Are you happy with your children? When you look at how their lives are progressing, do you like what you see, or is there something that gives you cause for concern, something that you wish were different?
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Children frequently do not become the people their parents would have liked them to become because they lost track of a basic maxim in life–that over time our children become individual and unique expressions of what they are exposed to and surrounded by. This means that if you do not want your children to be smokers, you shouldn’t smoke. If you don’t want them to spend their free time with entertainment media, you should not. If you want your children to be generous to those in need, they should see you do that. If you want them to be polite, you should be polite. If you don’t want them to use bad language, you shouldn’t. As our children’s primary influences, we their parents and any other adults and older siblings in their household will be the first to show them, through word and example, what life is all about.
Beyond the family home, a child’s school is typically the next most important influence in their lives. This is why it is so important to be alert and intelligent about where you send them to school. Many parents feel that 1) the local public school is the only viable option open to them or 2) that it was good enough for them so it will be good enough for their children. And while it may be true that it is the easiest default option for many people, this does not mean that it is the best option. To the contrary–what is easiest typically proves to be less valuable than that for which we must exert some effort. Furthermore, times change and just because a parent passed through a particular school system twenty odd years ago does not mean that it will be equally beneficial for their children.
The problem with any school system–public or private–is the effect of peer pressure. As your children mature, the unspoken values of their environment will impact them far more than you can imagine. Children are different and the same environment will impact each one differently, but it will still affect what they believe about life. So, when you make these decisions in your children’s lives, always consider how this will influence them–what values they will be soaking up and who they will be becoming as time passes.
We made the decision to homeschool. It was not always popular with our children; to the contrary, most of them still insist that they will not homeschool their children–although they did participate in various extracurricular activities, our children missed the comradierie of having classmates. I do regret this on their behalf, yet this deprivation benefitted who they became as human beings: in the absence of other consistent peer groups, we remained their primary influence until their college years.
Whenever determining whether to place your child in a particular activity, think ahead. Think about the group and decide if this will turn your child into someone you will like. When our first daughter was younger, she asked for electric guitar lessons. Now, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with playing an electric guitar–many good people do–but as I looked ahead in my mind’s eye I could envision at least several possible undesirable eventualities, and determined that this wasn’t a road she should pursue. Some time later she developed an interest in the cello and we arranged for a cello rental and lessons. I simply felt her chances of encountering negative and dangerous influences was greater in a traveling band than in an orchestra.
Another decision we made was to have our two older children participate in a debate league. This was a costly endeavor–there were almost no fathers in the entire league who did not have at least a bachelor’s degree–yet it was a good environment for the children to be in because it was in line with our goal of encouraging their pursuit of a higher education. What was the worst value they could pick up–that they should get an advanced degree?!
My daughter, on the other hand, has been asking me to attend our local high school full time. For the past two years we have driven her to a first period class to study Japanese there. Because of a good instructor and because her interactions there are limited, this has been a positive experience. Yet while many students attend this particular school and some of them do very well, this is also a school that has a nursery for their students’ children and the entire community has seen increasing drug activity. The Bible tells us, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.'” (I Corinthians 15:33) As a consequence, other than the Japanese class, we will probably have her “suffer” through her last year of high school at home with us before going to college. (Keep in mind, also, that college is a major contributor to who your children will become; to that end, do your best to send them to a school which will reinforce the godly habits and character you have worked so hard to instill in your children, not one which will attempt to erase them!)
These principals really do work in real life. My mother-in-law recently shared that a widowed acquaintance had most of her support paid by her grown children, and we both discussed how this came to be. Ultimately, it had to be a generous spirit that her friend and the children’s father must have exhibited during their formative years. If they selflessly supported their elderly relatives and taught their children to always have money set aside to help those in need, caring for their elderly mother would be second nature. This is in line with the Scriptural teaching to “…labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28) I know from personal experience that because my mother took in my great-aunt to live with us when she no longer could on her own, when my mother came to that same point in her life I didn’t think twice–I knew through her own selfless example that we would take her in. Always think of the qualities you want your grown children to exhibit–then live them out yourself!
I conclusion, encourage the positive things you want to see in your child by modeling them yourself and by placing your children in groups that value and mirror these qualities. Discourage the negative qualities you do not want to develop in your children by keeping them out of groups that value and exhibit those qualities. There are other components (praying daily for them being one of the most important), but it really is almost that simple! Remember, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)
Help us sow what You would like us to reap in our children’s lives, not give up, and keep them daily in our prayers. In Jesus’ name, amen.