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Parenting, Recent Articles, RP App

Teaching your kid to appreciate broccoli

or, Cooking up a recipe for contentment

*****

One of the most common complaints I hear from other parents is how they have been unable to get their children to eat certain types of food. As you will no doubt guess, I am not talking here about burgers, or candy, or other items packed with sugar or fat. Somehow the problem most of us seem to have with those sorts of foods is getting our children to understand the idea of moderation.

But when it comes to green things that have come out of the ground, or things off a tree or bush that contain Vitamin C, somehow many of us struggle.

I have watched more than one parent giving up. The battles took their toll and the child won. And so they have a whole list of things that they “can’t” give to their children: They won’t touch broccoli, they can’t eat parsnips. They won’t touch carrots, they can’t eat peas. They’ll eat potatoes, but only as long as they are roasted or fried. If they’re boiled or mashed, you can forget it.

Our kids eat everything

So this is going to sound like boasting, or that we just happened to have been blessed with a bunch of abnormal children – it really is neither – but in my six-child household, every child eats everything we put in front of them. Okay, that’s not strictly the case. There are one or two foods maximum that they really, really don’t like, and we accept this.

However, whilst we accept that there may be the odd food item that they really, really struggle with, this is a far cry from tolerating the kind of food whining that leads to a great long list of don’ts and can’ts.

As I say, I hope that doesn’t come across as boasting. It’s not that we haven’t gone through the same battles that most parents seem to go through – it’s just that we were determined to win those battles, rather than pandering to the whims of a two-year-old who will gladly eat another chocolate pudding, but won’t touch their tomatoes.

More important than we might believe

I believe that this battle is a far more important one than we might be tempted to think. It is not simply a case of physical health, though that is important. Nor is it just a case of establishing parental authority, though that is crucial too. Even more important than that, the meal table in our formative years is very much a training ground for how we will end up coping with the things that providence will throw at us over the course of our life. Why is that so?

The Scriptural route to contentment is to cultivate thankfulness, and so in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul says that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Even more pertinent to this discussion, the Scriptural route to contentment around the table is to give thanks for the food that is set before us: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Which would exclude fussing!

The key to getting our children to eat without fuss is to therefore to instill thankfulness in them. However, this might well seem to be somewhat of a paradox. If they won’t eat, how can they be thankful? And if they’re not thankful, how then can they eat without fuss?

The Scriptures get it backward; so should we

The Scriptures are often quite counter-intuitive on issues where we are exhorted to do something that we don’t really want to do. Take the end of Psalm 31, for instance, where we read this: “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.” That sounds counter-intuitive because it seems to be the wrong way around. Surely if we’re lacking courage, we need God to strengthen our heart first. But no. It actually says that if we want our heart to be strengthened, we first need to be of good courage.

A similar pattern is found in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Again, it sounds to us a little upside down. Surely our treasure follows our heart. Well maybe it does, but in this passage what Jesus is emphasizing is that where we put our money, our effort and our resources, there our hearts will be.

In other words, if we want to be strong in heart, we are exhorted to be courageous. If we want to have more of a heart for, say, the overseas missionary work our church supports, the best thing we can do is to contribute more money to it, which will have the effect of engaging our hearts.

The same principle is true of thankfulness. If we don’t feel like being particularly thankful, the biblical antidote is to be thankful. And the more we strive to be thankful in the little things, the more we will find it easy to be thankful for all things. This is the secret of contentment.

It starts with thankfulness

Which brings us back to the fussy food issue. Children often have a natural disposition to fuss, whine and complain about food. What happens if we indulge that? We are not only teaching them that they can have a list of foods they don’t have to eat, but far more importantly we are teaching them to be unthankful and discontented. Or to put that another way, we are teaching them that “everything created by God is not good, and many things are to be rejected and not received with thanksgiving.”

But if we strive to instill thankfulness in them, even for the things they say they don’t like, they will be far more likely to imbibe a spirit of thankfulness, which in turn will make them far more likely to eat what is put in front of them.

If we indulge their discontentment, do we suppose that this spirit will stop at food? Unlikely. I have no empirical evidence for this, no great studies that I can turn to make an explicit case for cause and effect, but I do know that I live in a generation that is far less contented and thankful than previous generations. It is a generation that fights for its perceived rights, and is often unable to accept when it doesn’t get those “rights,” or when it doesn’t get stuff now.

Our grandparents survived

Where was this learned? I think a lot of it was learned around the meal table, and by that I don’t just mean whether or not a child actually gets to eat around the table with their parents – though that is of course a crucial factor. No, I’m talking about intact families, but families where everybody is eating something different, because the fussiness has been indulged and there is a long list of stuff that won’t be touched.

A few decades ago, this wouldn’t even have been an issue, since there was far less choice of food and most people could only dream of being able to afford the kind of stuff we have now. The family would eat the same food because that’s all there was. Today, we have so much more at our disposal and children are usually very much aware of that. How do we tackle it?

A mistake I have seen many make is to assume that when children say they don’t like this or they can’t eat that, that they really don’t like this or they really can’t eat that. More often than not, this is a trick and what they really mean, although they won’t express it this way is, “This isn’t on my list of 10 favorite foods, and so I’m not going to touch it.” I’ve listened to more than one parent who has fallen for that tactic, and who has sounded like an ambassador for their child and their fussiness by reeling off a long list of food their children apparently just cannot have. I’m sorry, I don’t believe it. If there were any truth in it, children decades ago who had no alternative choices given to them would have starved. But they didn’t.

Conclusion

None of that is to imply that this is easy. In my house it has, at times, been extremely difficult. In fact, it still is. However, I believe that the rewards for persevering and for insisting that your child eats the same food as the rest of the family are huge. The ordeal of seeing that two-year-old resist eating that green stuff can be extremely trying. However, it is nothing compared to the joy of seeing them finally come to terms with the fact that they are going to have to eat it, but even more than that, then seeing them slowly coming to like it. In fact, this is the best way to train your child for a life of thankfulness and contentment that I can think of.

Parenting, Recent Articles, RP App, Soup and Buns

“Mom, where’s my toothbrush?” 9 packing tips for before and during the trip

The well-circulated belief that "moms are supposed to know where everything is at every given moment" was humorously illustrated for me two years ago when we attended our son’s out of state wedding. Another son, who was a groomsman, was lodging for two nights beforehand at a separate location from us and yet he still called me on the morning of the wedding to ask if I knew the whereabouts of his dress pants! On a trip, a few organizational plans can keep Mom from going crazy from hearing constant requests for favorite t-shirts, swim suits or Sunday shoes. It’s also a good way for the rest of the family to learn responsibility. The following ideas will make the “suitcase living” a little easier. 1. Pack a “motel bag”: If there is a stopover on the way to your destination, pack a “motel bag” to significantly reduce the amount that gets carried in and out. Include a change of clothes and pajamas for each person, and toiletries. 2. Plan your vehicle-packing strategy: Take your empty suitcases out to the vehicle a day or two beforehand and determine the best way to fit them all inside.  Some families find that plastic bins or pillow cases or trash bags fit better than suitcases. Remember to make the “motel bag” the easiest to reach. A rooftop luggage pod or trailer might ease the crowding of the “stuff” also. 3. Give your husband his own suitcase: He will be out of his usual element too, and having his own space will make it easier for him to find his razor without having to dig through the baby’s onesies or your extra shoes. The goal is for no one to have to ask Mom questions.  (You won’t ever reach it, but you’ll get closer.) 4. Number your suitcases: Use masking tape or adhesive labels to number them, for easier recognition and accountability.  Even a four-year-old will be able to remember who uses which one.  When Mom needs something out of a suitcase, she can easily direct someone to #5 instead of “the small blue one…no, no, the small blue one.” 5. Give everyone 3 and up a list of what to pack and let them pack it… but be sure to inspect: Determine the general list:  five shirts, two hoodies, 2 pairs of jeans, 6 pairs of underwear, etc. Our 12 year old daughter Julie gladly made a pictorial list for her 3-year-old sister; Amy was thrilled to be able to pack her own suitcase and confidently mark off each item as she found it. Make photocopies of the lists to save for next time. Of course, you must inspect, because there’s always one who still completely forgets his underwear or his toothbrush. But their work saves you a lot of steps, teaches them how to do it, and puts all their pre-trip excitement to good use! Actually it’s a good time to buy new toothbrushes for everyone; that way you can pack them up and not have to wait until morning to finish packing all the suitcases – they can use their old one before they leave in the morning. 6. Write it down, don’t try to remember it all: While packing, if you are missing an item or two or three from someone’s case, write it down and tape it to the suitcase so that you don’t have to try to keep all those details inside your brain. And when you go to bed, put a pad of paper and a pen on the floor or nightstand next to you so that when you think of something that wasn’t packed you can write it down instead of jumping up to go and retrieve it “before you forget.” 7. Use ziplock bags for daily sets of clothing: When the kids are young, place a shirt, shorts, socks, and underwear in a gallon size ziplock bag and write “Amy – Monday” on it, etc.  This is especially helpful for Sunday clothes which might be kept in a separate suitcase.  Dad can just hand out the packets and everyone can dress.  8. All packed: Once a suitcase is declared “All packed,” close it up and stand it in line in a designated place, and make a rule that no one except you is allowed to open it again. They are numbered, so everyone will know when they are all there. I always like to pack them all into the car the night before, and let the children place their bookbags in the first seat they will sit in.  We lay out the clothes for the next day. Some families who are leaving in the middle of the night just have everyone sleep in their travel clothes. In the morning, we just use our old toothbrushes and share a comb or two, pack up the food and water and hit the road. 9. Packing to head home: To pack for driving home, you may need your “motel bag” as before. You should also appoint a suitcase or two to be only for “dirty clothes” and combine the clean clothes into other suitcases, taking note of the numbers on them. Now #1 and #2 can be left in the laundry room, #4 taken to the girls’ room, and so forth. This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue....

