“What am I doing wrong?” This is a question I’ve asked my husband many times through tears after a day of our boys flat out defying and disobeying me. Why can’t I train them up, guide them, discipline them? Am I not giving them enough love? Is it the food I feed them? Their sleep patterns? Their screen time? My parenting techniques? Have I not consulted enough books? The right books? Am I neglecting to show them the consequence of their sin is the death of Jesus? Or am I showing them it too much so that they don’t think sin matters because of grace? Am I over disciplining and over-parenting so that they need to rebel against it? Am I not giving enough boundaries? Have I provided too many over stimulating activities that they can’t process it all? Have I not provided enough stimulation? And what kind of adults are they going to become?
My husband’s response is always “You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re doing a wonderful job.” And I’m so grateful for that encouragement and his comfort – but the truth is I’ve never been able to believe his words. Surely if I was a better mum their behaviour would improve?
But James hasn’t just been telling me I’m doing a good job – he’s been praying for me to know the truths of God. And where James’ words haven’t been able to convince me that it’s not my doing that my children misbehave, the Word of God has. Now, please don’t think I’m about to say that my parenting has nothing to do with their behaviour – we’ll get to that. But what my soul needed to hear, the rest bite it needed from the constant criticism I was throwing at it, was that I am not a failure as a mother because of my children’s behaviour. There are three main truths God has taught me recently which I need to remind myself when I’m listening to lies.
- The Perfect Father has sinful disobedient children. Adam and Eve disobeyed God even when they had the perfect relationship with Him. The disciples sinned even when Jesus was right there with them. Sin is still very much present in the lives of everyone. Does this mean that God has failed in his parenting? I think not. My children are no less sinners in need of the grace of God than me, and so their behaviour will be no less sinful. In thinking I can eradicate sin in their lives through my parenting I sinfully elevate myself to the position of Saviour.
- There’s no simple formula between parenting and a child’s behaviour. Of course my parenting impacts my children’s behaviour – I’m coming to that. But look as Josiah in the Bible – the boy king who restored the temple and bought the people back to God. His father was truly evil (this is one of the reasons why we called our second born ‘Josiah’). Or Cain and Abel – same parents, totally different outcomes. The impression we get of Timothy in the New Testament is that his father wasn’t a believer, yet he is strong in the faith. You can’t draw a simple direct line between your children’s behaviour and your parenting.
- I am not in control of my children’s behaviour. I believe in a sovereign God. A God whose will cannot be thwarted by my inadequacies. This is far more nuanced and complex than we can think about here (especially as I’m writing this while making dinner!), but God’s not taken by surprise by their behaviour and He’s not panicking about it – and if He’s not, then neither should I.
So, if all the above is true, then what’s the point of trying to parent well? Why not stick them in front of a screen and feed them processed junk all day? Well, there’s a lot of answers I could give here, but it kind of all boils down to this one:
It’s what God’s told me to do, so I need to get my head down and get on with it.
In His Word, God tells us to ‘Train up a child in the way he should go’ (Prov 22:6) and in Deuteronomy we are told to teach our children the ways of God and to bring them up accordingly. This is no insignificant task, and it doesn’t matter whether or not I understand the interplay between these commands and God’s sovereignty – this is what God called me to when He gave me children so, by His grace, this is what I will do.
In Romans 14 we read that we are to take care that we do not cause another to stumble. And in Matthew we read an even more damning instruction –“but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”. So when we make it harder for our children to obey, perhaps by feeding them unhealthy food, or giving them too much screen time, or shouting without taking care to deal with the underlying problem, or not ensuring they feel secure in our love, we sin. We absolutely must do all we can to make the path to obedience as smooth as possible through the way we parent. But, never forget, that there is grace for you too. We are all sinners, and this is so very regularly evidenced in our parenting. But Jesus’ blood has atoned for all our sins – even those we commit while parenting.
Someone asked me in passing the other day what advice I’d found most helpful in being a mum, and I didn’t really have an answer. I’ve been thinking about what it might be – what of all the advice I’ve had would I pass on? I was thinking about everything I’d read before having Boaz – what had stayed with me as vital? To be honest, although lots of it was helpful, like ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, or has helped me understand child development, I’m not sure any of it is what I’ve found to be most important in motherhood. So, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve realised that, not only was none of it vital, none of it was what I really wish the books had said. So, for what it’s worth, this is what I wish the baby books had actually said.
Josiah turned 3 today – which is a crazy thought! Those of you who know him will know that there is never a dull moment with Josiah! He’s our bundle of super active, totally hilarious, crazy fun joy! Team Lee is all the stronger and full of more hugs and kisses because of Josiah. So today seems like a good opportunity to tell you why we picked his name.
