I've been more active on Twitter lately. It wasn't strategic but more that I seem to have stumbled upon the right people who want to talk church and such. Chip Mattis is one of the friends I've enjoyed conversing with from time to time. His debut book, Under the Dancing Tree, released last month. I'm delighted he wanted to stop by and share his thoughts on parenting with us.
We face a ton of dilemmas as parents. I wonder if parenting was like this a hundred years ago. I’m sure they had their own worries then: diseases we’ve mostly eradicated, and the fear that comes with having young kids work on the farm or apprentice in the forge with Dad.
Today we face questions like:
How do I keep my kids innocent?
When do I introduce hard topics?
How should we handle technology?
Kids have access to the adult world today like they never have before. Even when I was young, a child of the 80s, there were tons of topics my parents said were off limits.
“We’ll tell you when you’re older.”
But now kids don’t have to wait on the answer from Mom and Dad. They can Google it. In fact, they can skip Mom and Dad altogether and go straight to the source of information that doesn’t discriminate based on age. Google provides answers regardless of the person asking and their preparedness for what they learn.
How should we, as parents, respond?
On the one hand, we parents can be over-protective, carefully curating our children’s experiences and limiting their exposure to risk. We see pain as the enemy, to be prevented at all costs. In our desperation to reduce or eliminate our children’s pain, we keep them safe. We hold on tightly, excusing our protection with a shrug saying, “They’re only little once.”
But on the other hand, we might be overly permissive. We see our kids as little adults, and there is no topic off limits. If we’re like this we see the world as ugly as well, but we believe that knowledge is power. Giving kids the knowledge of how ugly the world is will protect them when Mom and Dad aren’t around. We hold on loosely and say, “They have to grow up sometime.”
The dilemma we face as parents, between keeping our kids shielded and innocent, versus preparing them for the world, is one of our toughest challenges. We desperately want to hold on tightly, knowing these precious few years we get with our little ones will be gone. But we also desperately want our kids to be ready to stand on their own.
When it comes to raising our kids, we should avoid either-or thinking and embrace both-and. Either-or thinking tells us that we must either coddle our children, raising pure little snowflakes, or school our children with hard knocks and life lessons to ensure they know how tough life can be. Both-and thinking tells us that we can be both pure and strong, both innocent and wise. In fact, that’s what Jesus calls his followers to.
In Matthew 10, Jesus is faced with the disciples leaving the nest to go on a mission. He is sending them out into the world to see if they can apply the lessons he’s taught them. He tells them this:
16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
There are many parents who wish Proverbs was right—that when we train our kids in the right way they won’t leave that path when they’re older. Even Jesus acknowledges kids can go astray when he tells the story of the Lost Son. The important lesson in raising our kids isn’t in protecting their innocence. And it isn’t in teaching them wisdom.
The important lesson our kids need is that in a world full of wolves, their Good Shepherd will guide them, protect them, and speak through them when the time comes.
It’s ok to cherish our children’s innocence. Be an example to them of purity.
And it’s ok to call our children into wisdom. It’s our responsibility to demonstrate how to live for the Lord.
So go ahead and hold on tightly to your kiddos and protect them. Hold them loosely to teach them. But more than anything, lead them to dependence on Jesus.
From the time he was small, Chip loved to read and write. He wrote poems for his grandmother and songs for himself. As a sophomore in high school, Chip won a contest to have a poem published in an anthology of U.S. high school poets. It was a seminal moment.
A few years later, Chip was admitted to the collegiate poetry and short story club, Scribblerus. He was dedicated to the purpose of the club: to read and critique others’ work in the club and submit works for critique by others. They met every week, and the honing of his craft began in earnest. He graduated magna cum laude from Greenville University with a BA in Philosophy and Religion.
Chip attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in 2018 where he was awarded the Foundations First Runner-Up for Best Children’s Picture Book. His debut book, Under the Dancing Tree, from Elk Lake Publishing is out now. Connect with Chip on Twitter or Facebook.