Child development thoughts and missions

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I am not a child rearing expert, largely because I don’t have the experience to be. I am not qualified to give advice really, and this post is not intended to be that. Rather, it is a summary of some things I have been pondering in regards to child rearing. I am not an expert but I do take it seriously.

On that note, Paul Seger, director of Biblical Ministries Worldwide (BMW), spoke at our church yesterday. I have known Paul for years. A few years ago, he, his wife and I spent a few weeks together visiting missionaries in the West Pacific. When I think of Paul, I think of someone who is in ministry but would be very successful in business. He thinks like a business entrepreneur in that he is not afraid to challenge the status quo, introduce big ideas and wrestle with big problems.

The problem with challenging the status quo is that you are often lonely. As it turns out, people are uncomfortable with having their world view disrupted.  We tend to judge other world views according to our own. We want to prove divergent world views wrong so we can be comfortable that we are right.

Yesterday, Paul was shaking up the status quo a bit, and I strongly encourage you to listen to his message here: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1118121123528 (It is only 30 minutes long.)

For the first half, Paul discusses his childhood in a missionary home in Africa. His parents were the kind of missionaries you read about in biographies. They gave up everything in the US and lived in very primitive conditions for decades. Their only correspondence with family was through letters. Paul mentioned seeing his mother open a letter to find out for the first time that her mother had died 6 weeks earlier.

One of the ways that missionaries sacrificed during those days was with their children. Paul grew up in boarding school, away from his parents for several months during the year. He says the generation in front of him did not have that option. Those missionaries often had to leave their children in the US, only seeing them every few years on deputation.

That kind of thinking is a bit out of vogue these days. Many today would say dogmatically that those missionaries were wrong if not abusive to do that to their children. Many more would for sure question those missionaries’ priorities.

I am not going to take a hard position on this one. I tend to think there is a lot of latitude in those kinds of decisions. In other words, while I might not do that myself, I am not going to say dogmatically that those missionaries were wrong. Historically, parents have had to leave children behind to do what they have to do. Our soldiers do it to this day and no one calls them abusive.

And frankly, I think the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction. The institution of family can be overemphasized and I think it often is in today’s society. On top of that, we have seen a subtle switch in what we perceive the role of a parent to be.

One of the very tough questions I think every parent needs to wrestle with is what their role actually is. In today’s society, I think most parents see themselves primarily as protectors. They think they owe it to their children to fight mean teachers, bullies, and even unfair employers. They associate that kind of protection with good parenting.

For those of you that are older, I am curious to know how you would contrast that perspective with the one you might have grown up with perhaps in the 1940-50’s. My guess is you find it very different if not appalling. If you have that earlier perspective, I would be interested in your thoughts on what has changed.

One of the things that I am thankful for is that even though I came along several decades later, my parents were not protectionists. They refused to fight their children’s battles and they taught us self reliance by giving us big responsibilities. At a very early age, my brothers and I essentially ran our farm.

I tend to see parenting in the same way though I am not doing as well as my parents did. I always refer to my strategy by using the example of a mother bird. Yes, she protects her babies as best as she can, but her ultimate duty is kick them out of the nest and let them fly on her own. You can’t fly for your children and if you try, you simply stunt their growth. I don’t think it is a coincidence that children are remaining children for longer these days, dependent on parents far longer than they should be.

The topic of helicopter parents is becoming a hot one and there are very interesting studies about its effects on society. Today’s overly protective parents are not only fighting their children’s battles through college but even in their initial jobs after college. I find that appalling.

That is not to say that my perspective does not have its weaknesses as well. So did the perspective of the generations in front of us. There is no perfect system.

I have strayed a bit from the original topic though. I want you to listen to the second half of that sermon because Paul addresses the spiritual side of this parenting topic–the uncomfortable verses in the Bible that say things about parenting and family that we like to gloss over. For example, there are passages like Matt 19 that say this:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

Wrestle with that a bit. How does that jive with parenting as you know it? Not exactly protectionist philosophy is it? One thing I suspect is this: other generations of parents understood this better than we do today.