Thursday, August 10, 2006

Shelter is not a place

I’ve been mulling over the whole topic of Fishbowl Parenting this week, in living color, as I sent my older kids off to public school. My husband and I desperately want our children to defy the statistics that indicate a disturbing number of Christian kids turn their backs on their faith when they reach college. Mary DeMuth of Pioneer Parenting poses the question of whether or not our current Christian parenting practice (which she dubs the "cult of protectionism") might be at the root of this trend.

Since our kids are still in progress here, I thought back to my own childhood, which I always considered very sheltered, only to realize we had great freedoms. In our tiny U.S. town we went to public school. We played with the neighbor kids. We watched TV (including such "horrible" shows as Scooby Doo and Bewitched!). We went to an occasional movie at the Almo theater, including seeing such blockbusters as Escape to Witch Mountain and the Poseidon Adventure. Obviously, that was before the days of Plugged In.

Later, when we were missionary kids living in Mexico City (population 18 million at the time), my mom used to let us take the city bus to school (at ages 13, 11 and 9). We participated in all kinds of school activities. I even learned to drive in that crazy city. I never had a curfew.

I sent my mom a copy of my last post on this, and it was good talking about old times.

So how did my parents do it? How did they manage to raise a family who felt secure - sheltered - without being overly, outwardly protective?

Here are a few things I thought of:

1. They were the real deal, spiritually and in every other way. What you saw at church - praying for people and talking about spiritual things - was what you saw at home. They didn’t have a “prayer voice.” And though it embarrassed us somewhat at the time, when they met our super-rich friends’ parents at the private school we attended out of the country, they were still the same, humble missionaries who asked if they had any needs they’d like to pray about.

If we had a problem, we prayed about it. Prayer was not a memorized, liturgical poem, but a living conversation with a personal God. The Bible was not a dusty collection of fairy tales, or list of religious rules to be carried out. It was the living, breathing Word of God, the foundation on which every sphere of our lives was built.

2. They loved each other openly and affectionately. One of my favorite memories of childhood is seeing my mom and dad hugging in the corner whispering what we thought were sweet nothings (we know better, now, don’t we?) in each other’s ears. They held hands when they were together. They laughed at each other’s jokes and covered for each other’s weaknesses. They were a good team.

3. They accepted us unconditionally. I never once doubted my parents’ love. They were affectionate and generous with praise. As a ministry family, people would often ask my mom about parenting. I remember beaming, as if it were yesterday, when she would say of the teenage years, “It just gets better and better.”

There was grace for mistakes, and joy in the moment. My dad would say often, “I just enjoy being with you!” or “You’re my little girl!”

I belonged.

4. They emphasized character, not conformity. As I mentioned, we had few rules that I can recall, and yet they had high expectations for character. Not just when we were in church, but all the time. Not just because we were the preacher’s kids, but because it was right.

My mom would not tolerate the slightest sass, and yet I look at some of the things I was allowed to wear (tube tops and spaghetti straps come to mind), and I realize now what she knew then: a rebellious attitude can’t be hidden by even the most modest clothing. We figured out modesty by example, not preaching.

They believed in old-fashioned pain to the hindquarters administered in love, and I never once doubted their sincerity in applying it (although I was not about to let them know that I appreciated it! I do now.).

5. They pursued us with love and gentleness. I don’t want you to get the idea that my parents were perfect, but I think they did a phenomenal job from their end, given what they had to work with.

I, on the other hand, was a determined, self-willed little spitfire who did not always desire the higher good. I had a very antagonistic relationship with my older brother until we were teenagers and finally started getting along. In middle school, my sister and I tried smoking. I’m sure there were many low moments in my childhood where my folks thought they were failures. But they hung in there with us.

When I was about 13, I had cultivated a nasty habit of rolling my eyes at everything my dad said. Now, my dad is a big jokester, but I was intent on letting him know in no uncertain terms that I thought his sense of humor was lame, and that his constant comedy was a complete embarrassment.

One day he went on an errand and invited me to come along. At one point the stopped the car, looked over at me and gently said, “Is there a problem between you and me?”

Of course I denied it, but I knew exactly what he was talking about.

“Well, I love you so much and I just wouldn’t want anything to come between us.”

That day, I believe, was a turning point in my relationship with my parents, forever emblazoned on the heart of a would-be sarcastic teenage rebel. In one day I went from thinking my dad was the stupidest man in the world, to thinking there was no one greater.

He could have forced his paternal authority over me and made me stop acting like such the defiant teenager that I was intent on becoming. Instead, he came to me with gentleness. He came to me because he loved me and valued our relationship.

He came to me in a way that represented God to me - a still small voice inviting me back into relationship with him.

