Is there such a thing as normal, Godly kids?
Sally and I are constantly asked about parenting. It’s actually amazing how often we are asked about how to raise kids well. The following is an interview I did a little over two years ago that was helpful for people and thought we’d pass it on again.
Here’s the interview:
Aidan: So here’s the deal, Mike. I’ve met your kids. All of them are out of the house and grown, and I have to say, they are remarkably…well…how to put this…remarkably normal!
Mike: Normal by what standards?!! Lol. They’ve never seen too terribly normal to me.
Aidan: Ha! Well I guess I would say this: My general experience of pastor’s kids (and yes, this is a vast over-generalization and I’m exaggerating in these descriptions to serve a point)…my general experience is that they fall into one of two categories:
1) They go completely off the deep end and reject anything and everything having to do with the faith of their parents
2) Are Christians but are, dare I say…perhaps just a little too sweet, approaching on vanilla, almost bland.
Oh…and they dress like the Amish.
Oooh! I’ve got another. You can’t ever imagine them raising their voice. They’re just too sweet a Christian to raise their voice.
Mike: Wow. So you’re not kidding. Those are some pretty serious over-generalizations!
Aidan: Hyperbole is for those with a refined sense of humor.
Mike: Well if that’s your barometer for normal, then yes, I guess my kids would fit somewhere in the “normal” middle. They all love Jesus and are following him but don’t seem too socially awkward. There’s still time though!
Aidan: So I guess our big question for the day…well…how did you go about raising your kids? What did you think you did well? What would you do differently? What advice do you have for us as missional leaders as we are raising our own kids?
Mike: For Sally and I, we wanted to raise our kids with:
I think this is one we intuitively understand, but that doesn’t make it any easier to actually do. We tried to unconditionally love our kids. Let them know we’re pleased with them. We’re proud of them. That we would love them no matter what their behavior was. Our love can’t be conditional on anything.
We really understood that the role of parents is to raise adults who are good people rather than raising adults who will be our friends. If you raise your kids to be good people, there will be a strong possibility they will be friends with you; whereas people who really want their kids to like them have kids that can’t deal with some fundamental truths.
Aidan: Talk about that a little. What’s an example of a fundamental truth our kids won’t be able to deal with if we spend time trying to get them to like us?
Mike: Honestly? You have to learn not to be self-centered. If you raise your kids in the hopes they will like you, you won’t be able to Challenge them in the way they need. You kindly and carefully re-direct their behavior in a way that is less self-oriented, looking at the “other” through different eyes and not just their own. If I’m just trying to make sure my kids like me, that’s going to change the way I challenge them. I’m always going to give them exactly what they want for fear of them not liking me.
Aidan: How did this work out practically in the Breen household?
Mike: It meant we did things that reinforced behavior that was helpful and unselfish. We meet twice a day for meals: breakfast and dinner. We didn’t allow hyper-individualism to define your place in our family. Sometimes that meant we had breakfast really early in the morning. Sometimes that meant you couldn’t go out with your friends until after dinner. Dinner was a time of re-connection. Pray. Eat. Discuss.
When the kids were smaller, after dinner maybe we’d watch a children’s TV show as a family, adding a certain social dimension. It’s not like Sally or I were that keen on kids TV.
We only had a family computer and there were no TV’s in their rooms.
Another thing…we’d try to do this thing for a while where once a week we’d have “Appreciation Days.” At dinner we’d go around the table and everyone would say what they were grateful for that someone in the family had done for them. Again, this reinforces behavior. You hear how it impacts someone, you want to do it again!
We really approached this with the idea that a moderately disciplined life lets you soar. You see, freedom isn’t defined by lack of rules; it’s about exploring within a framework. So we really encouraged our kids to explore. Have fun. Express yourself as an individual creatively, artistically, we were constantly pulling each other’s leg and pulling practical jokes. But freedom is partnered with moderate discipline.
Aidan: So what is one thing you might have done differently?
Mike: I wonder if Sally and I could have been more involved in the various or specific activities that our kids were involved in. Our kids were constantly trying new things, new sports and I wonder if we had been a bit more intentional if they would have stuck with 1 or 2 of them a little longer and it would have been more fruitful if it was specifically reinforced. I wonder if we were a little too free on that?
Aidan: Any real specific advice you’d give those of us raising our kids?
Mike: I’d say try to really encourage your kids to listen to God for themselves. Even when they were small we’d say, “We feel God has called us as a family to this, but we want you to go and see if God is saying the same to you.” Whenever we moved, we’d say, “We’re moving as a pack.”
I remember when we were getting ready to move, Beccy wasn’t sure she’d make any friends, but when she went and asked God, she felt like she had a picture of someone she’d be best friends with when we moved. I mean, she’s 7! And when we move, wouldn’t you know that one of the first people she meets is a girl that looks just like the picture God gave her and they were quite close the entire time we were there.
Sometimes I think things like moving is actually the parents who it’s hardest on.
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