Parenting Through the Tough Questions

** The following article was copied from www.desiringgod.org.

The other day, our family was out for an evening stroll along our usual route. We went down the sidewalk from our home, past a few shops, across a street, and over to the local college.

On our return, we walked past the large cemetery next to our neighborhood, where a couple of men were preparing a gravesite. As we walked by, my 5-year-old son asked one of those questions parents often dread: “Dad, what are they doing?”

What should I do? Was he too young to hear the truth? I could shrug the question off — perhaps by redirecting his attention to the sunset or a passing car. But I decided that my inquisitive little guy deserved an answer.

Gospel at the Graveyard

I stopped and sat on the cemetery wall, stood him in front of me, and began my best attempt at an explanation: “Buddy, at the end of each person’s life, they die. When someone dies, they put the person’s body in a box, they dig a hole in the ground, and they put the box inside the hole.”

He responded, “Do we have clothes on when we go inside the box?”

I said, “Well, they put clothes on the person’s body when they put them in the box. . . . Did you know that Jesus died? They put his body in the ground, but three days later he came out of the ground because God raised him back to life. If we believe in Jesus, we will go to be with Jesus when we die. And one day, when Jesus comes back, our bodies will come out of those holes all brand new, and we will live with Jesus forever and never die again.”

“I hope I still get to wear my clothes. And I’m going to keep my eyes open inside that box.”

“Okay, buddy.”

Patterns of Honesty

Obviously, my son was pretty lost on the whole dying-and-being-buried thing. But I was trying to establish an important precedent with him. When he comes to me with honest questions, I am going to give him honest answers. He may not fully understand the answer, and I may fumble through an awkward reply, but one thing is certain: I’m not going to ignore his earnest inquiries.

“When my son comes to me with honest questions, I want to give him honest answers.”

My hope is that the patterns of communication my wife and I are establishing early on with our children will continue to equip us as parents. With God’s help, each question we choose not to punt on gives us more wisdom to handle the next. If I feed my kids little falsehoods now, thinking, “They’re too young for the truth,” I’m not only hindering their growth in wisdom and stature, but also my own. They may be too young for certain details, but there’s a way to lovingly answer their specific question truthfully. If I can’t give my 5-year-old the truth, what makes me think I’ll be ready to do it when he’s fifteen?

These years — when the kids are young and the questions are of little consequence — are practice for later. Right now, we’re learning to field basic queries like “Is Santa real?” or “How big is God?” But one day the questions might become “My best friend just told me he’s gay — what should I do?” or “Why would a good God let them die like that?” As we step up to the plate now, while they’re young, we trust that God will teach us how to handle the questions that will be more difficult to answer later.

Children will satisfy their curiosity one way or another. If we do not give them the truth, they will find it elsewhere. Establishing an early pattern of open communication will hopefully help to avoid heartache later on. No parent wants to discover too late that their kids have been going online, to their peers, or to even worse places with questions they don’t trust us to answer to their satisfaction.

On top of all this, it’s important that we treat our kids according to their God-given dignity. They are little people made in the image of God. They deserve the truth.

Every Conversation Captive

My son’s question, which threw me off guard at first, turned out to be a great doorway for the gospel. That evening in front of the cemetery, I could have shuffled the family along, avoided the topic, and given some vague answer like, “They’re just digging a hole.” But when your child asks you pointedly about a graveyard, is it really to his benefit to avoid the issue of death altogether?

“If I can’t give my 5-year-old the truth, what makes me think I’ll be ready to do it when he’s fifteen?”

Surely God envisioned these exact conversations when he commanded us, “You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). At the breakfast table, on the summer walk, and from the bedtime pillow, our children probe us for the truth spurred on by their own curiosity about the world around them. These are the perfect times to teach our kids about God and his gospel.

Be on the lookout. Many of our children’s toughest or most embarrassing questions can turn out to be perfect opportunities to talk about the good news of Jesus. Take those conversations captive. Sit and talk intentionally and honestly with your children. Are we going to bumble through our answers, have awkward transitions, and make absolutely no sense sometimes? Of course. But my kids are young — they won’t know any better! Maybe yours are older. They will likely still appreciate your candor, and God will help you grow over time. It’s never too late to start telling the truth.

The Truth Our Kids Need

If you have been in the habit of dodging your kids’ hard questions, you may need to ask for their forgiveness. Children become exasperated when Mom and Dad fail to be the primary truth-tellers in their lives. Paul tells us the solution is to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

As we grow in faithfulness to instruct our children in the truth, we trust the Spirit to grant us more wisdom to point them to Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Why Kids Need the Sufficiency of Christ

** The following article was copied from www.gospelatcenter.com.

One of the greatest lies we believe is that something we own, can gain or obtain will make us happy. We confuse the gifts with the giver of the gifts. This starts early for us. We chase after many things, often good things. But we often do it in a way that can lead us from Christ rather than to Christ. Someone once said that we don’t know that Christ is all we need until Christ is all we have. The sufficiency of Christ is the understanding of the reality that all things come from Christ that he is our single pursuit in life. That every good and perfect thing come from him. That we can rejoice in times good and times bad because we have our prize already we have Jesus. That He gives us what we need when we need it not what we want when we want it. Our kids need to know this.

