Well, it’s the middle of August. That used to mean it was almost time to go back to school. Now, it means it’s time to _start_ school. Since most of my friends are about my age, several of them are sending their children off to school for the first time. Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of conversation about this in the past week or so. I’ve been pretty quiet in those conversations. I had a lot I _wanted_ to say, but for one reason or another I was silent. Mostly ’cause I’m chicken I guess. These comments are not responses to any specific conversation, just several general themes I’ve heard. Here’s what I wanted to say:
You know, it doesn’t _have_ to be this way. There are other options. You can keep them at home.
You and your child are both upset about this. Moms, you say that you feel like you’re losing your baby, who has been with you every day for the past five years. You say it feels like you’re pushing her out into the wide world. And you know, _you are_.
You say that you don’t want to shelter your little boy, but you are lying. You both _want to_ shelter him and _do_ shelter him. I know you. I know what kind of parent you are — a good one. You are very careful with your children. You are strict about what kind of movies and TV shows your kids watch. You wouldn’t dream of letting him watch the evening news or reading a newspaper. You’d censor it. And rightly so! You are careful about who your kids spend time with. You reprimanded your daughter for using “potty language” which consisted of giggling about “poopy diaper”. You wouldn’t dream of letting that precious child walk around the block by herself. You’re a good mom. Don’t tell me you don’t want to shelter your children, because you _do_ want to, and you _should_. That’s a big part of what parents are for.
In fact, “shelter” is just another word for “protect”. Would you _ever_ say “Well, you can’t protect your kids”. Of course not. But the words are synonyms!
It’s true that you neither can, nor should, “shelter” your children _forever_. But is “five years” close enough to “forever” that you _really_ think it’s time to push your baby out of the nest? Is 10, 12, or 15 years really “forever”?
What if you waited? Waited until your son was old enough for a pocketknife. Until your daughter was no longer afraid of the dark. Until your children were old enough to go camping by themselves? You don’t think they are old enough to build a campfire, but you want to (in your own words!) expose them to the world?
This is why you spent that entire evening last week at the open house / orientation / meet the teacher event. Your couple of minutes of interaction with your child’s new teacher gives you some comfort – you fee like you’ve checked that teacher out and done your parental duty. “She seems nice. I’m sure she’ll be a great teacher.” And honestly, she probably will – I don’t mean to imply anything negative about school teachers. I mean, my _wife_ was one. But the fact is, your claim that you can’t “shelter” you child is just nonsense! You made it up precisely because you realize that your little baby _needs_ your protection, your shelter.
Think about it – “you can’t shelter your child” is an implicit _affirmation_ that going to public school will expose your child to many negative things. Nobody says “you can’t shelter your child” as they send them off to a safe, trusted environment. You don’t say “gotta’ expose them to the world one day!” to justify taking them to Grandma’s house. When you refuse to “shelter your child” you are admitting that you are exposing them to many things that they might ought to be sheltered from.
We Christians sometimes comfort ourselves with an unbiblical notion of the “age of accountability” before which we assume God does not hold a person responsible for his or her sins. And we typically put this age at 8 – 12 years old. Do you _really_ believe that your baby is old enough to face the rigors of the world, but still so young and tender and innocent that God will not hold her accountable for her sins?
I believe that a child is best exposed to the world in the exact same fashion as a child grows — gradually. You parents hardly take your newborn babies out of the house for the first 3 months. Then you take them to church, but not Wal-Mart. You gradually increase their expose as they grow, and we don’t see hide nor hair of you during flu season (largely because I, too, am hiding with my kids in my house during those months). _This is good_.
In virtually all cases, we expose our children to things very gradually. This is why the PG, PG-13, and R ratings exist. It’s why driver’s learner permits exist. It’s why there are wading pools and floaties. And training wheels for bicycles. Why don’t we do the same here?
As a child grows from birth to, say, 18, it’s perfectly reasonable for his exposure to the world to increase in a semi-linear fashion. But certainly not a stairstep at age 5 and another at ages 16 and 18! Children do not physically or emotionally grow that way. Why not make some attempt at matching their exposure to the physical, emotional, and spiritual dangers of the world, with their physical, emotional and spiritual maturity?
