Sometimes when I read or hear about all the fun activities other parents do with their kids, I can begin to compare it to my own daily parenting challenges and begin to question my priorities. My initial thought is, maybe I need to "just lighten up" and have more fun times. I can look at our high expectations and standards and think, "Is it too much? Am I setting the bar too high?" Should I relax and just "enjoy life with my children"? Is it necessary to be so serious all of the time?
Many so called experts tell us, "Just let your kids find their own way. Give them freedom to make their own choices and express who they are". Some say "all you need is love. If you really love your children then they will feel that love and will want to be obedient and rules won't be necessary." If I listened to modern advice, then I would "just lighten up". Fun would be our number one priority as a family. At the end of the day, we would feel accomplished if we had some kind of fun together. Our summers would be successes bcause we spent all ours days at amusement parks, the movies or the pool. None of those things are wrong but as a Christian parent, God has called me to much higher goals than blowing the top off of the family fun meter.
God has given my husband and I the responsibility to raise up 4 children "in the strength and admonition of the Lord". We are to teach our children how to be godly men and women who are completely sold out for Him and His kingdom. And that teaching begins at a very young age by how we choose to prioritize God in our own lives. If I put all of the "fun" things of the world before God, then I will model for my children that a successful life is all about the fun. If church is not a priority and can be continuously skipped for sporting events, parties or some other activity, then I'm teaching my children that those things are more important than God. They will choose to seek God only if they have time or need him in a crisis.
I don't want God to be like a relative that they visit twice a year for special occasions. I want them to crave time with God so much that weekly church attendance just isn't enough. I want their one desire in this life to be to please God in ALL things. I want their souls to feed on God's Word daily and when they miss a day, I want their spirit to ache for time alone with God. Therefore, I must teach them to deny their fleshly desires and pursuit of pleasure in this life. I have to be vigilant in this training because dying to self is a daily battle.
As a parent, I am at war with Satan over the heart and soul of my children. His desire is to devour my children and keep them away from knowing God. And when they come to Christ, he doesn't just give up and leave them alone. He then does everything in His power to make them ineffective as witnesses for Christ. Satan's attacks are fierce and relentless. Therefore, I must be fierce and relentless in the spiritual training of my children. Parents we must wake up and realize the seriousness of our roles in training the next generation of spiritual leaders.
Satan is ruthless and he is after our children. He is succeeding at convincing an entire generation of parents that to be a good parent, you have to be a fun parent. You have to make sure your kids are happy kids. If that was the measure of success, then my husband and I would fail miserably. We would fail because we don't make "fun times" our priority. We do have fun together as a family, but we are not the entertainment directors for our children. We get in the trenches daily and battle the disobedience, the apathy, the attitudes, the irresponsibility, the selfishness, the disrespect and the self-centeredness. We fight for purity, godliness, selflessness, self-control, and complete surrender to Christ. It is exhausting, emotionally, physically & spiritually exhausting.
Some days I wonder if it's worth it. Some days I want to throw out all the standards, expectations and boundaries and just relax. But then I am reminded of what happens when as parents we just relax...."And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel." (Judges 2:10) "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls." (Prov. 25:28) If I choose fun over discipline now then I am not only failing in my job as a parent, I am setting my children up for failure later. If I don't teach my children the importance of putting God first in everything that we do, then they will become part of a generation who has no desire to seek after God. Proverbs 19:18 says "Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death."
When we choose to make life a big party for our children and avoid the difficult times of discipline and training then we don't love our children the way God has called us to love them. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it". (Hebrews 12:11) "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." (Proverbs 3:11-12)
I take my job as a parent very seriously. God has entrusted me and my husband with the massive responsiblity to teach our children everything that we can about who He is and what it means to be a true follower of Christ. We don't have the luxury of being passive in this task. We must be strategic and purposeful in our training and discipline. We must set high standards because that's how God has called us to live. Galatians 5:16 calls us to " walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh". In Romans 12:1-2, Paul calls us to be set apart from the world. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
My desire for my children is for them to become God-focused adults. To be willing to joyfully serve God wherever he calls them. How can that happen if they spend the first 18 years of their lives focused on themselves and what makes them happy? The focus needs to be on doing those things that make us Christ-like. "So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22) "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any
excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." (Phil. 4:8-9)
On those days when I just want to give up and take the easy way out, I will seek God and His strength even more. During those times of weakness when I envy another family's entertainment spending, I will remember the joy & excitement that my children had serving in Oneida, Nicaragua & Haiti. When I allow the lies of culture to tell me that my children need the newest and latest stuff to be successful, I will remind myself that the only thing my children need to be successful is a heart that is totally surrendered to Christ.
