It’s almost nine in the morning. I climbed back into bed around eight (with my laptop and my coffee), and all I really want to do right now is slip quietly back into dreamland. I could do it, too. We had a big day yesterday, and a late night, and all of my children are either still sleeping or are quietly working on their morning schoolwork. The little one (now six years old) is curled up beside me, snoring. He looks warm and blissful. I’m a little jealous.
When I make my way back into the kitchen, I’m going to be forced to clean it. Two Sabbaths in a row, followed by impromptu mushroom hunting yesterday, means that my kitchen looks like there are frat boys living in the guest room and attempting to cook after hours.
I do have something on my mind; I’m not solely avoiding the dishes. Due to a recently unearthed (and frankly none of my business) scandal, and the vitriolic reactions that are flooding social media, I guess this thing that is on my mind is the same thing that is on a lot of Christian mother’s minds. I’m thinking of my family, my children, my desire to raise godly people who are free from curses and pain. I’m pondering the importance of truly knowing one’s children to the very depths of their human hearts.
I believe that early confession of the little things (that may feel like big things) is the best preemptive strike against bigger sins and addictions down the line. (That is, confession that is received by loving hearts who are committed to wholeness and healing.) However, while I can only speak for myself, for my childhood, my closest friends’ childhoods, and my parenting of my children, I can say with a good amount of confidence that open and honest confession is sadly lacking in the vast majority of Christian homes. The good news is that there is not one specific and insurmountable obstacle preventing authenticity between parent and child, but there are a few smaller roadblocks that every holiness-seeking parent should keep in mind.
1. There is no such thing as a devil-proof bubble. We see the evils of this world, and we want to protect our children from them. Despite what the world says about our over-protective parenting, this is not a controlling or an outlandish desire. This is a good desire, and a very good goal. However, like the owner of a hill-top mansion equipped with state-of-the-art security, the harder we work to protect our homes the more likely we are to feel safe and to ignore the open basement window. I am not saying this to be a downer or a fear-monger, but there will always, always be an open window. Just count on it. You can unplug your t.v. and avoid the malls…you can cancel your internet…but there will still be billboards on the side of the highway and magazines at the checkout stand. Children will still talk to other children. The enemy will break through your bubble in one way or another. Try, do try, to protect your children’s minds and eyes; just don’t for one second assume that you’ve been 100% successful. And don’t fear or avoid the things that manage to sneak through your net. Use them as topics of conversation.
2. Our kids are not better than we were. We held them as tiny babies, and we swam in their innocent eyes; it’s almost impossible for us to imagine that our children are as human as we were (and are). We might remember vile things we thought, said, and maybe even did when were young and innocent children, but we’ve raised our children to be better than we were. Right? Not necessarily. Not only are we raising flawed human beings (and not robots we can control), we are raising them in a world that is much more insidious than even the world we were raised in. Odds are our children’s secret thoughts and inclinations are not much purer than ours were at their age. Actually, odds are they may be worse, because they have likely been exposed to worse (even with our bubble in place). We can pray a better spiritual life for our children, we can train them in the Word, and we can absolutely do our best to give them the chance to be better than we were (and are). But when we demand them to be super-human, when we crawl into our own little bubbles and pretend they are super-human, when we are unwilling to dig deep into their hearts to find out exactly what lies there and do the hard work of fixing what is broken, we fail our children. More than that, we fail a lost and dying world; for instead of raising whole warriors equipped for battle, we run the terrifying risk of training young Christians in the fine art of hypocrisy.
3. The race for your child’s trust is on; earn it early. My children are talkers; yours probably are too. But they don’t always say it all just because they are always talking. If we want our children to share dreams and to confess sins, worries, and failures, we have to pry. I mean, we have to really dig in one-on-one conversations. When they come in from spending time with friends, ask them, “Hey, did you have fun? Was the conversation honoring to God?” Ask them about their thought-life. Ask them about their sin struggles (they have them). Ask and ask and ask, because even though you don’t expect them to have any catastrophic issues at five, six, seven, and eight years old (although sometimes I’m left breathless over what mine have to say), you are developing a pattern of openness and trust. Big sins don’t come out of nowhere; they just don’t. Issues grow in a place of secrecy and darkness until they rage out of control. So ask them while they are little, while they’re too little to know what shame is. And then react with grace and truth, no matter what they have to say. Then you’ll have earned the right to ask them, and they’ll trust you enough to tell you, when they are sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen.
We all want to think of our children as perfect, but that’s not fair, and it isn’t true. Allowing our children to be human–hearing, training, and loving their humanity while pointing them toward the goal is harder than just teaching them right and wrong. Do it anyway.