Archive | Parenting

Early Intervention and the Good News of Jesus

A friend visited me this weekend and reminded me of a post I’ve been wanting to write for years that keeps getting pushed to the back burner. This friend teaches in an elementary school, and we talked about several students she has had over the years who have had some form of learning disability or special need. Every time we talk about this, I am reminded of my own son’s early issues, and my own inner turmoil that went along with it.

I had my eldest when I was 34. At the time, I felt accomplished in a lot of ways. I had a masters degree in math education and taught at the local community college. I was deacon of women’s theology and teaching at a megachurch in Seattle. But parenting my little guy challenged my view of myself in profound ways.

We brought our tiny little guy home from the hospital (5 lbs 10 oz), did our best to gently get him into a routine, and began the long marathon of parenting. He reached all of his early milestones slowly. He didn’t walk until he was nearly two, utter discernible words until well after two, or potty train until nearly 4. Though those things do not bother me AT ALL now, they bothered me greatly early on as a young, inexperienced mother. Consistently, when with peers his age, my son was behind them in development. He cried and threw things. And if we were ever in a group setting with other parents and kids his age, he consistently disrupted the group or entertained himself away from the group.

At age 2 ½, we started a hippie neighborhood preschool. At the time, I was hoping to build relationships to minister in my community. But the Lord instead used the preschool to minister to me as I struggled to understand and parent my son. One thing was clear from the first weeks of preschool – my son was not like other kids in his class. But his teachers were kind and compassionate. They talked with me about having him tested for learning disabilities, something that at first seemed terrifying. They knew this would initially feel threatening to me and worked to show me the value of early intervention in children with learning disabilities. I got him tested, and we began speech and occupational therapy. And, sure enough, a decade later, I can clearly see how this intervention helped him. He is delightfully quirky, but he is also loving and lovable. His developmental issues no longer hold him back or disrupt our family.

If this story sounds familiar to you and your family is still in the early stages of struggle, here are some things I learned the hard way.

1. It is not your fault that your child has some kind of disability or learning issue.

During my early years of parenting, I lived in Seattle, home base of the granola mom. Though I did more natural, healthy things than some moms, I did a great deal fewer than the best natural moms in my area. I felt a lot of guilt over this, concerned by the constant influx of information on types of diets and baby foods. But more than the food my son ate, I felt great guilt in particular for not teaching him baby sign language. For some reason, I became convinced that was the source of his language struggles. At least, it was something I could latch onto that I could have done that I didn’t. He did eventually learn to talk and is quite the conversationalist now. He also reads and writes well. But even if he didn’t, I no longer believe things like baby sign language make or break verbal development. In general, the amount of moralistic information pushed on moms of young kids is overwhelming. Lots of things are moderately helpful, but that does not make them absolutely necessary.

In both secular and religious mommy circles, there is always some way we can drop the ball, starting with the first feedings after birth. From the first moments my two were born, I started down the path of mommy guilt. I am a type 1 diabetic, and I could not get my newborns started on my breast right after birth because of their dropping blood sugar (which according to some was key to starting my newborns off right). Which led to guilt that I didn’t better control my blood sugars during my pregnancy. Which led to guilt that I developed type 1 diabetes in the first place. Which is IRRATIONAL. From the first moments my boys were born, I was on the irrational spinning wheel of guilt in which many, many moms like myself have existed. Praise God that the good news of Jesus gives us another way of thinking about such information, which leads to number 2.

2. Come what may, your identity is secure in Christ. And so is your child’s.

When I say your identity, I’m talking about the qualities that distinguish your value as a person. What makes you valuable? What makes your child valuable? How do you define your own worth to humanity? How do you define your child’s? The world projects onto us the need as parents to give our children every opportunity to be great in all of the things. But when we take that responsibility on ourselves, we project it onto our children as well. In that paradigm, their self-worth and self-identity will come from how well they measure up and move past classmates and peers. Trained by the pressures from their parents, they find their identity by how they COMPARE to others. But the Bible gives a sobering assessment of that mentality – “they that compare themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12).

