Category Archives: Parenting

The Most Important Paragraph On Parenting (Outside the Bible)

What follows are 10 sentences from C. S. Lewis’s book The Weight of Glory (HarperCollins, 1949), pages 45–46. These sentences are not written to parents, nor are they concerned specifically with the the fine art of parenting. And of course they have far-reaching implications for all of life. But for me the most frequent situations when these lines bubble up from my subconscious is when I’m thinking about my kids and parenting them well. So that’s where the title comes from. But enough of me.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously.

C. S. Lewis on “Little Cyclones” (Young Boys)

As the father of two spirited boys, aged 10 and 4, I chuckled at these excerpts from the letters of C. S. Lewis, writing as a 55-year-old “crusted old bachelor.” (There’s some fine parenting advice mixed in here, too.)

December 21, 1953 [Letters, 3:389–390]:

We have had an American lady staying in the house with her two sons aged 9 1/2 and 8. I now know what we celibates are shielded from. I will never laugh at parents again. Not that the boys weren’t a delight: but a delight like surf-bathing which leaves one breathless and aching. The energy, the tempo, is what kills.

I have now perceived (what I always suspected from memories of our childhood) that the way to a child’s heart is quite simple: treat them with seriousness and ordinary civility — they ask no more. What they can’t stand (quite rightly) is the common adult assumption that everything they say should be twisted into a kind of jocularity.

December 23, 1953 [Letters, 3:394]:

We have not much news here; the chief event has been that last week we entertained a lady from New York for four days, with her boys, aged nine and seven respectively. Can you imagine two crusted old bachelors in such a situation? It however went swimmingly, though it was very exhausting; the energy of the American small boy is astonishing.

This pair thought nothing of a four-mile hike across broken country as an incident in a day of ceaseless activity, and when we took them up Magdalen tower, they said as soon as they got back to the ground, ‘Let’s do it again!’ Without being in the least priggish, they stuck us as being amazingly adult by our standards and one could talk to them as one would to ‘grown-ups’ — though the next moment they would be wrestling like puppies on the sitting room floor. The highlights of England for them are open coal fires, especially if they can get hold of the billows and blow it up…

December 26, 1953 [Letters, 3:396]:

My brother and I have just had the experience of an American lady to stay with us accompanied by her two sons, aged 9 1/2 and 8. Whew! Lovely creatures — couldn’t meet nicer children — but the pace! I realize have never respected young married people enough and never dreamed of the Sabbath calm which descends on the house when the little cyclones have gone to bed and all the grown-ups fling themselves into chairs and the silence of exhaustion.

Fathering

In my reading the other day I came across 1 Thessalonians 2:11–12:

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Here Paul is communicating with the church in Thessalonikē. It was a new church he had recently founded and a church he found himself quickly detached from. Here he writes to exhort, encourage, and charge the church toward godliness in the same way a father would care for each of his particular children. This passage is deeply personal and affectionate.

Paul is not primarily seeking here to instruct fathers, yet it seems to me there are implications for those of us who are fathers. Note the three paralleled participles:

  • Exhorted (παρακαλοῦντες). Writes one commentator, “In some contexts the verb may signify ‘to console’ or ‘to comfort’ (1 Thess. 3.7; 4.18; 2 Thess. 2.17), but in the context of moral instruction, such as here in v. 12, it conveys the meaning of ‘to exhort’ or ‘to urge’ a person to follow a certain mode of conduct” (Green 135).
  • Encouraged (παραμυθούμενοι). Or to “comfort” (NIV84). The first two verbs overlap. “Both verbs indicate the act of encouraging or cheering someone. The first word more frequently than the second carries the connotation of exhortation, yet both are also used in contexts of admonition. The combination in Paul seems to indicate a positive encouragement to Christian living” (Martin 84).
  • Charged (μαρτυρόμενοι). This is the most authoritative of the three verbs and it means to “implore” (HCSB) or to “urge” (NIV84) a matter of great importance. Paul uses the same term in Ephesians 4:17, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

In this passing paternal metaphor Paul gives us a brief picture of godly fathering that is tender, personal, hopeful, encouraging, and yet firmly uncompromising.