As I sat there watching my 11 yr old daughter play the Wii and laugh and giggle with her friends, I was reminded of how short childhood is for kids today. In just over 2 weeks, my daughter starts 6th grade and enters a whole new chapter in her life. And so will I. It will be my first experience being the mother of a middle school girl. To say that I'm not nervous or concerned would be a lie.
My oldest two boys made it through the middle school years without too many issues. However, I think those years are the most difficult and most challenging for kids and parents. And I think it's much more challenging for girls. Peer pressure is through the roof and so is the need to fit in. Many times girls who were friends all through grade school will no longer speak to one another. Why? Because one is now popular and the other is not. One is a cheerleader and the other is a math whiz. One has designer clothes or shoes and the other does not. Or because in order to be friends with one girl they can't be friends with another.
In the past few months as I've thought about my daughter starting middle school, I've begun praying more earnestly for her and her heart. She is very sensitive and gets very upset when she thinks someone doesn't like her. I'm praying that she will be confident in her identity as a daughter of the King. I'm also praying that God will give her that one special friend that will walk with her through the day to day dramas of the modern middle school. I'm also praying that she doesn't grow up too fast over the next year. I don't want her to lose the innocence of a child too soon.
I've known too many children who have entered 6th grade and within a few months the sweet innocence of childhood has been replaced with attitude and apathy towards most everything that they once enjoyed. I've also known some who have grown-up a bit during the middle school years, but they have still kept the giggles and laughter of childhood. I'm not an expert on child development but my observation has shown me that the difference is made by 2 things.....friends and parents.
When a tween spends a vast amount of time with friends who have bad attitudes or are disrespectful to teachers, it rubs off. When these friends have no respect for parental authority, it rubs off. When these friends make stupid choices, your tween may be right beside them. When these friends make great choices and are respectful, that rubs off too. The friends they spend 7 hours a day with will influence them greatly. But so can I as a parent.
I'm a firm believer in the enormous impact and influence that parents have with their children. Which is why during the school year, my daughter and I will have weekly girl time. And since we live in a house full of boys, it is greatly needed!! We may go shopping or to a movie. We may grab ice cream and just talk. The important thing we do is spend time together connecting and keeping communication lines open.
Right now the talk is mainly about this girl or that girl who said this or that. And at times, I tire of hearing the continuous drama of who is no longer friends with who. But I continue to listen and engage my daughter in conversation because I love her and also because one day soon, she may need to talk to me about something of greater significance. If I haven't cared to listen to the little things, then she is less likely to share the big things with me.
This year we're going to be adding one more thing to our weekly girl time. We're going to be doing a purity study together. I want her to not only protect her physical body but also her heart and her emotions and to understand why. It's a bit scary for me to process the reality of what takes place in middle schools between boys and girls. But I have to leave my denial behind and prepare my daughter for battle.
Lord, I ask you to please captivate my daughter's heart. Protect it from harm and help her understand the depth of your love for her. Help me as her mother to be available to her and help her grow strong in her love for You
Wouldn't it make life as a parent of teenagers so much easier, if there was just this standard parental law that said there was to be no dating allowed until you're 18 or 21 or maybe 25? There would be no stressing over rules. No discussions would be needed about how long is too long to be on the phone with that special someone. There would be less damage to hearts and less emotional baggage. There would be more healthy marriages because there would be less regrets over past relationships.
While there is no law against dating, I think as Christian parents we must set high standards for our teens to not only protect them but also to set them up for successful marriages in the future. How many of us made stupid decisions in a teen relationship that we wish we could go back and redo? How much of our hearts did we just give away for a little bit of attention? How many of us are actually married to our high school sweetheart?