Self-worth by peer comparison IS NOT WISE. It’s not wise for parents, and it’s not wise for kids. This isn’t the hope Christ offers or the peace in which He equips us to live. Just as we are saved from condemnation for our failures by grace through faith in Christ (Romans 8:1), we are equipped for the good works God has prepared in advance for us the same way – by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Your identity—your value—rests in Christ in you. And your good works (or your kids’) will only be good when they are the ones God prepared in advance for you that you accomplish by His grace at work in you.

Be at peace, stressed mother of an out-of-sync child. In Christ, you can rest from your attempts at good works, including trying to be the best mom of well rounded kids in your neighborhood, church, or school (Hebrews 4:10). Such peace through Christ enables us for point 3.

3. Do not feel threatened by a friend, family member, or educator suggesting intervention for your child.

I did feel threatened when the preschool teachers first mentioned testing to me. I wanted them to make me feel better by saying something like, “Oh, he will catch up quickly on his own. Just you wait.” Or, “Don’t worry about what you are seeing. You don’t need to do anything extra.” But instead, they told me about studies on early intervention, particularly around ages 0 to 5. They told me of the value of facing the developmental issues head on and doing what I could to support my son in these early years so he would be better adjusted for elementary school. It meant going in for a barrage of testing and then sifting through what I could and could not do in terms of recommended interventions. I opted for speech therapy and some occupational therapy. Then we got an IEP (individualized education plan) once my son hit elementary school. God was gracious to give us an elementary school with an awesome special education teacher. And after a few years, his teachers and I decided he no longer needed the IEP. In many ways, he remains out-of-sync with other kids, but it is no longer debilitating. His weaknesses are also his strengths, and I am learning to redirect them with an eye on how these quirks are part of his giftedness for the good works God has prepared for him.

The gospel equipped me to face my son’s difficulties head on without either he or I being defined by them. If I did drop the ball in his early years, there was no condemnation in Christ. And that freed me to help him in the ways that worked for our family and his teachers. I was not earning my righteousness by producing the ultimate well-adjusted child. I was freed from the mentality of having to try all the good things. Instead, I could prayerfully take the opportunities given to me that I could do and let go of the ones I couldn’t do.

Jesus says over the woman anointing his feet with oil in Mark 14, “She has done what she could.” At multiple points in my life, Jesus’ affirmation in those words has been a lighthouse beacon for me. I don’t have to do all the things. But prayerfully, in His name, I will do what I can according to how He leads me. The good news of Jesus changes everything, including our responses when our kids need help.

Raising Gentle Boys

Before I say one more thing about raising boys, I need to define gentle and explain from Scripture why it’s important.

First, gentleness is strength under control. It is distinctly different than weakness. A baby is weak. But a father who has the strength to crush the baby but instead tempers that strength to cradle it securely is gentle.

Second, why is gentleness important for men?

1) It was important to Jesus.

Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

2) It is a fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

3) It is part of a walk that fits, or is worthy of, the gospel calling we have through Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

Scripture is crystal clear that gentleness is a characteristic of Jesus and should also be a characteristic of God’s children. I see anecdotal evidence of this in life as clearly as I see it in Scripture. The best men I know are very strong but temper their strength to love those God has given them to serve and protect. And the worst failures of men that I have witnessed were not because the men were physically or mentally weak, but because these strong men did not learn how to temper their strength and instead wounded the very ones they were called to love with their unrestrained power, authority, and mental abilities.

As I look back at my efforts to raise gentle boys, boys who are strong but who also temper that strength in care of others, I am starting now to see real fruit. My boys are still relatively young, and I am curious to see how this will play out as they grow up. Five years ago, I wrote on modeling for our children the way we want them to act – treating them as we want them to treat others. These posts I write are lectures to myself, and that post in particular was one big long lecture to ME. I’ve internalized those thoughts and worked to model for my boys in two particular areas that I am now seeing fruit.

Teaching mutual respect for all image-bearers. 

