Few things in life are as important and potentially rewarding or heart-breaking as raising children. Of course, there are no guarantees, but this lecture sould help you know how to contribute significantly to the confidence, courage, and self-acceptance of your child. You can help your children gain the ability to relate favorably with others and influence their peers more than they influence your children. If you do this, they will be more stable and steady so that whatever company they’re in, they will be unshaken and unshakable. If you will take seriously the suggestions and testimonies you read in this chapter you will worry less about your children getting into the wrong crowd—unless it is that they want to reach out to them with the love of Jesus. There is, however, a catch. This habit will take a lot of your time for the first eighteen years of each child’s life.
For a number of years, before Char and I were married, I had prayed and searched for a wife and anticipated being married. Life with Char has been even better than I expected, though we have had to be intentional, as you have seen in the last chapter. One of the really great surprises in life, however, has been the joy of parenting. We have thoroughly enjoyed each progressive stage with our children, and there have been times of growth for both children and parents. Each phase—newborns, babes-in-arms, toddlers, primary students, junior high, senior high, college, and now adulthood—has produced a never-ending drama of personal growth and joy that has far surpassed anything I ever dreamed. But just as in marriage, successful parenting also must be intentional. Because of the great importance of parenting responsibilities, this and the next chapter are devoted to this subject.
It Is Possible
We all want to raise confident and obedient children. What we don’t realize is that both are possible, and any of us has the power to do it right. I used to wonder if I would be a good parent. Char and I had an advantage in that our own parents demonstrated a good mixture of love and discipline. Char’s wise and elderly grandmother came to Canada to help when Dan was born, and she too had some excellent practical advice for us. Before we left Canada for Korea, we attended a very helpful seminar by Bill Gothard. In the early seventies when Char taught Christian Family in Korea, we absorbed other valuable materials like Dare to Discipline by James Dobson and The Christian Family by Larry Christianson. Those are great standard books on how to raise children, and most Christian bookstores have these or many other updated fine books available. Go find one. Later I listened to a taped series by Charlie Shedd. In what follows, you will find traces of what we learned from these sources. Distinct advantages belong to those of us whose own parents provided us with good models, but today, even without those advantages, there are enough written materials and experienced successful veteran parents available that you can learn the things you need to if you try. This and the next chapter can help you get started.
Children become adults. That may seem like a blinding flash of the obvious, but much of our adult behavior reveals that we either do not know or believe this. Children are people and are therefore not unimportant. We found that respecting, enjoying, loving, and spending time with each child provided a strong friendship between us that has carried over to the present when our children are now adults. This strong friendship also provided support for our program of training them in the ways of the Lord that included both attitudes and behavior. With careful thought based on recognizing the importance, value, and rewards of parenting, you too can do well. Don’t be afraid; just take parenting very seriously.
Decisions and Priorities
A first step toward raising confident children is to seriously decide that is what you want to do. Unless you believe the value of raising confident and obedient children is greater than the cost, you may prefer to not have children. Consider the time it will take to raise responsible citizens and make a prayerful and united decision. The child- rearing enterprise has tremendous rewards, but it is not without costs. If we count the cost in advance, we will be ready to face the many years of responsibility that follow the excitement of the stork’s arrival. These costs, paradoxically, insure that we have another important arena for spiritual growth. In God’s economy, when someone gives, everyone profits—not least the giver.
The first step is getting ready for them. Being ready will mean different things to different people, but whether it is psychological, spiritual, or financial readiness, children should be welcome. The main preparation, that should precede other preparations, however, is psychological and spiritual preparation. It is not a sin for married couples to not have children if they do not want children. It would be better to not have children than to raise problem children who became problem adults because they grew up in an unprepared, unwelcoming, and undisciplined atmosphere. No one wants problem children. Better not to be parents.
Parenting takes time and commitment. We have all heard many adults lament that they did not take more time with their children, but, as we learned from chapter one, it is possible to correct our courses mid-stream so we have no regrets later. I, along with hundreds of other parents, choose to take time with our sons as you will see in these two chapters, and have never ever been sorry. An obedient and confident child brings such great satisfaction and happiness to the parents, but the opposite is also true.
