Raising Our Children in Community
Children take their cues from the grown-ups they see around them. A boy is likely to become the kind of man he sees around him. A boy does not naturally become a gentleman. A boy needs role models of healthy masculinity just as girls need role models of healthy femininity. And all children need Christian role models in their lives. We can’t assume that our children will become Christian gentlemen and Christian ladies just naturally.
Children might not choose the right path unless they are guided. Left to their own devices, not many children will choose broccoli and Brussels sprouts over French fries and ice cream. That’s why they have and need parents. It’s the job of the parent to guide their son or daughter to make the right choices. We give leadership, guidance, and help define for children what it means to be a man, a woman and a Christian.
There are many role models that are harmful and destructive. The dumb blonde is a negative and destructive gender stereotype, as is the dumb jock. How about the slacker gamer? Today where committing a crime and have jail time can be seen by some as being cool. Where in our culture are the following values taught: scholarship, integrity, civility, altruism, sportsmanship, responsibility, self-discipline?
To become a man, a boy must see a man. But that man doesn’t have to be his father. In fact, ideally, it shouldn’t be only his father. Even if your son has a strong father or father figure in his life, he also needs a community of men who together can provide him with varied models of what productive adult men do. Same goes for girls. Who are the other women in your daughter’s life that provide her with varied models of what productive adult women do? In addition, don’t forget that older teens are models too. If all these older teens talk about is going to the bars and putting down church, think of how that will shape your child’s thinking
But the typical North American teenager doesn’t hang out with middle-aged adults. The typical North American teenager hangs with other teenagers. When adults choose largely to neglect the critical task of enculturing the young, the young are left on their own to discover the social meaning of their sexuality. And if boys and girls don’t have a definition about being a man or being a woman, advertising and media and music tells them. Manhood is marketed. Grand Theft Auto and Axe Body Spray and latest band or hip-hop group define what a man is if you don’t.
But what about the girls? The culture of the marketplace teaches girls to value themselves in terms of how sexy they are, not in their own eyes but the eyes of boys. For example, Madonna has promoted her sexual definition of what it means it be a woman for the past 25 years.
Belonging to a church and a Christian community can make a big difference with our children. You may be able to picture five other adults in your child’s life that are role models for your child. Maybe a grandparent, maybe a sibling, maybe a family friend. Make these people aware of what role you want them to play in your child’s life. Ask them to be purposeful in what they say and do with your child. They may ask you to do the same for their children.
Encourage the youth group leaders in your church. They need your support and thank them for being willing to be a part of your child’s faith development, church life and social network.
Make sure these family members and church friends have your child’s email address. Encourage the grandparent to email, text and facebook your children and reach them where they are. Is your youth leader a friend on your child’s facebook? What about your best friend?
Could a church organize an all-age all-male retreat? How about a retreat for all-ages all-ladies? How about a service-project whose workers are all one gender? For example, if the boys go along with the men, to help build, fix and paint, they not only learn skills, but they build community. Here, the boys will learn that to be a man is to use your strength, your skills, and your brains in the service of others. And the next time they see each other in church, the boy will have things to talk about not just with his peers but with the men who went on the trip.
Christian communities don’t need much help in encouraging year-round competitive sports that get the kids outdoors. Most coaches will work hard to be a positive force for your son or daughter. Real sports teach courage, physical endurance, and camaraderie. No video game does that. Put girls in competitive sports to give them other things in their lives besides the rating and dating game. Their self-esteem needs to be more complex than being based on what the boys or their female peers think.
Don’t wait for your child to make this choice. The child will need a push. That’s ok. Don’t promise that she’ll love it, because she might not. Your job is not to maximize your child’s pleasure. Just choose an activity where your child can interact with adults, where your child can have an opportunity to see how these people live, and how they serve the community. In most cases, choosing something will engage your child in the real world- more than not to choose anything at all.
How can we support one another? Parents need to know that they have permission to talk to other parents. When we receive a phone call, we need to listen to each other’s concerns. If Mary is coming for a sleepover, a conversation of about what movie is going to be shown may be necessary. If the parent doesn’t approve, either the movie isn’t shown or Mary doesn’t come over. And both situations are treated with respect as two families with different ideas try to work together. If Mary tells you “that everybody in her grade has got email”, then you as the parent feel welcomed every time you call another parent in the grade about whether the statement is true or not. Encourage that parent who has an alternative plan to reduce the costs of birthday parties. And parents hosting a party should welcome other parent’s calls about details- whether it is a grade one party or a grade twelve party.
Being a parent is hard. No one said it would ever be easy, but we make it easier on each other when we work in community.