In a post on valuing all of life, I talked of a new effort I was making to look people in the eye that I would normally avoid to instead treat them with basic human dignity. My boys are often in the car with me when these interactions come up, and I think we all benefit from them. We are growing together as a family in valuing all human life. My boys’ particularly struggle with “bad” kids in their classes and their sense of justice around punishment. We talk about what might be happening in that kid’s home. Who in their home or neighborhood treats them badly that they come into school in such a negative place that they treat others that way? My boys understand Zig Ziglar’s Kick the Cat syndrome. We also talk about what we can do to stop the cycle, to not contribute to one more person treating them as less than human.

Teaching particular respect for authority. 

Along with teaching general respect for all human life, I have worked to teach my boys particular respect for authority. Their parents’ authority. Their pastor’s authority. Civic authority. But to teach it, I must also model it. I have been particularly convicted of my view of parental authority as an adult. Certainly, parental authority changes when a child grows up and leaves their parents’ home. But for years I didn’t value and solicit my parents’ advice the way I do now. I hope I model for my boys a parental respect into adulthood that will be helpful to them as they become adults. 

Finally, I wanted to give some resources that I have found very helpful for me and my boys as we grow in relationship, and I seek to raise strong young men whose strength is submitted to God.

-Jess Thompson’s Exploring Grace Together: 40 Devotionals for the Family. My boys LOVE this book and ask me to read it to them nightly.

The Action Bible. The graphic images in this picture Bible are appropriate and helpful to understanding each story. Before my boys were comfortable readers, they could follow much just by looking at the pictures. Once they were able to read, they have come to understand much of the Story of Scripture by reading this during sermons that went over their head. I love that they can stay engaged in the purposes of Sunday services even when the pastor loses their attention when they have their Action Bible with them in service.

-Momastery’s Key Jar. My boys ask me daily to do this with them. The questions in the key jar (we have a key plastic bag because I didn’t have any jars at the time) provoke thoughtful interaction around the table or in the car. We often do them at bed time since our time around the table has been messed up lately.

I hope something there is helpful or encouraging to you. I’m only about half way through the at home years of raising my boys. It’s been years since my last post on raising kids, and I wonder what the next few years hold. Though I don’t know exactly, I do have more hope now. I’m not paralyzed by fear of failing my children because of my own ignorance (though heaven knows I’ve done some stupid things). And I’m not paralyzed by fear that they will reject me or God (though they may for a season) . I have a hope that won’t disappoint, and that has equipped me to parent with confidence, not fear. Perhaps that is the biggest gain in parenting of all – the one I have had inside myself believing in God’s promises for my children.

My Best Parenting Practices

I often think of myself like a mama bear walking around the forest with her two cubs. I’m so happy (relieved?) to be at the stage we’re at now. For the most part, we’re past the point of worrying moment to moment about my boys’ safety. They don’t stick things in outlets. They know what is poisonous. They can walk up and down stairs without falling. They know not to run out in the road. Looking back, it’s amazing how much just keeping them alive dominated my parenting during those early years. But now, we’re into the stage of honest discipleship. I’ve been thinking back this week on various things I’ve learned about parenting my boys the last few years. Most of the principles listed below I’ve learned the hard way. Here’s a summary of the big ideas that have been life giving to me, totally changing both my boys and myself, how we relate to each other, and how I prepare them for the future.

1) First and foremost, punishment is not the same as discipleship. If Christ truly fulfilled our punishment on the cross and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), then that has to change how we react to our children when they do wrong. I used to think that I was disciplining/discipling my boys by punishing them when they disobeyed. But how do you convey the gospel (that Christ has already paid for their sins on the cross) that they need in that moment when you are simultaneously punishing them anew for it?! Learning the subtle yet profound difference in punishment and discipline has been life changing for me personally and subsequently for me with my children.

2) Spanking is not required in Scripture. It is certainly allowed in Scripture, but it is not required. The commands to “discipline” in Scripture are not synonymous with spanking, not even close. The word “rod” in Scripture is not synonymous with spanking either. Again, not even close. These first two principles were the biggest problem I had with the chapter on spanking in Give Them Grace. Otherwise I appreciated that book very much.