Too many teenagers are becoming emotionally attached to their boyfriends or girlfriends at very early ages. They are defining who they are based on who they're dating. And if that relationship doesnt work out, their world crashes and then they quickly find someone else to attach themselves to. Each time they are giving away pieces of their heart that they will never get back. By the time they are old enough for marriage, their heart is so damaged and beat up that they can't figure out how to unconditionally love someone else. I do not want that for my children. I want them to enter marriage with full healthy hearts that are overflowing with love for their spouse. I don't want their minds to be full of regrets. That's why we have chosen to institute the Carlson Family Dating Covenant.
This covenant has extremely high Biblical standards of what a God honoring relationship looks like. It discourages physical contact and it limits the amount of time spent together each week. It does not allow the couple to be alone together in cars, homes, or anywhere that there is no accountability. It encourages spending time together with family or groups of friends. It discourages emotional intimacy that God meant for marriage. It also encourages each person to make their relationship with God more important than any other relationship. Each aspect of this covenant is based on the authority of God's Word. A God-centered relationship requires each individual to surrender completely to God's plan. Is this an easy task? No! It requires daily or possibly hourly dying to selfish fleshly desires. Can it be done? Yes! But only by daily feeding on God's Word and gaining strength through Him.
Some may say "Those standards are way too high and no teenager can be expected to have a relationship like that. There's nothing wrong with holding hands or a goodnight kiss." And that is correct, there is nothing wrong with that but the danger comes in when that's no longer enough. Relationships are always progressing and growing more intimate. Kisses get longer and hand holding becomes arms wrapped around each other. That's the way God created us. He created us to respond to touch. When we awaken that desire for touch before marriage, then we are going against God's design for relationships. When we allow our teenagers and young adults to have such low standards then we shouldn't be surprised by the number of teens who succumb to temptation and have sex before marriage.
Many of the teens sitting in our churches have crossed that line. Some had parents who set high standards and the teens chose to ignore those and do their own thing. There are some whose parents set low standards because they didn't want to be the "bad parent" and they wanted their kids to just have fun. And there are some who started with high standards but became weary and exhausted with the constant battles and just gave up. Parents, we can't give up!! We can't let the world be our measuring stick. We can't be naive and think that just because our children are in the youth group, they are safe from the temptations of this world. We must seek God and His Word and use that as our standard to live by.
I'm curious to know if others out there have created a dating covenant? If your children are years away from dating, do you plan to use a covenant?
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Women of Faith conference in Columbus, OH with my friend Priscilla. It was an amazing conference. We spent lots of time talking and sharing our stories with each other. And we learned that we are so much alike in so many ways. We also heard lots of stories from so many of the speakers.
Mark Lowry shared lots of hilarious stories about his childhood, which gives me hope for my youngest!! Patsy Clairmont shared a funny story about parading through her town with pantyhose stuck to her pant leg. Many of the speakers shared stories of trauma or sexual abuse in their lives. They also shared stories of healing and restorations. Some shared their stories through the words of songs they sang.
One thing that Amy Grant said stuck with me. She said that everyone has a story and we don't know where they are on their journey of becoming who God wants them to be. How true is that? When we encounter someone who isn't so nice or lovely, we don't always know their story. And when you don't know their story...then you don't know them.
I love hearing or reading the stories of the lives of other people. I love to hear how they overcame trials and difficulties. I love to hear how God used those times to strengthen and change them. When I have the honor of knowing someone's story then I feel like I understand more about them. Many times those people who are a bit difficult to get along with are still in the healing process from some major blow that life has dealt them. So before you write them off as a cranky, whiner or complainer who never sees the positive, ask to hear their story.
Once you take the time to hear someone's story, you may just find out that they're more like you than you ever thought. Maybe God has put them in your life so you can be an encourager to them. Your story could inspire them to keep moving towards complete healing.
God has given each of us a story to share. So don't be ashamed to share that story. Your story is what makes you who you are today. You never know whose life you could touch by just telling your story.
Over the next few blogs, I'm going to be sharing my story of what has made me who I am today. Some parts of my story will be easy to share while others will be difficult. However, I am at a place in my heart where I have forgiven myself and others for past mistakes and hurts. I'm hopeful that my story can help someone else make different choices.
So join me as I share the story of what God has done in my life and how he has made me a new creation in Him!!
I am a Christian, a wife, a mom, a VBS crafter, a coupon clipper, a thrift store shopper, a football fan, a cook, a student of the Bible and an avid reader.