There were numerous times during our thirteen years as missionaries to Korea that my expenditure of time with our sons took some time from my work. During those years, affirming my personal priorities for my own benefit, I often said to myself, “I may fail as a missionary, but I will not fail as a father.” I enjoyed my work as a missionary and felt it was the most important work anyone could ever have done. But even so it was not as important to me as my role as a father. I was not a failure as a missionary, but for all the satisfaction from my small part in the success of the church we worked with in Korea, I derive even more satisfaction from having raised our sons.
When we were preparing to leave Korea, numerous students of ours who had become pastors came to visit us in our home. Koreans are wonderfully polite, and they came in large numbers to greet us during those final days. Not a few made statements which typically sounded like, “We learned from you in the classroom, but we learned more from you by visiting your home. The happiness the two of you enjoy together in your marriage and the pleasantness, obedience, and manners of your sons have taught us much about Christian family life.” Money cannot buy the joy remarks like these produce deep in our spirits.
When parents attach more importance to parenting than to career responsibilities, fewer crises in the parent-child relationship occur—and the career does all right, too. This policy led us to problem-free parenting and eventually being more free to pursue careers than if we had originally given careers first priority. Illustrations of this paradox abound.
The Link between Confidence and Obedience
Confidence and obedience in our children are interrelated. So that children will be secure and confident, parents should learn how to affirm and encourage. That much most of us realize. What some of us do not realize is that there are several additional deeper dynamics to the relationship between confidence and obedience. The obedient child, affirmed by praise from wise parents, becomes even more confident. The confident child is more satisfied to remain within the behavioral boundaries explained to him because he knows they are good for him and that crossing the borders is not good for him. Confidence and obedience feed on each other in healthy ways.
Well-defined, consistent, and firmly-enforced perimeters for acceptable behavior are great contributions to confidence and character development in children. If these future adults do not learn obedience early in life, it is a serious life-long handicap. Moms and dads have a tremendous privilege and responsibility to bring up obedient, responsible, caring, and mature citizens. When children know where the boundaries are, they learn how to function confidently within them. If they do not know where the boundaries are, they feel the need to conduct a series of tests to find the boundaries. Children without clear boundaries are therefore often tentative—not confident. Haven’t we all watched small children reach out to touch something they were just told not to touch—and watch their parents to see whether the prohibition would be enforced? In older children their tentativeness shows up differently—as a lack of self-confidence.
On the other hand, confidence and obedience are responses to two different emphases. One emphasis—encouragement—is loving, affirming, jolly, and celebrative; the other—discipline—is firm, forceful, persuasive, and demanding. Both are evidence of love, and both are necessary if our offspring are to become both confident and obedient.
We observed earlier that a very simple thing like respect goes a long way in raising confident and obedient children. What do we mean by saying we should respect our children? If we truly respect them and honor their dignity, we will not seek to embarrass them, and, even in disciplining them, we will treat them fairly. We will discuss discipline more in the next chapter, but let’s observe here that correction, when administered appropriately, is not counterproductive to developing confidence. For example, if there has been no previous rule, there should be no punishment at the first offense—only instruction. Children often don’t know something is wrong until it has been defined. Until their consciences are informed and developed, we can give them the benefit of the doubt by punishing them only after adequate prior instruction. When preparing to punish, we can acknowledge that the child is trying to be good, but made a mistake. Instead of telling the child he or she is bad, we can say, “that was a bad thing to do,” not, “you are a bad child.” We don’t want our children to perceive themselves as essentially bad—nor do we want them trying to live up to that perception.
There is nothing mutually exclusive about love and punishment. In our home, we routinely, after punishment, showed immediate love. Hugs affirm that the child is not rejected, but is still dearly loved. Love and hugs are not inconsistent with loving punishment. We also had a spiritual time to pray together that this doesn’t happen again. This shows the child you really support them—and that you don’t enjoy punishing them. Correctly administered punishment produces obedience. Obedience deserves praise and praise produces confidence.
You are no doubt familiar with the old saying, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” We never agreed with that. It is true that children need to know when to be quiet and listen, but by encouraging their participation (not domination) in conversation they learn how to present their ideas, when to be quiet, how to ask questions, and how to be tolerant of ideas different from their own. We found that this contributed further to their confidence levels.
