No doubt about it: effectively training up children in this current society is the toughest job you’ll ever have.
Their growing up is inevitable, but growing into righteous, emotionally stable, productive human beings is a miracle that requires extraordinary sacrifice, commitment, and wisdom on the part of parents. There was a time when there were small, close-knit communities composed of extended family and friends, where the church and school reflected and enforced Christian values, where children just naturally grew up to be stable and well-trained. No more. Those times are gone forever. Every government agency, form of entertainment, electronic device, and educational entity is now designed to mold children into the image of hedonistic heathens with self-gratification as the chief end of life. Trying to shield your children from exposure to evil is like trying to sandbag your house against the rising flood waters of the Mississippi River. You have to teach your children to swim against the rising onslaught of pollution and not swallow any of the putrid water in the process, because the world will definitely seep in on your children.
I have now lived long enough to have observed the entire process and can document the results of various proffered solutions to the problem of raising up righteous, overcoming children. One panicky approach that has failed miserably is retreat and isolation. It illustrates a dilemma: children must be raised in a functioning community, but community is generally depraved. If we retreat and throw up barriers to the world, our community may become so small as to cause the children to feel trapped and deprived, resulting in their longingly looking beyond the artificial walls to the exciting world beyond. They must feel that all of their needs will be met within their community—spouse, home, work, entertainment, worship, entrepreneurship, individual expression, education, etc.
I have observed too many isolated families produce angry, resentful children that flee into the arms of the world at the first opportunity.
One of the outstanding marks of the family that isolates itself and criticizes those on the outside is that the children fail to get married. They will have eight children, half of them over 25, with several still living at home.
The girls, more than the boys, get bypassed for marriage. The guys are prone to take flight and satisfy their hormonal urges, but the girls just wait and wait and wait for that miracle to happen—but the prospective grooms are just not shopping at their little boutique. Even when the girls venture out into the light of day where guys will see them, they are often bypassed. I have asked the young men why they are not interested in such a lovely, disciplined, hardworking young lady, and they just shrug and try to put their thought into words, and then I realize again that they have no thoughts regarding the young lady, no opinion, no interest—she just isn’t there. She lacks personality, vivaciousness, charm, attractiveness. She reflects the small, dull world in which she was cloistered. She is a nun fresh from the convent.
I have observed that it is not altogether the isolation that causes rebellion in the boys and discontent in the girls as much as the attitude of the parents. When children are raised in remote areas, like on a horse ranch in Montana, or the outback of Alaska, they are not as likely to jump ship and reject their families. They do not take their family’s isolation to be self-imposed, as if their parents are deliberately depriving them of their due. They are more likely to be needed as working members of the unit, sharing the struggles and the joys of the family business.
When these isolated kids come out of the mountains or off the farm to the big city, they may be a little awkward and ill at ease at first, but they are never dull. They possess confidence and poise in their body language and interest and curiosity in their eyes. They are likely to excite the interest of the opposite sex because they have a depth to them that the deliberately isolated do not have. Even as they may leave the old life behind and seek broader opportunities in the larger world, they are more likely to cherish their upbringing and appreciate their parents.
The attitude difference between deliberately cloistered children and incidentally isolated children is the attitude conveyed by the parents. In a fenced-in home where the parents are paranoid about the world beyond and always criticizing those on the outside as a means of keeping them from accepting other influences, children grow up with small souls, and when they discover that outsiders are not so bad, their parents try to build the fences even higher, warning them against opening up to the evil without. The children, already suspicious of the world, grow bitter at their parents and find themselves alone and lonely in a world that has passed them by, or they plunge into a social circle with no skills to survive and are consumed by forces they do not understand.
Again, the dilemma: do I isolate my children from the evil without and face the possibility of them becoming dysfunctional in the world and unfulfilled in love, or do I allow them to freely socialize and risk their developing a hedonistic perspective? I appreciate the complexity of the problem you face. There is a way to victory, even in this present world.
Foremost, before you give attention to training and guiding your children, give them what they most need—parents who love each other and enjoy life together. Most parents who cloister their children are themselves unhappy and fearful. If you are not in harmony with your spouse, you will create insecurity. I know young people who say they do not want to be married because their parents’ marriage was so painful and contentious, but they do want sex. Lady, read Created to Be His Help Meet and believe it this time. Put it into practice. Mister, stop trying to rule your wife like she is your slave and start loving “her as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Delight in your spouse and your spouse will delight in you, and your children will delight in being a part of the family.
After making the family a fun love factory, adopt the world without as your project. When you live in fear and are in retreat, you have stopped trying to convert the world to Christ and have forfeited the opportunity to make a difference. In short, you are fearful and selfish—not good ground to raise children. Instead of retreating, start meeting the needs of others. Give your children meaning by doing things outside the home that are meaningful. Touch the lives of those in need. Share the gospel with the lost.
Then you need to join yourself and your family to a fellowship of believers that share your goals and perspective. Build community. This takes on different forms to different families, and I cannot tell you exactly how this should occur in your unique circumstances. But you must have a circle of daily acquaintances with whom you can share your life.
Know for a certainty, when Christians form an intimate circle, there will always be a family that pushes their way into your life that will bring the world and all its ugliness into the inner sanctum. You must be vigilant as a parent and be prepared to hurt someone’s feelings, if necessary. It is one thing to take your children without the camp to minister to the needy, but is quite another to allow sin into the camp where your guard is down. So many parents have ruled over the damnation of their children through their forgiving hearts with the excuse, “Well, shouldn’t we minister to them, as well?” Ministry takes place when you put on the whole armour to stand against the wiles of the devil. Never allow your children to play with kids that were not raised in the Spirit as are yours. Think of the darkness in other children as ten times as powerful as the light in yours, and you will stand a better chance of them not being exposed to pornographic images or talk.
You must create community that is protected and sanctified while ministering to the world without. Two or three families does not make a community. Arrange your job, the location of your residence, your church life, the schooling of your children, and your social engagements so as to maximize righteous community for your children. If you send your children to public or Christian school, you have relinquished all control and allowed them to form community without you. Their schoolmates are their community and will be the determining factor in their development. You have placed their souls in the hands of other children.
In our church, every family homeschools. If someone came into the church whose children go to or have gone to public schools or church schools, their younger children would never be allowed into the inner social circle with our kids. There would be zero fraternization, even on the church grounds after meetings. We have built community and will not allow it to be corrupted. The stakes are too high. But we readily reach out to others and receive every stripe of sinner who repents toward God and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most parents don’t have the guts to form community and protect it. Before they will take a painful stand, they will sacrifice their children on the altar of social politeness.
There is enough evil arising in the hearts of our own children; we do not need to accelerate the process by unguarded association with children that have been prematurely immersed in the Devil’s culture.
Older kids—sixteen to seventeen years old—who have been to public school and have demonstrated true conversion and commitment to Christ may enjoy full acceptance by the other kids, for, by the time our young people get into their middle teens, most of them are quite capable of standing firm against temptation.
More than ever, I encourage you to create community. Sacrifice everything, including your comfortable way of making a living, to create a wholesome context in which to raise your children. The greatest day of your life is the day you come home from a wedding with one fewer kid, knowing that you completed your task; you planted another godly family in this sin-cursed world. The greatest achievement in life is to “train up a child in the way he should go” so that “when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Reread Jumping Ship. Give a copy to a friend in need. ☺