The Words of the Saunders Family
Raising the Older Blessed Child
"I can do all things through Christ which strngthneth me." (Philippians 4:13)
Does that include raising teenagers, Lord? Many of us have discovered that raising older children of faith calls for a more varied and complex set of skills than we ever dreamed of when they were darling little bundles of blessedness -- 'fresh from God," as St. Augustine said of infants and young children.
During the teenage years of a child's life, parenting is definitely not for the faint of heart. As our children emerge from childhood, we need to roll up our sleeves even higher and throw ourselves into the fray with more energy (even though energy may be flagging at our age). As Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family wryly noted, children's teens often coincide with the parents' most demanding career curves and financial responsibilities, and, sometimes, menopause for the mothers. With our energy flagging and theirs skyrocketing, it's no wonder that the teen years can he the most difficult years in which to parent.
Thrown into the mix is the older child's need for and assertion of independence, which often seem to push away parental love and investment. Finding their own identity and independence is a developmental task that all human beings have to go through. They must differentiate themselves from their parents and establish themselves as unique individual truth incantations in image. This differentiation includes beginning to think for themselves and to question, or at least look critically at, what they have always been told, even in matters of faith.
The teen years also mean that peers threaten to take over the family realm of influence. Peers become extremely important to older children, and experts say that peers not only can provide therapy for children, they are important means of the child's development. The adolescent's need for greater peer involvement must be honored.
At the same time, many teenagers say in surveys that they would like to spend more time with their parents. So, unbelievable as it may seem when your teenager wants to spend all of God's Day with his peers when you'd planned a loving family day together, underneath, there is a still a deep hunger for parental love, parental attention, and parental approval. We parents need to have faith in that. This is a time to find (or make!) time to spend with our children, showing them that we care.
Staying in touch
It is easy for modern, busy families to drift away from one another, occupying the same house or living space but hardly interacting at all. Sometimes building in a few minutes of togetherness here and there can really help. For instance, a mother deciding to sit down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee while the kids are preparing and eating their after-school snack is one natural way to spend a few minutes together chatting about the day. Experts say; in fart, that teenagers who share at least five meals per week with their families are better adjusted socially' and academically; and they tend to stay away from bad practices like using drugs and alcohol. There are good reasons why God created us so that we need three substantial meals a day. It was to get us to sit down face to fame, doing something pleasurable as we reconnect with those we love.
Psychologists counsel us to stay in touch with our teenagers -- to "keep the lines of communication open." Staying in touch physically is important too. Parenting expert Ross Campbell explains that teenagers still need their parents to show physical affection to them. Though kisses and embraces might be warded oft, a pat on the back or shoulder, a gentle elbowing during laughter, a guy-to-guy wrestling match with Dad (it dad is not too creaky to do this!) all help to tell an older child, "I know you are independent and separate from me and growing into your own person. But I still love you and care about you." Every contact is a short and sweet way to connect for a moment. Even as he or she rushes out the door, every contact with a teenager communicates, "1 see you, I acknowledge you, and I care about you.'
It is easy to underestimate the importance of simple things like eating together, touching, and every contact. Yet they mean a lot.
We also need to stay in touch with our children's inner worlds. Educator James Garbaino, who has written extensively on teen issues, spoke at the Educator's Conference at Unification Theological Seminar in 2006. He maintains that, nowadays more than ever, children may have secret lives -- even good children. There are vast reaches of the culture of young people today that even vigilant parents know little of. How can we be aware of every influence that comes into another human being's life? We can't. Our children may be being led away from faith over Coke in the cafeteria with the resident cynic of the ninth grade class.
We cannot fully know what influences our children are under, who they speak to, what errant sights meet their eyes, what errant ideas get implanted. Who knows what music and lyrics dwell in their minds? Who knows what conversations persuade them in the school bathrooms, on the bus, even with other blessed children who might be disillusioned and struggling?
We can't know all those things. Only God can. So to God we must go, through prayer.
"Being a perfect parent doesn't matter. Being a praying parent does."
Christian Stormie Omartian proclaims this thought on the cover of her helpful book The Power of a Praying Parent. Each chapter in Omartian's book talks about the kinds of things that modern children may face and the kinds of fears parents may have, from fears for their children's physical safety to fears that they will not wait to have sex until being blessed in holy matrimony. There are prayers to strengthen our children to abstain from drugs, drink, premarital sex, and from succumbing to inherited negative family traits. There are prayers to heal any breaches that are growing in relationships in the family. There are prayers to ferret out secret "strongholds" in the heart where someone or something is settling itself in our children's hearts where God should be. There are prayers to reveal any problems we may not know about, and though the revealing may be a rude wake-up call, we can be thankful not to be slumbering on with blissful unconcern while our children's hearts are stolen away by Satan.
For times when our hearts are constricted with concern for our children, for times when we don't know how to put our anguished concerns into words, for times when our parental intuition tells us that something in our children's lives needs prayer but we don't know what it is -- the succinct but thorough prayers at the end of each chapter in Omartian's book can be read aloud to God, one a day. It only takes a few minutes, and it makes a big difference.
The wonderful thing about prayer is that it can reach our children even when we can't; when the child is at school, when the child has gone to stay with a friend, when the child is taking the city bus home in the dark, when the child has rejected True Parents and gone to the Himalayas to try to find God. Prayer can reach that child, and it does. Prayer works. It can transform a life.