Human Rights, Parenting, Politics

How mom and dad can fight Big Brother

Governments in BC, Alberta and elsewhere have shown they want to use government schools to teach children that their gender is something they can choose. But gender isn’t a choice, and to teach impressionable children otherwise is to mislead them. Still, despite many parental objections, governments continue to move forward with these plans. It's important we understand, then, that this isn’t the first time a government has tried to override parental rights in education. Politicians and bureaucrats in various jurisdictions seem to be regularly devising new ways to thwart the freedom of parents to direct the education of their children. These government have the backing of intellectuals who produce academic materials arguing that parental rights in education need to be severely curtailed or even abolished. These intellectuals aim to persuade lawyers and judges that parental rights are unnecessary and no longer need to be recognized in law. Thankfully, not all intellectuals think that way. In recent years, a law professor named Stephen Gilles at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut has written a number of scholarly articles defending parental rights in education over against statist arguments. “Statist” here refers to the belief in the supremacy of the government – the State – over individual and family freedom. Arguments and counter arguments One of Professor Gilles’ most famous scholarly articles is entitled “Hey, Christians, Leave Your Kids Alone!” which was published in the Spring 1999 issue of Constitutional Commentary, an American law journal. In it he took on the Statist arguments of another law professor, James Dwyer, that Dwyer proposed in his Religious Schools v. Children's Rights. ATTACK #1: Parents harm their children What Dwyer argued was that religious education is harmful and damaging to children and therefore the government needs to protect children from the harm their parents will impose on them through a religious education. In short, Dwyer sees parental rights as an obstacle that must be eliminated to ensure the wellbeing of children. This differs only in degree, but not in kind, with what provincial governments have sought to do via their school systems. In BC the school curriculum was rewritten to promote homosexuality and parents were limited as to whether they could opt their children out of these classes. In Alberta and Manitoba the government wants to use the schools to promote transgenderism, over against our objections. And in Quebec the government wants schools to teach the equal validity of many religions, which is the very opposite of what we as parents want to teach our children. Our secular governments thinks they knows best. ANSWER: No, Parents know their children best But if our governments think like Dwyer, we have a friend in Professor Gilles. He completely rejects Dwyer’s statist perspective and demonstrates that following Dwyer’s proposals would, in fact, be positively harmful to children. Why? Because parents have a much better grasp of what their children need than government officials, so transferring decision-making power to those government officials would undermine the children’s well-being. ATTACK #2: Government knows best Dwyer’s statist thinking gives us a glimpse of where our government may be heading in the future. Dwyer provides a theoretical foundation for the use of government coercion against conservative Christians, an idea that is popular among some left-wing intellectuals. As Gilles explains, …many law professors see religious traditionalists – especially Christian Fundamentalists – as extremists whose beliefs and practices are irrational, without value, and positively dangerous to themselves and others. The dispositions these opinions induce are not limited to preventing religious traditionalists from gaining government power; they also include using government power to counter and undermine religious traditionalism as a movement. ANSWER: Parents know best In contrast Gilles wants to promote what he calls “parentalism,” which maximizes parental rights. This view has not just the Bible but history behind it. In the past, in the Anglo-American countries (of which Canada is one), it has always been assumed that parents act in the best interests of their children. Gilles calls this the “parentalist presumption” which he summarizes as follows: the state may not override a parental decision unless it overcomes the presumption and demonstrates that the parents' choice is in fact harmful to the child. ATTACK #3: Some parents are lousy Naturally, then, the next question is to determine what constitutes “harm” such that the parentalist presumption can be overcome. Gilles answers this way: If parents starve or brutalize their child, or prevent the child from acquiring foundational skills such as reading, writing, and calculating, there is consensus that they are doing harm, and state intervention is entirely appropriate. From time to time there are instances where the government may legitimately need to take action to protect children. While God calls on parents to care for their children, He also gives the State the power to administer justice, so when parents neglect their children the State does have the jurisdiction to step in. Most people would agree that children who are being starved, or tortured, or deliberately prevented from acquiring literacy and numeracy skills by their parents would need help. However, outside of these extremely rare occurrences families should be left alone by the government. ANSWER: The government always makes a lousy parent Now, parents are imperfect. We all fail to one degree or another. That leaves an opening for opponents of parental rights to point to these instances of parental failure and use them to justify increased government control over children. But Gilles points out that this line of reasoning is faulty: The relevant question is not whether robust parental rights are perfect when measured by the yardstick of children's best interests, but whether they are superior to alternative regimes that give the state more control over children's upbringing. To this question, the longstanding answer of our legal tradition has been that state authority over childrearing is more to be feared than comparable authority in the hands of parents. Parents make mistakes…but they are far better than a “government as parent” alternative. Of course, that’s the very point that Dwyer, and others of his ilk, will dispute. He argues that the government is much better suited to determine what is best for children. Therefore the government, rather than parents, should have ultimate control over education. So what answer does Gilles give? The flaw in this approach is its blithe assumption that state agencies, and above all courts, will expertly and disinterestedly pursue the best interests of children. A moment's reflection will show that courts are neither as well-placed as parents to discern the child's best interests nor as interested in ensuring that the child's welfare is in fact advanced. Unlike parents, judges will never have the time or the day-to-day contact necessary to acquire an intimate understanding of the procession of children who would come before them. Nor will they have to live with the many-faceted ramifications of their childrearing decisions. God has crafted a wonderful way to raise children that the government simply won’t be able to improve on. Parents have much more at stake in the well-being of their children than any employee of the government. Parents know their children much better and will have to endure the consequences of any bad decisions they make. In other words, the incentive for parents to watch out for the best interests of their children is infinitely higher than any social worker, teacher, or judge. That’s why it is absurd to suggest that these public employees are better at determining the best interests of the children. Nevertheless, theorists like Dwyer write as though teachers and judges are best suited to determine what’s good for children. Really? Gilles will have none of it: I find it naive to describe the run of state employees in such idealistic terms, let alone to believe that they will more often be better judges of a child's best interests than that child's parents. State agency personnel may spend years thinking about what is best for children – but parents spend decades doing what they think is best for their own children, and living with the consequences. Parents are far more likely to get it right, even if they have fewer course-credits in child development or education theory. Because children are young and immature, they need to be under the authority of adults. People like Dwyer who claim to be promoting children’s rights are not suggesting that the children be allowed to determine their own best interests. They just want the determination of best interest to be done by government employees rather than parents. Gilles notes that this is an issue of who has authority in the lives of children: Thus, the question is not whether our childrearing regime will entail other-determining governance of children by adults; it is which adults will enjoy the freedom to engage in this other-determining behavior. That’s how we need to present the issue: which adult will do the job best. When the government treads on parental toes we need to ask, “Are you trying to say that you think a government employee working 9-5 is a better parent for my child than me?” ATTACK #4: We should have a broad understanding of harm Historically, Anglo-American nations have recognized parental rights, with the only limits on these rights involving the rare instances where parents harm the children. So if the State can only act when a child is being harmed, we can predict what statists will do – they’ll want to greatly expand what we view as harm. So, for example, Dwyer hates conservative Christianity and what it stands for. Thus he argues that teaching children certain Christian doctrines is harmful. What are these harmful doctrines? Dwyer believes that teaching children that sex is only for married couples harms those children because it restricts their freedom. He also believes teaching girls that women have different roles than men is harmful. So he wants the government to prevent parents from teaching conservative Christian tenets to their children…to protect the children from “harm.” ANSWER: Labeling anything the government disagrees with as harmful is arbitrary As Christians we need to highlight the sheer arbitrariness of Dwyer’s definition of harm. We need to highlight that he is simply defining as harmful that with which he disagrees. In fact, Dwyer’s proposal has clear totalitarian implications, as Gilles points out: If the government can forbid parents and teachers to communicate any message it decides (based on value-laden and highly debatable criteria) is “harmful to children,” then the government can control the transmission of ideas to future generations. Conclusion Prof. Gilles has shown us what to watch out for, and how to present well-reasoned argumentation for defending parental rights in education. Since parents have such powerful incentives to promote their children’s best interests, it is clear that they should have virtually unhindered authority over their children. Government employees and institutions never have as much at stake in the well-being of children as the children’s parents. A tiny number of parents occasionally abusing their authority do not undermine this fact. To think that government employees will make better decisions about children than parents is naïve at best. And to use an anti-Christian ideological concept of harm to determine what children should be taught, clearly leads to a totalitarian government. Parentalism, as Prof. Gilles calls it, is much more reasonable and consistent with freedom than the statist perspective of the left-wing intellectuals. A version of this article was first published in the March 2016 issue under the title "Government knows best? Stephen Gills shows us how to defend parental rights"...

