Years ago, a friend’s teenage son declared: “When I grow up, I want to go to Saudi Arabia and openly preach the Gospel until I am martyred.”
Not exactly the life plans most moms have for their children.
What should we do when our kids tell us things that rock our world? I’ve written before about why Sonlight presents multiple views on various issues, such as different perspectives on historical events and the origins of the earth. If you’re curious at all, go ahead and read those to see what it looks like for Sonlight to teach multiple views on one issue. (For example, we present historical fiction about early American history from the perspectives of Spaniards, English colonists, and Native Americans.)
But I’ve been thinking of another reason for our approach to showing multiple sides of an issue. The very practice of looking at and discussing various points of view throughout your homeschool years helps protect your relationship with your kids.
You know your children are their own people. And sometimes that feels scary because you know you can’t control them! At other times it is truly awesome to watch the creative work of God unfold as your kids grow up.
As your children grow, they’re probably going be a little different than you expect. And they will probably disagree with you about some things. You pray and guide and do what you can to help them choose to follow Jesus. But you know that how they live their faith will still look a bit different than your life. Their fashion may be different than yours. Their financial choices may be different. Their paths of ministry may be different.
As one small example, my son Luke has a weekly movie night at his home. Anyone is welcome. They watch a movie and then discuss it. Luke uses it to demonstrate an open home (Brittany, his wife, says she never knows how many people will be at the dinner table) and to model the opportunity to talk about deep issues. I personally would never have started a ministry like that. To be honest, I don’t value movies the way Luke does. But I am grateful for Luke’s heart in this area. When I asked him how a book-loving mom like me could raise a son who loves movies, he replied, “Books and movies are both all about communication.” I had to admit that made sense.
In the face of these inevitable differences, big and small, we parents must decide: Do we want our children to be willing to talk to us about those differences? When they are teens and have some doubts about their faith, do we want them to feel like they can talk to us about that? Do we want to actually hear what they’re saying (even though our hearts might be thumping hard)? Do we want to be a helpful, trusted guide in their lives?
Since the answer is yes, we ought to start learning to listen and engage when our children are young. You can start looking at various viewpoints early on – to give both you and your children practice asking questions, listening and discussing. Your children learn that questions are OK, that not everyone believes what your family does, and that’s it’s OK to have convictions that run counter to our culture. You learn how to create a space where children can question and find answers.
Sonlight helps parents be intentional so they don’t fall into one of two extremes here:
- At one extreme, you could create a family culture where you can’t talk about anything. Any subject or idea outside what you believe to be true is shut down. Your children just hear your side of an issue over and over, without ever learning that the other side has intelligent (if unconvincing) reasons for their views as well. Your kids will grow up not knowing how to talk with someone who believes differently than them.But then sooner or later, at least by college-age, your children will meet intelligent, thoughtful, engaging, and kind people outside the boundaries you have drawn. They will meet Christians who believe God created the earth millions of years ago, or generous atheists who love their families and those around them. This can shake them to the core and make them feel like the whole foundation of what they thought true is suspect. They may feel duped and mislead. And then they may go and make their own way without your input at all.
- On the other extreme, you could choose not to provide your children any guidance. You could avoid teaching your children what you believe to be true, and instead let them chose anything from a young age. You could present all the world religions as equally valid options and let them choose what feels right to them. You could let them make all their own choices about values, morals and actions.Clearly, this approach does not work well. Children need to know that some things are right and some things are wrong. Some things are true and some things are false. They need to have a framework of truth before they can rightly evaluate things contrary to that framework.
So here’s a middle way that Sonlight helps you walk: You teach your children that your beliefs are true. You share your faith as the truth and you teach that you make your big life choices (like family, nutrition and finances) for a reason. But you also teach your children that other people believe other things and make other choices. And that those people are usually smart people trying to do good in the world.
You show your children that you are open to new ideas in non-essentials – for example, you may receive new information and let your beliefs change over time about what it means to eat in a way that is healthy and ethical. When you talk about history, you show curiosity for the experiences of all the people involved, not just those who were your cultural ancestors.
When it comes to essentials, like the core tenants of the Christian faith, you show that you can hear other viewpoints and that you respect those who share those viewpoints as people. You show that you are interested in what they believe and why. And then you demonstrate to your children that you still believe what you do.
Through this, you and your kids learn together how to have real conversations. You prepare for when your children say things that strike fear into your heart, whether it’s “I want to go to public school,” “I want to dye my hair blue,” “I want to listen to this new rock band,” or “I want to be martyred for Jesus.” When this happens, you want to have practice in actually listening to your children, so you know how to understand where they are coming from and what their motivations are. You show that you respect their intelligence and their desires. And yet you may still set boundaries about appropriate actions.
Sonlight helps you do all this. We think this is a wise way to raise children. If our children are to be true ambassadors for Christ in the world, they must be able to listen to the other side and respect people. If we are to be wise parents who serve as guides, we have to be able to listen to our children and respect them. We need to create an atmosphere where real conversation takes place.
Families who have used Sonlight for years know what I mean here. You can’t control your children, but you can take steps to keep the pathways of communication and influence open between you and them. Simply by choosing to homeschool and use Sonlight you are moving in that direction.
We are with you in this! God bless you in the noble task of raising and educating your children.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, the young man who wanted to be a martyr for Jesus now serves overseas in a relatively unreached area (with a ministry approach that is much more sustainable than his original plans). I’m honored that he and his wife use Sonlight to teach their children!