|by Randy Alcorn
The following is an interview between Randy Alcorn and a representative of Multnomah Bible College, originally appearing in the Multnomah Message:
What is the greatest challenge parents of young people face?
I would say balance. Parents have to balance their responsibility to govern their children's lives with their teenagers' need to develop independence and freedom. Parents have to maintain that tension.
Is it an issue of hanging on too much or letting go too soon?
I think both happen. Some parents let go too soon and feel like they've lost control. They feel like everything is their kid's decision. For example, I've heard parents say, "I wish my kids wouldn't play that terrible rock music."
Well, what are parents for? That's like saying, "I wish my kids wouldn't play on the freeway. Every day they go and play on the freeway and I just feel sick about it."
You're exaggerating a bit, aren't you?
You hear parents say things not far from that. It's frightening to hear how little control parents feel they have. It creates anxiety-has higher stakes than your children and their welfare.
Without control, what can you do?
When you sense there's low control, it's likely you can do something about it. With every responsibility, God also gives us authority. Parents are responsible for their kids, which puts them in authority. They don't have to apologize for it.
Of course, they can go to the other extreme and smother their kids. But once the child is out of their environment, he'll go nuts because he hasn't developed any wisdom. Proverbs is a key book for parents. It shows that children need to learn first-hand the consequences of sin and the reward of wisdom.
Unfortunately, many parents try to gain control too late.
They can still redeem it, but they have to do it carefully. Children have learned certain levels of freedom. For a parent to suddenly come home after reading one article or going to one seminar and say, "From this moment forward there will be no rock music"-when you've let them listen to rock music for eight years-is a bit foolhardy.
It would be better to come home and say, "I want to apologize to you for not parenting you the way I need to. I feel a new conviction and I'm going to pray about some areas where I can exercise more responsibility in your life. You may not like some of it, but I want you to know I love you."
That's humbling. It's also time-consuming.
Yes, that's the other problem: mother ends up doing all the work with the kids while father stays at a distance.
It comes back to who reads the books. Of those sold in Christian bookstores, 80 percent are bought by women. Then you have radio. Who listens to Dobson? To Swindoll? Family Life Today?
It's great that women get all this input, but sometimes they end up having to run the family. A woman trying to always keep teenage boys in check is in a tough situation.
Isn't that what you and your wife Nanci deal with in your book, Women Under Stress?
In part. Many Christian women are really burned out. When I was pastor of counseling, my typical week would consist of 25 counseling appointments, most of those with women who had very high expectations for themselves-and sometimes, very high expectations of their families. Both were unrealistic.
You're saying stress differs between the sexes?
Yes. Both men and women experience stress, but there are some distinctive stresses on women that haven't been addressed in other Christian books. Nanci and I have overextended ourselves in the past and have learned some things about pacing ourselves.
That's a key thing in the book: God calls us not first to excellence, but to faithfulness. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:2 that it's required of a steward to be found faithful, not that he be found excellent. Jesus said at the end of his life, "I have finished the work that you gave me to do." He didn't do any less than that, but he didn't do any more.
So, what does that mean in terms of parenting?
The ideal is the old prevention thing. Parents need to develop their relationship with their child and build the level of intimacy that gives the right to come down hard on certain areas.
Too often the relationship is typified by Mt. Olympus. Parents come down like lightning bolts to their kids, then return to the top of their mountain. The relationship is confrontational, when what they need is a consistent, loving relationship in which 90 percent of what is done is affirming. Criticism should be the exception instead of the rule.
We've talked about youth, but I know you have two daughters. What patterns have you established with them?
We talk a lot. When the girls were young, we sat down and read Bible stories and talk about principles, trying to plug those into their current situation-whether it be kindergarten or sixth grade or high school, the principle is the same. We try to spend the time with them that allows us to see life as it happens. That's a big thing to us.
You sound like you've thought this through.
You have to. Like choosing a major in college or buying a house, you give attention to important things. If we don't think strategically about parenting, then we've made a statement: Apparently our children aren't important, or parenting comes so naturally that it happens without our attention.
That's not true. If we're going to influence our children, we need to strategize-regrouping and reevaluating along the way.
Can the church help with that?
Yes. We can educate and encourage parents to be involved in issues that may affect their children. But godly living begins at home, in our own lives before God.
If we as parents cultivate our inner person and develop our character, the character development in our children will happen by spending time with them.
So parents are back to the old balancing trick.
You've got it! The most important part of our lives is the part that only God sees; everyone else just sees images. We need to be concerned with the inner realities rather than what we want people to think these are. In terms of parenting, the best thing we can do is be sure our relationship with God is in order, then our relationship with each other. Both spouses can be concerned about being good parents, but they may not have their relationship in order. They need quality in both.
by Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2229 E. Burnside #23, Gresham, OR 97030, 503-663-6481, www.epm.org
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