3) Modeling for my boys what I want them to be and do is the most effective form of discipleship. Often when they disobeyed, I modeled the exact opposite of what I wanted them to do. I want them to work out disagreements with calm words, even when the other party is angry. I want them to walk away until the parties calm down in heated situations. Yet I realized that I wasn’t doing that when I was disciplining them after they did not do it. Reactive parenting is ineffective parenting. When I train my boys with a view of what I want them to become, not what they just demonstrated they were, I’m obeying the Golden Rule, which Jesus claims is fundamental to all other instructions in Scripture.

Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

4) The difference in pervasive and total depravity.  My boys are not always acting out on the worst of their sin nature. Sometimes, they just make mistakes. The T in TULIP never meant that my boys are always as bad as they have the potential to be. Very few men or women in the history of the world have demonstrated total evil at all times in all places of life. But we are pervasively depraved. Our sin problem pervades all of our life and is so extensive to be something we can not eradicate on our own. Understanding this difference protects me from assuming the worst of my boys at every turn, which is a big problem since Paul instructs in I Corinthians 13 that Biblical love is ever ready to believe the best of someone! A wrong understanding of depravity tempted me to disobey the greatest command to love as the Bible describes that term in I Cor. 13.

5) The final principle that has blessed me as a parent is that fruit takes a long time. I can’t sow my seed in the morning, water it 10 minutes later, fertilize it the next hour, and expect fruit by the evening. I have learned the value of sowing in the morning, watering in the evening, and fertilizing the following week. I may need to repeat the process for a few weeks or months, maybe years, but eventually fruit will bloom. Real fruit – not the type of change my kids do to appease me in the moment and shut me up from harassing them. Such real heart change because my children internalized a principle we have been working on over time is beautiful to see.

I have to keep revisiting these principles, reminding myself of why from Scripture these things are the scaffold around which I want to parent. I hope something there is encouraging to you today too as you disciple yours.

A Christian Perspective on the Explosive Child

Many of both my believing and unbelieving friends have been sharing an article on Facebook entitled, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” That article has brought a lot of things to mind from my own parenting journey, of which I am still fairly early in the process (my boys are ages 6 and 8). I want to be clear that I am not addressing Adam Lanza himself, nor can I say much about the situation that mom faced in the article. But I did resonate with the mother’s sentiment, “I need help.” Because I too needed help early on with my child. I want to share the help I received in hopes of encouraging others in their journey with children who are not neurotypical.

I’ve written about parts of this over the years. I wrote about discipling an Aspie here and God’s common grace for parents here.

Basically, as a new mom in a conservative church, I was totally unprepared for my son’s odd, unpredictable behavior which started to clearly manifest itself around year 2. Previous to that, he was behind in most developmental milestones, but we loved him and enjoyed him in so many ways. I was oblivious to what his slowness to sit up, crawl, walk, and talk might mean until we entered the world of playdates and preschool. If all the kids on a playdate were playing on a jungle gym or in a wading pool, my son was off trying to turn on and off the water spigot and hitting kids with a shovel when they came too close. Later, I learned that many kids with speech delays show their frustration through aggression with others. But I didn’t understand this at the time, and it was disturbing to watch my son act differently, and sometimes hurtfully, with his peers in nursery or playdates.

Preschool was excruciating. Kids younger than my son were talking in full sentences, singing during group time, and playing together reasonably well. My son was grunting, hitting, or running off. I remember watching in horror when my son threw sand in his preschool teacher’s eyes—just one of many similar moments that piled on to one another. My son looked normal, but his actions were unusual and often hurtful. What had I done wrong?

I felt guilt that I wasn’t disciplining my son properly or consistently. Surely, that was the problem – what could it be except that I wasn’t disciplining him enough. (At that point, my understanding of Christian parenting didn’t offer me any more than that one thought.) I ramped up the spankings because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do via Shepherding a Child’s Heart. I will tell you boldly that spanking made our problems worse, and it was a good day when I felt confident from Scripture that spanking is not required by God nor what God meant when He said to discipline our children.

Two things happened, one in a secular setting and the other in a Christian one, that blessed me and set me and my son on a better path. In our preschool, the teachers took me aside during a conference and encouraged me to have my son evaluated for learning disabilities. They encouraged me strongly in the value of early intervention for a child. At first, I felt threatened by their suggestion. No one wants to think that there might be something wrong developmentally with their child. But those teachers were loving and supportive, assuring me that it wasn’t anything I had done and that early intervention would make an incredible difference.

