Five years ago, when my older daughter was in the first grade, she got into my car in the pick-up line after school and without so much of a hello declared, “My friends and I were talking about our moms today and we all decided that you are the most strict out of all of them.” I was dumbfounded. To be honest, my first emotion was hurt. I longed to be considered the cool mom. Now I was the strict one? And were a group of 6 year-old girls really sitting around the playground griping about their moms and rating their strictness? And what did my own daughter say about me that made them come to that conclusion? My heart sank a little, but when I discovered what my infractions were, I stopped feeling bad. My offenses included: not allowing my girls to listen to most original versions of pop songs, but favoring cleaned up kid versions, not allowing them to watch YouTube videos without adult supervision and not allowing them to say any version of the phrase, “Oh my g—-,” even if the word “God” isn’t being used. Okay, big whoop. So I didn’t want my young kids to learn swear words and innuendo and hear/see things that are frightening or use God’s name in vain. If those are crimes, then I’m guilty as charged.
I later shared the story to a few other mom friends of mine—of varying ages and stages of mom-dom. The reactions were interesting. The younger moms gasped and sympathized with my initial hurt and asked if my daughter gave examples. The older moms laughed, patted me on the back and congratulated me on a job well done! I was later able to laugh about it as well and chalk it up as funny things kids say.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 This verse is very frequently referenced in sermons, books and studies related to child-rearing. Before kids, I found it as a comfort. Later, while in the thick of parenting, I felt a sense of pressure and urgency. Like trying to diffuse a bomb before it detonates. When my girls leave home, will we have done enough to seal their faith and trust in their Creator and God? Or does faith become something they believe to have belonged to only their parents?
One of the biggest challenges, without a doubt, is parenting a child in a world that teaches kids that “God is dead” or doesn’t exist and that you should “live your truth”–that ‘truth’ is relative and there are no absolutes. And that if the “Universe” wants something to happen for you, it will. But for a Jesus-follower, we know that none of that is actual truth and belief in such ideologies leads people away from God and into folly.
My goal in the past 11 years has been to model the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut. 6: 5-9)
Over the years I’ve attempted to relate their personal experiences of failure, disappointment, rejection, envy, love, forgiveness, gratitude and joy towards the Word. But I’m also very human and thus very imperfect and suffer from missteps and trials just like everyone else. Many times, I fail at giving thanks in all circumstances and praying without ceasing (I Thess. 5: 17-18). And that’s when I tell them about God’s grace…of which I could not live without and rely on day by day. I recently told my girls that Jesus is the only thing holding me together, which is true. They watch me cry while I pray and when I worship. They ask if I’m okay. I tell them I will always be okay. The world tells me to be strong for them, and to show them that I am a wonder woman who can do it all if I find the strength inside of me. I tell my girls that my strength comes only from the Lord.
Of most importance, I would say, is the Gospel. If not for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, no amount of works or penance could earn us a place in eternity with God. And talk about counter-cultural—most 21st century intellectuals believe the Gospel to be complete garbage, going against science and man’s innate need to believe that he is good enough and doesn’t need a savior.
American society largely encourages us to befriend our children, and put them first. Whereas, my children are reminded that they definitely come in second to our marriage. Honoring our covenant in marriage brings honor to God and does the ultimate good for our families as a whole. NCAA basketball coaching legend, John Wooden, famously said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” This contradicts a societal trend that allows people to be guided by their emotions and how they feel about a person. Rather, love is a choice. God chose to love us and sent Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice to bridge the divide that sin tore between us. Likewise, marriage is a choice to love, honor and cherish until one dies.
For this blog post, I asked my girls what growing up in a believing home means to them. This particular season is challenging for them because they will transition this fall from private Christian school to public schools. The older one is entering middle school. The anticipation is mixed with both excitement and anxiety. They said they have learned that being a Christian will make them stand out because they resist peer pressure to swear, gossip, and will do atypical things like stop to give thanks at lunchtime, and want to be kind to kids who may seem lonely. One thing that my tween said was that she is okay with not being popular because she knows she won’t always do what everyone wants her to do or say. She would rather do what is right in God’s eyes. Even as adults, it’s difficult for us to stand so firm in our convictions.
I am now comfortable with whatever conversation starts in the car after school because I know I am not in it alone. And neither are you.
Written by Joyce Young