Article courtesy of ParentLife magazine.
The other night as I was checking in on my sleeping boys, something out of the corner of my eye startled me.
Eli, my youngest little boy, my baby really, had sprouted stretched-out arms and legs like a big kid just in the time since I tucked him in. Coming after three other stairstep boys, we are fairly certain he’ll be our last. Here’s the thing: Seeing your last kid grow into a big kid means you are headed straight into the heart of the school years.
How Much Can You Let Go?
Sending your child off to school opens up more than just a new chapter. It’s a whole new book. You put a backpack on your heart and send that little heart off into the world. Sending your kid to school raises not only practical questions, but also a slew of deeper rumblings.
Will he be OK? Will he find friends or feel left out? Will he be able to keep up with academics? How on God’s lovely earth will he make it through the day without a nap? How will I make it through the day without him at home?
We want our children to bloom in school, and we also want them to stand their ground. We want the values and disciplines we’ve taught them thus far to stick, even when our kids are planted among dozens of other children. We want our children to love well, to be well mannered, to participate and serve. We want them to grow into capable adults, full of every good thing.
However, it’s difficult not to believe your influence dwindles when your child goes to school. The best news about this fear is that God has gone before you. He put that little baby together before he was even born. He knows and has counted every hair on his head. He cares for him more than the most spectacular lilies in the whole world. He knows every day of his life, and Ephesians 2:10 tells us that He already has all of your child’s good works prepared.
How do we help our children grow and thrive in school? I think it has less to do with what we do, and more to do with how much we can let go of. It seems like allowing God room to act is faith-stretching for us, which can be faith-building for our children.
I believe if we can focus on five radical ideas, we’ll be armed to guide them through the exciting and confusing times of growing up.
1. It is not your job to pursue and secure every good opportunity for your child.
This feels hugely important to me. It is my greatest hope for women in my generation. I want to climb the highest building in the land and shout this message for all moms. You cannot make good things happen for your children. You can’t will a good life for your children, even with that massive amount of love and hope you have for them. The control we have over our child’s life is mostly an illusion. This was true when they were tiny babies, too. We just felt more in control because they depended on us for every need. Now that our children have grown bigger brains and longer legs, they’re able to do more for themselves.
We are raising children in a time of unprecedented involvement in their lives. We have the technology, the resources, and the ability to make sure they have every option available to them. However, this is a terrible idea. Children will not thrive with every good opportunity. They will become overwhelmed, and I promise you will too.
I know it feels like good American parents would make sure their kids had the option to do anything they wanted in life. We, after all, were told we could do anything. But, have you bumped up against the falsehood of this lie yet? I sure have. I know that too many choices leave me frustrated, confused, and like I’m spinning my wheels.
Why this is good news: When you aren’t trying to open every door for your child, you can slow down and listen to the Lord more closely.
2. The goal is not to elevate your child, but to help them see the least of these.
It’s tempting to posture and jockey for position, and we can pass that tendency on to our children. But, I believe, most of the time that impulse is sinful and based in pride and fear. We can do better than to hand down a legacy of power. We can encourage our children to look out for the downcast and the down and out. We can help them develop empathy and humility.
Scripture tells us of two brothers and disciples of Jesus, James and John. James and John want to know who will sit on the right and left of Jesus in heaven. They are pushing for power and position, but Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
Even the disciples fell prey to wanting to be above others. It’s natural to want to see our children succeed. But, if we want them to grow into boys and girls who love like Jesus, we need to help them realize that in God’s economy it’s better to be a servant than a master. Help them figure out how to serve, even in their normal school days.
Why this is good news: Simply helping your child to be aware of children who are alone or on the fringe will help them develop a true ability to see people in need.
3. Helping your child recognize their strengths and weaknesses will help them avoid comparison.
We live in a world that fears talking about weakness. I struggle with talking to my children about their less than stellar qualities because of two reasons. First, I grew up being told I could do anything, and that did loads for my self-confidence. Second, it goes against everything in my nature to want to highlight someone’s weakness.