Internet, Parenting, RP App

Parents, you are your child's best protection from online horrors

“You cannot raise your children as your parents raised you, because your parents raised you for a world that no longer exists.” – Author unknown ••••• I was born in 1988, and my generation straddled a lot of things. As kids we listened to cassette tapes and videos were on VHS – a video camera was roughly the size of an over-the-shoulder Hollywood contraption. The pace of technological change was so swift everything seemed to go defunct in just a few years, from the Walkman to the Discman to the iPod in a blink, while Blockbuster went big and bust in just a few years, with corner stores and gas stations investing in videos and then DVDs just in time to see their investments become obsolete as the digital world swallowed everything. And at the backs of many of the scuzzier corner stores were little rooms usually covered by ratty curtains where furtive people would duck to pick their pornos, from big-bellied greasy truckers who didn’t care who saw them to sneakier folks with a worried eye out for parents, spouses or neighbors. An aura of shame and moral grossness hung about the whole thing, and those heading back there seemed to know it. But besides that, everything seemed largely contained, and it was. Our parents could let us head outdoors without worrying too much. Some kids got their hands on porn magazines and hid them; many got caught; but the digital deluge had not yet begun, and it was easier to assume that children could roam free without risking their innocence. Then, in 2006, came the iPhone. Everything changed. Instant access to the pits of hell Suddenly, pornography became next to impossible to contain. A generation of Christian kids grew up looking at porn on devices that their parents had not had as children, and had not considered a source of risk. Parents didn’t know their kids’ phones or iPads or most any other device could connect to some shop’s free Wi-Fi, allowing them to scour the Internet’s filthy caverns. Curiosity, temptation, mistake – it didn’t (and doesn’t) take much to get hooked, and pornography swept the culture and the churches like a tsunami. In 2016, on the sites owned by a single porn company, the number of hours of pornography watched, once tallied up, amounted 524,641 years – or roughly twelve porn videos for every man, woman, and child on planet earth. I’ve been speaking on pornography in Reformed communities and elsewhere for over ten years, and I can confirm – and I’m sure you’ll agree – that the consequences have been catastrophic. Our children now grow up entirely surrounded by devices that act as portals to the demonic. I could tell scores of stories about children from Reformed homes who got addicted to porn simply by clicking a pop-up that flashed across the screen while playing an innocent game. This isn't how we grew up The digitization of our society has resulted in a world actively hostile to the innocence of children, and there is no simple solution – no book, filter, conference, or course that will protect them. As Dawn Hawkins of the National Center on Combatting Sexual Exploitation has said, we can no longer trust that our children will not see pornography – even with our best efforts. We must prepare their minds for when, inevitably in this culture, they do see it. That means that only cultivating powerful personal relationships with our kids will do. The uncomfortable truth is that parenting in the digital age is different than parenting in previous generations. The fundamentals remain the same, as do our vows at baptism. But never in recorded human history have children had such widespread access to the most depraved sexual fantasies the human imagination can produce – never. I often hear people dismiss or downplay the dangers of the digital age by noting that there is nothing new under the sun. This is true insofar as sexual sin has been existed since the Fall. But it is not true that any previous generation has been so thoroughly poisoned and so many lives destroyed, with the average age a child is first exposed to hardcore porn dropping year over year (it now sits around age 8 or 9). It is true that porn has always existed, but the things kids are exposed to now are nothing like the crass etchings on the walls of Pompeii, and it is a false comfort to suggest that they are. Children today have access to things their parents couldn’t purchase and their grandparents couldn’t imagine. Our children do. Not so long ago, parents could send their kids outdoors to play without worrying about what devices the neighborhood kids might have and what they might show their friends at the park (I’ve heard plenty of stories of kids getting exposed to porn the first time this way). Although the culture has long since stopped inculcating Christian values – when my mom went to public school, they still opened the day with the Lord’s Prayer – it was not yet hostile, and it was not yet permeated with pornography the way it is now. With comparatively little effort, the innocence of children could be protected. Today’s mainstream entertainment is packed with blasphemy and filth. Children’s entertainment features LGBT content as a matter of course. Within the span of a single lifetime, TV shows have gone from Leave it to Beaver to having a post-sex change transgender beaver on Blue’s Clues with chest scars from her double-mastectomy – and this is a show for children. The world our parents raised us in is dead and gone. It is important to recognize this. Let me put it as bluntly as I can. The forces of evil have broken loose, and they are no longer contained to video rental stores, or corner store magazine racks, or even computer screens. It is in your house, on all of your devices, including the one you carry everywhere in your pocket. The Devil is up close and personal now, so close you can feel his breath. He wants to destroy our marriages, our families, and our communities – and his digital dragnets are doing a horrifyingly magnificent job. Who will be there for your child? There is no easy fix to this problem. Parents in the digital age must face the fact that the only way to protect our children is for us to spend an enormous amount of time with them. Not just quality time – quantity time. Parents must ensure that their influence counterbalances the many influences that will be fighting for their children’s time. The gravitational pull of parent-child relationship must be stronger than the gravitational pull of Pornhub, secular entertainment, and the temptations clamoring for their attention. In the digital age – also sometimes referred to as the information age – we have a choice: the Internet-driven culture will shape our children, or we will. As prevention fails, parents' presence is crucial Over the past ten years speaking on pornography and related cultural issues in Reformed communities, I have seen porn use among the young go from a problem to the norm. The same is true for sexting. The views of many of our children on LGBT issues are also shifting radically as they are exposed to LGBT social media and YouTube influencers with millions of young fans. As the Internet opens up countless new worlds for the young, old certainties that were once taken for granted are up for grabs, and our children will be exposed to every imaginable poison. It will not be enough to merely attempt prevention (and if we do, it is likely to fail.) We will have to commit ourselves to being present in a way that few other generations needed to. This will mean prioritizing family interests over business interests. It may mean making less money in order to spend more time with the kids. It will certainly mean carving out large amounts of time when you are simply available to talk to your kids about all of these issues, and to begin these conversations. Be assured, the culture is starting these conversations with missionary zeal, and they are winning converts. In response, we will need to equip ourselves to talk to our children about all of these issues – and form relationships with them that will give us the space to have these conversations. In many, if not most cases, it will be a difficult task. We will shape our children, or the culture will. Jonathon Van Maren blogs at TheBridgehead.ca....