The story of King Josiah is a story of a young boy with a wicked father who is killed and so, at the age of 8, Josiah takes his place as king of Judah. After a long line of evil kings, Josiah walks in the way of the Lord, restoring the temple and reinstituting the laws and statutes of the Israelites. We hope that this story will serve to remind us, our Josiah, and others who know him of three main things.
Firstly, the story of Josiah is one of grace. Obviously of God’s grace towards Judah and Josiah, but also, significantly for us, God’s grace to us as parents. Josiah’s father Amon was an evil king, and yet Josiah became one of Judah’s greatest kings. So whilst we absolutely believe that our boys are given to us by God for a time, and with that comes a great responsibility to love, nurture and guide them the very best that we can, we also know that God’s grace is greater and His plan for their lives more enduring than our failings and weaknesses as parents.
Secondly, age ain’t nothing but a number! A person’s faith or relationship to God should not be judged on the basis of age. Of course it will change and develop over the years, in line with the way people grow up and change and develop, but this doesn’t make it any more ‘real’ or ‘valid’. The faith of a child, albeit perhaps less articulate to the adult ear, is no less true or beautiful to God. And God is no less able to use a child than an adult for His purposes. I think sometimes we underestimate what God can do through our children, and we expect too little of them: we run programmes and events for them; plan what we want to teach them; require them to go through courses and articulate things in a way we as adults understand before allowing them to partake in certain aspects of church life – but I don’t think this is what God sees. Of course the Bible is clear we have a duty to teach and raise up our children, pointing them to Christ all the time; but we also have a responsibility to let their ministry flourish, to let God work through them, to see what they can teach us.
Thirdly, when Josiah brings in his reforms, he does so in full force. He completely purges Judah of all traces of idol worship and other gods, in order to restore the temple of the Lord God. He doesn’t make allowances, he doesn’t turn a blind eye so long as it’s kept quiet, he doesn’t make ‘pastoral accomodations’, he doesn’t chalk things up as ‘different theological persuations’. He wants the truth and God’s way and he pursues it whole heartedly. He’s not worried how it might come across, or what people might say, or whether everyone is happy with the implications. He makes no exceptions or alterations to make it more palatable or inviting. I pray that our boys would have a heart for the way of God’s truth like this.
We gave Josiah the middle name ‘Wilberforce’ after William Wilberforce. Wilberforce fought for what he believed to be right, even though it seemed ridiculous and, at times, hopeless. He was willing to risk his reputation and career for what was right. He took the hard path and was a voice for the voiceless. This pursuit of what is right in the face of opposition is a characteristic we hope our children emulate.
We also gave the name Wilberforce because of how William Wilberforce came to understand what it means to serve God and minister. In the film ‘Amazing Grace’ there is a scene where Mr Clarkson says to William Wilberforce “Mr Wilberforce, we understand that you are having problems choosing to do the work of God, or the work of a political activist.” Hannah Moore then says “We humbly suggest that you can do both”. At the risk of tampering with this wonderful moment, I would want to say that actually, not only can you do both, but you must do both.
1 Peter 4:10-11 says “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that through everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” If we are in Christ and living out his call on our lives, everything we do will be the work of God – we are his workmanship, created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). This means that there is no distinction between doing the work of God, and anything else we do. If you are a Christian and a political activist, then you are doing the work of God by being a political activist. If you are a Christian and a mum, then you are doing the work of God by being a mum. If you are a Christian and a vicar, then you are doing the work of God by being a vicar. There is no calling where we are any less doing the work of God, and we are therefore called to serve whole heartedly in the ministry God has put us.
To me, as a mum, I hope that this will serve as a reminder and encouragement that I’m not ‘just’ a mum: I am called by God to be a mum, and this is the work He created me for. Therefore it’s not ok to just ‘get by’, or become complacent: it’s an honour and a privilege to be called to this, and it demands my best.
We’re reaching the end of August and, for many, thoughts are starting to turn to the start of the new school term. I want
ed to write this post because, when I say to people that we home-educate, a response I often get is ‘I’d love to do that but I can’t because…’ – and, indeed, I often find I have many of the same concerns. I want to encourage you that, if home-educating is something that you really are considering, that it is something you can do. Of course there are hurdles to overcome, but they’re often not as large as we might imagine.
This isn’t a post about why we chose to home-educate or to put forward the argument to home-educate. Hopefully I will write that one day, but it’ll be a much longer post, and I’ll need to re-read some books to write that. This is a post to encourage those who genuinely do want to home-educate but have reservations. I’m hoping to cover the main ones I hear, but if you would love to home-educate and you have some questions I don’t answer, do feel free to ask in the comments.