I have found that Ontartian's book helped open up my prayer life with God so that the give-and-take is more active, and so that I can hear God's voice more vividly. When I'm at the end of my parental rope, He opens up new reservoirs of true love and understanding through my prayers. Much as we love our children, God loves them even more, and prayer taps into that love. God has more mercy on them than we do, and He is -- more often than not, I've found -- on their side! Father once said, in Blessing and Ideal Family, "Without going through the indemnity course, you cannot go in front of God, but the blessed children can go forward without any condition. Their quality is totally different from yours." Prayer helps us find this different, godly quality of our blessed children's hearts and to honor it.
As Christian thinker CS. Lewis commented, "Prayer doesn't change God, and it doesn't change my situation. It changes hate." Changing ourselves into more loving parents through prayer can effect change in our children's lives too.
Words and the word
For Unificationists, the central question is how we impart our faith to our children who are growing up in the world, who go to school and rub shoulders and exchange ideas with people who think very differently than we do. How do we help them keep a purity of faith and body in a vastly impure world?
Starting young seems to be a good answer. Young children are malleable, adoring, absorptive, and they think Mom and Dad are like God. Much of what parents tell their children in the earlier years will be deeply implanted in their psyches for now and evermore.
This is not as true for older children, but it is still true that God endowed parents with the power to influence their children immeasurably through their words. The words of a parent resound deeply to a child of any age. We need only think of how we still remember our parents' praise and criticism, and how, if they are still alive, we still seek their love and approval and good words. A parent's words, even softly spoken, are powerful.
So are the words of our parent, God. Hoon Dok Hae is a major parenting tool. Sharing Hoon Dok Hae as families is a central tenet of Unification Church family life.
However, an informal poll of parents attending the Northeastern Family Workshop at the Unification Theological Seminary in November 2006 showed that many, if not most, families struggle with doing Hoon Dok Hae. Busy lives. Different schedules. Adolescent resistance. Young children's boredom. Parents so tired they can hardly make out what the words literally say, let alone their deeper meanings, as their minds wander to how much time and money the car repair is going to cost. So how are we to get the word into our children's lives?
Some families are doing Hoon Dok Hae from five o'clock with all their children; others are working up from wherever they may be. Some have begun by only reading a page. Others do Hoon Dok Hae at the table following dinner, when they have a captive audience. Some families have gone from a few minutes to longer intervals, involving their children in the reading itself, allowing each family member to read increasingly longer passages. Some tempt their smaller children with snacks. Some parents prepare ahead of time by reading the text and constructing a mini-sermon, complete with interactive questions for the children to puzzle over.
But they do it. And that's important. In fact, even a shortened version of Hoon Dok Hae over time becomes, as True Parents have said of their Hoon Dok Hae sessions, "the most meaningful part of the day," and the most meaningful part of family life as well.
We must love our children and give them the word. As an ambassador for peace who is a minister said recently; "Love and truth are both needed. They are inseparable."
Encouraging moral decision-making
Of course, we want our children to think for themselves and to think their way through the many choices they will be offered in this world. We will not always he able to be with them, monitoring them. We want them to make good choices of their own free will.
Learning the Divine Principle may not he enough. It has been found that some blessed children know the Divine Principle in and out but still think it is okay to cheat in school. They need moral reasoning as well as theology. How do we teach them that, especially when they've heard our lectures and moral opinions to the point of saturation?
A method recommended by character educator Thomas Lickona works well with teenagers. It is called the Ask Don't Tell method of developing moral reasoning.
Most Unificationist parents probably moralize to their children (I know I dol. We lecture them endlessly' on matters of right and wrong. After all, right and wrong mean a lot to us. We've given our lives for the sake of right and wrong. We want out kids to know what we think -- lines of ancestors and descendants are dependent upon the choices they make in their lives. It's hard to let up when the stakes are this high. But, with practice, the Ask Don't Tell method can be surprisingly effective.
Instead of telling an older child what's what, a parent using the Ask Don't Tell method will draw out the older child's moral ideas through questioning. That's the real meaning of "educating" which is Latin for "drawing out." Everyone likes to be asked their opinion on things. We can draw out our older child's moral reasoning ability and original mind by walking him or her through the moral issue through questioning.
Parent: Why might I be upset that you violated your curfew by almost an hour and didn't call?
Teen (rolling eyes): You were worried about me.
Parent (ignoring the rolling eyes): Right! Why do I worry about you?
Teen (having heard this before): Because you love me.
Parent: You've got that right. What kinds of things might I he worried about?
Teen: That I was hurt or abducted or lost or in trouble somehow. (My teenagers can name a whole litany of my fears!)
Parent: Right. Is it possible -- just possible -- that anything had could happen to you at some point?"
Teen (secretly thinking he or she is invulnerable, but willing to concede the point): I suppose.
Parent (smelling victory): So, do you think out of respect for my concern for you, you might want to honor your curfew?
Teen: I suppose.
Parent: Now let me ask you this: What consequence do you think might help you remember to come home on time?"
Teen (amazed): You want me to think of my own punishment?
Parent: Consequence. Not punishment. Consequence. To help you learn.
Teen: (after some thought): Maybe if you shorten my curfew, and then I can earn a longer one back if I follow it for three days straight.
Parent: All Right!
Through staying in touch with our children's inner and outer worlds, influencing them through prayer and educating them in the word and in moral reasoning, we can surround them with the greatest and most powerful love on earth. It is the love that is an "attribute unto God himself" the love of a parent for a child. If we are doing that, communing with the love God has for our children, even if things go temporarily awry, our families cannot go far wrong.