So my experience is a sort of paradox: I had lots of freedoms, and yet I felt sheltered.
After I left home, I had a few years of settling the details of what I believed versus what my parents believed. But my basic faith in God was never shaken, because I had seen what serving Him looked like.
That leads me to my conclusion about the matter:

Shelter is not a place; it’s a relationship.

Although we need to be wise about keeping our kids safe (let's not be simplistic here), sheltering our kids from every potential evil is impossible. The world is corrupt. Hey, the youth group is corrupt!

I would love to withdraw my family from society and keep them from having to face the messiness of navigating relationships in a fallen world. But that’s just not feasible. Maybe not even desirable. Besides, we have enough sin nature between all seven of us, they’d still get to see plenty of corruption!

Instead, we want to make sure our home is the safe place, the most comforting sanctuary on earth, where our kids are guaranteed acceptance, affection and genuine love. Our relationship with our kids should be a reflection of God's relationship with us - overflowing with grace and forgiveness.

And while we’re doing that, we're introducing them to Jesus, and we’re walking along side them, showing them how to “do life” with Christ at the helm.

We don’t have to know all the answers, and heaven forbid we should try to appear perfect. I fail daily, and have to ask my kids’ forgiveness all the time. But we feel strongly that the more spiritually arrogant we are, and the more we try to hide our flaws, the more likely our kids will become disillusioned with God later on.

They need to know we are the real deal.
Most importantly, and my Mom agrees, if we want our kids to have our faith, we need to be constantly showing them Who is our shelter, and where they can go to find refuge, even when there is chaos around them.

Psalm 121

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.

The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.


Wendy said...

Wow, thanks Katherine! This is the best thing I have read in a long time! I LOVE the example your parents were to you. Everything you mentioned is what I desire to be for my kids. I think it is so important to be real and let them know that we too will and do make mistakes. I love what you said about the Bible too. That you knew it was the living Word of God and not just another book that sits around on a shelf.
I am linking to you as a must read. I love your blog. You have been such an encouragement to me. Thank you.

Beck said...

Oh, that gave me chills.
"Shelter is not a place - it is a relationship." That is the best single thing I have ever read about parenting. Honestly, I'm in tears right now!

Michelle- This One's for the Girls said...

What an encouraging post--your parents sound awesome. (I didn't realize you were an MK.) I hope one of my children writes a post like that about me one day. :)

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing the benefit of your strong godly upbringing with us.

I really doubt that statistic. What exactly do they mean about "turn from their faith"--stop attending church, stop reading their Bibles (which many adults don't even do themselves), drink while underage, engage in premarital sex? ? ? I mean, I definitely want my children to avoid any of these things, but the proverb says, "when they are old they will not depart from it" if we train them up the way they should go. Many people take a little sabbatical (to use an ironic term), but they come back. Sometimes it takes marriage and/or kids coming along to remind them where their true values lie, but I think that they come back.

Anonymous said...

OH MAN!!!!! WOW!!!!!

That's about it for the words my mind can come up with right now.

Oh thank you for this wisdom Katherine. In some ways I'm just at the beginning of this whole parenting thing (kids aged 8 mos up to 7 yrs) and your last 2 posts have deeply affected me.

Thank you, thank you for sharing,


ashlee said...

AMAZING soooo true. just what i needed to hear today. to be the still small voice that our heavenly father is until the can recognize HIS voice.
thank you for sharing this!

Tammy M. said...

Thanks for such inspiration.

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Jennifer, you bring up a very good point. I am in the process of verifying that statistic, and until I do, I'll remove it. In the meantime, here's a study that reported that 52% of students who previously called themselved "born again" do not do so after attending a secular college.

And yes, we parents tend to think we have full responsibility to make sure our kids turn out. But kids have their own will. There are prodigals in the best of Christian homes. Keeps us on our knees, doesn't it?

Gina Conroy said...

Beautiful thought provoking post!

Emily said...

That was such an incredible post Katherine! I have a "life binder" where I collect things that remind me of what I pray my life will be- I just printed this to add!!!

Wendy said...

That statistic didn't surprise me. I actually thought it would be a little bit higher.

Anonymous said...

Katherine's Mom here....Well, you can't imagine how BLESSED (and humbled) I am to read Katherine's tribute to our home life! She is my best youngest daughter, and I treasure the few times we get together 3-4 times a year! I liked what she said, "Shelter is not a place, it's a relationship." That is sort of a take off on the family motto we had when our children were little - "Home is where the family is!" That could mean the back of a station wagon on one of many trips between Seattle or the Midwest and Mexico, or the many times we moved during her growing up years. It's the grace of God that our children emerged as stable, responsible adults.
Prayer, famiy devotions around the supper table every night, and love was the key. One more thing, I might add, which I believe is important for moms & dads to implement: Before our children left for school every morning, we blessed them with special prayer of protection as they were about to step out the door. Don't you suppose that gave their angels a reason to hedge them about, and as we used to say to the kids, thwart the plans of "old smooty face" who would try to come against them? Kathy - keep doing what you are doing - Do your part to inspire and motivate the Moms out there that they are preparing their children to be strong warriors in God's Kingdom by their daily loving discipline and prayers. Love, Mom

Tammy said...

