Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Overcoming the Myth of the Perfect Homeschooling Mother, part 2

The second myth I want to debunk is the belief that if you do everything perfectly, then your children will turn out exactly the way you wish.

Spurred on by my vision of raising a godly seed for the Lord (Malachi 2:15), I fell prey to this myth in a big way. Unknowingly, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be "the perfect homeschooling mother." I also put pressure on my husband, at times, to conform to my image of "the perfect homeschooling father," because I so wanted us to be "the perfect family." I truly desired to have a family that would bring honor and glory to God, a family that would shine brightly for the Lord in this dark and fallen world. (See Philippians 2:15.) While a noble goal, it was a bit unrealistic!

First of all, I soon discovered that I did not have the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, or the strength of Samson. I grew tired and weary. I lost my patience. I was inconsistent, and of course, just like any other parent, I was learning as I went, making mistakes all along the way! It is humanly impossible to be a perfect parent, as much as we might strive to be one.

And besides being totally impossible, even if I were able to achieve my goal of being a "perfect mother," it still would not have guaranteed the ideal results I wanted. Although God was the perfect "parent," his once perfect children (Adam and Eve), who lived in the perfect home (the Garden of Eden), and ate the perfect organic diet, chose to exercise their free will and rebel against God's commands. They chose the knowledge of good and evil at the expense of their intimate fellowship with God. With this in mind, it is totaly unrealistic for me to think that imperfect parents like my husband and myself could ever raise perfect children who always made the right choices.

Furthermore, this philosophy puts way too much emphasis on the method. It implies that by following the right child training philosophies and the right educational methods, you can control how your children turn out. While I do believe that you can greatly influence what your children become, I now understand that you cannot control their destinies. Each of our children are born with a propensity to sin and a free will to choose what paths they will follow in this life, whether right or wrong, wise or foolish, leading to blessing or cursing; the choice is theirs. We can point them in the right directions, equip them with the perfect navigation system, even teach them how to handle the curves in the road, but we can not drive the roads of life for them. They must choose the paths they will follow.

I used to believe that Proverbs 22:6 guaranteed that my children would follow the Lord, if I trained them up in a godly home: "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it." However, the Lord gave me new insight into this verse several years ago. The Proverbs are not promises, but wise observations of what usually happens in life. They often reveal cause and effect sequences. I noticed that in Psalm 128, children are referred to as olive plants. (See also Psalm 144:12.) God showed me that in the same way as a gardener might train a vine or a tree to grow in a certain direction while the plant was young, by staking, pruning, and directing the growth in desirable directions, we also train our children while they are young by protecting and directing them, guiding their growth, and by pruning away unprofitable growth. If this training is accomplished while a plant or a child is young and tender and bendable, the plant or the child will grow according to the way it was trained, and is unlikely to deviate from that. However, with both plants and children, there are sometimes wild, stubborn branches that insist on growing their own way, regardless of the efforts of the gardener. (See John 15.)

Another problem with this myth is that it leads to Pride. This is because if you are successful in raising up godly children, then you may think that you can take all/most/a good bit of the credit, when in fact, it is the Lord's grace and mercy all the way! Only God can change our children's hearts, giving them a desire to love and obey Him. Conversely, if your children don't turn out well, you can stagger under the weight of guilt and condemnation, even when you did your best to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (See Ephesians 6:4.)

Sally Clarkson, in my favorite book, Seasons of a Mother's Heart, articulates this so well:
" . . . I begin to believe that I alone am responsible for how my children turn out. I wrongly think that because I am committed to training my children in righteousness, and to homeschooling them, and to doing all the 'right' things for them, that somehow that is a guarantee that they will turn out alright. I am like the soldier who would depened on his chariot or his sword for victory in battle, when in truth 'the battle belongs to the Lord.' . . . At the end of the day (or at the end of the homeschooling), the fate of my children will not be determined by whether I've used the right materials, read the best books, taken enough field trips, or done more of whatever
I didn't do enough of. God is in control of their lives, not I. How they turn out might depend more on how much I prayed for them, more on how much I depended on God for them, rather than on how much I did for them." (page 162)

There is also the danger of allowing our family to become an idol in our lives. As homeschooling parents, we feel a lot of pressure for our children to turn out well. We want our children to validate the educational and lifestyle choices we have made, especially if we have experienced a lot of animosity along the way. After investing so much of our lives into our children, after bucking the system, even alienating folks along the way as we refused to follow the crowd and instead stood alone on the narrow path, following the convictions the Lord gave to us, we really want our children to turn out well. Often, our own reputations are on the line, not just our children's. However, if we attempt to force our young adults to be little clones of us, we will either produce pharisees or rebels. We must allow them to make mistakes, and to hear from the Lord themselves.

By refusing to believe this myth that we have to do everything perfectly in order for our children to turn out well, we are freed from the shackles of perfectionism, pride, guilt, condemnation, and fear. We are free to be faithful in teaching, training, and discipling our children, as God gives us the grace, without being burdened down with an overwhelming responsibility for how our children turn out! I remember a motto that I learned from another homeschooling mom about 15 years ago that really sums it up well: "Use what you have. Do what you can. Trust God to perfect it."


Noel said...

this is such a good article. I think the reason so many Christians lose their kids to the world is not because they didn't protect them enough, it's because they were a different person at home than they were at church. It's so important that the kids see consistency and happiness no matter where you are at the moment. I'll have to find that book you mention...

Lainie said...

Well said! I have to forever remind myself to lighten up and just enjoy my children. Be ever prayerful and get out of God's way. Thanks!

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