Our kids need to know that Christianity is the only religion that gives material things their proper place. We can enjoy them as gifts from a God who is a good father and loves us with an unending love. We don’t think things are evil, although they can be. The best way for us as parents and family ministers to convey this to our kids is to remind them over and over that Christ is enough that His sacrifice for us was enough. We have to point our kids to the sufficiency of Christ because it is the truth that will hold them when life fails them.

Throughout life, we can come to see the sufficiency of Christ by accident or on purpose. There are so many things in this media-saturated, social media frenzied life we live that lie to us and our kids. We hear “if you only had me you would be enough.” “If you only had this or that then you would be enough.” The sad reality is far too often we spend the best years of our lives chasing that lie. What we need and our kids need is a life that is lived enjoying the substance of life rather than languishing in the shadows pretending that we are satisfied with them. At some point, the things we put our hope in will let us down and we will be confronted with the sufficiency of Christ that we will have to embrace or reject. I came to my understanding of Christ’s sufficiency on accident. I want my kids to see the sufficiency of Christ on purpose. I want them to see Christ as enough as kids.

How we demonstrate the sufficiency of Christ to our kids

  1. Don’t mask your pain – Kids don’t need to know and shouldn’t know everything their parents face, but they should know enough to know How God met the needs that your family has.
  2. Regularly worship together – It can look however it looks for your family. Regularly seeking God when there are no major problems in your family show your kids God is not a panic button we push but a sovereign God who is enough in every season of life.
  3. Practice the discipline of thankfulness – When God comes through for you do not pat yourself on the back, thank God in front of your kids. That they will know that it was God who rescues. It is God who provides. It is God in whom we find all that we need.
  4. Talk often about the cross of Christ – It is at the cross that Christ supplied for us the solution to the graves condition of mankind our separation from Christ. When we talk about the price that Jesus paid. We love him more. When we see Him as ALL sufficient rather than sometimes helpful He takes his proper place on the throne of our hearts.

Our kids need to see Christ as ALL sufficient rather than sometimes helpful.

5 Things You’ll Never Regret

** The following article was copied from www.theparentcue.org.

Yes, it really was a bad idea to give your six-year-old access to the finger paints while you did the laundry. Or to let your fourteen-year-old son stay overnight at his friend’s place without triple checking to make sure his parents were home.

And maybe it wasn’t all that wise when you had that fight heated conversation in the kitchen when the kids were watching cartoons.

We all have regrets.
But the flip side is also true.

We all have things we’ll never regret doing as a parent. And if you think about doing things you’ll never regret, you can actually do them more often.

Here are 5 things I think you’ll never regret as a parent:

1 – TAKING FAMILY VACATIONS

It can be so hard to find both time and money to get away, but it’s been one of the best things we’ve done as a family over the years.

While staycations can be decent, a vacation moves everyone out of their native environment. There’s no grass to cut, no clutter to clean up every three hours, no video games to play for hours and hours and hours, or friends who want you to come over (again). All of you move into new experiences and new environments together. 

Even if you don’t have a ton of money, borrow someone’s house for the weekend (we’ve done that), and change up the scenery.  Moments away will become some of your kids’ fondest memories—and yours.

2 – PUTTING EACH OTHER BEFORE THE KIDS

You’ve probably heard it as much as I have: One of the greatest gifts any parent can give a child is a healthy marriage.
It’s as important for your child to know you love each other as it is for your child to know you love them.

So take a date night. Hire and sitter or enlist the grandparents and go on a weekend away. Your friends will be envious (we haven’t been away together without the kids in seven years!!!), and you’ll have so much fun you’ll think you’re dating again.

Here’s something else I’ve discovered. Eventually the kids move out (really…no lies!), and all you have left is each other. It works way better when you’ve built up your relationship to the point where you actually still like each other. 🙂

3 – CREATING TRADITIONS

My wife is so good at this. She knew early on that family traditions are a great thing.

For example, on Christmas morning, we eat desserts like chocolate covered apples for breakfast. (No, Christmas and breakfast chocolate aren’t related, but don’t spoil things here). I don’t know how that tradition started, and I don’t even know that it’s a good idea, but we love it. And to this day, we can’t wait to dig into chocolate and stuff that really isn’t good for us in honor of Christmas.

We’re not big into baseball as a family (although I’ve always loved it), but every year I took my boys to a Blue Jays game. Now they insist on taking me. It’s a tradition.

We also go back to the same place every year for a week every year in the summer. That spot is now filled with two decades of family memories.

4 – INCORPORATING GOD INTO THE RHYTHM OF FAMILY LIFE

Yep, life is busy. And talking about God can be . . . well, awkward.

But figuring out a way to make God a natural part of the conversation is a great practice to establish early. The baby and toddler years are perfect places to start with morning and bedtime stories and prayers.

