22. But What About the Kids?
People often ask us how, in light of
our problems, our boys ended up so well.
Whenever we have shared publicly the struggles in our marriage, one question that has usually come up is, "What effect did all those arguments have on your children, and how do you account for them turning out well?"
Actually, we tried to do most of our arguing away from the kids' hearing, but they obviously heard some of it. We've asked them what they remember and how it affected them, and we get varying answers. Some of it remains in their memory, but the Lord seems to have blotted most of it out. In chapter 24 they'll tell you what they remember and how it affected them. Here, Mary and I will try to answer the second part of the question: "Why are all four of them going on with the Lord thus far, and all four living productive Christian lives?"
Whenever that question is asked, we are quick to say that the final verdict is not yet in. Our fervent prayer is that they will continue to walk with God throughout their lifetimes, but only God knows whether they will. We certainly are not going to take anything for granted. But why are they living in His fellowship now in spite of our problems? That is another vivid evidence of God's marvelous grace. He saw fit to overrule our mistakes and put His hand on their lives in spite of us. In the final analysis, it is all of God's grace.
"But you must have done something right," people often counter. I think the Lord did teach us some things through the years that He used to contribute to their wholesome development. And we have helped each other as well. For example, I would have a tendency to demand perfection from them, to withhold my praise and commendation if their performance did not quite measure up to my standards. But Mary was extremely commending and affirming. She would show enthusiasm and excitement about the things they were doing and the little things that were happening in their lives. That helped balance my tendency to show disapproval, and it helped me learn to be more positive with them. But on the other hand, Mary would get angry and scream at them when they did things like fight with each other, or fail to make their beds or clean up their rooms. And my calmer temperament would have a tendency to balance out her more volatile nature and give them a sense of security and stability, the feeling that everything was going to be all right.
Here are some of the things we have learned and have tried to practice through the years, though sometimes falteringly. For one thing, we have always tried to make the Lord and His Word an integral part of our home life. We weren't always as regular with family devotions as we might have been, but when one of the boys would share good news with us, Mary particularly would usually say something like, "Wasn't it neat of the Lord to do that for you?" If it was bad news, usually we would suggest that we talk to the Lord about it and ask Him to work it out for the best.
If one of us lost something (like a contact lens--four of the six of us wore them), we would ask the Lord to help us find it if that would be best (since we were already on our knees, it was most convenient to pray). We wanted our boys to learn to consult the Lord about everything. And when decisions had to be made, we tried to share principles from God's Word that would relate to those decisions. We tried to communicate the truth that the Lord Jesus is a real person who lives in our home with us and with whom we share all of life.
Second, we tried to set a good example, to be in the home what we were at church and before our Christian friends. We obviously didn't always succeed at doing that. But even when we weren't getting along, we tried not to pretend as though we were. Both of us despise hypocrisy and we wanted to avoid it at all cost. So we tried to be honest, to admit it when we were wrong, to apologize when we hurt someone, to be what we were asking our children to be. Some of the warmest and closest experiences I can remember with my sons were when I had to tell them I was sorry for misjudging them, or for treating them too harshly. They were most forgiving, but my willingness to admit my wrong helped to draw us together in a bond of love and respect.
Third, we tried to make our family a high priority in our lives. The demands of the pastoral ministry have always been great, but that time from 5 to 7 in the evening was practically sacrosanct. If I was counseling someone, I usually would tell him that my family was expecting me and politely excuse myself, unless, of course, it was an emergency. I tried never to schedule meetings during those hours. After dinner there was often time to throw a ball, play a game together, or wrestle on the living room floor. It was one of the things God used to cement our family together into a cohesive unit.
Fourth, largely due to Mary's influence, we tried to guide by commendation rather than criticism. Praise brings better results than put-downs. It helps to build a healthy self-image in our children, one of the best things we can do for them. A1though we sometimes got upset when they spilled a glass of milk or broke a dish or a knick-knack, we tried to remember that those actions were unintentional and normal for children, that our children were far more important to us than any old dish. We wanted to let them be children and not expect adult behavior from them. If we had scolded them every time they tried to do something on their own, they eventually would have stopped trying to do anything, believing that they could not do anything right. Many adults have lived their whole lives through trying to overcome the low self-esteem they acquired in their families as they were growing up.
Fifth, we tried to treat our children as people, that is, to talk to them as we would talk to our friends, to accept them and appreciate them as individuals, to let them know we enjoyed having them around. They also knew that their friends were always welcome in our house, and would be treated kindly. We respected their privacy, particularly the privacy of their bedrooms. As they grew older, we knocked before we entered, and we did not rummage through their drawers.
We tried to listen to them and to understand their point of view, to see life from their perspective. We tried to include all of them in family discussions and let them be a part of family decisions. We learned that children are far more capable of handling family crises than most of us give them credit for. When Mary's dad was dying of cancer in our home, we all sat around in the evenings with him and talked freely together about death and heaven. Letting them be a part of that experience made a profound and positive impact on their lives.
Sixth, and it was one of our major goals, we tried to prepare our children for independence. From their earliest days, we let them do what they could for themselves. If as two or three-year-olds they could push a chair over to the sink to get their own drink of water, we let them do it. We did not know it at the time, but we have since learned that encouraging independence in that way helps children become higher achievers. And all of our children have been relatively high achievers.
As they grew older we gave them as much freedom as they could handle. We let them make their own choices about things such as the clothes they wanted to wear, and we tried not to criticize them if their choices were different from what ours would have been. We tried to say "yes" rather than "no" as often as possible. We helped them learn how to handle various situations, how to act with proper manners around people, and how to make decisions for themselves. Our aim was to teach them how to live independently of us, but dependently on the Lord.
Finally, we tried to maintain a sense of humor. While we have to admit that we got upset too often, we also laughed a lot. Our boys remember times of fun around the dinner table in the evening, and those are some of their fondest memories. If we had it to do over, we would laugh even more and build more enjoyable experiences into their memory banks.
We were far from perfect parents. We made most all of the same mistakes that other parents have made. But we did pray a great deal for our children. We committed them to the Lord before they were born and asked Him to guide their lives for His glory. We are so very grateful to Him for His faithfulness in doing that.
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