Furthermore, as our sons were growing through their teenage years, anyone of the four of us had the right to call and chair a “family meeting” any time, providing advance notice was given to others with busy schedules. Chairing the meeting was an opportunity to develop leadership and to express ideas. We didn’t establish this policy with building their confidence as our stated goal, but knowing they had our ear was a contribution to the atmosphere in which their confidence did develop.
Advocate, Not Adversary
The relationship between some children and their parents seems to be predominantly adversarial. The parents criticize and the children defend; the parents demand and the children resent. It is much easier and a lot more fun if children find an advocate in their parent, where the parent essentially affirms. How is such a relationship developed? Part of the answer to that question is found in the next chapter on raising obedient children. Obedient children deserve to be affirmed; disobedient children don’t. And yet the raising of obedient children is primarily the responsibility of the parent, so, once again, the onus is on us. There are a number of ways we can demonstrate to our children our desire to be their advocate. When the children were still small, Char read something that resulted in a family policy of saying “yes” unless there is a real reason to say “no.” This proved to be a little difficult to do at times, but over the years, we found it helped our boys develop, and it taught Char and me to release them.
We most recently applied the principle last spring. With our adult children operating on their own, they still sometimes ask us what we think about things. We still try to stay with our policy of saying “yes” whenever possible. Our twenty-nine year old son, Dan, a single school teacher, lives with a Korean family in Seoul for the sake of the language-learning environment. Dan wanted to bring the twelve-year-old Korean son on our Alaskan family vacation. Char and I would have much preferred having more time to talk with Dan about teaching abroad and his plans for the future, since opportunities to talk with him are quite rare, now that he’s living on the other side of the world. Dan’s point was that even though he did not have a family, this young Korean was sort of his family for now. We did not urge our feelings on Dan, but again said, “Yes.” Without enumerating the inconveniences of our saying yes to the inclusion of a foreign, non-family member with whom we had to use another language, let me say what was gained. We could see Dan functioning in the Korean culture. We heard him speaking the language we had used during our Korean years. A Korean had the opportunity to experience Alaska with an American family and caught a salmon! He could take that memory—and photo—with him for the rest of his life. Over the years, I built bicycle jump ramps for our grade school boys, went places, did things, and ate things I would not have chosen at all because of this policy of saying “yes” when we could. The inconvenience to me was probably minimal, but the advantage to the friendship with our sons was enormous.
We also decided early that any and as many questions as our sons had the awareness to ask, we would answer. I have been saddened many times hearing parents telling their curious children to not ask so many questions. Because of our policy regarding questions, we did not say, “Don’t ask so many questions,” but, rather, “That is a good question.” We felt that if they had understanding enough to think of the question they deserved an understandable answer. As our sons’ questions matured, so did our conversations. This policy took us more than once into subjects some parents and children never discuss, but we were never sorry. Neither did we ever feel the need to change the policy. A few times the openness of the relationship allowed me to take my turn to ask some quite pertinent questions myself. Today our sons are still asking good questions.
Char and I allowed what we called “freedom of speech” in our family, even to the extent of critiquing what we said. We wanted our children to think. This policy grew rather naturally, and it only occurred to me that we had such a policy when one time the extended family, with a pile of cousins, was together at their grandparents’ house. In the course of the meal time conversation, one of our sons made an innocent enough criticism of me. One of their uncles said, “My children would never have criticized me like that. We would never have had such a remark in our family.” My reply was, “We have freedom of speech in our family.” Several days later, after everyone had gone to their respective homes, our sons told us that their cousins had been quite impressed with the openness of our relationship. By allowing our children to question and challenge, it gave us the opportunity to reexamine our policies to make sure they were fair, and it gave our children the opportunity to learn from our answers to their questions of “Why?” Telling them, “Because I told you to” was not a good enough response to develop the kind of thinking, discerning men we wanted to raise.
Investment of Time
Almost every aspect of the subjects addressed in this and the next chapter take time. When parenting is a priority, however, taking time to do it right is not laborious. Playing with children takes time. Talking with them takes time. Correcting them responsibly takes time, and sometimes this occurs at inconvenient times. If or when taking the necessary time begins to seem laborious, this may be a hint that our priorities have shifted. We give time to what is important to us. Is raising confident and obedient children a priority with you?