In the elementary years, meal times are great places to talk about God and life.

And even in the teen years, driving around in the car or hanging out after dinner are great times to talk about faith.

If you do this well, having conversations with your kids into their college and adult years won’t be that difficult.

5 – SETTING BOUNDARIES

So much of the conflict that happens between parents and kids, and between parents, happens because boundaries aren’t clear.

Boundaries and limits are something we both crave and resist. We think freedom resides in having no boundaries and limits, until we have none. Then we crave them.

Kids are masters at pushing the boundaries.

If you can set and agree on boundaries ahead of time, life becomes so much simpler. Then you have a solution to a problem (like curfew) before it arises.

Sure, if you have healthy limits for your kids as they move into their pre-teen and teen years, you too will be inducted into the Worst Parent Ever In The History Of Parenting category by your darling child, which is exactly where every parent enforcing a boundary will find themselves at some point.

But secretly your kids crave boundaries. And one day, they’ll thank you for setting them. Okay, I said one day . . .

So those are five things I’ve never regretted doing as a parent.

An Unexpected Gift: Raising a Child With a Learning Disability

** The following article was copied from www.familylife.com.

As parents, we never want to see our children struggle in school or in life. When we send our children to school we have hopes and dreams for them that we don’t often verbalize. We want them to “fit in”, get good grades, behave, pay attention, have good friends, and enjoy school. Our expectations grow as our children pass through elementary, middle and high school. But what happens when your child begins to struggle academically, socially, or behaviorally at school or in the home?

Last November, our family went through the process of determining what was going on with our youngest son, Matthew. He began grade 2 with enthusiasm and energy, but that quickly faded as October rolled around and the work became more demanding. We began to notice that he had a tummy ache every morning and that he was complaining of headaches. His reading and math skills were not progressing. His teacher and I became concerned and we began talking regularly. Referrals for Learning Assistance and Speech and Language Assessments were sent out, but Matthew was not considered “low enough” to enter our school’s Learning Assistance program. Yet, Matthew continued to struggle in class.

The symptoms persisted: can’t follow directions, has a hard time focusing in class, works slowly, reads slowly, is easily distracted, and on and on. We knew something was wrong but we couldn’t put the pieces together. We had a giant jigsaw puzzle dumped on the floor with no box top to follow. We just didn’t know what we were looking at. How could we help him if we didn’t know what was wrong?

As a mom and dad, we were aching for Matthew. We felt helpless because we didn’t know where to start. Being trained as an elementary school teacher, I felt frustrated that we would have to go outside the school system to have Matthew assessed. What I was not prepared for was how God turned this whole situation into a beautiful gift.

At first, both Ken and I struggled with a million questions. Would Matthew succeed in school? What does all of this mean for his future? How can we help him? Did we do something to cause this problem? How is he going to feel? Why does it have to be Matthew that struggles? However, after extensive testing through an educational psychologist, a speech and language pathologist, and an audiologist, a wonderful picture of our son began to develop.

It was as if we were unwrapping an incredibly precious and rare gift. Each testing day brought new insights into how Matthew learns, how he takes in and processes information, and how his amazing brain is able to compensate for weaknesses in one area by developing other areas. Through much dialogue with the professionals involved and his teachers at school, we were able to bring to the school some concrete ideas that when implemented would make a world of difference for Matthew, and probably other children in the class. As a teacher, I have always looked for different ways to engage students in the learning process. I recognized that each child brings to the classroom differing learning styles, but through this process, I was blown away by the incredible detail God designs into each of our children.

Our children are a wonderful gift from the Lord, and it is in His infinite wisdom that he creates our children uniquely. I will never read Proverbs 22:6 the same way again. “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Every child can succeed if he/she is trained with their unique style in mind. They can succeed in school, in relationships, in their spiritual life and in their family life.

10 Ways to Support Your Child Who Is Struggling in School…

  1. Remember: God has specially chosen you as your child’s most important teacher.
    You are their first and most important advocate in the school system they are in. You are capable of communicating vital information with those who will teach and interact with your child. You know your child the best.
  2. Build a great relationship with your child.
    Take the time to talk to your child regularly about what is happening in school. When you have an open line of communication, concerns, struggles and stress can be identified early. When an area of concern becomes known, you have a natural forum to begin to process it with your child. A great relationship takes BOTH quality and quantity time.
  3. Become a student of your child.
    Take a front row seat in the life of your child and learn about their personality, their learning style, how they deal with stress, their strengths, and their preferences.
  4. Build good communication with your child’s teacher.
    Do not wait to bring concerns to the teacher. Early intervention into learning issues is to your child’s advantage. There are many amazing teachers in the system, who are more than willing to partner with you in helping your child succeed. Excellent communication between home and the school can alleviate a lot of your child’s stress.
  5. Listen to your instincts.
    If you feel your child is struggling, gently but firmly pursue assistance for your child. (Remember, honey catches more flies than vinegar.)
  6. Make sure your child understands and knows their strengths.
    You continue to help your child build confidence and the ability to take risks when they are encouraged and supported in something they are good at. Consider things like team or individual sports, music, art, etc.
  7. Build a network of people around you who can provide information, strategies, and support for you and your child.
    It is amazing the connections you will make once you start asking questions and talking about your concerns. Many professional services are covered by extended health plans.
  8. Pray, pray, and pray some more.
    Pray that God will give you the necessary insight and wisdom to help your child succeed. Believe me, some days prayer was the only way I could hold it together. Pray that God will bring the right people into your child’s life.
  9. Communicate regularly with your spouse.
    It is critical that you are both on the same page when it comes to your child’s development. You both need to know what is working, and what is not.
  10. Learn from your child.
    Learn to see life from their perspective. Matthew has taught us how to look at the simplest of things and to be able to admire the color, the shape, or an interesting detail.

