Do you like who your children are becoming? If you could design what you want them to be like as adults, could you say with gut-wrenching honesty that they are well on their way? That’s actually a really interesting question, because as their parents you can determine–to a reasonable extent–who your children will be in the future!
“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20)
As their parents, each and every one of us with children has a God-given responsibility to raise our children to love and obey Him. And along the way, we also get the privilege of determining, sometimes to an amazing extent, what our children become like as adults. Does this mean that we can decide exactly what they will do for a living, what they will look like, where they will live, what they will drive, and every other minutia of their adult existences? Of course not. What we do get to do is to prayerfully guide the individual unique human beings God has created and entrusted into our care into (hopefully) successful and productive, God-fearing adults. But how do we do this?
Most of all we must bring our children before the Lord in prayer. Yet many parents also fail to fully understand that human beings are a composite of their genetic makeup–of the raw potential God has endowed each of us with–and the life experiences we are exposed to. This means we cannot just birth our children and abandon them. Of course most of us would never consider failing to provide physical sustenance and provision for our little ones, but just as important is the environment we expose them to. This involves the schools and churches they attend, their teachers and coaches, their extracurricular activities, their home environment, their friends and relatives, and every other life experience. God affirms that, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”
So who do you want your children to be? Well, what are you placing into their lives on an ongoing basis? Who or what are they spending time with?–Because that’s who they are becoming! You may not be able to determine if they become members of a symphony orchestra, but you might be able to provide violin or cello instruction that occupies their time and places them in the company of music teachers and other students instead of on the street or simply engaged in video games. They may or may not end up studying law, but you can get them into a debate group and enroll them in tournaments where they will gain public speaking experience and the confidence to know they can stand up in front of others and speak intelligently, and where they will spend time with other like-minded young adults and their parents instead of be influenced by negative peer pressure.
When you get a little extra money, how do you spend it? Do you immediately spend it on your own personal gratification–on material things–or do you think of some way to bring experiences into your children’s lives that will open vistas and give them subliminal permission to be “all that they can be?” Do you attend concerts and operas as a family, or is Netflix the highest form of cultural engagement you are introducing your children to? When you plan your vacations, do you immediately think of Disneyworld, or do you try to incorporate some educational aspect, such as visiting the actual island where wild horses are rounded up each year after reading Misty of Chincoteague with your children? As they get older, do you expose them to good literature such as Shakespeare, perhaps by renting both the book and the corresponding video from the library so you can follow along and actually see the play enacted? Do you sign them up for something worthwhile during the summer–such as a science camp for budding scientists or art lessons for the young artists–instead of letting them vegetate at home or in daycare? During high school, do you encourage them to get cars and expensive clothes and begin dating, or do you focus their thoughts on how much better their lives will be if they buckle down now and study, building their resumes so they can get into college, and hold off on “living” until later? Yes, much of this costs money (or forgoes the opportunity to make some money) but you only have your children for eighteen years at best, and your influence on their character and development is strongest during this time.
But why should we allocate money and time on our children? Isn’t what is cheapest and most available just as good? Well, usually no. It doesn’t mean that you can’t grow up to be a decent human being by attending only the lowest cost or free activities available–theoretically you can. But in reality, it is the things you have to make an effort at that end up influencing them most positively. So, be creative. Research online. Ask around. Go to Barnes and Noble and spend some time there paging through the educational/testing/college sections, even if you can’t afford to buy.
Some of the best educational opportunities our children have taken advantage of were free. Even though we homeschool, our daughter takes Japanese through our local public high school; this costs a total of $26 per semester for the books. In her first year, her teacher nominated her for a Youth For Understanding scholarship through which she was able to spend a summer in Japan. Many communities sponsor a Great Decisions current affairs group (our is held at the local public library). It is completely free, and an education in what is going on in the world. Even though it tends to be populated by an over fifty crowd, our high school age daughter was welcomed and is now attending for the third year. Many of the participants are educated (our particular group has two professors, one teacher and an engineer who has traveled the world!) and bring the experience of a lifetime to the discussion. Remember that whether you have chosen to homeschool or not, you are your child’s primary and most loyal educational director. You are the one who truly cares about who they will become and what their future life will look like–in a way that no guidance counselor ever could. So let the internet become your best friend. Google your questions, find opportunities, and fill your child’s life with worthwhile activities. But what about negative influences? What about when my child doesn’t want to listen to me?
My personal opinion is that homeschooling makes it easiest to avoid the negative peer pressure issue because you can control to a much greater degree what they are influenced by. Remember, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.'” (I Corinthians 15:33) A lot of when and whether your child rebels against your efforts will depend on what you have already allowed them to be exposed to. If they have grown up on cartoons depicting children rebelling or knowing better than their parents, do not be surprised that they do. If you have placed them in a regular school and their friends lie to their parents or refuse to obey them, be certain that this will be an issue facing you too at some point if nothing is done. Always, whenever you can, get the situation to help you along, instead of fighting you–don’t put your children into an environment that works against your goals for your child, but rather put them into one that supports and affirms them. If you want your child to want to attend college, for example, put them into groups of college-bound kids. That way it’s like paddling downstream–much easier and more certain than the opposite of trying to go against the flow. Remember, you need to be the one in charge, simply because children don’t always make wise decisions on their own. Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns if you see that a change needs to be done.
Most of all, don’t give up, but be prayerful and proactive. And be encouraged, because God’s Word says, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:9)
Help us not give up doing good for our children, because You promise that eventually we will reap if we don’t give up. Amen.