The other thing happened in my church. We started attending a new church when the boys were 1 and 3, and it was embarrassing to me to drop them off in nursery. I knew my child was unpredictable. And he did a number of negative things during nursery. But never once did I feel a hint of shame or condemnation from a single nursery worker. Instead, in front of me, they demonstrated consistent unconditional love and encouragement of me and my children. Their gracious love and care of my children in that season ministered to me in profound ways. It still does. 

Those two settings, one a hippie preschool and the other a gospel-centered church, gave me the direction I needed. One set of directions encompassed God’s common grace to believers and unbelievers alike. After being evaluated by doctors and being recommended for pretty much every kind of therapy available, we decided to focus on speech therapy for my son. After just a few months with a speech therapist that specialized in autism, my son was learning to make eye contact and have two way conversations. By watching the speech therapist in action, I too was learning how to help his brain make this connection at home.

The other set of directions emphasized God’s unconditional, saving grace. I was encouraged to parent my children the way God parents His and to train my children by treating them the way I wanted them to treat others. I learned to apply the gospel deeply and intensely in my parenting, especially that my children’s sins have been fully paid for by Christ on the cross, and I needed to DISCIPLE them, not PUNISH them. All these things made a profound difference in me first of all, and now I see the benefits in my children as well.

In the last year or so, someone recommended to me the book, The Explosive Child, which has been another key piece of God’s common grace that has blessed our family in this journey. As I read it, it became clear that many kids have a delay in learning how to problem solve, and that definitely fit my child. When a problem or obstruction rises, he exploded with frustration. He only saw an unmovable concrete barrier. I learned a simple, but valuable, tool for helping him. In the moment of frustration, I could begin the process of addressing it most effectively with the words, “Hey, we can solve this problem.” I didn’t believe it was that simple until I tried it a few times. He’d look at me and blink, and I could see the wheels going in his head. “We can solve this problem? It’s not the end of the world? That never occurred to me.”

This is not to say that we never have such issues in our house anymore. My eldest still dislikes traditional learning environments and is not the most affirming Sunday School participant. Social situations are hard for him to read, and I can pretty much count on him saying something that seems at least odd if not downright rude in most any public situation we find ourselves. (Don’t ask about his baptism.) But when I tell people today about the problems we had with him as a preschooler, they seem confused. “Your boys seem pretty well-adjusted. I wouldn’t have guessed that.” Those words mean SO much to me now!

Through God’s common grace that has helped me understand and support my son in his developmental delays, I have felt better equipped to minister to my children God’s saving grace that meets them in their sin and transforms them in the image of Christ. If you too are in the journey with a child who is on the autism spectrum or in other ways not neurotypical, here are a few ideas that may be helpful. 

1. Early intervention is a good thing. Don’t feel threatened by suggestions of others for intervention or help. Do your research and talk to a doctor you trust. Evaluate what they say and choose what you think will or will not work for your family. If I had followed every instruction suggested to me, we’d have been in various therapies for hours a week. I picked the thing that seemed most crucial and juggled what I could. I had a strong belief (and still do) that an overly stressed momma undoes any good from speech, occupational, or physical therapy. So I only did what I felt like I could handle.

2. Put on your own air mask first. Struggling children need emotionally stable parents. Do what you need to do to get your time first with God and then with those who encourage you in Christ. If most of your Christian interaction seems more obligation than inspiration, then cut back. Find real community with people you know who will minister God’s grace to you through their words so that you are fed and encouraged to endure for the long haul in patience with your kids. 

3. It’s OK to change and grow! Don’t feel so beholden to an idea or technique that you can’t adjust when it’s clear that it’s not working or just a bad idea.

4. Persevere. Hosea gives us such a beautiful picture of a God who comes back again and again, who perseveres and pursues the heart of His people. Parent your child the way God parents His. Endure with your child. Don’t give up. And hope. There will be two steps forward and three incredibly discouraging steps back at times. Nevertheless, don’t give up. Remember your heavenly Father who promises to empower you in this assignment He’s called you to with a grace that exceeds our ability to comprehend.