Dazzle Them with the Gospel of Grace

From Elyse Fitzpatrick’s new parenting book, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (Crossway, 2011), page 166:

The one thing that our children really need is the gospel of grace. They need to be absolutely dazzled by the kind of love that would suffer the way Christ suffered, forgive the way he forgives, and bless the way he blesses. Martin Luther wrote that it is grace that brings us forgiveness of sins, which produces peace of conscience. The words are simple; but during temptation, “to be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.”

Living and parenting in grace is not the easy road. In fact, it is much harder to rest in his promise of grace than it is to make a list and try to live by it. Some parents may think that giving grace to their children equates to giving themselves a pass. Just the opposite is true. Giving grace to children is an exercise of faith, and faith is always more difficult than works. It flows out of humility, a character trait that none of us comes by naturally. That’s why most people miss it and why works, not faith, is the stumbling block of the cross. You are not slacking off when you tell them of his dazzling love. You are doing the hardest thing.

So go ahead. Freely dazzle your babies with the cross of Christ. Give them grace when they succeed and grace when they fail. Show them how much he loves little children, like you.

Deadbolting the Idols Out

While intermarriage appears to have been tolerated early in Israel’s history (Abraham, Joseph, and Moses married foreign women, perhaps for political reasons), this later changed. In fact, intermarriage was especially forbidden when Israel was at its weakest, according to John Goldengay. “Ezra and Nehemiah assume that the little Second Temple community living among other peoples is too weak to risk the loss of its identity by absorption into the wider group through intermarriage” (OTT1:747–748). But the concern was larger than identity, and it’s not hard to imagine why. A foreign wife carried her foreign-deity-baggage into a marriage, and likewise, a foreign husband carried his foreign-deity-baggage into a marriage. The addition of these deities into an Israelite home invariably shaped the spiritual devotion and worship practices of a family, making any wholehearted worship of the living God impossible (see 1 Kings 11:1–13). Goldengay takes this one step further by suggesting that Israelites may have been tempted to intermarry to secure divine insurance, a way to broaden one’s base of collected gods to better ensure personal blessing, peace, and financial prosperity. Whatever the motive, intermarriage with a non-believer, he writes, “compromises the principle that Yhwh alone is the one from whom the community must seek help and guidance for its life concerning matters of a moral and religious kind and concerning the future” (Ex. 34:12-16, Deut. 7:1-4, Ps. 106:34–36). Thus, the forbidding of intermarriage in Old Testament history was not a matter of racial preference, a point made especially clear with the Moabite people. It was faithless Moabite women who led Solomon’s heart astray and it was the faithful God-fearing woman named Ruth, also a Moabite, who became the great-grandmother of King David, thus finding herself in the lineage of the Savior. The bottom line: intermarriage was forbidden to preserve undistracted devotion to Yhwh. John Piper summarizes the point well: “The issue is not color mixing, or customs mixing, or clan identity. The issue is: will there be one common allegiance to the true God in this marriage or will there be divided affections?” God wants our homes to be places of guarded worship for Himself alone. There’s application in there for us all.

Parenting

John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), On Vainglory and the Education of Children, 22:

Just as an artist who paints pictures and portraits exercises great care in his work, so each of you, mothers and fathers, must be attentive to these wonderful images [children]. Each day, a painter adds what is necessary to the picture. Sculptors do the same, removing excess stone and adding what is lacking. You should do the same: as makers of images, devote all your time to the task of fashioning wonderful images for God. Remove the excess; add what is lacking. Each day, examine the images closely. Cultivate the natural excellence that each one has, removing what is by nature inferior. Take care to root out first the thought of licentiousness, for sex is especially troublesome to young souls. Instead, before they encounter this temptation, teach them to be sober, vigilant, watchful in prayer, and to place everything that is said and done under the sign of the cross.

Readers-in-Training

The current stage of book editing is all about trimming excess. In the next two weeks I hope to whittle off 1,500 words to keep the manuscript around the 55,000-word target. Sadly, this meant cutting out a nice quote that I discovered in my early research and had planned to include in the front matter of the book. The quote has been pruned, but it’s bloggable. Enjoy!

Gene Veith, Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books), 224:

Christians to one extent or another have to read. They are ‘people of the Book,’ whose spirituality and conceptual framework is centered upon the linguistic revelation of the Word of God. As the culture moves farther and farther away from the printed word, Christians will still read. As their neighbors plug themselves in to their video images, Christians may find themselves making up a greater proportion of the reading public. Their tastes and values may matter again. Because readers exert the most influence in a society, however the masses amuse themselves, Christians may find themselves once again the thinkers and leaders of society.