Individual time between each parent and each child (as well as collectively) spent in relaxing and fun activities brings tremendous returns in the child’s development. In our family, we enjoyed both group things and the one-on-one times that affirm the value of each child. Many books on parenting recommend this and it worked well for us. Heart-to-heart talks usually take place better when individual attention is being given. The following character-training subjects require unhurried treatment: freedom and responsibility, choice of words, disrespect, insensitivity to others, feelings, waiting your turn, and controlling the tongue. Adequate time spent together allows for their demonstration and explanation.
The greatest advantage of deliberately investing time with children, however, is that it produces a condition of level-headedness, trustworthiness, and maturity that makes other advanced responsibilities possible. Advanced responsibilities, in turn, introduce them to still further growth potential with increased confidence. In the next paragraphs you will read how the time we spent together working on their cars was so productive. The maturity they demonstrated at ages fifteen and sixteen allowed me to encourage them to purchase cars of their own, which would not have been possible if we had not spent time together in earlier years. In other words, since we had developed a friendship in the time I gave them during early childhood, they, in turn, were happy to have time with dad during teen years. I valued that.
Creating an Atmosphere for Talking
The best conversations I had with our sons were unstructured and informal. If I sit down with a son and say I have seven items I want to discuss and one at a time work my way through the list, there is a different atmosphere than if I say, “Hey, let’s play catch with the frisbee.” In the conversation that occurs while playing and genuinely enjoying being together, we can still cover the seven items, but in a more relaxed and natural way.
When the boys were younger, simple games or errands together sufficed to create natural talking times. Later, we had to be more deliberate. When the boys were fifteen and sixteen, I, to their delight and surprise, suggested that if they wanted to buy cars with the money they were saving, they had my permission. I would be willing to register them in my name. All expenses were to be theirs, but I would help with paper work. The time between buying their cars and leaving home was invaluable, and I look back on the fun and work we did together with great satisfaction.
Step one in this process was deciding what car to buy. They looked in the newspaper, and we discussed things like depreciation and the advisability of getting a mechanic to examine the brakes and other parts—even though it cost a fee. We also discussed evaluating the car in terms of how many miles it had left in it, rather than how many miles it had on it. Dan bought an enduring old Volvo, and Joel bought an Audi—both with lots of miles left on them. We made trips to shop for cars in our family station wagon. This meant I got to be a part of the process and occasionally asked a question or gave an answer. As I look back on those experiences, I think it was a wonderful and natural way to help young men develop the ability to shop, evaluate, and make good decisions.
Both boys’ cars both needed some work. I don’t know how many valuable hours Dan and I spent preparing his Volvo for the paint job we gave it. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but I remember we had a great time together. Joel’s silver Audi needed some body work. We learned a lot as we knocked out the rusted areas, patched, screened, and built them up. By the time we were through with the project, the car looked wonderful, and the father/son relationship was in as great a shape. The Audi stood proudly in our driveway for several weeks, waiting for Joel’s sixteenth birthday. And when he took it for its maiden voyage, guess who got to go with him? He invited me. He started the engine, and then he said, “Dad, let’s pray.” As he led in prayer I heard him dedicate the car, its use and conversations in it to the Lord. I was a guest in his car and participated in his experience. What a way to watch values pass on to the next generation.
Whether the subjects we needed to discuss were talked about during those work times or whether they took place during other conversations in between, I don’t recall. I do remember, however, that I was never sorry to have taken the time necessary to help maintain both vehicles and relationships.
Once Joel’s Audi needed its engine rebuilt—a problem that could have been avoided. The oil level had gotten too low, and something blew in it. I knew how many months it had taken Joel to save enough to buy the car. I knew how many more months it had taken for him to save the $900 it was going to cost to rebuild the engine. So as we pulled his car with a rope to the repair shop one cold evening, I gave not one peep of advice, as I recall. Much earlier, I had talked with him about oil gauges, changes, and pressure, but he didn’t need my reminder that night when it was too late. When our kids go through these learning experiences, they don’t need lectures—they need help. Our helping hand, without the “I told you so,” keeps the relationship open for other lessons they either request or allow.