Parenting, RP App

8 tips for traveling with the family

My favorite travel anecdote came from Reader’s Digest years ago. An older woman felt overwhelmed while packing to go to Florida with her husband.  She said, “George, I can either pack to go, or I can go but I can’t do both.” Since then, many times my husband has heard me shout out, “George?........” and known what I meant. Family travel can be a big challenge. The worst family trip I ever took involved three non-walking, whining one-year olds, a three-year old who accidentally barfed and pee-d on the other driver, a broken heater and three flat tires. After 600 miles, I really dreaded the trip back home. But from experience comes wisdom and innovation, so as the years rolled by, we discovered ways to make the long traveling hours easier to handle. God has given us creative minds that spark with wonderful innovations, after which we wonder, “now why didn’t I think of that sooner?” Then, just as I am doing now, we share them with others who might benefit. There are so many ways to help your family prepare for a long trip, that the instances of unpleasantness can be greatly diminished, and the firm hand only needed on occasion. Even traveling with one-year olds can be somewhat improved, though they will never understand why they have to sit still all the time. So here are 8 ideas that will help during the travel time. 1. Beforehand, talk through the trip with your kids A day or two before you go, talk about what the ride will be like: “We’re going to be in the car alllll day. Breakfast, lunchtime, nap time, and dinner time, and we’re even going to watch the sun go down!”  Talk about how they might feel and what they will encounter, and joke about what they might be tempted to do.  Emphasize the importance of getting along when in close quarters. Talk about safety hazards like screaming children, or not heeding the call to “Silence!” when driving directions are being discussed or you’re facing the border guard. Talk about watching for traffic and not getting lost at rest stops. Knowledge enables children to know what to expect and it gives you information to refer back to when necessary.  Pray together beforehand and on the road, thanking God, and asking Him for safety, wisdom and strength. 2. Study your directions/maps ahead of time Nothing brings up anger or harsh words between mom and dad like arguing over directions. Plan ahead – this is valuable even in an age of GPS, to think through where you want to stop, and what breaks you might want to take (are there any sights to see, or maybe a nice park to take a break in, a nice restaurant to stop for dinner?). And if there are mistakes, be forgiving and “go with the flow.” It is helpful to have maps of the area in case you end up in the middle of nowhere with NO signal! Maps are also helpful to get a real "feel" for how places are connected which you cannot see well on a tiny screen. And they are great for enhancing the kids' geographical knowledge, which you cannot quite do on a tiny screen. Remember that children hate listening to their parents argue; if it’s necessary to “clear the air,” perhaps it can be done away from the children. 3. Make everything as special and comfortable as possible. Choose books, toys, food and games that are unique so that the novelty will enthuse them. Our family visited a used bookstore a few weeks before each trip.  Each child chose about six 50 cent books and then, to their chagrin, I packed them all away until it was time to leave! A three-year-old will enjoy a Magna Doodle, and can manage an audiobook with headphones. Played over your car stereo, audiobooks from the library are a wonderful way for the whole family, even the driver, to pass the time. Each child can have a zippered bookbag with a coloring book and colored pencils (or markers if you trust your kids!). Add two small toys with no little pieces (one for each hand,) and a favorite stuffed friend. Some like electronic games, or maybe your car has a DVD player: be sure to choose games and films that are new to them, that keep their attention. If they aren't on screens normally, this can be a special treat. Find some word or singing games to teach them. Be sure to play the silly ones that they suggest and enjoy. We once sang “Hey, ho, nobody home” for 20 minutes straight just to see if we could do it. Bring small pillows for everyone, and make sure whoever is always cold has a hoodie or blanket to put over her. Carry a roll of paper towel and some plastic bags for “whatever.” 4. A parent sitting in the back can be helpful I turned around so often while seated in the front seat that I began to wonder whether I should wear my shoulder harness across my front or my back side. Having Mom or Dad sit in a middle or back seat can actually alleviate a lot of problems, especially with the little ones who need the physical assurance of extra kisses or holding someone’s hand.  Playing games also becomes easier and more fun for the kids because Mom or Dad is involved. It’s also easier to pass around the food to everyone and collect up all of the trash. You might rotate seats at every stop, because whoever gets a turn in the front seat will feel very special. 5. Have rules and plans Yes, it’s hard to sit in a car all day, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. We still have to love one another, and put others first.  The loss of privilege that comes from arguing or disobeying might include not being allowed to speak for a set amount of time. Take charge of a simple, flexible daily plan. “Let’s sing for awhile.” “Now we’re going to listen to Prince Caspian for about an hour.” “We’re stopping at a rest stop in five minutes – everyone put away your toys and books now and get your shoes on.” “After lunch it’s naptime or quiet reading.” Don’t forget to read God’s Word after each meal and pray.  You have plenty of time for discussion or related Bible games: why not make use of it? After two summers of driving eight or so teenagers from Philadelphia to Ontario for a "Campfire! Summer Bible Camp" I learned that everyone got rowdy late at night after the last rest stop because there were less than two hours left on the trip. The third summer I made a rule: "No talking at all after the last rest stop – you may sleep, read with the ceiling light, or listen to a walkman.” I also outlawed 32 oz. Cokes for the entire trip after some people began needing more frequent relief. 6. Eat in the vehicle as you drive When you stop, you need to stretch and run and hug and throw a frisbee, and look at the flowers and license plates around you, not sit and eat.  Eating is fun, and doing it while riding passes the time very nicely.  I learned the hard way that it’s also not a good idea to eat at the rest stop and then let the kids run and roll down hills right afterwards.  Enter the need for paper towels.  No wonder my “mean old mother” never let us do that. For meals, you might bake or have Mom go into a grocery store bakery to buy fresh muffins for a special breakfast. For lunch and dinner, pack favorite sandwiches and baggies of chips or fruit or cookies – a different kind for each meal. Freezing them the night before eliminates the need for a big cooler.  On the other hand, the lid from a hard plastic cooler makes a great lap table for spreading fresh peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hand around. Think about it:  instead of using up more of your valuable pre-trip time making sandwiches, you could use your “nothing else to do anyway” hours stacking meat and cheese and tomato slices on buns. 7. Eight reasons to drink only water (except if the driver needs caffeine)       Water rules over juice, kool-aid, tea, and soda, and they’ll drink it if they’re thirsty. They get plenty of taste variety from their meals. Water is cheaper, healthier, not sticky, stain-free, non-caffeinated, and non-sweetened.  It doesn’t speed through your system as fast as other drinks, and it can be used to wash faces, hands and seats. Each person’s bottle can be refilled at the next rest stop or from a bigger container near the parent’s seat. 8. The fantastic trip comes to an end My children finally convinced me that if we arrive home late at night, it is best to go to bed and empty the car the next day when everyone is rested and happier. The suitcases will wait patiently. The end of the trip is already a letdown for the children, so, while they do need to help with the gargantuan task of putting everything away, it’s also good to consider their fatigue level and emotions. Have a nice breakfast, divide up the tasks, and tackle the pile. But maybe you arrive home during the daylight hours, or maybe the car has to be emptied for Dad to go to work the next morning. It still might be best to give everyone a short break to “be happy to see their home,” perhaps coupled with a snack and a hug and a “de-briefing” session. Later, you might put together a family newsletter with each one writing (or dictating) what happened at the cave, at Grandpa’s, or in the ocean. This helps save the memories for years to come, and it’s a nice gift for any relatives and friends you visited along the way. Traveling together can form close bonds with shared memories.  When parents plan ahead, the possibility for frustration is lessened and a good example is set....

Parenting

Is Cleanliness next to Godliness?

My goal is to have every room of my house neat and clean at the same time. But I do not believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” although it is one of its outworkings. When John Wesley mentioned that famous line in his sermon, he was encouraging people to remember to bathe and to wash their clothing before they came to worship the Lord on Sundays. Well, that’s a standard I can easily maintain. I think women are constantly looking for balance in our housekeeping. As Shirley Conran notes in her book Superwoman: “Housework expands to however much time you have to do it, plus fifteen minutes.” And I have often quipped, “All of life is maintenance.” Indeed, it often seems that if we’re not maintaining clothing, houses, children, ourselves, our garden, or our car, we are maintaining our school, our church or our relationships. Much is done with joy, and some is done from duty, but at times it comes from embarrassment or false guilt. That's why I have a sign in my kitchen that states: “A house should be clean enough to be healthy, and messy enough to be happy.” But who decides what is “enough?” No extra time One would think that with all of our time-saving devices, that a homemaker’s job would be much easier than it used to be… and to some extent it is. But some historians have suggested that vacuum cleaners and washing machines did not diminish our “time spent” on household chores. Rather, the standards of cleanliness increased so that frequency replaced difficulty in these chores. For example, instead of carrying a rug outside to beat it twice a year, and living with a bit of dirt in-between, one could just vacuum it. Since vacuuming was so much easier, it was possible to keep the rug looking perfect all the time by simply vacuuming every single day! Instead of washing once a week, the washer made it easy and possible to do more loads more often. Soon the idea of wearing a garment more than a day or two became loathsome. Instead of having a standard of “fairly clean,” we moved up to a standard of “perfection” wherein any deviation from the best became cause for embarrassment. Cleanliness is important, of course. Keeping the level of germs down in one’s bathroom and kitchen can generally lead to better health. But we need to be careful that we don’t get caught up in the cycle of pride, embarrassment and frenzy that causes homemakers to worry constantly about what others are going to think about our level of housekeeping. For most women, receiving visitors is “report card time.” There is a tendency to fear failure, sometimes accompanied by anger at those who mess up “our” household. It’s as though someone scribbled on our research paper on the day that it was due. There is also a tendency to become so occupied with one’s household maintenance that more important things in life get by-passed. I read about some missionaries who took their usual habits of cleanliness to Africa when they served there. The local Christians were appalled at the amount of time these westerners spent caring for their material possessions – why, it seemed that they treated them like idols! The missionaries were always washing their belongings and their vehicles, and it was quite a concern to the church members. They were concerned that all of this caretaking might eat into the many hours that should be spent in fellowship, in Bible study, and in visiting the sick and reaching out to others with the gospel. What about Mary and Martha, anyway? Maybe the Apostle Paul’s words “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6) apply to over-maintenance as well! Balance On the one hand I think we need to cut each other a break and not judge anyone else’s housekeeping. After all, we’re not visiting the house, we’re visiting the people. And we need to cut ourselves a break by realizing that, as Conran says, “The real purpose of maintaining a home is to provide a pleasant environment for living – so live!” And here’s where the balance comes in. A house isn’t supposed to look like a magazine ad, but it would be best if everyone didn’t trip over piles of stuff. You need never apologize for a project-related mess that you or your children are in the midst of creating, but keeping materials orderly in between projects will prevent wasted time and frustration from searching for them later. Good stewardship includes taking care of our possessions. But either extreme can result in our being weighed down by our material possessions and being less useful to God’s kingdom. If possessions become a weight, either way, that hold us back from the activities that God is most pleased with, then it is worth reconsidering how much time we spend on our “maintenance” and why. As we ponder what is “enough,” we might analyze how much of our cleanliness is godliness....