In truth, though, we are doing our children a service when we help them discern their God-given abilities and self-evident weaknesses early on in life. I’m not advocating for putting your children down, but helping them see where they thrive is essential.
Comparison is rampant in our society. None of us want to keep up with the Joneses. We want to be the Joneses. Nothing less than the very best will do, but there is a problem with that. No one can be the best at everything. If we aren’t taught to navigate our weakness, it can be crushing. We can be tempted to value someone else’s success instead of focusing on our own. I want to raise my children to be discerning of the way God made them. Part of that precious knitting depicted in Psalm 139 is making parts of us stronger than others, as our broken world creates more weakness. Our children will do well to learn how to not fear their weakness.
Why this is good news: When our children are aware of their weakness, they will be more grateful for God’s strength.
"Childhood is fraught with difficult situations, and it’s very normal for children to feel out of control. What better thing to know than that God is the One who brings order to chaos?"
4. Remind your kids that if they follow Jesus, God’s power is in them.
God’s power, strength, peace, and love are in your child if he is in Christ. I find that telling my boys this in as many ways as possible is powerful. I am careful to distinguish from the idea that God will give them strength, and instead I simply remind them that God is strong and God is in them.
Even as an adult, I sometimes don’t feel very strong. It’s OK to feel weak, but to know that Christ in me is the definition of strength. Our children need to know this too. I don’t know that Christians are functionally taught how to take hold of the truths that are evident in our faith. How does your child get some of God’s peace when life feels uncertain? Well, if they are in Christ, then Christ is in them and Christ is full of peace. Your child doesn’t have to do anything but yield to God to take hold of that peace. It’s not a matter of mustering up strength or feeling peaceful. It’s a matter of just sinking into the very character of God.
Childhood is fraught with difficult situations, and it’s very normal for children to feel out of control. What better thing to know than that God is the One who brings order to chaos? Your child doesn’t have to keep the world spinning, but in fact can just believe that God will bring calm to the crazy.
Why this is good news: The fruit of the Spirit, the things we all want for our children, are not something for us or them to conjure up.
5. The best thing you can do for your child is to abide in Christ and have a vibrant personal faith.
Children learn by watching and mimicking. That is the reason our kids come home with a vocabulary of colorful new words after they go to school. They watch for new things to crop up and then they mimic (either publicly or privately) and try on that new information for size. They want to know if it suits them, if it helps them, and if it feels right. This can be scary for parents of school-age kids.
However, this same fact makes your personal walk with the Lord that much more influential. Children who can mimic their parent’s footsteps with the Lord have a huge leg up. As long as you’re honest with your child rather than trying to appear as an ideal, they’ll always have a place to look when life feels confusing.
What happens when you suffer? Do you go talk to Jesus about it? What happens when you succeed? Do you claim glory for yourself or give it right back to the Lord? What about when you feel wronged or sinned against? How you react to life’s real circumstances says a lot more than just what you tell them is true in the hypothetical.
Why this is good news: You cannot guarantee their salvation, but you can show them the ways of Jesus.
It’s hard when we send our kids off into a room where we can’t lay eyes on them and guide them through the day. However, school can be the first fertile ground for them to sow their faith. We can act as stakes in the ground to help support our children.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if spiritual maturity follows the American idea of maturity much at all. In God’s topsy-turvy wisdom, He asks us to have faith like a child. He doesn’t ask us to have faith like a great adult with a high-paying job and every opportunity. He doesn’t expect us to have the faith of someone who got straight As. He asks us to have faith like a child, which makes me believe that our children can have vibrant faith with Him. If our children have a vibrant faith, it means that God is always with them. God goes where we cannot.
So, let’s be parents who pray our children into school and beyond. Let’s cheer them on and talk often of God’s power. Let’s help them see other children in need. Let’s allow them to be weak and point to who is strong. These are the things that will help them to stand tall as they grow.