In the summer of 1985, the boys and I hiked along the Chirisan Ridge some 120 kilometers from Wangshiribong (KingsBowlPeak), where our cabin was, to Chunwangbong (Thousand Kings Peak), South Korea’s highest mountain, and back. It took us five days. We carried in our backpacks a tent and supplies for sleeping and eating for the entire time. We talked and laughed most of that time, and moaned and groaned under our loads part of the time. The last day we woke up to drizzling rain, broke camp, and hiked all day in the rain. Our boys developed ruggedness, perseverance, cooperation, and the ability to encourage, as well as further deepening the friendship that existed among us. What did we talk about? I don’t know, but I do know that now after the boys have been gone away from home ten and eleven years, they both relate well with their peers, respect people of all ages, and love God and seek Him and His will with a passion. Somewhere during those hours together, something got transmitted.
The Transmission of Values
Since values pass naturally from one generation to the next as parents spend time playing with their children, we must be deliberate in making generous time allowances. By maintaining the good friendship established in earlier years and gradually taking on projects of interest to the teenager that are consistent with the teenager’s (not necessarily the parents’) gifts, a free flow of ideas and values takes place. Profound ideas and values are exchanged and absorbed through non-manipulative dialogue—and the learning takes place both ways.
Attitudes about the value of an eternal soul cannot be communicated in a moment. The supremacy, power, majesty, and tender loving mercies of God are not relayed through a brief statement. The value of spiritual and physical purity and the advantages of having a clean mind, heart, and body before God is not something that are quickly picked up. The power that belongs to one who lives in God’s will, has a strong faith and confidence in the sovereignty of God, and knows that God is an ever-present help in time of need are concepts that get transferred in multiple conversations while hiking up mountains and riding up ski lifts. Conversations in the darkness of the mountain cabin as the wind blows through the trees outside are the times to pass these great values from one generation to the next. The value and practical personal usefulness of prayer, the knowledge that nations are changed and lives are rearranged through the power of prayer are things that each new generation of believers needs to have reinforced. These values are relayed as misunderstandings are discussed and as parents and children wrestle through problems with the unkind child in the neighborhood and the subway officer who didn’t understand the situation. It takes time to learn how to take problems to God instead of handling every offence and grievance ourselves.
When children know how to obey, we can trust them. When we can trust them, they are worthy of greater responsibility and freedom. These are wonderful truths, and our children are willing to learn them, if we are willing to walk around the block with them and discuss it. (In the next habit, however, we discuss what to do when teaching obedience requires more than just walking and discussing.) How does a new generation learn the value of eternal things and reject the materialistic, pleasure-oriented unbelieving culture of our times? Communicating these values is the most important—and time-consuming—job a parent has.
Safety in Dangerous Situations
The world abounds with multiple dangers both seen and unseen. We cannot entirely avoid them, but we can learn how to maximize safety through them. When we lived in Taejon, our grade-school-aged sons and I took a bike hike around the city one Sunday afternoon. Please do not imagine orderly traffic staying in lines, waiting, yielding, or even quietly proceeding. There were buses, trucks, taxis, horse-drawn carts, ox-drawn carts, and numerous bicycles, all operating on a different set of rules. How is a parent of adventurous boys growing up in such a traffic environment to maintain his sanity? My response was to take them out and teach them. As we traveled, we talked about the traffic, the way cars passed on both sides of the buses, often swerving into the bicycle lane. We observed the way the buses drove with their blaring horns instead of steering wheels, and we learned how to pace ourselves in the traffic and plan ahead to time the traffic lights. We also had a lot of fun and exercise.
When we moved to Seoul, our sons were older, and, many times rode their bikes three or four miles through Seoul traffic to school. This entailed a trip across one of the Han River’s long and very busy bridges. You may ask how our sons handled that. Or you may ask how Char and I handled that. We did not worry because we had taught them how to be safe in danger. There are more than just physical lessons to draw from this experience. We too often over-protect our children, and then they are not able to handle danger in life on their own. Right now, Dan is living abroad, studying a foreign language, and making preparations to take the gospel to a people God has laid on his heart—to a nation whose president has publicly declared he will resign if he does not kill every Christian in his land. Joel is a pilot of the powerful F-15E which has air-to-air and air-to-ground smart bomb delivery capabilities. We still are not worried. Not because our sons are in safe places, but because our sons know how to be safe.