I wish I could home-educate, but…
…I don’t know how to take my child out of school.
Believe it or not, this is actually surprisingly simple. The law is clear that a child’s parents have to ensure that a child is suitably educated – but that this does not have to happen at school. School is one option parents may chose to ensure their child gets a suitable education, but it is byno means compulsory and certainly doesn’t need to be considered the default.
So, if your child has never been to school then you simply don’t send them. You don’t have to ask permission or register: your child’s education is your responsibility, not the state’s, and you have the option to choose to send your child to school, but equally the option not to. If your child is already at school, you will need to send a de-registration letter to the school informing them of your decision. You may find the website www.educationotherwise.net helpful in giving further information and draft letters. Click on the ‘HE and the law‘ tab to find the relevant information.
…I’m not clever enough.
I think there are three things I’d like to say to encourage you here. Firstly, there are an awful lot of resources to help out there: books, dvds, online courses, home-ed group classes, one-to-one tuition. You don’t need to hold all the necessary information at the outset.
Secondly, there are various different home-education methods and philosophies, but a lot of home-educators take, to varying degrees, something of a child-led approach. That is, we explore what the child is interested together in and learn alongside them, rather than ‘teach’ them in the traditional sense of the term. Obviously there’s a lot to be said about this, and it is very different to the ‘norm’ and so may jar a little, but books from the likes of John Holt, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Ross Mountney, and Jan Fortune-Wood will help to explain it further.
Thirdly, I have the utmost respect for teachers: I think they do a phenomenal job for very little respect. But, they’re not omniscient either. There are things they don’t know too. They may know the national curriculum far better than me, and they may know more about child development than me, but they don’t know my child better than me, and they simply don’t have the time to help my child explore the particular questions and interests that they may have.
…I don’t have any teaching qualifications.
Nope, me neither. And there’s no legal requirement for you to at all. If you’re worried that this might mean you are not capable of teaching your child, remember that a lot of teaching is about helping a class of 30 learn together – that’s not what you’ll be doing. You’ll be helping guide your child’s exploration and education. Also, there are a lot of teachers who home-educate because they don’t want their children to be a part of the school system – they find that the whole school system inhibits their ability to actually teach.
…I need my ‘me time’.
I absolutely agree that we all need a chance to re-fuel and to prepare ourselves for the work God has given us. However, I’m not sure I agree with the notion of ‘me time’, as I explain in a previous blog post. It is, of course, important to be intentional about building in rest time and ‘re-fueling’ time – I often have a bit of a lie in on a Saturday morning and during the week I like to go for a run and have a bath in the evening. But it’s also important to remember that raising school aged children is a calling and requires sacrifice – and if you truly believe that home-educating wouldbe beneficial to your children, perhaps that sacrifice is in giving up some of what you need for a season, to provide your children with what they need.
I guess this is similar to the above point: if you truly want to home-educate then, for a time, it may be that your job needs to be sacrificed. I know this seems easy to say from my point of view – we’ve only ever had one income as Boaz was born so soon after I finished my degree that I’ve never worked, and so we’ve always lived within the means of one income. We’ve never bought a house, or gone on holiday abroad (apart from our honeymoon), or eaten out often, or had two cars, or had contract smart phones – and so we’ve never had to give any of those things up for me to stay at home. But I have had to make sacrifices to do this – turn down opportunities, come to terms with it being unlikely that I’ll ever have a ‘career’, losing touch with friends because I can’t afford to do many of the things they do. But I would readily make the same decision again, because I believe home-educating to be that important to the nurturing of my children.
It’s also worth noting that there are home-educators who do work – they figure it out with their partners so that one of them is always at home, or they have family who are able to help out. I know not everyone has this option, but sometimes it’s worth thinking creatively.
…My children are so different.
I hear you on this!! I really don’t know how it’s possible to have three boys all 5 and under who are already so so different!! And not just because of their different ages, but they are just so different in interests, personality, temperament, skills and learning styles. The reality is, your child is unlikely to be the same as the other 30-ish children in their class! And if they seem to be, it may well be at the detriment of their own unique selves being able to flourish.
…I can’t afford to.
Home-educating does bring with it some extra costs – there’s no denying that! The resources and facilities that school-educated children get freely, home-educated children don’t. That said, with the current surge in home-education a lot of places are offering ‘home-education’ rates which match the school rates. And there are a lot of things that can be done for free, and resources that can be picked up second hand. Also, if you like an annual holiday, you won’t need to pay peak prices to go during the school holidays! And you don’t have to do everything – one thing I’ve really learnt to value is simplicity of life and how children can flourish with time simply spent together reading or baking or playing board games.