Something similar happened 1500 years ago in the first Dark Age when the Vandals trashed a civilization based on law and learning. Amidst the moral anarchy, staggering ignorance, and image-centered paganism that prevailed for centuries, the tradition of literacy was preserved in the church. Behind the protective walls of the monasteries, books were cherished. They were copied out by hand, carefully stored, and eagerly read. The church was concerned for all kinds of books—Bibles, of course, but also books of medicine and science, works of pagan philosophers such as Aristotle, the poetry of Virgil and the comedies of Plautus. The Vandal aesthetic may be coming back in the anti-intellectualism of the mass culture and in the Postmodern nihilism of the high culture. Christians may be the last readers. If so, they need to be in training.

Luther on Parenting

From Martin Luther’s, “A Sermon on the Estate of Marriage” [Luther's Works (Fortress Press), 44:12]:

But this at least all married people should know. They can do no better work and do nothing more valuable either for God, for Christendom, for all the world, for themselves, and for their children than to bring up their children well. In comparison with this one work, that married people should bring up their children properly, there is nothing at all in pilgrimages to Rome, Jerusalem, or Compostella [the home of a famous shrine in Spain], nothing at all in building churches, endowing masses, or whatever good works could be named. For bringing up their children properly is their shortest road to heaven. In fact, heaven itself could not be made nearer or achieved more easily than by doing this work. It is also their appointed work. Where parents are not conscientious about this, it is as if everything were the wrong way around, like fire that will not burn or water that is not wet.

Train a Child to Read: Entry 3

Recently I offered free books to parents who could explain the most creative ways they have used to train their children to read and to appreciate books. I’ve chosen three finalists. The third entry comes from Lisa. Lisa writes:

I have taught four of our kids to read. Some of our kids loved it and it came easily, others struggled and needed more encouragement, but there’s a way to get through to every kid!

1. Make it fun!

When our kids were little we decoded and learned words by writing them on anything BUT paper. We wrote them in flour filled cookie-tins or outside on the driveway with chalk held in our toes, or played H-O-R-S-E with the basketball (except spelling out other words).

We turned our spelling words into puzzles and cut out images of what shape a word would be if the letters were invisible (the shape of a word is a great aid in learning it!). We rolled out Play-doh ‘snakes’ and turned them into letters and words. We spelled words with Nestle Chocolate morsels (and then ate them!). Anything to get them to think about how words are built and have some fun along the way. Visual leaning is a great standard tool, but kinetic learning has it’s advantages too!

2. ‘Salt the oats’

Encourage a long-life affection for literature by reading captivating books to them. Like no other approach, this develops a hunger for reading in them. Little ears have an appreciation for classics and great literature well before little eyes can decode the visuals of advanced language.

It’s important that story time is not laundry-time or dish-washing-time, it’s story-time, it’s time to delight in the pure joy of being enraptured in a tale.

The best feedback for me came at the end of a chapter, when a chorus of voices pleaded, “Mom, read just one more chapter? Pleeeeaaasseeee!”

Even now on occasion, when I read classics to my little ones, I catch the teenagers quietly coming into the room too, just to be part of the journey again.

Note: This habit created an affection for stories and a joy in literature in one child long before she was diagnosed with dyslexia. After the diagnosis, we made more use of audio books for her texts as well as for her pleasure reading. The American Printing House for the Blind (and others) have great audio resources for people who struggle with the printed word. After all, he goal is the absorption of great books, not the movement of eyes across a page! Dyslexia and other learning disabilities can snuff out a love of reading and be very discouraging if the love of books isn’t already secure.

3. Practice

Improvement in reading, like anything else, only comes with practice. So we varied their personal reading with level-appropriate biographies, mysteries, historical fiction, subscribed to sports magazines and nature magazines, enjoyed how-to books… everything!

There’s something for every child on the shelves of your local library. We set goals, made charts, joined book clubs for kids, got free pizzas from Pizza Hut through their reading program (Book It), and enjoyed book reviews from siblings around the dinner table.

Also, since a reward can be motivational and can add to a child’s pleasure in reading, a special, chosen treat often awaited them after meeting their reading goals.

Happy reading!