We used to hike in the mountains near our cabin (Charon) in the south part of the KoreanPeninsula. When we came to the top of a cliff with a scenic view beyond and below, I sat down on the stone with my feet extended toward the edge. Making sure the entire surface of the back of my legs gave me ample traction, I inched forward to the edge and carefully let my feet dangle over it. Each of the boys would sit down and carefully do the same. As we sat there, we discussed why it would be foolish to stand up, exposing our whole body to the wind. We discussed traction and the advantages of keeping our body’s center of gravity low. We also observed the different kinds of clouds. We noticed their movement in different directions and speeds because the wind was doing different things at different heights. We discussed the soaring birds and learned about the upward currents of the wind. These are the kinds of times I look back on with satisfaction. When I think of how controlled our sons are today under situations of pressure and duress, when I see them behaving safely in our dangerous world, I am glad we had those times together. Of course, each parent must assess the maturity, capabilities, and readiness of each child to receive this kind of instruction. Though our comfort levels in dangerous situations may differ, the principle still holds of working it through with our children in deliberately invested times. My sons needed them, and your children do, too. The point is driven home all the more by the foolish and dangerous things some children do. They had the potential to be just as safe and wise as anyone else’s son or daughter, if their parents had taken some time with them.
As children become teenagers, ease off on the controls. In a healthy relationship, in which confidence and obedience have developed properly in younger and more formative years, parents will be just as eager to release their teens and young adults as the teens and young adults themselves are ready and eager to be released. We observed earlier that I suggested our boys buy their own cars. Let me give you the background for that.
In the summer of 1987, one year after we returned to the United States from Korea, Char and the boys were gone for a week to youth camp, and I stayed home alone to finish “finishing” the basement in our house. Dan was sixteen and driving, and Joel was just fifteen. I do not recall that we had ever discussed the matter of the boys getting their own cars. As I worked, I listened to a tape series by Charlie Shedd in which he encouraged parents to release and trust their growing teens. It was a great series and I recommend it to parents. What he said struck a positive note in my heart, and soon after the boys returned from their week away, I called a family meeting suggesting that the boys might want to buy their own cars. The development of their character, sense of responsibility and maturity was in my mind and the prestige and convenience of having their own set of wheels was in theirs. I cannot say how grateful I am that I took that step.
Knowing that we wanted to return to the mission field as soon as the boys were both launched into their academic careers, we had told Dan and Joel we would provide for them through graduation from high school, but that the financial arrangements for their college careers would be their responsibility. As it turned out, the boys not only bought their own cars but also their own clothes all through high school. Their sense of responsibility with regard to financing their projects was very helpful to Char and me, since we were pioneering a church, and I was finishing my last academic program. But it was even more beneficial in the development of their autonomy, self-reliance, self-confidence, courage, and maturity. Everyone should not necessarily do it exactly as we did, but we found that allowing autonomy, giving responsibility, and nurturing growth in character all seemed to go together as we trusted our sons and let them know that we did by our policies. When they went out in their cars with their friends, we would often say, “Take Jesus with you and have a great time.” Augustine, I think it was, used to say something like that, too. We smiled and laughed with them as they left the house and then turned to each other and exchanged knowing responsible parents’ glances.
Their senior year of high school, each of our sons experienced a change in status by mutual agreement between them and us. They became adult guests in our home; it was no longer necessary to have our permission for their activities. They would let us know where they were and when they would be back, but it was not a matter of getting permission. It was a courtesy, since they lived in our home. We wanted them to learn to make decisions for themselves while we were still available to them. This, we felt, would make it easier for them to adjust to complete autonomy when they left home. We are happy that we gave them autonomy at the same rate they wanted to receive it. It allowed us to completely avoid the adversarial relationship that often accompanies the “generation gap,” which is, in many cases, nothing more than a normal reaction of a healthy child to too much control by the parent. We were never sorry we allowed these freedoms, though there were times one of us would have to remind the other that the policy would eventually produce mature citizens. We were also glad we had taken pains in their younger years to prepare them for this.