…I’m a single parent.
I’m afraid I can’t really speak into this: I’m married and my husband is very supportive of our home-educating. There are single parents who home-educate and are doing a fantastic job! If you’re a single parent who is interested in home-educating, perhaps I could help put you in touch with someone who might be able to alleviate some of your concerns.
…Getting my children to do their homework is enough of a challenge.
As I’ve already mentioned, the approach to education in home-education is often very different to that in school education. This means that that horrendous experience sat at the kitchen table trying to get your uninterested child to please do their home work or else therewon’t be any fun ever again while you empty a bottle of gin each evening won’t have to happen. Your child will be exploring things that interest them and developing skills that are suited to them – and so are likely to become much more motivated, self driven learners. Do hunt out some of the authors mentioned above if this sounds exciting but a bit crazy!
…My children won’t have enough socialising time.
I think the response to this is twofold. Firstly, there is plenty of time to socialise! In fact, I have to make sure that I keep in check not over scheduling us. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I think we maybe need to reassess what it means to socialise. As adults we socialise with, usually, smaller groups with people of varying ages, andbetween all of whom there is some element of ‘give and take’: we offer friendship and support, and we receive friendship and support. This, to my mind, is normal socialising – but it bears very little resemblance to the school classroom or playground where there are 30+ children of similar ages all with very similar needs to be met from a very limited number of adults. By being with (or near) my child during a lot of their social interactions, I’m able to help guide them through the ups and down and complexities of social interaction which will, I hope, enable them to become compassionate, resilient, understanding and sensitively assertive adults. In the school classroom and playground there are simply not enough adults to give what, I believe, is the necessary attention to children’s interactions to help them grow into the kind of adults society needs.
…My child is thriving at school.
I ask this sensitively – but are they? I was a typical ‘thriver’: high grades, gifted and talented registered, good reports, nodetentions, solid group of friends, got on well with the system, deputy head girl, certificates and awards. But, as I’ve reflected on some of the issues and attitudes I have today, things that have held me back and caused me hurt, I’ve found that I can trace a large number of them back to my school years. I would say my conclusion is this: I conformed, so it seemed I thrived – even to myself. The truth, it has turned out, is very different. I would tentatively suggest that the school environment, which needs so much conformity to function, cannot be a place that allows for the true thriving of individuals.
…My child won’t get to play sports.
I think sometimes we have rose tinted glasses when we think about the sports that children get to play at school. So many sports resources are not allowed during breaks because of health and safety, PE is not exactly a huge part of the timetable and, when it is, trying to get 30 children to all have a go at whatever is being played means not a massive amount of time for each child. In reality, to actually play any sport consistently, it needs to be done in an extra-curricular setting – which you’ll have a lot more time for home-educating.
…I’d worry I was failing my child.
I worry about this everyday. I don’t really think I’d worry about it any less if my child was at school: I’d just find other things to worry about failing them at. And I’d worry the school was failing them (though at least then I’d have someone else to blame!). The authors I’ve mentioned earlier in the post might help to calm your fears as they explain the benefits of different approaches to education. Something else I’ve found help
ful is to really think and reflect on the question: What’s the point of education? And what’s the point of childhood? What do they need to learn? Why? What are they going to do with it? How should they learn it? Who should decide what they learn? What do I want to shape my child? What do impact do I want their childhood to have? What kind of childhood do I want them to have? What kind of adults do I want them to grow into? Where do I want them to find their identity? How do I want them to treat other people? What do I want them to value and pursue? These are questions that I can’t answer for you, but I found that there was no place for the state school system in my answers to these questions.
I hope that this may encourage you that home-educating is not something unattainable or with too many hurdles to overcome. Of course it’s not easy – something with such a high calling as parenting should never be easy. But it is absolutely doable, and school-educating does not need to be the default just because we’re scared of what home-educating might mean.
Titus 2:1-8 is one of my ideals for society – a society where we learn from our elders and where we humbly listen to what they have to say. I long for relationships with older women in my church who can help guide me in loving my husband and children, being self-controlled and pure, working at home and being kind and submissive to my husband. The Bible is clear that our elders are not to be disregarded and that they have much to offer us.
Here’s something outrageous. I’m not sure I agree with democracy as it is in our country! I know, I should probably be anathematised. I’ve been known to suggest, to the horror of people listening, that I think there should be some kind of multiple choice test to determine that the issues are understood before your vote is counted. And if that had been the case with this referendum I suspect my vote would not have been counted. And I’d have been OK with that.