There were so many blessings wrapped up in this unexpected gift that God gave us. The first was the recognition of Matthew as a unique individual. Through the reports we got, the individuals involved in testing and assisting Matthew, and his teachers, we were given specific and vital clues to tap into the way that Matthew learned and processed information. Now that we are using strategies that match Matthew’s strengths, he is flourishing. He has found new wings and is once again taking risks in learning and in social situations.

The second gift is that Matthew’s stress level has come way down. The first day he went back to school after the results of the testing came in, he did not want to go. He was worried, he was feeling stupid and he was frustrated. I explained that what was happening to him was not his fault – he was not dumb. I expressed to him his strengths and explained that there was part of his brain that needed to catch up to the rest of him. I told him that his teachers knew what the problem was and that they wanted to help him. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “Mom that’s perfect; I don’t have to worry any more.” (My eyes were not dry either.) He walked out the door and I have not heard another word about him wanting to miss school.

Lastly, God has brought so many people into our lives with whom we’ve been able to share our journey and suggest some good resources to. Matthew’s teachers have been absolutely amazing as well. I have called one of them Matthew’s personal angel for the past year. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God places people into the lives of our children at critical moments.

It has been a year of both challenge and blessing and I don’t believe our journey is over yet. We will keep unwrapping this precious gift that God has given to us. Some days it seems like Matthew has to work harder than any of our other children to accomplish normal school work, and other days his imagination and creativity just shine. I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for him in the future. I’m sure I will be amazed at how God is able to use all of this for His glory.

3 Easy Ways to Impact a Middle Schooler’s Identity and Faith

** The following article was copied from www.justaphase.com.

11, 12, 13. These are the awkward years. You remember right? Greasy hair, frizzy hair, don’t care. Weight gain and weight loss. You feel like an adult but everyone treats you like a kid.

Life for a middle schooler is rough. Forget trying to figure out who you are in Christ. Preteens are hanging onto the struggle bus for dear life.

Of course you now know that middle school drama, like everything else, won’t matter in a few short years. With the right approach you can help preteens focus on things that really count.

What is a Middle Schooler, Anyway?

The next time you take in an all-star performance from a middle schooler—complete with tears, of course—consider this: behind those emotions is a brain hard at work analyzing, processing and planning the next move.

What we’re talking about is a duality of sorts—the middle schooler you see and the middle schooler you don’t see.

The Middle Schooler You See 

    • He’s growing like a weed and eating all of your groceries.
    • She’s happy one moment and crying the next.
    • He’s embarrassed easily and often by you.
    • She knows everything.
    • He lies and argues more than ever before.
    • She wants to be with her friends. Always with her friends.

The Middle Schooler You Don’t See

    • He loves to learn and be challenged.
    • She wants to know if you care.
    • He needs to talk about his feelings, even when his face says otherwise.
    • She wrestles with decisions big and small.
    • He’s starting to view the world through the eyes of others.
    • She longs for non-parental adult influence.

When it comes to helping these complex creatures understand who they are in Christ, you have to remember the middle schooler you don’t see. The engineer inside needs to know that God can do anything. That He can overcome impossible odds to rebuild what is broken, bring stability, restore peace, resolve doubt, give hope, and redeem everyone—including themselves.

Read More: A Dynamic View of God: Helping Kids Connect with God at Every Phase

Impact Their Identity and Faith

Make some big assumptions.

You wanna shock a preteen? Treat him like he’s made in the image of God. Tell him he’s smart enough, strong enough and important enough to take on a new responsibility or make a big decision. Give him a chance to prove you right.

Because of how God created us, we all have the potential to lead, believe, imagine, love, care, relate, trust, reason and improve. When middle schools understand they are made in the image of God, they begin to look at the world and themselves in a whole new way.

Connect the dots.

Engineers use both physics and design to solve problems. A middle schooler’s brain works the same way. They’re looking at more than a decade of learning to try and find ways that everything fits together.

This is your chance to show them how the overarching narrative of scripture connects not only from Genesis to Revelation but to their very own life as well.

Read More about the Brain of Middler Schoolers: Important Mental Changes That Happen at Every Phase

Encourage questions.

The time has come for you to make a big decision. Will you be shocked by hard questions, touchy subjects and doubt? Or will you make room for the process that a middle schooler must go through?

