Parenting has hit a 10-year anniversary for Edric and I, with our eldest, Elijah, turning 10 today. We are still in the trenches of parenting without the horizon of our children’s adulthood yet in sight. But, Elijah often pushes the boundaries of the parenting frontier for us as the eldest. He brings on new challenges, new doubts, and he surprises us with his ever-maturing perspective on life.
Elijah, like all my other children, is an incredible gift to Edric and I. We have enjoyed his personality — his passion, intensity, zest, deep love for the Lord, and his insights. He is an intellectual child, a fast learner – a sponge, really. If he had a superpower it would be his capacity to read or listen to content and comprehend it right away. And with a voracious appetite for reading, he’s like an unstoppable force at times. I can’t keep up with the stock knowledge, facts, and information he has stored in that brain of his.
I remember asking him once, “Do you really learn anything from what I teach you or do you learn more from what you read?” He told me, “Honestly, I learn more from what I read but I still like to learn from you. But what I really like about you teaching me is that we can be together.” I felt both useless and special at the same time. As a homeschooling mom, that’s sort of a good thing. Independent learning in a child is a blessing when you have several kids to teach!
More than academic input, what he really needs from Edric and me is consistent discipleship. Like any child with intelligence (I think all children are gifted with unique abilities), he could become a Megamind without a moral compass. Therefore, he most definitely still needs guidance and mentoring.
Our parenting style with him has had to change over the years. The biblical goals remain the same, but we have to implore different strategies with Elijah. He has taken “training course 101”: obedience and respect. He knows what it means to obey and respect us, and, more often than not, he does. There may be occasions when he says things that can be rephrased in a more courteous way, but it doesn’t happen often. For the most part, he has internalized both character traits. The last time he received a spanking was years ago. He gets why it is important and necessary to obey and respect those in authority. Ultimately his obedience is to the Lord. So if he has a problem with that, he is accountable to him, too.
At this stage in his young life he needs help with identifying character weaknesses and how to combat these with spiritual means. For example, when there is a mismatch between what his brain can imagine and what his motor skills are able to do, it leads to emotional chaos. He will groan, become self-deprecating, negative, and upset beyond reason. I used to try to lecture him and mouth out bible verses to convict him to change, but these did not help. This would, of course, aggravate me, which only made matters worse for our relationship. So I learned to turn him over to the Lord. When he would act up, I would ask him to quietly excuse himself and take a moment to pray and process his feelings.
Early last year, he finally recognized his heart issue as pride and admitted this to me. During a week of prayer and fasting held January 2013 for our church, he made a list of things to pray for and one of them was, “Be controlled by the Holy Spirit.”
When he starts to be angry with himself, he will voluntarily step out of a room and be alone for a while to pray. He will return about five to ten minutes later ready to resume the task that he was in the middle of. I asked him what he does when he isolates himself and he said, “I pray that God will help me not to be irritated, to remain focused.” This has been his most effective coping method yet.
As for me, I give him spiritual space to let the Lord speak to him. From past experience, I know that telling him what to do and saying things like, “You need to stop that and change your attitude,” works 1% of the time, if at all. I can still do this with the younger kids because they are in “training course 101” but Elijah is growing up. He needs to internalize certain spiritual truths on his own.
When he goes off and brings his frustrations before the Lord, he returns ready and able. I offer him a hug, an encouraging word, a back rub, and I pray for him instead. If he comes back smiling, all credit goes to the Lord’s work in his heart. After all, these instances are beyond my control. I can enforce consequences and get angry so that he will listen out of fear, but I’m looking for a different kind of fruit in him — a compelling desire to please God more than Edric or myself.
If there is anything that 10 years of parenting have taught me it is this: There is a spiritual tug of war for the hearts of our children. The reality of Satan’s attempts to turn them towards ungodliness and use their weaknesses to his advantage is so apparent. Even if my kids are homeschooled and seem to live in an environment where they are, for the most part, protected from negative peer, media, and worldly influences, the battle is most certainly within. Satan is a master infiltrator, intent on destroying every seed of faith that is planted in the hearts of our kids, and snuffing out the love they have for Christ.