Parenting

Fading to black: alternatives to screen-time

An upcoming issue of the magazine will feature 200 movie recommendations, and were anyone to watch even a fraction of these films, that'd be an awful lot of screen time. So, in the name of balance, let's make a plug for taking a screen sabbatical, going without our smartphone, TV, and computer for a day, a week, or even a month. We’re not talking about the time you have to spend on your laptop for work, or when you're using your phone to talk to your dear old mom. What we're talking about here is Tik Tok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter time. Could you go without all that, for a week? It’d be difficult, but could you go screen-free? And If it’d be really difficult, might that be a sign that you should make the attempt? After all, we want to own our phone; we don’t want it to own us. Of course, going screen-free for a whole week (or a month, or a day) isn't about simply stopping the scrolling. Stopping will just leave you bored and antsy - you can't replace something with just doing nothing! No, if you're going to succeed then you’ll need to find other activities to fill the time. To that end, here’s a list of 25 alternatives to consider: grab a good book organize a ____ tournament (ping pong, horseshoes, croquet, etc.) listen to a podcast, audiobook, or the car radio go for coffee with a friend read through the Bible in month play a card or board game share a favorite book with your children find a hobby (car repair, woodworking, fishing, etc.) go for a walk and talk, chatting up all the neighbors you meet hold a _____ tasting party (wine, cheese, foreign cuisine, etc.) shoot hoops with your kids actually clean the garage phone your mom (it doesn’t count as screen time, even if you Skype her) knock off some of those home repairs have your kids help you with home repairs (even if takes twice as long) hit Costco as a family join a Bible study get an old-fashioned newspaper subscription take a night class hold a games night with neighbors serve a meal at a Rescue Mission go biking or rollerblading or bowling plant a garden hike up the nearest mountain organize a painting party (painting the fence, etc.) for a widow ...

Parenting, Soup and Buns

10 games you can play with your toddler without having to roll off the sofa

A young relative has two toddlers, and our conversation reminded me of some useful strategies from those wonderful and exhausting days. While I don’t miss the days when several of my children were sick simultaneously, or those hours when they all whined or argued, I do miss those young years: their voices giving daily news bulletins that showed me who they were and who they were becoming, and all of the singing, learning, and playing together. Some negative people see only the duties of parenting. That’s like a Fortune 500 company president focusing only on flooding toilets in the washroom, or employee theft. But as the saying goes, “nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else.” You can enjoy being in the thick of it now, even if the work is challenging and tiring! The first strategy is that days always went best when I guided, loosely at least, the order of the activities for the day. Mom or Dad assessed the needs and the desires of the children, and then decided when it was playtime, rest time, or lunchtime. A second strategy was born from fatigue and creativity. I found that with enthusiasm I could engage the little ones in activities that could be done while I was physically resting and they were getting exercise. Here's my top 10 list: Fetch. Seriously! While lying on the sofa, you can throw a ball for a toddler to retrieve. They love it, and you get to be prone. Rollies. Similar to fetch, except that you take whichever toys will roll (stacking rings, for instance) and you roll them as far as you can, and the kids chase them and bring them back. I used to do this in the church nursery and it kept them occupied for a good twenty minutes. Coloring. Children like to have you color with them. Get a coffee table that’s the height of the sofa, and pull it over next to the sofa. While you lie there, color together, commenting on what you are doing. It’s a great time to listen. You can even color with your odd hand if you need to turn over onto your other side– the kids don’t care or even notice. Reading, and lessons. Let them bring over their favorite books. I taught all of my kids to read (starting at age 4) using Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolf Flesch; all it takes is the book, attention, and some paper and pencils. It doesn’t matter what position your body is in while you read or teach them! Blocks or Duplos. Build towers and teach them to build houses on the coffee table. Practice boundaries by letting them use opposite ends of the table to build. They love your attention to their designs and details. Safety scissors, magazines, catalogs, and tape = books. Staple together 3 or 4 pieces of construction paper and then, on the coffee table, let them cut pictures and tape them in to make a book. Have them dictate what to say, and write it down exactly. All together at the end you can pick up the debris. “Don’t let the balloon hit the floor!” Best played when there are at least 2-3 kids to run and jump after it. You can use one hand and one foot as you lie there. Sing. Sing songs that they know. Teach them silly songs from your youth. Listen and sing along to kids’ CD’s (our favorite was Rosenshontz!) Encourage them to dance and jump to the music, or have a stuffed animal parade. They get exercise, and you’re laying on the sofa, waving your arms. Write letters to grandparents, or church members. Be the secretary and ask them what to say (with a little prompting.) Let them make up a story, and read back each paragraph as they finish it. If you use a pencil and paper on a clipboard or book, you can write while laying on your back. After your rest you can walk to the mailbox together. Watch a video together. I’m not for plugging kids in very often, but it is another activity you can do while lying down on the sofa. Plan it, saying, “after lunch cleanup we’ll watch a video together;” then get comfy and enjoying their responses, teaching them tidbits: “God made those butterflies, didn’t He?” Toddlers desire your loving attention. You can give them a full dose of it and rest yourself by trying these ideas in your home. This first appeared in the October 2011 issue under the title “Parent rests while toddlers play: film at 11”...

Parenting

Gel-Pen faith

Not too long ago a young woman was over at my house for some reason that I cannot remember. Now on a typical day at my house you would find dishes in the sink, junk on the floor, a baby unloading a drawer, laundry on the stairs, and about 410 things on my to-do list. Children are always coloring, wielding scissors, and gluing things on the window when I’m not looking. Hopefully, you would also find me running around in the midst of it, because long experience has taught me that giving up on it won’t get results. I don’t remember what exactly was going on when she came by, but at some point she commented that she was the sort of person who liked things to be really orderly. It wasn’t a criticism and it wasn’t offensive, although it did make me laugh. Because, hello, me too. When the choice is to laugh or cry The thing is, when I look over my past I feel that God has written it on the wall here, there, and everywhere that He doesn’t care about that. That part of my personality that used to seem like a positive attribute is something that God didn’t treasure. He has asked me to put that on the altar. When push comes to shove and it is either the house or the kids, God chooses the kids, and He tells me to. When it is the laundry all done or the kids all loved, it had better be the kids. When it is mom as an uptight dictator about the shoe placement or the mom who is laughing at the huge spill in the kitchen, I know which one God wants me to be.  He wants me to be joyful, hard-working, full of gratitude, laughter, and above all He wants me to have spit-spot closets. Wait. Does He? All but that last bit. Of course God is honored when I am combining joy with closet organizing. Laughter with clean floors. Gratitude with getting all the dishes done. But you know what? If something has got to go at our house, it better not be my attitude. Because that is the one thing that God actually told me to keep track of. Obedience in weakness As I look back at my life I can see that almost every time that there was something that I felt good at, or capable of, or confident in, God would give me a wonderful opportunity to lay it down. There is a way of looking at it that says, “God just keeps not letting me be happy! He just makes the conditions perfect for me to be miserable! He knew that I need a certain amount of alone time every day and He keeps not giving it to me!” But this is the way that I see it. Those things that I consider part of my personality – loving to decorate, loving to cook, wanting things to be beautiful and organized and perfectly crafty and satisfying. I believe in these things. But I believe in them as things that I can use to honor my Creator. Back in the days when I wasn’t being challenged, these things came naturally, and I believed in them because I could cobble together reasons that they were good. But they primarily came from my own strength. I could be that way without really any pushback. So God brought the pushback. He made it take more than the capacity I think I have to do these things. He said to me, “I know you like it, and you think you believe it. Now I’d like to see you do it without yourself.” God isn’t interested in my strength. He is interested in my obedience in weakness. Do you hear that? God said enough with my hobbies and my preferences. Lets see about her obedience and her faith. When we believe something, we can sign our cute little names on the dotted line. Children are a blessing? Check! You should be full of joy? Check! You should honor your husband and love your children? Check! Enjoy all the days of your life? Check! Watch me go with my cute little gel pen in my journal! So then God gives us those children. And now we believe something that He has told us, but we are not dancing around ready to sign our names on it anymore. Why not? Well, because we feel like fussing about the laundry. Because it is messing us up to believe this, because now our faith about this is not abstract. So we feel broken. Like the things that we believe aren’t coordinating with our emotions anymore. Like we can’t find ourselves. Like the old us with the journal and the gel pen had a much better grasp of motherhood than this weird lady we have suddenly become.  Why so much brokenness? Doesn’t God love us? God does give us more than we can handle God has brought me through this time and again. It is like He holds up my little statement of faith from my youth and says, “cute.” But He doesn’t want me to sign my name on it.  He wants me to put myself on the altar. Enough with this chit chat. God wants to see action. Take that belief, and live it. Not when you have all the emotional strength to do that, but when you don’t. Do it when it must be all His strength. Do it because you believe, not because you feel. Do it in faith. This has been happening to me long enough now that I can see His hand in it. I can see the tremendous mercy that it was for me (the wedding coordinator for other people) to be the sick bride. I remember standing at the window in my parent’s room looking out at all our wedding guests arriving. I didn’t want my dress on because it would make me throw up again. And as I saw them all coming, I could also see that God was giving me a chance to walk in joy down that aisle. I knew I believed that the wedding was just about the vows, and about honoring them for the rest of my life. That all the rest was just superficial. God didn’t want me walking down the aisle in superficial joy. He didn’t want me to be buoyed up by the fun, and the dress, and the flowers. He wanted me to take His joy and walk with it. And if that was all I had, it would be enough. This is a pattern. I felt capable of being a mother, back before I was. God gave me more to handle than I could possibly handle on my own strength. I felt capable of keeping house. I’m sorry. I don’t know if I can stop laughing about that. Anything that I felt capable of doing, God will both make it seem impossible and simultaneously ask me to do it. And there I am – in the sweetest place you can ever be – relying on Him. Walking in faith. Living in joy. Seek his joy This broken feeling is only broken if it stays there. If it stops in self-pity. If it wallows in grief about the lost emotions of our journaling days. But this is richer. When we seek His joy instead of our own, when we lay our best on His altar, and we have nothing left for ourselves, that is when we are truly accomplishing His purpose in our lives. We are not broken. We are being healed. We are not alone. We are in His hands. We are not overwhelmed. We have a champion. We are not stupid. We are being made wise. We are not weak. For He is not weak. We are not hopeless.  For we are His. This article was reprinted, with permission from Femina Girls. Rachel Jankovic is also the author of "Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches" and "Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem and the Joys of Motherhood"...