If you have an older child and feel you missed some of the window for early intervention, I encourage you to persevere nonetheless. The Explosive Child is an intriguing book that seems helpful to parents of older children struggling similarly. May God bless and guide us all as we parent and disciple children of any age with various physical, emotional, or mental issues.

* Again, I do not mean this post to be about Adam Lanza’s specific situation. I know nothing of his particular circumstances or his parents. I offer no commentary about them in particular—only ideas that the original article to which I linked referred.

Put On Your Own Air Mask First!

Every time I fly, I’m struck by the stewardess’ instructions in the event of an emergency to put on my own air mask first before helping anyone else, including my children. I always at first feel selfish even considering it — like it’s an instruction from selfish people to other selfish people to take care of themselves first. But, of course, it only takes a brief moment of logical thought for the truth to hit me – I won’t be in any condition to help my children if I pass out myself. It’s plain, simple logic.

I’m learning that this is valuable advice spiritually too. Put on your own air mask first! If you are a compassionate, caring woman, you must understand that your love and service to others will cause you to suffocate personally if you don’t spiritually put on your air mask first. People have a God-sized need in their heart, and we often want to fill it. In our children, with our spouse, with our friends, with our family. You can’t provide their oxygen, but you can help them with an air mask linked to the source Who can. And you can’t provide them with the source until you’ve first provided for yourself.

For me, this simply means feeding myself first spiritually. I am by no means the standard by which to judge your own daily devotions. Believe me when I say I am the least of these in terms of consistent follow through with devotional plans or books. It took me three years to read my one year Bible. However, at some point, I figured out what worked for me, at least in this season with small children. I bought a cheap New Testament with Psalms in a version I’d never read before. I’ve loved, loved, loved reading the gospels with their slightly different wording. It’s awakened me to things in Scripture that had become stale and common place in my head. I’m marking it up and making notes as I interact with it. It sits by my chair where I have my coffee in the morning and invites me in the morning to feast on it. If only I was consistent daily to read it! Nevertheless, I’m reading more consistently than I have in a long time. I let the boys get their own breakfast of poptarts. Gasp! I know, right?! Poptarts?! But I realized at some point I would never get my own life giving breath of air if I didn’t put that priority up higher than the others over which I feel guilt (like feeding my children healthy, low sugar meals). I try to give them healthy food otherwise, but they get their own poptarts and watch whatever’s on the morning kids TV channel because before anything else, I need the Word!

Of course there are women out there who get up an hour before their kids and have their Bible reading done and a healthy, organic breakfast prepared by the time the kids awake. And I’m not mocking that by mentioning it! But I’m not a morning person and I needed to eat from the Word, so I HAD to figure out what worked for me. And if it means poptarts and cartoons, then so be it. Of all the selfish things a woman, married or single, mom or not, may do during the day (and I do plenty), I’ve learned that stealing away and ignoring others for quiet time with the Lord in prayer and Bible study is not one of them. Put on your own air mask first.

P. S. Morning devotions are not a magic cure or everyone’s personal preference. A totally different application may come to mind for you. This is just how I’m thinking about it personally.

Jesus’ Example for Parents

I had a sweet dinner with two friends last weekend. We are all right in the middle of raising our children, and our concerns for our children and fears for the future dominated our discussion. We listened and encouraged each other, and here are the big ideas that have stuck in my head the week since that discussion.

Do unto our children as we would have them do to us.

I wrote about this in a post 2 years ago. You would have thought I had actually learned to live it out by now. Yet, once again, I’ve been responding to my boys’ anger problems with my own personal anger. News flash – that doesn’t work! This week, I’ve focused anew on responding to my boys with the tone I want them to learn to use – patience when angered and a rational tone that seeks to work out problems rather than escalate them. It’s amazing to me how much more affective positive example is than negative reaction when my boys get angry.

End the day with unconditional love and affirmation. 