Very thought-provoking post!

I believe very strongly in home schooling...I mean, I think most of us who choose to do so, believe in it strongly or we wouldn't commit to the work involved. I have not read Mary deMuth's statements, but I do not believe at all that by home schooling, I am participating in the cult of protectionism. Protective? you said, this world is pretty corrupt. And I agree we can't protect them from seeing every evil as they grow up...but from the many people I am in contact with who have homeschooled for years...the majority of their teens are the opposite of what you might think of when the word "teen" comes to mind. They are in the world, but not "of" it...and have a heart after the Lord.

I know you're personally not debating home schooling, but as this form of education becomes more and more popular amongst Christians, that is what I'm assuming Mary DeMuth is partly referring to? Again, I have not read her link yet.

All that said...I'm not one of those people that think all families must home school their kids for them to turn our OK...I truly don't think it's for everyone! The points you made when referring to your own godly parents are wonderful. And what a blessing that your mom replied to the post, as well!

But I believe, in the end, that if we really try to be loving and honest with our kids, allowing choices but within the covering of some good rules, and pray, pray, pray...and then pray some more...most of our children will be protected from losing sight of God's love. After all, He loves them even more than we do! reply should have been a post!
Great topic and some great thoughts!

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Tammy - I just love your winsomeness. Can we have coffee sometime?

I would never debate homeschooling - our family has benefitted from that foundation for far beyond than the three years we did it (we now call ourselves public schoolers with a homeschool mindset - but that's for another post!). Some of my very dearest friends are doing a phenomenal job of homeschooling well-rounded, God-centered teenagers - truly an inspiration to me.

I really wasn't considering the schooling issue when I was mulling over this at all - I guess I was just kind of shocked when I realized God's hand was there even though the outward circumstances were not ideal. He's funny that way.

I think Mary's perspective was how many folks are parenting out of fear (homeschooling or not) - setting rigid boundaries for their kids in the hopes that by keeping them from experiencing the world's bad side, they can prevent them from ever being tempted by it in the future. This outward focus tends to backfire. She just encouraged parents to evaluate what they are doing. If you are homeschooling out of a conviction that this is the best thing for your family, great! You are just the kind of parents we need, and your kids are going to set the world on fire!


Theresa said...

Wonderful post K! What awesome parents you have. Definitely a pair to learn from. Thanks for sharing this story!

Stephanie said...

What a great post. :) And I think that's my favorite Psalm ever.

voni said...

Wow wow wow!! I got so exited about your post! And then I read your moms comments and got more exited(In a good way.:)
I grew up in an outwardly very consevitive christain home. My dad was a homeschool leader and very outspoken. Inside our family was a wreak. . Ruled in fear and hiding about every kind of abuse you can think of. It wasn't the list of outwardly christain steps of holiness that brought me to the Lord. Today my parents are divorsed. It is TOTALY through the grace and mercy of God that I am still walking day by day with the Lord. When I became pregnant with my first child I was very scared at times I still am. I am learning like you said that it is our walk with the Lord that our children observe. I, Like your mom, pray for my childrens protection.
From the bottom of my heart thanks for your honesty. I an learning to trust God as as my protector. Love that passage. Learning to trust Him with my children and my marraige. (I am writing this with tears:) Learning that He is my shelter.
Thank you

Brenda said...

Awesome post, Katherine. You've hit the nail squarely on the head and comfirmed my convictions about the way I had been raising my kids - the same way my parents did. With God's help, I hope to break that cycle. They need to see us living what we believe.
Thank you for sharing your and your parents' wisdom.

Laura said...

i love what you said about how "shelter is more than just a place; it's a relationship."

i was very sheltered as a child, not allowed to watch hardly any tv, my clothes all had to be "appropriate", private school/homeschool, church five days a week, i could go on and on. at 18, guess what did? i walked away. and it wasn't out of rebellion so much as it was out of disrespect (and those can be the same thing sometimes) but i disrespected my parents so much for their outward actions and words and yet lived our inward life (screaming at each other, hateful words, physical abuse and more abounded). now, my parents are divorced and our relationship is tenuous to say the least. my walk with God is by grace and by love, but not at all by relationship or example from my sheltered childhood.

my husband and i have been talking about this on and off since our first daughter was born and i will be carrying your conclusion about shelter being much more about relationship into our conversations and my thoughts on parenting as we move forward. :)

Tammy said...