Parenting

21 things I learned living with teenagers

We're almost running out of teenagers in our family. Our eldest of six is well past the mid-twenty mark, and our youngest is less than a year away from getting his driver's license. And then time will really speed by. By the time our last hits twenty, Peter and I will have been parents of teens for twenty-six years. Well, not surprisingly you do learn a thing or two in such an extended period of time. Here are some important life lessons we've learned as parents of teens.  On curfews and cars A mother's imagination is a terrible thing. If your kids are a half-hour late, you imagine them in all sorts of trouble. This feeling becomes almost a certainty if you happen to hear police and ambulance sirens in the distance. Fathers can sleep through anything. "What's the point of staying awake? If something's happened, we'll find out soon enough." You can fold a lot of laundry while you're waiting for your sons to come home. And then when everything is stacked and put away, you can start on the ironing. Getting all this work accomplished will prevent you from blowing your stack when they walk in the door an hour and half late....maybe. You should never throw apples in anger. You might hit someone...or you might not. Late, late one night, having completed all the waiting-for-son-to-come-home-chores, a mother—whom I happen to know rather well—decided she might as well pick the apples off the ground in the back yard, since making applesauce was on the agenda the next day. By the light of the moon, she trudged to the back of the yard and began gathering the fruit. Shortly thereafter, her tardy son drove in. He slowed carefully to a stop on the noisy gravel, opened his door, slid out, silently closed the door and tiptoed toward the back door, humming softly under his breath. An apple whizzed past his head. Splat! It hit the shed door. So did the next one. Wisely, the son said nothing and calmly though hurriedly continued in and went to bed. So did mother. If you and your husband come home late one night, and you start to fret and fume because your son isn't home yet, don't drive around town looking for him and don’t start phoning his friends to find out where he is. Check his bed first. He may have come home early and be sleeping peacefully. Life is less stressful if your son's girlfriend has to be home by 11:00 p.m. When you're driving with a son who has his learner's license, it does not help to push your right foot through the floorboards on your side of the vehicle. The car will not slow down. If the phone rings at midnight it might be your son informing you that he's had an accident with your recently purchased car that you reluctantly let him use. Remember to first ask him whether anyone's been hurt and if he's all right, before you ask if there's any damage to your car. At some point, you will learn to love the sound of your son's car's stereo. I have discovered this to be true when I hear it half a block away, fifteen minutes before curfew. On food Your teens and their friends will instinctively find and consume all the food items you were saving for your Sunday evening visitors. You will begin to hide these special food items in the master bedroom, something you told your own Mom you'd never, ever do. If you want to prevent your teens from eating the special dip you made for tomorrow night's party, stick it in a wrinkled brown lunch bag at the back of the fridge. No one is interested in old lunches. Homebaked cookies last a long time if you put them in the freezer in an ice-cream bucket marked "Soup Stock." They'll last even longer if you mark the pail, "Liver." If your son or daughter phones a half-hour before Sunday supper and asks, "Can I bring my friends along?" say, "Yes, of course." Just add four cups of hot water and a package of chicken noodle soup to the pot and defrost another dozen buns. If they show up without having phoned, the same instructions apply. On housework, homework and bedtime You can tell a teen has cleaned her bedroom by the number of her clothing items you find in the laundry hamper. If they're still folded, you can probably get away with just putting them back into her bedroom. Sometimes all you need to do is fluff up those only-worn-once-for-one-hour-jeans in the dryer with a sheet of Fleecy or Bounce for ten minutes, then fold them and put them away. Teens don't like being told what to do. They prefer to make up their own mind about things. So ask them, "What would you rather do today? Dust and vacuum or clean the bathrooms?" Teens are just as hard to get to bed at night, as they are to get up in the morning. The ideal life for them would start at noon and go till midnight or two. The trouble is, no schools can find teachers who want to be up that late. The most reticent teen becomes the world's greatest talker, one hour after Dad and Mom had planned to be sleeping. Teens who cannot stick to homework for more than thirty minutes without needing three snacks, can play video games for three hours without even a bathroom break. Interest in school projects increases greatly the night before they're due. There is never any glue in the house at 11:00 p.m. the night before a project is due. Someone has also stolen all the scissors. And worst of all, the printer is out of ink. But the most comforting thing I've learned…. You can never pray too much for your teens. So, just when you think you've got it all together, the next one becomes a teen, and the roller-coaster ride starts up once more. But remember, take time to listen with your heart, not just your ears. Keep smiling and give lots of hugs. Before you know it, your grandchildren will be teenagers and you can stand on the sidelines smiling encouragingly, remembering with a sigh what it was like. This article first appeared in the June 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective....