Winners will be contacted via email on Wednesday. Thanks for the entry, Lisa.

Train a Child to Read: Entry 2

Recently I offered free books to parents who could explain the most creative ways they have used to train their children to read and to appreciate books. I’ve chosen three finalists.

The second finalist is Deb, who has 20 years of experience homeschooling her 6 children ages 7.5–25. Here’s her entry:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a mother who read to me.

—Strickland Gillilan

This poem expresses the cornerstone of teaching my children both to read and to love reading. I was blessed to have a mother who read to me, and I have passed that blessing on to my children. I have found in 20 years of homeschooling that many times it is the basics, adapted for each child’s needs and interests that produce the best results.

1. Read Aloud to Your Children—both consistently and often

Reading aloud to my children started with simple board books when they were only weeks old. We would look at the pictures and I would talk about them, often only for a few minutes at a time. But my children came to associate reading with snuggling with mom and listening to my voice. As they grew older through the pre-school years we read many, many picture books. We had regular reading time before naps and before bedtime.  And woe unto Dad & Mom if we had to skip that time for some reason!

We did fun things with their favorite read-alouds.  They looked forward to when I would “make mistakes” in reading and they could correct me!  Sometimes we would change the story line around  to include their favorite toys and make Barney Bear’s Pizza Shop become Erin Joy’s Ice Cream Parlor. Never mind that the pictures didn’t exactly match—they loved it! They begged to have their dad (a construction contractor) read The House Book because as he read he would point out all the defects in the pictures (like a closet located in an impossible spot). They would all be in gales of laughter by the time he was done. Many, many memories in our family center around reading aloud.

As it became time for schooling to start, the reading aloud continued. I have used a literature approach to history for most of our homeschooling years.  We’ve traveled in Egypt with Mara, Daughter of the Nile and met King Hezekiah in God King.

Adventures on the high seas were exciting as we carried on with Mr. Bowditch and traveled with Columbus. We’ve put The Wheel on the School and had adventures with the Swiss Family Robinson. All my children would laughingly tell you today that Mom always cries at the end of biographies when the person dies. Even my older children still enjoy listening to a good book.

Reading aloud books with my children has nurtured in them a love of reading and a love of learning that has continued into adulthood.

2. Take them to the library regularly

Weekly trips to the library are another foundational aspect of learning to read and love reading. Kids want to read or be read to more when they get to choose the books. My local librarians often joked with me that my children believed that books were cheaper by the pound. We came home with stacks and stacks of books.  Sometimes we would get an older-level book about a topic that interested one of them, and we would snuggle on the couch so the child could look at the pictures while I either read or paraphrased from the book to bring the information to the appropriate level. One library book on how roads are repaired (a photo essay for children) was so memorable to one of my older sons that he found a copy online to buy for his little brother for his birthday a few years ago.

Our kids have looked at the librarians as their friends and a great resource for learning. Recently, my 11-year-old son went to the librarian on his own one day and had her help him look online for some books on trebuchets, which he then asked her to inter-library loan. When my kids start doing things like that, I know that they have learned what a wonderful resource the library is.

3. Let them read at the level where they are comfortable

This was probably the most valuable advice on teaching reading that I came across as a home educator (credit goes to Ruth Beechick). Two of my sons struggled in learning to read. For both of them, reading did not completely “click” until about 5th grade. With my older son, I made the mistake of pushing him to read simple chapter books when I thought he should be ready. After reading Dr. Beechick’s advice I changed my approach. I let him choose the books he was comfortable reading. Often it was Dr. Seuss, Frog and Toad or other picture books or easy readers. He was allowed to read those as long as he needed to read them to become comfortable. It gave him the opportunity to practice reading and built fluency. When he was ready, he started reading chapter books by his own choice. Now a senior in college, the books he is apt to choose are by Bonhoeffer, Lewis and similar Christian thinkers. My youngest son went from picture books to The Hobbit in about 15 months once he was ready.

I hear a lot about creativity today, but in 20 years of home educating experience, I have found that the need to be “creative” often intimidates home educators. It is the simple things like reading to your children regularly and often, day after day, that do the most nurturing. You demonstrate both your love for your children and your love of reading as you do this. And through the years, the delight of reading is caught more than taught.

Winners will be contacted via email on Wednesday. Thanks for the entry, Deb.

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