what the actual impact/noise really is.  We’re naturally a bit on the jumpy side trying to keep our kids as still as possible, as quiet as possible.  Outbursts are going to happen.  A child who talks to loud needs to be reminded to whisper.  Fidgety children need to be taught how to sit more quietly and occupy themselves as necessary.  Don’t immediately resort to leaving the sanctuary with your child for fear of disturbing everyone else.  People can deal with these sorts of things.  However, there will be times when you just need to walk out with your child.  Hopefully your church has a cry room or other area where you can still hear the service but the congregation can’t hear your child.  If your child launches into a major fit (and you know when that’s happening!), then it’s time to take them to the cry room.  Go and nurse them if necessary.  Talk them through whatever the melt-down is about.  This demonstrates respect both for  the congregation and for your child.  Once the situation has been resolved though, return to the sanctuary.  Don’t stay in the cry room once your child has calmed down!

Worshiping together as a family takes hard work.  But I think it is hugely important for parents, for children, and for congregations that families worship together.  I think failure to recognize this contributes in some way to the waning interest in church among younger people.  I think the benefits of families worshiping together far outweigh the difficulties.