Articles, Book Reviews, Parenting

Why you should keep reading to your kids

Parents read to their pre-school kids on a pretty regular basis – it’s a great way to snuggle up for some one-on-one time with mom or dad. But once school starts, and especially after Grade One, those times reading together begin to peter out. It might be because your little one isn’t asking you as often, or maybe it’s because you’ve stopped suggesting it. After all, why would you keep on reading together when Junior is ready and rarin’ to read on his own? Well, before you close the book on that part of your life, here are a few reasons why you’ll want to keep on reading with your kids for as long as you can. 1. It’ll keep them interested in reading A First Grader is going to be excited to read about how “Ike and Mike both got a bike.” But it won’t be long before they start noticing there’s something missing here. Ike and Mike are fine fellows, but there’s no real tension, no suspense, no conflict to overcome in their story. So if all your child gets to hear are Cat in the Hat and books like that – only the stories that he’s able to read on his own – it’ll be no wonder if he gets bored with books. There’s no payoff: the reading takes lots of effort, and the reward is a downright boring story. But if mom is still snuggling up with them on the couch to tackle In Grandma’s Attic, or dad is sharing his favorite Piet Prins book at night, then your young reader can still grow in his love for great stories, even as he might be a few years from tackling these bigger books on his own. We parents can whet their appetite for the future, by feeding our kids great books now. One reason to keep reading to your children even after Grade One is to show them what there is to look forward to. 2. It’s a way to shape their tastes Just as many kids prefer candy to vegetables, their literary tastes would gravitate to empty calories like Captain Underpants and Magic Kittens if it were only up to them. You can impact what they read by going on library runs with (or without) them, or by developing a decent home library. But even when you’re picking out the selections, you’re likely to find them heading straight to whichever of those books are the most candy-like. So another way you can help them develop a taste for more substantial, meatier fare is by reading it to them yourself. We’ve been doing a bedtime story for almost ten years now, and while we’ve read lots of their requests – I don’t know how many times I’ve tackled Elephant & Piggy, Fancy Nancy, and the Little Critter series – we’ve also fed them the Chronicles of Narnia, Winnie the Pooh, and The Big Goose and the Little White Duck, none of which they would have picked up on their own. I’ve done most of the bedtime reading, but my wife will read when I have meetings, or have to catch up on some work in the evenings. That has allowed both of us to share our own favorites. So my wife likes Little House on the Prairie and I like great Christian fantasy like Jonathan Rogers’ The Wilderking Trilogy, and between the two of us, we now have girls who like both. 3. It’s a time to connect Reading together is about more than just words on paper; it’s a time to connect, maybe cuddle side by side on the couch, and just spend time together. That’s one reason why many a kid will keep asking, “Can you read this mom?” even after they can tackle a book on their own. I sometimes find life is just too busy, with many evenings filled with work. But because we’ve made a commitment to always end our day with story time, that means that, at the very least, I have this time to talk with my girls. We end the days with prayers, and then a story. With the story comes questions (not too many, but there’s always time for a good one), and that’s when I get the best measure of how my girls are doing. My wife is with them more than I am, so she can get the measure of things other ways too. But for me, this nightly ritual is a time for me to not only read, but hear, and help. 4. It’s a way to learn from other’s lives Our kids can learn from us, and whereas we’d like them to learn from our example, we can also pass along the hard-won lessons we’ve learned from our own mistakes. But their lessons don’t need to stop with just us – they can learn from fictional lives too. They will need some parental guidance to get the benefit, otherwise our elementary-age kids could miss the point of a story entirely, or even learn the wrong lesson. That’s because some of them are reading too fast to really chew on anything, but when dad is reading and they are forced to slow down to his speed, they really start hearing the story. Other kids might miss the lesson because they didn’t understand parts. It’s only when mom is reading, and they have her there to ask their questions, that they can figure out what’s going on. We can also help them understand by asking our own questions. Something as simple as The Three Little Pigs can be fodder for a great discussion if parents ask their kids to pause and consider: “What do you think this story is trying to tell us?” We can even “riff” off of what’s on the page, asking questions that might not even have clear answers in the story like: “Do you think it was just luck that Pig 3 got the strongest building material? Or was he looking for something like that?” When parents read, that makes it possible to go beyond picture books and on to bigger books and their deeper lessons. One example is Sigmund Brouwer’s Innocent Heroes, about the many animals that helped the Allied soldiers in World War I. Each chapter “stars” a different animal, but the deeper story is about the Canadian soldiers that cared for them. When the group's one native soldier returns home to his reserve we learn that Canadian natives at this time weren’t allowed to leave the reserve without getting approval from the local Indian agent. So my girls were angry that this returning soldier was getting treated as a second-class citizen, even after fighting for his country. That was a great opportunity for me to talk not simply about racism, but also about governmental paternalism, and ways to (and ways not to) stick up for your friends. I don’t know when I would have discussed these topics with my girls if not for us all reading this rich book together. Of course, not every book has to lead to a long discussion (especially if you’re reading to them for bedtime and actually need them to go to sleep). Kids will benefit from and be inspired by the determination and Christian faith of a Robinson Crusoe. In Grandma’s Attic offers all sorts of lessons, but the biggest is simply that some older people, like grandmas, are wise, so it’s smart to listen to them. The lessons learned don’t have to be complicated to be good. Sometimes I vary how deep we’re going to go by how tuckered I might be feeling. If I were reading Anne DeVries’ fantastic Journey Through the Night series about the Dutch Resistance in World War II, I might limit my commentary to highlighting that this was ordinary people doing these extraordinary things. I’d want my girls to understand that their courageous example is the type of courage God calls all his people to, in the face of evil. But on another night, maybe when I’m sufficiently caffeinated and if one of my girls wants to know, I might talk about how the Dutch Resistance is an example of what godly civil disobedience looks like. It doesn’t matter whether any particular discussions are big or long or on important topics; if you keep reading to your kids, then over the years you’ll have lots of these discussions and with that volume will come opportunities to address the important topics you might not get to any other way. 5. It’s a way to foster discernment There’s a moral to every story, and a lot of the time what’s being pitched at our kids is something we wouldn’t want them to swallow whole. So another reason to keep reading with your kids is to help them learn to discern what messages and morals they are encountering. Sometimes the moral is simply silly: I was reading an abridged version of King Arthur to my girls and after the teenage Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone, the chapter concludes that, just like Arthur, if we want something strongly enough, then we’ll be able to get what we want. This is the moral of our age: that believing makes it so. But in addition to being nonsense, this moral also ran in direct opposition to the events of the chapter, in which dozens of dukes, earls, and other nobles had tugged at the sword with all of their might – they had all strongly wanted to be king. Yet despite their passion and desire none of them had been able to pull it loose. The girls didn’t spot the contradiction at first, but they sure appreciated the irony afterward: believing does not make it so. Other times even the tamest, most G-rated of stories can still teach a moral that runs right up against what parents are trying to teach. A couple of weeks ago my wife was reading a book about talking kittens – kittens! – with our youngest, and one of the cats asked the little girl in the story to promise to keep a secret from her mom. That was quite the request, but the kitten had a very good reason: if anyone found out that she was a talking kitten she would be in danger! So, on the one hand, our daughters have all been told that if anyone ever wants them to keep a secret from their parents then they should go straight to us and tell us the secret, since only bad guys would make such a request. But on the other hand, this kitten was clearly not a bad guy. So our soft-hearted little girl decided that in this case it would be good to keep the secret from the mother. That was not what we were hoping she would say. But because my wife was reading along, this became an opportunity to reiterate what we’d want her to do, and explain it more clearly. What would have been the wrong lesson learned if our daughter had been reading this alone, turned into another teaching opportunity because mother and daughter were reading it together. I’m currently reading a series with my oldest daughter that is also as G-rated as you could ever expect a secular series to be: the tiniest bit of flirtation, and minimal violence. But to deal with guilt, the creatures in this story would methodically suppress and deny it, lest it drive them crazy. This is a book for teens, and my oldest isn’t yet, so I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t spot that this response to guilt was problematic. And because I was reading right along with her, it just became another opportunity for a good discussion. It’ll be when she can spot these elements herself and bring them to my attention that I’ll know I can start backing off and not being so protective. But until then, it's just more fodder for a good discussion. To spur on some of those discussions the most common question I ask is, “Who or what is the ‘god’ in this story?” What is the story presenting as the ultimate good, or the ideal we should pursue? It’s quite the question for kids to answer, and it’s very interesting to see how perceptive they can sometimes be. 6. It’s fun for the whole family Reading together is just fun. Whether it’s at bedtime, or on a road trip, the family that reads together ends up having great books as a common experience, and a shared vocabulary. Now, I’ll admit that on nights when I’m just barely chugging along, the idea of reading a bedtime story doesn’t always excite me. But even that can have its amusements: I’ve discovered that I can actually read out loud, in my sleep (is that my superpower?). My daughters say that sometimes I’m barely understandable, but I do keep reading. The unfortunate thing is, when I resume the next day, I’m a chapter behind everyone else. When I’m awake, it’s something I absolutely love. Your kids, especially if you start reading to them early, are going to be a very good audience. They’ll be up for your bad pirate accent, and your even worse grandmotherly voice. And you can try it all with them, even if you’d never do so in public. Reading together is also fun because a good book, read with the whole family, is a shared experience and it becomes part of a shared vocabulary. So if we’d recently been reading Winnie the Pooh, and a child is down but not sick, we might talk about how they are feeling like “Eeyore” right now. Or if we’d recently read Pollyanna we might try to apply her “glad game” (finding the silver lining to every ill). The logistics That’s the why for reading to your kids as long as you can, but what about the logistics? What’s the best way to actually do it? It’s all about finding good books, and finding a good time. In our family, bedtime is best, but I know some people use that time to read the Bible with their children (in our house we read the Bible at mealtimes). Other families will create a regular time, maybe every day, or once a week, with everyone sitting around the living room, and parents and children taking turns doing the reading. Another opportunity is any time your family is out driving. Whether you’re heading out on a 20-minute drive to Costco or a 16-hour trip to grandma and grandpa's, those are perfect times to read or listen to an audiobook. One family takes the time after Sunday services to read through some wonderful classics with their grown kids. Regularity is more important than the specific time. For us, reading at bedtime is a bit of a motivator: the sooner to bed, the sooner the story starts. One problem with bedtime stories is that it isn’t the best time to read anything remotely scary. One option is to save those bits for the trip to Costco. Another workaround is to either read the scary bit in as unexciting a voice as you can, or for you to quickly read ahead and then give an abbreviated summary of that section before continuing on to the next chapter. Logistics can be even more challenging if you’re reading to more than one child. All three of my girls are in the same room, so that makes it simple. But bigger groups can still get it done. One father, whose girls are in one room and boys in another, alternates the room he’s going to read in. When he reads in the girls’ room, the boys bring their pillows and a blanket to curl up and listen on the floor. And vice versa when he reads in the boys’ room. However you work out the logistics, it’ll be worth the juggling. The final ingredient is good books. You can find all sorts of recommendations online, and our family’s favorites can be found here. I’ll wrap up here with Albert Mohler, from the March 4 edition of The Briefing: We need to read to our children…. There is something that is expressed in tangible love when parents read to their children. Choose well, read well, read carefully to your children, but yes, read to your children. You're shaping hearts and minds, and furthermore, expressing love to your children in a way you might not think of as a hug. And one of the axioms of our time that wouldn't make sense to most previous generations, but certainly makes sense with urgency now: put down the smartphone, turn off the television, get disconnected from anything that requires a power cord, other than a reading light. Put a child in your lap and read that child a good book....

