The biggest thing to ever happen on this blog wasn’t even written by me.
I want to tell you a bit of a story today, and it all starts in the winter of 2014.
I had written a series of posts about parenting, talking about how to help kids make good decisions when dating, and talking about how the purpose of parenting is not to catch them when they fall, but to certainly be there if they do, while expecting that they will soar instead. Expectations matter.
Many commenters didn’t agree.
I had comment after comment saying things like,
You can do all the right things when you’re parenting, and kids will still go off the rails. Kids rebel. That’s what they do. And we shouldn’t shame parents when kids make bad decisions.
Now, I’m totally on board with the last part of that comment. We absolutely should not shame parents when kids make bad decisions, because we all have free will. After all, in the story of the Prodigal Son in the Bible, the youngest son goes totally off the rails, but in that story, the father stands in for God. I think God is a pretty good father–and if He can have a child who rebels, then it certainly doesn’t reflect badly on him. That was the child’s choice. And the same goes for us. Children can make bad decisions, all on their own.
But here’s the thing: just because there is no guarantee that a child will choose well does not mean that we should throw in the towel and say, “there’s no point in even trying!” Just because we all know that one 35-year-old vegan who jogs every day who got lung cancer does not mean that we should all take up smoking. Just because we all know that one super safe driver who died in a car accident anyway does not mean that we should all stop wearing our seat belts.
There are things that we can do to make rebellion less likely, even if there are never any guarantees (and there certainly aren’t any guarantees!)
So I was debating this in the comments and getting a little bit fed up. So I thought to myself,
I wonder if they would listen to a teen instead of to me?
I asked my daughter Rebecca if she would write me a post on why she didn’t rebel.
Rebecca said no. She didn’t feel like it. She was busy. She was at university doing her own thing.
One day I’m sitting at home, working on my blog, when I get an email from Rebecca with an attachment. The email says, “So I was bored out of my mind in stats class today, and I was trying to stay awake, so I wrote you that article you wanted.”
She wrote it in 20 minutes. I slapped a picture up on it and put it on the blog the next week. And her post Why I Didn’t Rebel was read over 250,000 times in the next week. It was seen on Facebook over 1,000,000 times. If you were on Pinterest for the next year, you likely saw her face:
I’ve changed the graphic since; I needed to switch it up a little. But that post went huge.
Over the next two years I encouraged her to turn it into a book proposal. We went back and forth on that; I likely pushed a little too hard. In the middle of it all she got married, and that pushed things back a bit. But the book proposal was finally done, and there were actually multiple offers. She accepted Thomas Nelson, and wrote a great book that will be out October 3.
She’ll be telling you all a bit about it next week, but I want to share my heart for it, because I see it a little differently, as a mom. I still see it as that frustrated blogger, listening to all these comments from parents saying, “there’s nothing you can do!”, and wanting desperately to help parents see that, yes, there is a lot that you can do. There’s nothing you can do that will guarantee anything, but there’s a lot that you can do to develop a great, authentic relationship with your child.
You see, I did a ton wrong when raising my kids.
And if you get the book, you’ll read about some of my mistakes! I asked Rebecca to put them in there. Both Keith and I yelled too much at the girls. We’re both very loud and emotional people, and too often that takes over. Rebecca struggles with anxiety and being a Type A personality, so much so that when she gets stressed she sometimes gets paralyzed and shuts down. And I didn’t handle that well when she was a teen. I regret that now; I wish I had seen that this was a bigger issue than I thought at the time, and I wish I had taught her better coping mechanisms.
I certainly failed when I told them about puberty, as we have laughed about on this blog over the last few weeks.
But here’s the cool thing: When you allow kids to speak the truth, then your mistakes as a parent don’t need to end up hurting the relationship.
One of the best gifts you can give your child is the ability to speak truth. When you can say to a child, “I really messed up there, and I’m sorry,” then they’re allowed to think, “Mom isn’t perfect.”
When kids aren’t allowed to say that you ever do anything wrong, though, it creates a distance. If kids can’t speak the truth, but can only speak what’s on the surface, then they’re going to stop talking to you about important things–even those things that have very little to do with you.