Despite my best efforts during the day, I fail my boys. And they fail me. I have learned that no matter how bad our day has been, it is incredibly healing to repair with my boys before they go to sleep. Sometimes, I need to ask their forgiveness. Sometimes, they need to ask mine. But most of all, I reaffirm my unconditional love for them. “I love you very much, and nothing will ever change that. I am so glad God gave me you for my son.” They often say exactly the same thing back to me (substituting mom for son) without any prompting. That blesses me. Then we give each other strong hugs, and no matter what else happened that day, they go to bed knowing that I love them, and God loves them. That is a precious gift to both them and myself.

Remember that Jesus’ discipleship at first looked like an utter failure. 

I feel most undermined as a parent by my fears for the future. I know many adults who seem to have left the faith in which they were raised as kids.  I often feel plagued by Satan with fears for the faith of my own boys. Will they love Jesus as adults? Will they love me? Will they walk out of the house when they turn 18 and never look back? Will they remember me on Mother’s Day? Will they come home for holidays? Will they throw my mistakes as a parent in my face when they grow up?

They may very well do any or all of those!!! And Jesus’ example comforts me. He was God! Yet look at the short-term results of His 3 years of discipling the 12. Judas betrays Him. Peter denies Him. And only 1 of the 12 remains at His crucifixion. What underwhelming short term results.

Then look at the long term results. That little band of fearful, denying disciples changed the world! The Spirit did this. He brought to remembrance all Christ taught them, though at the time they walked with Christ they NEVER demonstrated that they really understood anything He said to them. But the seeds were planted, and truth eventually popped up through the soil of their hearts and brought a great harvest.

Christ’s example with His disciples reminds me well of my hope for my children. And it is God Himself, who sends His Spirit to live in their hearts and remind them of truth. It is the Spirit who causes the blooms of fruit to present themselves in my children’s lives. I imperfectly sow my seeds, water, and fertilize. But God brings forth the harvest in His good time, and He is a very good farmer.

Common Grace for Parents

Common grace is an interesting theological concept.

In the words of Reformed scholar Louis Berkhof, “[Common grace] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men,” (Berkhof, p. 434, summarizing Calvin’s position on common grace).      –From the Wikipedia entry on Common Grace

John Calvin taught that God lavishes His gifts on the human race, and we may therefore enjoy it wherever we encounter it, with gratitude to God (Institutes 2.2.15). I freely receive gifts of God’s common grace through science and medicine. But I’ve noted that conservative Christians are often suspicious of common grace on the topics of parenting and mental development. Two secular books have recently blessed me in my call to parent my children the way God parents His, and I thought I should share why.

Nurture Shock

This book resonated with me because it wasn’t a book of anecdotes based on the authors’ bias and personal experience. Instead, it was a summation of 100’s of studies on various parenting topics, drawing its conclusions from them. I’m a math teacher and appreciate logic and reason. I weary of anything emotionally, not logically, driven, particularly guilt-driven parenting books.

But I’m also a Christian. Scripture informs my values in parenting. Scripture sets the structure for the methods I employ to disciple my children. This book wasn’t anti-Christian, but neither was it in any way promoting Christian parenting philosophy. So why would I read it? Why would I enjoy it as a gift of God’s common grace? Some Christians won’t even give it a chance, and some who read it would immediately point out perceived biases and flaws in a self-protective manner. There are several pieces of my theological convictions that drive how I interact with such a book.

First, I am confident (Phil. 1:6). There are Christian groups that teach keeping a healthy distance from secular (worldly) philosophies. They perceive them as a threat, ready to snatch believers from Biblical faithfulness. But in Scripture, God Himself is the one who assumes the role of keeping us. It is His job to keep His own, and He promises to do it well. I’m not oblivious to the pitfalls that undermine faith, yet on the flip side, I am very confident in the One who holds me, and I am confident in His promises regarding the perseverance of my faith.

Second, I value being informed. The discerning heart, according to Scripture, seeks knowledge (Proverbs 15:14). Science is the friend of the discerning, not their enemy. Certainly science needs to submit to Scripture, but we don’t need to see it in competition with Scripture. The Word of God is tough. It can stand up to the test, and it doesn’t need me to hide behind a rock for fear it won’t stand up to secular reasoning. But I never read these things without Scripture in mind. In fact, it’s simply impossible to me.