Middle schoolers are smart. They may notice, for instance, that a loving and all-powerful God allows good people to die. They will wrestle with doctrine and faith and cultural norms. This is okay and normal.

You won’t always have the answers but you can affirm their journey. Help middle schoolers anchor themselves to what is constant by sharing stories about your faith and pointing them back to Jesus.

You know who they are in Christ—a child of God, alive, free and set apart—but, really, the goal is for each middle schooler to understand and embrace this truth for himself. Help middle schoolers reach this truth by making some big assumptions, connecting the dots and encouraging questions.

Children Need a Crisis of Faith

** The following article was copied from desiringgod.org.

My wife and I have five children. Our oldest two have exited childhood and are adventuring into the uncharted territory of their young adulthood. Our younger three are navigating the tricky waters of adolescence. As parents, we have the sacred, marvelous, daunting, and sometimes painful privilege of sharing in all these unique life-journeys.

As a rule, I am slow to offer parenting advice. We are still too much in the thick of it to be qualified experts. Most of the time we’re looking to receive, not dispense, counsel.

And one wonderful new source of counsel we’ve discovered is our (now) adult children. Their experiences of childhood and adolescence, and the good and not-so-good ways we parented them, are still fresh. But there’s sufficient distance for them to maturely reflect on their experiences and enough trust between us (thank you, God!) for them to share with us honestly. It’s precious and humbling when your child matures into your counselor.

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS FOR CHILDREN

Recently, my wife was sharing with one of our adult children some of the spiritual wrestlings and questions of their younger siblings. Our adult child replied, “That’s where it all begins.”

This was the wise reply of one whose wisdom was hard won. They spoke from experience, having endured difficult and sometimes dark seasons of profound spiritual struggles during their own adolescence. And they discovered in these seasons what nearly all saints discover sooner or later: the Light of the world shines brightest in the darkness — in our own darkness (John 1:5). Coming to really see, savor, treasure, and trust Jesus Christ almost always begins in a crisis.

And this has unnerving implications for Christian parents: if our children are going to see the Light, they very likely must endure darkness. Which means we will endure it with them, and experience a powerlessness over the outcome we find hard to bear.

As parents, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to protect our children from the forces of evil and sin in the world, which we should. And we try hard to point them to the gospel so they escape the horrible slavery of their own sin, which we should. We comfort, reassure, and counsel; we admonish, reprove, and rebuke, which we should.

But all the efforts we pour into protecting and teaching our children can make us susceptible to the deception, even if we know better, that if we do our job right, our children will sail from young childhood into adulthood on untroubled seas, arriving with a robust faith in Christ. We forget that this wasn’t even Christ’s own experience in “parenting” his disciples. It was on the troubled sea, not on tranquil waters, where the disciples began to grasp what faith really means (Luke 8:22–25).

Our children may have to ride on a violent sea, one we fear will swallow them, before they really learn to fear and trust Christ. As parents, then, we must prayerfully prepare for when those sea billows roll, because it will be a scary ride for us too.

FAITHFULLY PARENTING

While I’m reluctant to give parenting advice, my wife and I have ridden enough waves with our children to share some lessons, not as an expert on parenting through a child’s faith crisis, but as a fellow sojourner sharing from my experience — my own faith crises, as well as my children’s.

1. EXPECT YOUR CHILD TO EXPERIENCE A FAITH CRISIS.

Actually, do more than expect it; pray for it. By “faith crisis,” I don’t mean the loss of faith — a period of apostasy — though for some that may be what a crisis looks like. What I mean is whatever event(s) God knows is needed to call forth real faith in our child — a season or set of circumstances when they are faced with a crisis that forces them to exercise their own faith and experience for themselves that God exists and is the rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Praying for our child’s faith crisis sounds strange, I know. But if we want our child’s deepest joy, we will pray for the testing of their faith (James 1:2–4).

2. EXPECT YOUR CHILD’S CRISIS WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM YOURS.

God has taught you to walk by faith, and not by sight, in particular ways. But it’s likely that he will deal differently with your child. They may struggle in ways and over issues and questions you haven’t. The unfamiliar may seem frightening. But it’s not unfamiliar to God.

3. EXPECT TO FEEL SOMEWHAT HELPLESS.

There comes a point when God decides to use means quite apart from us to teach our children to trust him. He doesn’t typically inform us in advance when he begins. We just rather suddenly find ourselves on the periphery of our child’s struggles, not allowed the same access or influence we used to have (or thought we had). We’re unsure where this car is going, and it’s not in our power to steer it. We must resist panicking or the urge to try to seize the wheel, both of which only tend to make things worse. Such a moment often becomes a faith crisis for us too, where we must learn to trust God with our children in whole new ways.

4. SEEK TO BE A SAFE PLACE IN A CRISIS.

During one point of crisis, one of my children confided that they didn’t feel safe discussing with me certain theological questions they were wrestling through. Their dad was a ministry co-founder and bi-vocational pastor at our church. It felt like there was only one acceptable place to land.

