Last night we were talking to our girls about this summer’s family vacation. My husband was giving them hints about where we are going and they were trying to guess our destination. He said: “It has something to do with presidents.” The girls guess: “Washington DC?” He says: “There are lots of big rocks.” They guess: “Mount Rushmore.” He says: “Having money will make it more fun.” They are stumped. He says: “The devil will be involved.” My oldest guesses: “Church!”
Wait. Did my daughter just think of church when we mentioned the devil? I guess I can see that… We’ve been through a rough year and the devil has been very active in our church. Our oldest is in middle school and we were not able to keep all the ugliness from her while it was happening. But we did our best to shield her from the worst of it and made sure to emphasize that God, too, was at work in the church. But how do you keep your kids from getting burned out or hurt by all the hard things you go through as a pastor’s family? How do you help them to fall in love with God even when church people are not so lovely? How do you keep them from growing up to be like Katy Perry? (My middle school was shocked to find out this popular singer is a PK.)
Here are a few things I’ve learned from my experience and the experience of others that seems to be working so far:
1. Keep your priorities straight. God-Family-Church in that order…and, no, God does not equal Church. Make sure your kids know that they are more important than the church people. Do not let a church member’s opinion influence how you parent your own children. For example, I have been criticized for allowing my children to come to church looking less than perfect. My oldest hates to wear dresses, so I allow her to wear nice pants as long as she is clean and decent. My youngest hates to have her hair messed with, so I allow her to brush her own hair and let it hang down as long as all the tangles are brushed out. These critical church members would arrive to church frazzled and angry with all their children crying, but they would be dressed in matching outfits with shiny shoes and curled hair. I decided long ago that I’d rather my children enjoy coming to church rather than looking perfect when they get there.
2. Be honest with your kids but don’t tell them everything. When we talk about church or church people in front of our kids we try really hard to be positive and to talk about the good things God is doing…or at least the fact that God sees us and is in control. We try to live by the truth spoken by the great theologian “Thumper” when he said “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course that is not always possible. When someone leaves the church we have to figure out how to explain to our kids that they aren’t coming back. During our difficult time this year I had to explain to my then 8 year old that she couldn’t go to her friend’s house because her friend’s mom & dad were angry at her mom & dad, but that we could do something together as a family. Thankfully, we had some very observant church members who did their best to protect our children from the ugliness and even made sure they were occupied in another part of the building during a couple critical business meetings. That time was stressful for us, but it was also stressful for our kids. We told our oldest a little bit about what was going on and it reassured her to know that we were all in this together along with our great God.
3. Remember that your first ministry is to your husband and kids. Do not rely solely on Sunday school teachers or youth leaders to train up your child in the way they should go. As their parent, you must find teachable moments that train them to love God and thirst for His truth. Just because they are at church every time the doors are open does not mean that they are learning to love God. You must show them how to love God by your own example. Let them see you love and praise God when good things happen, let them see you love and trust God when things are not so good. They are watching and learning from you. You are the one God will hold accountable for their spiritual growth at this point in their lives. This is a scary thought. When we were first in ministry I found myself pulled in so many directions that my kids ended up in the nursery or sitting with another family so that I could do everything that I was expected to do for the church. Then I realized that I was devoting so much time to church activities that I was neglecting my children. Now I try to plan church activities around what my kids need and carve out space in my schedule to simply be with them. I also make choices in ministry that allow me to be involved with the church but also not take too much time away from my family. For example, when there is a death in the church I felt like I should attend the funeral. However, that is not always practical when you have young children. The first funeral my husband ever preached traumatized my oldest because I insisted on being front and center, where I thought a good PW should be, with my 3 year old and her 2 week old sister. When one of the distraught family members passed out on the row in front of us and her head rolled back into my little girl’s lap I realized that I was really expecting too much from my kids. So, now when there is a funeral I usually do not make my children attend. Instead, I volunteer to help with the bereavement dinner afterwards. There, my children can play or do homework at a back table while I pass out hugs of sympathy and chocolate cake. It shows the church I care…and also shows my children I care about them, too.
There is so much more that could be written about this subject of raising PK’s…maybe I’ll come back to it in another blog. For now, I’m going to continue working on these things and I’ll let you know how it turns out. How about you? What would you say is key to raising PK’s to love God AND church? Please comment below…I’d love to learn from your experiences!
(PS. In case you’re curious about our vacation…we are taking a road trip to Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, & the Mall of America. Should be fun!)