The first chapter in Nurture Shock on perseverance/endurance and the concluding thoughts on thankfulness was worth the price of the book. It also reflected many Bible principles. It reminded me that God is the master psychologist. He understands how our minds and bodies work better than anyone, and His instructions make sense. They actually work. There were many examples in Nurture Shock of just this very thing. The authors of course didn’t acknowledge these as Biblical ideas, but it was obvious again and again.

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

In the comments after my article on Gospel-centered Timeouts, someone asked for resources on parenting children with anger problems. Someone else recommended this book, and I ordered it as soon as I read the subtitle, for my son is EASILY frustrated and CHRONICALLY inflexible.  The traditional approaches recommended in Christian parenting books have usually made it worse, not better. I feel pressure to get him to conform to what comes naturally for many of his peers and even his little brother. 

While some discipline issues in our home fit the traditional paradigm of sin, correction, and forgiveness, we also have another issue, developmental delay, for which I need strategies. This book was God’s gift of common grace to me. In particular, the author focused on root causes of frustration for kids with certain developmental delays (who often, like my son, excel in other areas). As he discussed the root problem, it became clear to me. When my son is faced with a problem, he can not comprehend that there is a solution. (If there is a genetic tendency in his parents that contributed to this in him, I’m pretty sure it came from me.)  A problem automatically equals an insurmountable crisis in his head, and the result is an explosion. Most times, he does not even know how to articulate the problem or break down the frustration to identify its cause. He just slams down the book and cries how much he hates reading. Or hides under his teacher’s desk and cries hysterically refusing to go to music class. It’s often way out of proportion to the problem. Or there may not even be an identifiable problem.

My first mistake is usually to dig my heals in on an issue. In my quest for my son to understand parental authority, I can become very rigid and insistent. Lots of Christian parenting resources emphasize first time obedience. But, really, the teaching that we should punish our children if they don’t immediately obey us is very much NOT like our Father in heaven. He is long suffering with me, and that long suffering does NOT undermine His authority in my life. The graceless teaching of first time obedience resulted in me rigidly placing stumbling blocks in front of my son. Thank You, Lord, for Your mercy with me when I don’t at first obey and for showing me a better way to love my son as You love me!

Instead, I am learning to ask neutral questions to figure out the true root cause of his inflexibility. With his music class at school, I finally figured out after several questions over a few weeks that he has problem with auditory processing – things don’t connect between his ears and his mouth as quickly as for some. His classmates could pick up songs much quicker than him. He felt stupid and had no concept that he could learn them with practice. He could only see the obstacle.

The point wasn’t that he was rebellious or didn’t care. He DID want to do well, but he knew he wasn’t doing well and didn’t know how to fix that. We worked through that obstacle though I won’t share all the details. He even sang perfectly with his class in his school’s Spring Sing. And we did it without either punishment or rewards. Short term problem solved!!

The author in The Explosive Child emphasizes what he calls the empathy step—figuring out the real problem behind the anger and explosions.

“Some (parents) never considered understanding their kid’s concerns or perspective on things to be particularly important. That’s why many kids—perhaps most—are accustomed to having their concerns dismissed (by adults who have concerns of their own). … If you’re busy dismissing your kid’s concerns, don’t be surprised when he reciprocates. … By the way, you don’t lose any authority by gathering information, understanding, and empathizing. Rather, you gain a problem-solving partner.” (p. 92)

If you have a child who explodes with anger at odd times over seemingly trite problems, this may be a helpful resource to you. It has helped me decode my son’s real problems and remove stumbling blocks that set him up for failure. Through it, I feel God has given me wisdom on how to help my son learn a new skill, much like tying his shoes or brushing his teeth, except this one is a mental skill—how to articulate and solve problems before they result in angry explosions.

Wisdom is truly wise only when it’s applied correctly in the right circumstances. That is the function of the Holy Spirit. May we daily press into Him to know how to deal with our children with wisdom.

Proverbs 24:3-4  By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. 

Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.