“Homeschooling parents are some of the bravest people I know.” I heard that statement recently and couldn’t help but agree. The constant battle of engaging minds while also engaging hearts is demanding, and certainly requires courage and commitment.
A necessary element is, in my estimation, what the prophets referred to as wisdom. Parenting and homeschooling demand the incarnation of wisdom in everyday life, whether we are helping our children navigate relationships with their siblings, teaching them strategies for memorizing the timeline song, or reading and discussing the Iliad with them. We lie down and rise up thinking about how to harmonize their precious minds and hearts. And sometimes, perhaps often, we fall short. In response, the temptation is to micro-manage—to control as much as we can and demand as much as we can.
The Micro-Managing Paradigm
If there is an area in which we as homeschooling parents need to be extra alert, it is this tendency to micro-manage. Micro-managing our children is a poor strategy. It’s an attempt to right a wrong by overregulating our children’s lives. We put the metaphorical red tape in the living room and the “Do Not Run” signs in the kitchen. This does not mean we should turn a blind eye to our children’s behavior, or what they watch or read, or any such thing. Being aware and involved is just responsible parenting. I am arguing against another paradigm. We sometimes equate micro-managing with doing our jobs well. But the reality is that such a paradigm burdens our children. What we must desire is to teach them to rest, fail, learn, cut, paste, color, sing, and confess their sins in the presence of parents who know that God’s promises never fail. Yes, we need to protect, but micro-managing parents take away the oxygen of their children’s joy. If we do not teach them to breathe deeply in the right places, they are left to come up for air wherever they can find it.
If we are honest, we will affirm that we all have such tendencies, which appear in a variety of forms. Instead of covering in love, we overwhelm with rebukes. Not all of their mistakes or poor uses of words need to be corrected. We want to inculcate a culture of faithfulness in our children, rather than a culture of despair. In the process of shaping their minds, we mustn’t lose their hearts.
As a pastor and homeschooling father, I’ve seen enough of this to know it’s not merely hypothetical. And to avoid such a dangerous outcome, parents need to provide an environment where obedience stems from freedom and not compulsion or guilt. We can make our children do anything we want. We can guilt them into sharing. We can force them to say the right words. But our time with them is too limited and their lives too precious to treat them like vending machines. Our children are most free when their parents talk to and treat them with the utmost respect. If we exert micro-managing authority, our children will find ways to manage their sins in the dark. Someone once stated that character is what you do in the dark. If what they do in the light is merely a camouflage, then their good works will be burnt. But if we exert our authority in love, respect, and openness, our children will, by God’s grace, lovingly, respectfully, and openly speak and confess their sins.
There is a great difference between a child who, when his sin is discovered, says, “Dad, please don’t be mad at me,” and the child who approaches his father with repentance saying, “Dad, I did something I should not have done.” The first child acknowledges his wrong doing in anticipation of discipline; the second has an opportunity to learn in the safety of his father’s love.
Avoiding the micro-managing paradigm requires some self-examination. Following are several questions I would ask parents to determine whether we have succumbed to parenting via control instead of freedom:
- What do we do when our children fail? Do we provide them five additional laws to avoid failing again? Do we provide more regulations to avoid failure?
- How do we react to our children’s sin? Do we reprimand in a way that diminishes their value in the home? Do we make it more difficult for them to confess in the future?
- What do we say when our children do not succeed academically as we expected? Do we act as if grades are more important than godliness? Do we live under the tyranny of comparison?
- Do our children feel limited in expressing their feelings to us? Are they always measuring their words for fear of offending us?
- Do we communicate a Gospel that brings joy to them? Or is our Gospel stifling their identity in Christ? Does our view of parenting reflect our view of God? Do we expect God to micro-manage our lives?
These and many other questions could be asked to determine whether we are instructing in Gospel freedom or burdening our children under the tyranny of our own doing. If the Gospel is what it says it is, then parenting in freedom, while exercising godly authority, establishes the best environment for confession of sin and offers the best opportunity to grow our children’s hearts and minds to love God and His Word.