I encounter this reality often, not only with Elijah, but with my other kids. Most of the time, they will do as they are told, but there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t have to deal with one of the following in at least one of my children – selfish attitudes, hardness of heart, manipulation, laziness, wrong thinking, etc.
There is no such thing as a cocoon or bubble that can really shelter my kids from evil or their own carnality. And I really don’t think that parenting or homeschooling needs to be about paranoid over-protectiveness. I don’t homeschool for those reasons, though an undeniable benefit is that our kids aren’t subject to the same sort of undesirable influences that most children who go to school are. (Not all schools, okay?)
Homeschooling lets me be present and available to better understand, help and disciple my kids for the purpose of spiritual fitness because I have more time with them. How can I do this if I am not around to identify what’s wrong in the first place? What if I can only see what’s happening on a surface level because my interactions with them are minimal and reduced to a few hours each day? How will I pass on the love for the Lord if I can’t model or encourage it often enough?
I already feel that the number of years that have been given to me for a season of parenting are too short. Celebrating Elijah’s tenth birthday was a reminder once again that I don’t have forever to prepare and equip my kids for the harder battles that they must face. His real battles are not completing a composition assignment that he doesn’t want to do, or getting annoyed because he can’t finish a 20-sided origami polyhedron with a single sheet of paper better than he thought he could. (Both of these have the potential to make him emotionally ballistic.) The greater battle is between his two natures.
On the one hand, he desires to please God, to love him, and be an obedient and loving son to Edric and I. He wants to do his best in everything that he does for God’s glory. But on the other hand, he knows that he can be an emotional yo-yo, ruled by his feelings, and unresponsive to correction and teaching when his heart is overcome by pride and irritation. I praise God that he is learning to yield to the Holy Spirit as his best weapon for the war within. But it has taken a good long while for him to come to this point of awareness.
There are no quick fixes to our children’s character and even our own. There is no fast-forward button that can be pressed for immediate transformation. God allows us all to go through a refining process where we become more aware of our helplessness apart from his grace so that we can live with power through it.
When homeschooling moms fret about uncompleted daily assignments, unfinished workbooks, unmet academic goals, I want to say, “Have you considered the possibility that you are focusing on a minor battle when there is a greater war at hand?” But, how can I say this without sounding like a crazy person?
The reality is, if the enemy can get us to be impatient, annoyed and stressed out by the little things he can make us…
a. act in ways that nullify the positive influence we want to have on our children
b. doubt our decision to homeschool because we begin to focus on our inadequacies or our child’s
c. pressure our children to learn when their hearts aren’t ready so that the joy of learning is taken away
d. seek to motivate them externally when what we really want is internal motivation
e. give the evil one victory because he has successfully channeled our efforts and energy away from discipleship.
The greater battle is not giving them the intellectual capacity to cope in the world. That is certainly part of our responsibility but it isn’t the most important thing. We need to prepare them for the spiritual war – the real world – where the foundations of their faith, their convictions and values will be tested and tried. Will they stand? Will they falter? Will they recover?
As Elijah moves towards young adulthood, his struggles will also grow. It has given me hope to witness his strategy for self-correction – learning to pray and surrender himself to the Lord. But that is not the guarantee I have for my fears. What allays my fears is knowing that God is a gracious, ever-present, and faithful father. He loves Elijah and all our children more perfectly than Edric or I ever could. If we can teach Elijah to keep walking with the Lord, if we can parent him in such a way that his heart is continually turned towards the Lord, if we can encourage him to keep studying God’s word and grow in wisdom, and if we do our part to model a love for the Lord contagiously and pass this on to him, then I believe that God will surely do the more difficult part of causing Elijah to become the man he wants him to be — spiritually fit and able to be a light and testimony for Him.
May these verses encourage you as they have me…
The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers that we are only dust…But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments! Psalm 103:13-14, 17-18