Since then, I have tried to share with all my children more of my own faith journey, crises and all, that brought me to where I now am. And I’m seeking to be more explicit with my children that, while I hold my theological convictions sincerely, I do not expect them to uncritically adopt them from me, or necessarily arrive quickly in adolescence where it’s taken me years, and plenty of testing, to reach.

We can’t always control whether we are perceived as a safe place to our children, but as much as possible, we must seek to be a safe place for them to discuss hard questions and to be in process without judgment. It’s not easy for an invested parent. But we must strive to be (especially) quick to hear and slow to speak.

5. DO NOT MISTAKE A CHAPTER FOR THE STORY.

We must try to keep our child’s faith crisis in perspective — no matter how long. We are not God. We do not have foreknowledge. We must not assume we know how the story will end. Most biblical characters had life chapters that looked like their train was going off the rails at some point.

6. AIM FOR FAITHFULNESS.

We are not the authors of our children’s story. Neither are they. God is the Author. God does not call us to determine the outcome of our children’s faith. He calls us to “dwell in the land [of parenting] and befriend faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3). Our aim is to follow Jesus faithfully, speak what he gives us to say faithfully, and to love the children God gives us as well as we can, come what may.

7. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING.

Part of faithfulness is not to cease praying for our children to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3) and filled with the knowledge of God’s will with all spiritual wisdom and insight (Colossians 1:9).

8. TRUST GOD.

This is the beginning and the end of parenting our children, whether on stormy waves or still waters. We want our children to reach maturity in Christ. “For this [we] toil, struggling with all [God’s] energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Colossians 1:29). But we do not trust ultimately in our toil; we trust ultimately in God’s power. And when our children endure various crises of faith, we “wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS

So much more can and should be said. I’m very aware that our children’s faith crises, and what has precipitated them, and how long they last, are as varied as people and experiences vary. I know as parents these can be frightening moments because, for some, a crisis results in the rejection rather than the realization of faith. But even then, it’s not the end of the story.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the heart of faith, the one for whom God is the strength of their heart (Psalm 73:26). He is the author and perfecter of our faith — and our children’s faith (Hebrews 12:2). As the great cloud of biblical and historical witnesses remind us (Hebrews 12:1), often, when a crisis hits, that’s where it all begins.

Us Four and No More

The following article was copied from www.d6family.com.

My husband and I both work full time in ministry. We are the proud parents of two teenagers. Often, as a family, we are pulled in different directions. Sports, jobs, theatre practice, music lessons, church events, and so on. We get caught up in all we have to do; all of the people that need us. When we start to feel busy or overwhelmed as a family, one of us will say “OK, us four, no more.” That means it is time to hit pause and spend time together as a family—just the four of us and no one else.

You can improve the quality of your family time by doing things together as a family every chance you get. The activities can be big or small, planned or spontaneous. It’s just about spending time together. If you are looking for ideas to create quality family time, here are a few activities you can try with your family.

Have a family devotional
Game night
Build a snowman
Pack a picnic
Go on a family bike ride
Fly a kite
Make a bird feeder
Watch old home movies
Hang out around the fire-pit
Read a book together
Pull out sleeping bags and have an indoor campout
Roast marshmallows in your fireplace and make s’mores
Throw ball in the back yard
Have a Nerf battle
Go ice skating
Shoot some hoops
Have a dance party
Pitch a tent in your back yard
Make a fort in your living room
Draw a family portrait
Paint a picture to hang in your home
Play hide and seek
Make homemade ice cream
Have an outdoor movie night
Go to Goodwill and pick out an outfit for each other to wear
Make play dough creations
Go on a hike
Play four square
Do a puzzle
Try Geocaching
Make a time capsule
Watch the sunset
Have a craft night
Look at family photo albums together
Make your own pizza night
Go swimming
Have a lip sync battle
Write letters to each other
Plant a garden
Make a meal for someone who is sick
Play charades
Play Frisbee together
Create sidewalk chalk masterpieces
Go stargazing
Make a craft from Pinterest together
Go bowling

Remember, these family time activities do not have to be complicated. Your children just want to spend time with you and make fun memories as a family.

How to Invite Others to Invest in the Lives of Your Kids

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

“Mom, did you know that one time Ms. Sandra had a real live moose in her house?”

 “Hey mom, Miss Amy and Mr. Adam told me we are going to make snow globes when they come over next! Real snow globes!”  

“Mom, isn’t it so funny when Miss Jenilee always shouts ‘Holla!’ when she is excited? What does that even mean?”

These are some of the conversations I have with my children about their friendships with adults outside of our family. They are fun little stories and tid-bits that reflect real relationship and investment into their lives.

We are one of the few families in our area that is blessed to have extended family living nearby. It is a rarity in Washington DC where most people are transplants. Our kids have aunties and uncles and teenage cousins that treat them like royalty and slip them candy whenever we aren’t looking. But we also have this rich community of non-family members that have made connections with our kids. My husband and I often comment at the depth of our gratitude for the adults that have taken an interest in our kids. It is a great source of encouragement, as a parent, to have other people come to know and love our children and speak life into them. We value the investment and look for opportunities to cultivate it.