Katherine...yes, I would love to have coffee with you! :)
Thank you for clarifying a bit...and i completely agree with the heart of your post.

I'm saddened by the comments that follow, though...of the disfuntional families being masked with strict rules. But I applaud their honesty.

I do personally believe in setting some strict bounderies but with complete love, tenderness, and honesty with my kids in that even we parents are not perfect but forgiven- and a work in progress. And by encouraging open comminication.

So I guess I don't think having rules is the enemy (and I know you're not saying that either!) but I guess my philosophy is one where I strive to keep an attitude of humility and acceptance with my children but still show some parental authority. A hard balance, but one I'm working towards.

Again, Katherine...I love reading your blog and think you have a wonderful spirit. :) And I have to say that it has been a good reminder to temper my rules with freedom and tenderness...a good reminder! ya' at Starbucks! ;)

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Thank you, everyone for your comments. There is such a fine balance, isn't there, between rules and relationship?

I guess I should have made a better point about the fact that there was never a question as to whether my parents were in charge. Yes, they set boundaries, but it was within the context of a loving relationship, and it was the principle that drove the rules, not the other way around.

Big difference, and kids can tell quickly when there's a disparity between the two!

I've heard it said that rules without relationship equals rebellion, but rules plus relationship equals freedom. That's where we are trying to steer our family. Mom and Dad made it look easy, but we have our struggles, believe me, especially as our oldest two enter adolescence.

Voni and Laura, I want to thank you for sharing your stories. I am so sad to think of the hurt you've endured. And yet it is an incredible thing to me to see God's grace so great that you are now in His everlasting arms, even though your earthly parents didn't provide the type of shelter your hearts needed growing up.

I pray that He will be to you all that you need to be to your little ones - so they can know as Ps. 91 says, the shelter of the Almighty, through their loving parents first.

Jennifer said...

Wow, wow, wow! I think I may be printing this post out for my husband to read and maybe use it for our own "guidebook" of how parenting can, and should, be. Thank you!

Mary DeMuth said...

Thanks for this post and for pointing folks to my blog. And, hey, I'm typing this in ROCKWALL right now! How funny we are in the same area at the moment.

Christine said...

Beautiful post. Having not grown up in a Christian home and finding Christ in college, I always wonder what a Christian home "should" look like. Thanks for the peek.

Annie said...

Katherine that was amazing, I know that my first instinct is to be protective and keep my daughter away from things that we consider evils of the world but to raise a strong person they have to know what is out there. I'm going to print this post out, it will be one that I will refer to in years (and years) to come. I feel very blessed that God has led me to your blog...I'm pretty sure I'll be getting some excellent parenting advice from you.

Susanne said...

Katherine, great post! I love how you're Dad handled the eye rolling situation. Lesson learned here, I'm glad you shared that! I find in my experience with my teens too, that being real with them also means apologizing when I have been wrong. They truly appreciate that. It shows them that I also am not perfect and am working out my Christian walk daily just like we're asking them to do.

Dianne said...

This is a great post. Sad to say, I think I was raised mostly by an overprotective mom but as I've gotten older, I've come to see it as more "keeping up appearances" than the kind of sheltering you talk about. I'll not elaborate here except to say that I'm still having a lot to learn about grace. Great post.

Butterfly Mama said...

Great writing, thanks for your honesty and truth.

ruth said...

I enjoyed reading your post. It is not easy raising children today. Though I always wanted more, Tammy is my one in only, so my hat is off to you raising 5. I like to visit & read some of the blogs of those who have visited hers & I'm inspired by what a lot of these young moms have to say. God Bless.

tonia/sparrow said...

I can't tell you how I needed to read this today. So reassuring. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Aimee said...

love love this echoes the thoughts that I read in "Grace Based Parenting" by Tim Kimmel that even gave me the courage to stop homeschooling...

Anonymous said...

Absolutely lovely post.

I don't have a lot of memories of your parents, other than the constant air of love, gentleness and faith you describe. I'll never forget us sitting at the kitchen table on Johnson Road with our moms. Your mom asked if she could lay her hands on me and pray that my headaches would stop. Such love.

And I really hope I wasn't the reason you left public school for CKA!

Lynn said...

I popped over here from a link Kristen posted. This is inspiring and just plain true. Wonderfully written post...thank you.

Rachel said...

This is a fantastic post that I pray I can live out as a parent. Thank you!

Hen Jen said...

I love the title of this post- and the post itself is great. You are so right, thanks for distilling it down to a single thought.