Dana and I have had a lot of opportunity in recent years to look back in gratitude and marvel at the teachers and ministries that have mentored us in the various stages of our parenting. The Lord carefully placed us under their tutelege at just the right time in our lives to both receive and apply the lessons we were learning.
Our first few parenting graces came to us before we had even begun our family. Firstly, we received God’s calling to repentance and faith in our college years. Then, after graduating from college, I had the great privilege to teach at the young, budding Christian school in our community. The school’s initial name (which has since changed) was Shema Christian School. It was chosen by those early pioneer parents who embraced Christian education as a means of fulfilling the Shema even under the New Covenant.
The Shema is the “Hear, O Israel” passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
As we began to rub shoulders with those dedicated school parents and observe the intentionality in which they parented, we were unwittingly being mentored. These parents helped to grow us up quickly in the faith and gave us a vision for the future family we hoped God would grant us someday.
After beginning our family, we were blessed to have our parenting philosophy shaped by Dr. James Dobson and the guests that graced his radio program, Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson is a godly man who has championed families for 30 years. One of his most influential books he wrote was Dare to Discipline (now under the title The New Dare to Discipline). From his teaching we learned early on that children can and should be disciplined within the context of love and affirmation and that even spankings can and should be grace-filled.
Another gift of a different nature came to us in the form of a pamphlet which was offered free in the pediatric department of our clinic. As I brought my firstborn in for a routine check-up, I caught sight of the brochure which promised help in getting one’s child to sleep through the night. I have come to know that the method is now called the Ferber Method created by Dr. Richard Ferber. This method helps parents establish progressively longer and longer intervals with the goal of training one’s child to soothe themselves and to fall asleep on their own. Dr. Ferber is careful to guide parents to wait for child-readiness before implementing the technique, usually around five or six months of age.
Dr. Ferber’s Method worked like a charm for each of our four children. They learned how to put themselves to sleep usually by the third night. I won’t deny that the first day or two were very difficult as we set our timer and sat outside our child’s door—he or she was crying inside and we were crying outside. If we did not have the conviction that we were doing this hard thing for the ultimate good of our little one, we would have lost our resolve. No doubt, the relatively quick results of 3-4 days helped us embrace this technique and dare to apply it to all of our children. Parents, baby, and other siblings all win when the baby learns to lie down at a healthy time for bed or nap and put themselves to sleep in a fairly short time frame and sleep through the night.
Mrs. Elisabeth Elliot was another saint who came along via her radio program, Gateway to Joy, to mentor me as a young Christian woman and mom. Gateway to Joy has been off the air since 2001 (replaced by another of my heroes, Nancy Leigh DeMoss‘ Revive Our Hearts). I was thrilled, though, to find that I can get a handful of transcripts from those old broadcasts here. In her motherly, no-nonsense manner she shared her stong opinions and teachings. Her wisdom was born of a life of discipline, suffering, and submission to the Lord. It was Mrs. Elliot who set our parenting expectations early on in reminding us that children are “little barbarians” who need to be civilized…that they come into this world with no thought or care for another’s needs or feelings; they need to be taught and trained to care for others and to sometimes defer their own needs for those of another.
She really is one of my heroes and one evening we packed up our young family and traveled an hour away to a small church to hear Mrs. Elliot speak. Her book and tape series, The Shaping of the Christian Family, which recounts her own parents’ wise parenting, helped Dana and I flesh out our vision for our children and our family. We fell so short of the ideal that Mrs. Elliot laid out, but she gave us a standard in which to calibrate our parenting.
During those early years the music of Steve and Annie Chapman reminded us of the eternal purposes we were engaged in as we parented our little tribe. Their music may sound dated now, but back then it reminded us of how important it was that we take our parenting job soberly and seriously.
Then, during our children’s elementary years, we found Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo. Their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum helped us teach and train those post-toddlers. I’m not sure if I could have embraced their On Becoming Baby Wise program. I had tried a similar structured scheduling with one of my newborns as I followed a book promoted by dear Mrs. Elliot entitled My First Three Hundred Babies by Gladys W. Hendrick. I just could not well up the disassociation needed, though, to “follow the plan” even if it promised happier babies, parents, and families in the not-so-long run. However, God brought the Ezzo’s “Growing Kids” teaching to us at the perfect time when we were able to apply it in the lab of our home.
The Ezzos encouraged us to train our children so not only we enjoyed them (that’s usually a given for parents), but so others might enjoy having them around as well. They spoke of fanning a “love of virtue” (vs. how close to sin can one get without sinning) and the concept of the “preciousness of others.” Identifying the preciousness of others was key to our children’s understanding of how their actions affect others’ feelings, time and/or domain. Our directions began to include the “why.” Our children took small “thank you” servings of foods they disliked to show gratitude for the cook’s efforts. They heard such things as, “Please pick up your napkin so the waiter won’t have to” or “Hands off the window, someone has to clean that.” They were guided to think of others when they encountered conflict–“Oh that was an accident, I can see that, why don’t you say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,'” etc..
Our children learned that they are a welcome, necessary part of our family, but they are not the center of the family around whom their parents or siblings revolve. We learned strategies to help our children be respectful and we learned that when our child acts up in front of others, it’s o.k. to say, “This is something we’re working on, would you excuse us for a moment?” In this way our intentional parenting didn’t have to get derailed just because we were out in public.
Dr. Randy Carlson’s old radio program, ParentTalk, offered us daily, practical guidance in handling an array of parenting situations and a single phrase from Josh McDowell gave us guidance as our children began to grow older. It’s true in the early years, if we concern ourselves only with our parent-child relationship and fail to establish and enforce rules and boundaries, the result is sure to be chaos. However, it was Josh McDowell who gave us the following equation for the middle and older years: “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” Since Dana and I are parents that deal best in black and white (rather than gray), it was difficult for us to make this transition. We did not do this as well as we would have liked. However, we found our best approach was to just talk, talk, talk to our kids, as we walked by the way. Nothing was off the table and we talked often about difficult subjects as we tried to develop in our children a discerning biblical worldview, hoping the result would be a personal moral compass.
It wasn’t until our children’s middle school/high school years that we first heard of Jim and Dr. Charles Fay’s Love and Logic. Soon after, Dana and I took a community course on this approach to parenting and child accountability. This is the one teaching that I feel came too late for us to practically apply, but we were impressed with the philosophy and tried to use what we could, even in small ways. Interestingly enough, Love and Logic is the classroom management approach favored by the Christian school in which I teach. We have regular training to give us tools to apply this philosophy—a philosophy that discourages adults from swooping in to rescue children from the consequences of their behavior, but, instead, presses them to take responsibility for their actions and to come up with solutions when predicaments arise.
Acknowledged…Dana and I made A LOT of mistakes throughout the years. We did knock heads with our older children at times when Dana and I (mostly me) attempted to lay down the law without regard for the relationship we were hoping to develop. We did not achieve the ideal we carried inside us. But, for the most part, our home was fairly argument-free. We attribute this to the work of the Holy Spirit in all of our lives and God’s grace in putting us under the godly, timely teaching and mentoring that we received over the years. No doubt our pleasurable home-schooling years benefited from these influences as well.
Over all, we enjoyed each other’s company and found our children fun to be around…we still do.