We have Mr. Adam and Ms. Amy, a sweet married couple excited to start a family of their own. In the meantime, they pour all sorts of love onto our kids, taking them on adventures to the zoo and the park and out to pizza. We had Ms. Sandra who moved to DC on temporary assignment with her husband and was missing her grandkids so badly that she adopted ours as her own. Many of the Bible stories that our kids know come from the skits she created with them or the pop-up art projects they did together. The younger staff and volunteers that we work with at our church ask our kids to jump in and serve alongside them on Sundays, invite themselves over to play Legos or Barbies, and show up at their school performances. They are like big sisters and brothers, and their biggest fans.

A couple of years ago, we hosted Chap Clark, co-author of the book Sticky Faith, to speak to parents at our church. As a long-time researcher of youth and family ministry, Chap shared that for years, youth ministers have used the 5:1 ratio as a goal in youth ministry—one adult for every five kids. But, he proposed, what if we flipped that and aimed to have five adults for every one child? He explained that 40-50% of church-going young people are stepping away from their faith because they haven’t had the opportunity to see an authentic faith lived out in the life of adults they trust and admire.

So, Chap encouraged parents to invite adults with shared values to invest in the lives of their kids. I am often asked by other parents how to do this. Parents are eager to encourage these relationships but don’t know how to begin. Here are my best recommendations for how to get started.

Make an invitation already! Just start somewhere! Invite a college student to dinner. Share with that grandma from church that your daughter has been wanting to learn to sew, and ask if she might come over and teach her a few things. When you plan your son’s birthday party, ask a couple of teens or singles if they would come and help run games. Ask a newly married couple to take your kids to the movies, offering to cover the cost of tickets. Just start somewhere and see what happens!

Recognize it is not luck. My husband and I often hear that we are “lucky” to have these folks in our lives. We would never disregard that all of our rich relationships are a gift. But we were purposeful in allowing these friends to have space in our lives. It takes effort and intentionality to invite others into the life of your family. Make a plan and take intentional steps to help your kids make a connection.

Say yes when others take a step to engage. You might not realize it, but you may have passed up opportunities for relationship without intending to. When someone offers to babysit so you can get a night out, don’t hesitate to take them up on the offer.  If someone expresses an interest in something that interests your child, consider that a clue to an area in which they could connect. Remember that some people might have an interest in connecting with your family and might be dropping hints because they don’t know where to begin either.

Embrace the awkward. Yes, it will feel a bit funny at first. You are likely at different life stages than this person you are inviting in, so hunt a little for ways to connect. I sometimes feel lame inviting a young person over for movie night because surely they have better things to do on a Friday night. It can also be awkward or embarrassing to allow someone into your home and see the dirty dishes and the laundry piling up. Commit to pushing through the awkward stage to get to the fruit of real relationship.

Realize that relationship is a two way street. Parents have this bad habit of feeling sheepish if anyone extends help in our parenting journey. But, remember, you have something to share too. Family life offers a great comfort to someone who is single or an empty nester. Invite someone to share in your home-cooked meal. Be available to lend a listening ear about a job change or hurdles in a young marriage. Remember that you have something to give as well.

Be an investor yourself. Just because you are a parent yourself does not mean you are off the hook to be an influencer in the life of young people outside of your family. I attend plenty of musicals and sporting events to be a “super fan” for some young people in my life. Though it can feel like my hands are full with my own kids, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to make a connection with a young person who might share my interest in playing water sports, making silly videos, or decorating cookies.

Taking steps to invite healthy influencers into the lives of your children will ensure support and investment you trust. You will give them an opportunity to see an authentic faith lived out in the lives of someone they admire. And, as a bonus, you will show your kids that you believe they are worth knowing.

Building a Healthy Family System Seminar – Managing Conflict and Anger

“Great evening!  Thanks to everyone. Pat Nolan was knowledgable and approachable; we left with “at least one thing” (and so much more).  Mr. Sasser was helpful and fun.  Attendees were honest and open. Snacks were perfect.  Great night!  Much appreciated!”

 

On Sunday, April 8th Pat Nolan encouraged a group of parents in the area of managing conflict and anger in your home.  Below are several resources on this topic.

Seminar Notes – Building a Healthy Family System ~ on Anger

Audio of the Seminar

Parent Network Podcast Episode 11 with Pat Nolan – follow up to the seminar

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

5 Simple Ways to Help Teens Cope with Anxiety

** The following article was copied form www.theparentcue.org.

Spring can be a tough time in the world of a teenager. Yes, the flowers are blooming, the trees are getting greener and the air is filled with the sweet scent of spring flowers. But many high schoolers are experiencing the stress of finals, sitting for AP exams, taking or re-taking the SAT or ACT, navigating the college application process, and of course, preparing for prom. And if those tasks aren’t already anxiety provoking, let’s not underestimate the power of peer approval. School has become somewhat of a social minefield for teens, and acceptance from their peers is imperative.