If you want kids to come to you with the important things in their lives, then you have to allow them to speak about the important things in your relationship–including your failures.
That doesn’t mean that they disrespect you, and it doesn’t mean that they’re on par with you. It simply means that you all recognize together that we are all under Christ, and God is the only perfect one. Together, we figure out what it means to worship Him and follow Him, and together we hold each other accountable.
Rebecca ended up interviewing a whole bunch of other millennials to find out what the key factors were among kids who rebelled and kids who didn’t.
You’ll hear about some of them next week–fear based parenting vs. faith based parenting; expecting the best vs. expecting the worst; giving reasons rather than rules; fostering open communication. And there’s a lot about how we do church, too. It needs to be about God, not our church; and family and church need to be a team, not a club (that’s an important distinction that’s one of my favourite insights that Rebecca had!)
But what it all comes down to is simply an authentic relationship, where kids know they are valued and loved, but they also know that truth is allowed to be spoken.
It’s funny, but over the last few years as I’ve gotten more into blogging, I’ve seen the similarities between families that work well and churches that work well.
I’ve seen a lot of church denominations fall apart over scandals and over abuse within the ranks. Like Ashley Easter posted about on Tuesday, there is far too much abuse in many churches because certain churches create that kind of an environment–where truth can’t be spoken, because certain people have all the power. And as Justin spoke about yesterday when he was talking about diving headfirst into the courtship movement as a teen, that didn’t work either, because it was based on a one-size-fits-all rules approach, rather than simply listening to Jesus.
Here’s the key thing: God does not work by formula. He works through relationship.
In the family, that means that God may want something different for one child than another. So if we try to make everyone in the family operate in exactly the same way, we’ll end up squashing what the Holy Spirit is doing. We have to seek God’s will for each of our children, and we have to get to know each of our children intimately, so that we can see how best to guide them.
In the church setting, that means being open to the fact that God may speak to different people, and so we shouldn’t silence some or consolidate absolute power among a few people who aren’t accountable. We should be open to different people’s experiences and gifts, because that is the whole point in being a body–that we need each other. We don’t just need the head. Too many churches are set up so that the leadership is all that matters, and that’s when abuse often flourishes.
We all want God to work by formula because then there wouldn’t be any doubts. If we just do X, Y, And Z, good things will happen! And many churches present faith that way.
But God doesn’t work by formula, because if the formula worked, then we wouldn’t need God.
Healthy families don’t tend to have formulas; they tend to have relationship. Families where kids rebel often think that their kids are rebelling against God, when what they’re often rebelling against is the formula itself.
Look, I wish there were a guarantee, but there isn’t, in either direction. There is no guarantee that a child won’t rebel, but there’s also no guarantee that they will. But I think what there can be as a guarantee that no matter what happens, your child will be able to speak with you and feel that they are valued. And then, even if they do rebel, they’re more likely to come home one day.
So that’s where we’re coming from. It’s about authenticity, not formula, in everything–in church, in family, in marriage. That’s what makes us need to go running to God!
I still don’t totally understand why Rebecca’s post blew up so much.
What she said was interesting, yes, but lots that has been said on this blog is interesting (if I do say so myself). The only real explanation I can give is that parents are desperate for something different–something that doesn’t point to a formula that makes us feel inadequate, but instead just says, “If you love your child and get to know your child and are authentic, that’s enough.”
As a mom, obviously I’m proud of her. But I’m even more excited that I have a resource to point to when people ask me about parenting now, because this is too important to get wrong.
The first chapter of her book is really fun. It’s a romp through our family’s life as she was growing up, with lots of stories of how she became who she is today–without rebelling. But one of the big points she’s making is that, to many outside, it may have looked like she was rebelling. She was moody. She rebelled against church leaders that she felt were doing things wrong. She stood up to authority. But she always, always followed God.
And maybe one day I’ll write something as viral as she did…. 🙂
What do you think? Do you try to live too much by formula? Or did you see Becca’s post in your Pinterest feed way back then? Let’s talk in the comments!