One of the most difficult times of allowing the freedom we had promised was during Dan’s senior year. You will recall that he had accepted the responsibility for funding his own college career. Dan decided that in order to earn the Army College Fund and to see some more of the world than just Asia before he settled down to college, he would serve in the US Army. Like many parents, we questioned the advisability of such a choice. What kind of people will he meet? Will he ever really go on to college? What habits will he pick up? The questions were endless. But in June of 1989, upon graduation from high school in Pennsylvania, Dan moved to FortSill in Oklahoma and began his military career as a Fire Support Specialist. He visited us for Christmas that year, and the next month left for Europe. Did we do the right thing to trust him to make his own choice?
In 1991 while Dan was still in Germany, we moved to China. In November of 1992, without our even being in the country, he came home from Germany, and on his own, bought a good used Audi that lasted many years, entered himself in university, did the paper work for the Army College Fund, and began a highly successful academic career, graduating in 1996 with honors and a BA in Elementary Education. He had enough of travel, Europe, and life experience before he entered university that he knew the questions to ask and the things to do to get the most out of his university years. The only disadvantage of his plan was that he found it a little difficult to find equal maturity levels among his university peers. He found mature Christian friendships, however, in a circle of adult friends at church. I certainly wouldn’t slow or compromise a child’s growth just to keep him on a par with peers; let him lead instead of follow. You won’t find a father anywhere on earth more proud of his son than I am of him today.
Control children at younger ages. Release them later. May the Lord help Christian parents to give attention to consistent discipline early in the lives of their children, then the wisdom to let those same children make their own decisions when they are adolescents. If we control our younger children correctly, when they are teenagers, they will use their freedom responsibly.
Scripture says, “Train a child in the way heshould go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6, italics mine). The emphasis in this verse is not so much on moral training as it is on finding what a particular child’s strengths and skills are and encouraging his development in a way consistent with those gifts. Helping them find their gifts and releasing them to exercise those gifts will contribute to our children’s becoming their best possible selves. It takes courage and faith in our deposit in our children and the Holy Spirit’s work in them, to release them; over-controlling adolescents is counterproductive.
One more thing. Parents should respect their children and not unnecessarily do or say things that embarrass them. A little sensitivity to when we are in the way while they are with their peers goes a long way. Getting out of their way is one more way to release them.
Returns from Investment
The value of raising confident and obedient children is far greater than the cost. As has been stressed several times, taking the time to do the kinds of things recommended in this chapter is a major undertaking. This project takes about eighteen years. During that time, it is a priority, and there may be times that it will take us away from our careers. That is okay. The returns continue on into even the next generation as our children raise their children in a similar way. We usually feel we can only serve the generation in which we live, but this is not so. We can raise children who will serve God in the next generation. This means that we can increase the sphere of our influence from just our own generation to include a succeeding generation, if not generations.
We tried to teach our children that obedience was a matter of principle, not just avoiding getting caught doing wrong. Whether we were present or not, we required obedience. To reinforce this, one of our family rules was that our boys had to obey their school teachers. If they got into trouble at school, they had a second punishment coming at home—because they had also broken a family rule. At the beginning of each new school year, I would explain this family rule to our boys’ new teachers. Several times during our twenty-plus years of parenting, I had to act on this rule. Year after year, teachers would tell us how cooperative and obedient our sons were. This happened at Joel’s graduation from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs when Char and I returned to the United States to attend his graduation in 1994. It happened even more recently when he graduated from flight training. It also happened when I came to the United States from China to attend Dan’s graduation from ORU in 1996. Char had occasion to do public service one year in the inner city grade school in Tulsa where Dan taught for three years. She, too, heard Dan’s peers praising his cooperativeness. Raising well-disciplined, respectful, and confident children is a rewarding experience!
You have seen in this lecture how to affirm and build children. This is not, however, the only ingredient in the mix. Like us, our children have a sin nature, a propensity to do wrong. We also have to deal with that part of them, and the key, we found, was to discipline ourselves consistently to discipline them consistently and fairly. This habit by itself, therefore, would be out of balance. So would the next habit by itself. But combined, the principles in the two habits together will help us raise children who are confident because of our affirmation and obedient because of our loving discipline. In order to be able to release them as suggested in this lecture, there must be years of training and discipline, which we examine in the next lecture.