And those are just a fraction of the stuff that concern teens this time of year.

Rising academic standards, increased competition for colleges, extracurricular activities, and bourgeoning romantic interests are all aspects of being a teen that can lead to feelings of failure and rejection… which can then open the doorway for anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal and unavoidable part of life, especially when experiencing something new or transitioning to a new stage in life. For teens, anxiety can show up in a number of ways: shortness of breath, picking of skin, feeling overwhelmed, or feelings of sudden panic are just a few. Anxiety can even show up in one’s thinking patterns such as in “what-if” thoughts about being judged or criticized, and persistent worries about the future.

The way you acknowledge and respond to a teen showing signs of anxiety is critical in helping them to foster a sense of competence. What can parents do to help teens manage high anxiety periods? Here are five simple strategies to consider:

1. SPENDING QUALITY TIME.

Adolescence is often characterized as a stage of waning parental influence as children begin to slowly distance themselves from the values of their parents. While there is truth to that theory, it does not tell the full story. Years of experience in education and mental health has taught me that while parent-teen relationships are not always peaceful, they can be pivotal. Teenagers need their parents and other loving adults to guide them as they develop and mature. There are studies that even suggest that teenagers need more quality time from parents than toddlers! Open communication and support can buffer some of the turbulence of adolescence. Making yourself available physically and emotionally—even when you feel pushed away—during stressful periods outweighs any previous conflicts. Impromptu conversations during family meals and while driving to the soccer field really matter. Over time, both parents and teens will balance the need for independence and closeness.

2. ENCOURAGING A TECH BREAK.

Due to the pervasiveness of technology in our society, teens—and adults—find it difficult to unplug. A student recently shared her experience with a one week “Social Media Detox” challenge posed by her English teacher. While the thought of giving up Instagram and Snapchat was initially terrifying, she observed how immensely freeing it eventually became. Most teens are connected to technology each day and more so for social reasons rather than academic ones. The challenge for parents is that it is nearly impossible to limit access to most forms of technology, and you may not even desire to. However, guidance and supervision is still important, even in the teen years. Focus on moderation rather than prevention. Participating in a self-imposed break can help to reduce the feelings of pressure in an already overwhelmed teen. For those reluctant to detox completely, offer up a compromise of deleting saved bookmarks from their internet browser, or turning off email notifications on their smart phones . . . at least for a weekend.

3. SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCES.

Adolescence is a time for identity formation. With the increasing pressures of academic achievement and fixations around appearance, it is no wonder that teen anxiety is on the rise. Despite mounting pressures, one comforting fact is that teens respond favorably to, and learn from anyone to whom they feel a personal connection. One parenting tip that I frequently offer is to reflect about a time when you faced a similar challenge as your teen is facing or experienced debilitating anxiety. Aim for a 10-15-minute conversation with your teen while in the car or when taking the dog for a walk. Before doing so, ask yourself the following: What did you wish your parents had done to help you? What would you have wanted to hear? What did they do that you valued and respected? Respond to your teen with empathy and share how you successfully managed the issue. Or, how maybe you weren’t so successful initially. Then allow your teen to explore his or her own thoughts and feelings related to what you’ve shared.

4. OFFERING PERSPECTIVES.

Journeying from childhood to adulthood is difficult. In just a few short years, teens go through a significant number of physical and emotional changes. Also, decisions such as where to apply to college or who to ask out for prom may seem exciting to onlookers but may trigger feelings of dread for a teenager. The reality of independence can be terrifying. Teens often feel the pressure to be all things to all people. Remind your teen that who they are is much more important than their SAT score or who they date. Encourage your teen to view their worries about their future as a normal and natural part of growing up. Parents can take concrete steps to help their teen better understand their unique experiences through journaling, reading short stories, and watching films that celebrate the adolescent journey. Yes, some choices about the future need to be made now, but it is okay to not know everything and to continue to explore. Offering perspective and repeatedly reminding your teen that they are fully accepted just for who they are, goes a long way towards enhancing self-esteem and decreasing anxiety.

5. GETTING PHYSICAL.

Teens need both challenge and involvement. The teens that I work with often describe anxiety as “. . . wanting to jump out of my skin.” Anxiety can be both mentally and physically draining. Teens are often short on energy because of too little physical activity. Balancing the pressure of a rigorous academic load with aerobic activity can alleviate stress and anxiety which can be stored in the body. Even if your teen isn’t particularly athletic, help him or her to find ways to slow down, have more fun, and seek a more balanced lifestyle. Bowling, skating, or simply reading a good book are great ways to decompress. Engaging in fun and relaxing activities such as art, dance, and music can elicit positive emotions and social bonding.

The emotional, mental, and physiological symptoms of anxiety can be very frightening and confusing for teens. The good news? Anxiety is very common and quite treatable. And, yes, it can also be overwhelming. If your teen is struggling, it may be helpful to speak with a family physician, school counselor, or a licensed therapist. Finding the right strategies for your teen, along with a healthy dose of patience and compassion can work wonders.