You also say that you don’t want to raise a social misfit. Again, you are partially lying. If your children do not swear, smoke, drink, or have sex, and if they are the spiritually mature and moral angels you want them to be, guess what? They will be social misfits. You are not going to let them listen to the same music and watch the same movies and TV shows that the other kids do, are you? Are you going to raise them to be moral, make them go to church, teach them to love God, and raise them to be respectful to you? YOU ARE?!?!? What are trying to do, raise social misfits?
One of two things is going to happen. Your kids are either going to compromise morally and maybe “fit in”, or they are _not_ going to compromise, and are going to be weird. (Although girls _may_ have it a little easier than boys; I don’t know). Look at your own lives!
So now, tell me again how normal you want your kids to be?
I could get into a whole bunch of stuff about how homeschooled kids can be well socialized, about the level of homeschooling support we have around here, about what socialization actually is, I could point you to homeschooled people who are quite normal, and so on, but I’m not. In my experience, most of the distinction between “cool” and “dork” goes away in college and adulthood anyway. All this will pass. Those things are only significant in jr. high and high school. And if you _don’t send them_ to junior high or high school, it’s not an issue.
But the point is, if your kids are as well-behaved in school as you should want them to be and try to raise them to be, they are probably going to be social misfits anyway.
I understand the vision you have for your kids. You want your daughters to be beautiful and popular cheerleaders, your sons to be handsome football players. You want them to be smart, funny, and well liked. This is quite likely what _will_ happen. I have no doubt of it, not at all.
But is this really what we should be striving for? Is it the right vision, the right view of success?
God does not tell us to try to raise popular, attractive children. He tells us to raise _Godly_ children.
Deuteronomy 6:7 says says we are to teach the law of God “diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up”. Ephesians 6:4 commands us to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”. 1 Timothy 3:4 says an elder must “keep his children under control”. Not a word in there about making sure they are popular or “normal”. Do you really think a truly godly child will be either popular or normal? How did _you_ treat godly kids when you were in school? Or, if you were godly, how were you treated?
Our mission as parents is not to make sure our children are attractive, athletic, popular, socially skilled, smart, well educated, or financially prosperous. It is to raise them to be godly. We can either set ourselves up for success or for failure.
We will set ourselves up for success if we arrange it such that our children are protected from ungodly, evil influences until they are ready to handle those influences. And then allow them to be exposed to world in limited measure, according to what they can handle.
We will set ourselves up for success if we arrange our days so our kids actually spend it with us. Relationships are only built through time spent together. Godliness takes time to instill. A couple of hours each weeknight plus the weekends (minus time for extracurricular activities) doesn’t do it. Deuteronomy 6:7 doesn’t say “make sure they get to Sunday School and know their memory verse”. It’s much more than that.
And finally, are you really ready to turn loose of your child’s heart? At _five_? That stranger you met last week during open house, is about to become the primary adult figure in your child’s world. You heard your daughter talking about how _beautiful_ her new teacher was? That’s the spot _you_ used to have, mom. When a child accidentally calls his teacher “Mom”, it’s more than a slip of the tongue.
How quickly and easily we parents get crowded out of a child’s heart! Your child will no longer be content with _your_ love and acceptance of him. No, he is worried about whether or not his new teacher will like him. He’s afraid because he doesn’t know anyone at school. He’s already looking to the outside for acceptance and affirmation.
I’ve decided that my oldest son will stay with us during the corporate worship hour, and we were talking to him about this. You could see on his face the struggle going on in his heart. His teachers and the kids in his class had already supplanted me and his mom. And that’s a couple of hours on Sunday that has already done that.
Are you really ready for him to get his sense of self worth and approval from strangers? A woman that you don’t know, and a bunch of kids who just happen to be his age and live in the same general area? Are you ready to give up that place in his heart?
We were just talking on Friday about how many of the trees around here lean because of the direction of the prevailing winds. Which way do the winds blow at public school? Are you prepared for your child to grow into a tree leaning that direction? Is it the direction you want? If not, perhaps it’s wiser to keep that little sapling _sheltered_ for a bit longer until her roots are better established.
[Comments are closed again, on purpose, because I don’t want to get into it.]