Parenting

Parenting: many different approaches - only one set of guiding principles

Empty threats – that's what they are called – and some are more ridiculous than others. I once overheard an employee at Target, a young mother, telling her co-worker: "He keeps hitting Steven all the time. So the next time he punches Steven in the face, I'm gonna say, Robert, next time you punch Steven in the face, I'm going to punch YOU in the face. ...Of course, you can't really punch a 4-year-old in the face, so I never would." That's extreme, but then there are also the more common variety that we're likely to hear at church, or at school, or coming out of our own mouths: "If you don’t get into the car right now, I’m going to leave without you." "You'd better stop crying. This restaurant doesn't allow any crying, so if you cry they're going to kick us out of here." "If you don't stop fighting back there I am turning this car around and we are not going anywhere." Empty threats can seem effective, at least in the short-term. But is "effective" the measure by which we evaluate our parenting approach? We all need parenting help There are strong differences of opinion regarding the discipline of children, and not all techniques work for all kids, even in the same family. We do have to consider the different ages and personalities of different children, so what works with one child may not be a good approach for another. But we also know that all approaches are not equal. That's because some techniques and methods align with what God has revealed in his Word, and some run at right angles to what God has said. So we need to seek out the scriptural principals of discipline, and we need to hear what God says about love and kindness, and then make this foundational for all of our interactions with these small brothers and sisters in Christ. And, in addition to these scriptural principles, we can also seek out tried and tested methods from older, godly parents. God puts us in a community so we can learn from one another (Prov. 15:22). Finally, there are excellent Christian books on the topic of parenting. We need to read such books because of our own sinfulness, which we too often overlook when we are frustrated with our disobedient children. It is way too easy to justify our own behavior, and prayerfully reading through these books will help us analyze where and when we are a part of the cause. For instance, if we scream in anger because our children have gotten angry with one another for the tenth time in the day, we teach them that screaming in anger is the proper response to a frustrating situation, even though that is not our intention.If we force them to endure a shopping trip without regard for their hunger, thirst, fatigue, and need for movement, we are more to blame for their meltdown than they are. We must plan wisely for delays and not expect them to have more patience than we do. If we fail to educate them as to what they will soon encounter and the specific behavior that is expected (because they do not know good behavior by instinct) then we are not helping them to behave properly. Most children love their parents and feel grateful whether they say it out loud or not. They need our love and acceptance and they struggle with the constant tension between wanting to please us and, like all of us, wanting to follow their own sinful nature. They are sinners and they will behave badly. Sometimes we forget to apply our Bible beliefs to the situation and realize that “There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). Or, as it says in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 2, “ have a natural tendency to hate God and neighbor.” In communion One of the very best of the books available is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp. Tripp explains that there is a “circle of God’s favor.” When a child is, from love and gratitude to God, being obedient, he or she is in this circle. When a child strays outside of this "circle of favor" the parents’ job is to pull the child back inside. If he lies, we must teach him not to lie. If he throws a selfish tantrum or punches his brother in the face, we must teach him that this is not acceptable behavior. We may not abuse him, but we must find an effective way to influence him to end that behavior. When discipline is needed, Tripp says we should start with a statement giving the reason for the punishment, then give the punishment, and then remind them why they were punished (preferably when everyone is calm). Then comes repentance. Their “Sorry, dad” may or may not be sincere, but the pattern will be established. Last of all, there must be forgiveness and restoration, just as our Lord gives to us. This usually includes a hug and a statement, but most importantly: the freedom from having the sin mentioned again (Psalm 103:12: "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us"). Here we must squelch our own anger rather than sin by constantly bringing up their wrongs, or humiliating them by relating the deeds to other people, especially within their hearing. We ruin our child’s good name when we tell about his sins, and if we tell the child he is a “brat” or a bad boy, even jokingly, we reinforce to him that we do not have higher expectations. As far as specific punishment methods go, some use a careful spanking (a slap on the hand or thigh for a toddler – their bottom has too many layers to feel the sting! – or a few spanks on the bottom for someone already potty-trained). Others use a time-out location, which, to be effective, requires a timer and constant monitoring by the parent, especially when it is first being established. But to be effective it must be a true punishment to the child. For example, if they think time-outs are no big deal, then something that is a big deal to them must be substituted. Anticipation Parents should, with experience, be able to steer their children clear of situations that might otherwise lead to the need for discipline. For example, inexperienced parents tend to overestimate the amount of noise stimulation that a young child can handle, even for “fun” times like DisneyWorld or an overcrowded family get-together. As we learn how much our children can handle, we can, when we see them being overwhelmed, remove them from these situations. (Ephesians 6:4 is relevant here; these are both examples of parents heeding the instruction for "fathers not provoke your children to anger...") Another example: we can take a suggestion from Dr. Raymond Moore of Home Grown Kids who always used this rule of thumb for birthday parties – the number of guests at the party should not exceed the child’s age. Adults tend to think more is better, but a young child will do better to have a couple of play dates than one big bash. Only truth Empty threats should never, ever be made. They are ineffective when smart children realize their parents are not serious. These threats may even cause a rebellious child to disobey just to see whether we really meant what we said. They can also be counter-productive to the fellowship goals of your family. Would you really cancel Christmas or attendance at a friend’s birthday party because of a child’s disobedient behavior? That would punish people outside of your family as well. Should you frighten your children, as some have, with abandonment at an orphanage, leading them to experience fear and lack of assurance of your love and acceptance, and therefore desperate to please you? Children take our words very literally. Our goal is to teach them about sin and repentance and forgiveness by modeling it, not to beat them physically or emotionally into subjection to us. An awesome and brief task It is important to plan our system of discipline ahead of time so that mom and dad will both know what they are going to do when their kids behave badly. You need a plan, and a backup plan and perhaps even a third plan for the stubborn. Don't let disobedience surprise you. Don't let it make you angry as though it were a direct attack on you. God has called us to teach our children to do what is right, and that task exceeds any housework or leisure goals that we might have had for the day. Pray for patience, because your effective plan may need a hundred applications! I overheard a conversation at 11 pm in a restaurant parking lot between a father and his sobbing three-year-old. He yelled at her to “Stop crying and behave” inside the restaurant. It was tempting to intervene and point out that he was being selfish – caring more for his social goals than he did for the welfare of his little girl, who pretty obviously needed to be home in bed. “Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). Though it feels like we will always be raising and disciplining them, it is less than a third of our lifetime that we have this privilege. Something to keep in mind. This article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue....

Parenting

If you want to spank your child, don't

Discipline is controlled, calm and loving...or it's sinful ***** The photo website I use for most of the pictures for Reformed Perspective has more than 24 million stock pictures, so no matter what the topic, I usually have piles of options to choose from. But when I tried to find something to illustrate an article on parenting, and I punched in the search term "parents" along with "discipline" or "punishment" I got only one basic type of picture: glowering, shouting, finger-waving moms and dads. The variety from one picture to the next was only whether the parent had already lost it or was just about to. This seemed to be the world's idea of parents doing discipline, and no wonder then that they want to ban spanking. No one wants to allow enraged adults to vent their frustrations by hitting kids! But, of course, this is not what discipline should ever be. In Proverbs 13:24 we see that God both clearly encourages corporal punishment, and prescribes the boundaries under which it is to be administered: Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. It can be easier not to discipline our children, to let things slide, to pretend we don't see and don't know what they are up to, and to just hope that they will smarten up without us having to get up from the couch. But if we love our children more than the TV program we're watching, the book we're reading, or the friend we're talking to on the phone, then we will stop what we are doing and apply the corrective that is needed when it is needed... which is immediately. But this verse is about more than a willingness to discipline; we're told that this discipline is motivated by love. There was no love to be seen in any of the website's stock pictures. These screaming, reddening, out-of-control parents looked like they wanted to hit their kids. As Pastor Douglas Wilson explains: Discipline is corrective, and it is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and it is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it. When you are spanking a child, you are either being selfish or you are being selfless – one or the other. You are doing it because you are exasperated, frustrated, beside yourself, and frazzled, or you are doing it as a fragrant offering to the God of your fathers.... When you are highly motivated to discipline your kids, you are not qualified. When you are qualified, you don’t feel like it. Screaming and spanking simply don't go together. Or rather, they often do go together, but as parents we need to recognize this for the sin it is. Discipline must be an act of love....

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