Tag: Children

Three Ways with Families

Three Ways with Families

Three Ways with Families

Tim Keller|5:04 AM CT Feb 08 2011

In Japan, in Western Europe, and in Russia, the birth-rate has fallen precipitously, to below replacement levels. If this does not change, the economic and cultural impact will be very great on those nations. Many have pointed out that interest in child-bearing is lowest in the most secular countries and sectors of society, while it is the highest in the most religious countries. Why is this? One explanation is that more educated people put off child-rearing until later in life and that means fewer children. However, educated religious people have more children than educated secular people, and therefore the socio-economic answer isn’t the most basic answer. I don’t think anyone can be completely sure that they have a handle on this complex phenomenon, but I think it creates an interesting backdrop for the consideration of the unique Christian view of the family.

My European friends have two theories for why their secular neighbors have lost interest in the family. First, there is the sacrifice factor. For the last 30 years, sociologists have documented that secularism fosters individualism. A 2003 Ben Gurion University study found religious communes in Israel did better across the board than secular communes. (Cited in “Darwin’s God”, New York Times Magazine, March 4, 2007.) The reason? The members of secular communes simply were more selfish, particularly the men. Men who went to synagogue regularly were much more willing to sacrifice for the family and the community than men who did not. Despite the new financial incentives to have children that European governments are now offering, many people can’t imagine a happy life with the severe loss of independence that comes with parenthood. As the studies since Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart have shown, secularism teaches that every individual determines his or her own purpose in life—the autonomous self is sovereign. In this world-view, family life looks like the loss of personal meaning and happiness.

There is also the hope factor. My European friends tell me that their secular neighbors are much more pessimistic about the future. They (rightly) see oceans of injustice and poverty in the world surrounding islands of democracy and prosperity. They are keenly aware of the ecological and technological disasters that are possible, perhaps inevitable. Why bring children into such a bleak world? Religious persons, however, have a profound assurance that in the future is final justice, or paradise, or union with God in some form. They have an over-arching hope that makes them more optimistic about bearing and raising children.

At this point you might think I would simply say “Yay for religion, it is the friend of the family!” It is not that simple. While secularism in the West tends to make an idol out of the individual and his or her needs, traditional religion has often made an idol out of the family. According to theologian Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University, Christianity was the very first religion or world-view that held up single adulthood as a viable way of life. Jesus himself and St. Paul were single. “One…clear difference between Christianity and Judaism [and all other traditional religions] is the former’s entertainment of the idea of singleness as the paradigm way of life for its followers.” (Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, p.174.) Nearly all religions and cultures made an absolute value of the family and of the bearing of children. There was no honor without family honor, and there was no real lasting significance or “legacy” without leaving heirs. By contrast, the early church not only did not pressure women to marry but it institutionally supported poor widows so they were not forced to remarry as they were out in the culture at large.

Why? The Christian gospel and hope of the kingdom-future de-idolized marriage. “Singleness was legitimated, not because sex was questionable, but because the mission of the church is ‘between the times’ [the overlap of the ages]…We must remember that the ‘sacrifice’ made by singles was not [just in] ‘giving up sex’ but in giving up heirs. There could be no more radical act than that! This was a clear expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family but by the [kingdom of God and the] church” ( Hauerwas, p.190). “[Now, in the overlap of the ages], both singleness and marriage are necessary symbolic institutions for the constitution of the church’s life . . . that witnesses to God’s kingdom. Neither can be valid without the other. If singleness is a symbol of the church’s confidence in God’s power to effect lives for the growth of the church, marriage and procreation is the symbol of the church’s understanding that the struggle will be long and arduous. For Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope . . . that God has not abandoned this world.” (Hauerwas, p.191)

The gospel-based community practices a view of family that is contrary both to the cultural idols of secular and traditional societies. The gospel frees singles from the shame of being unmarried they find in conservative cultures. Their truest identity is in Christ and their assured future hope is the kingdom of God. Even bearing children, in the Christian view, is merely nurturing more lives for the family of God. That can be done in other ways than the biological. On the other hand, the gospel gives us the hope and strength for the sacrifices of marriage and parenthood that is lacking in liberal cultures. Christians grasp that they were only brought to life because of Jesus’ radical sacrifice of his independence and power. We know that children are only brought to life and self-sufficiency if their parents sacrifice much of their independence and power. In light of the cross, it is the least we can do.

The gospel is neither religion nor irreligion, it is something else altogether. Vital gospel Christianity’s influence on a society will produce neither a liberal and secular nor a traditional and conservative culture, but something we have seldom seen before.

Editor’s Note: This is a cross-post from Tim Keller’s blog at Redeemer City to City.

Parents Ignore your Kids Feelings

Parents Ignore your Kids Feelings

Parents Ignore your Kids Feelings

Ed Welch

Yes, that’s what you might overhear among mental health professionals. The self-esteem revolution is officially over. The writing was on the wall when Baumeister identified that violent prisoners did not suffer from low self-esteem, rather they suffered from egoism. They thought too highly of themselves. As a result they had to seek revenge when someone showed them a hint of disrespect.1

Now it is stylish to bash our decades-long infatuation with self-esteem. Helicopter parenting, extreme parenting, parents who rebuke teachers for giving a B to their 3rd grader, parents who need their children to be happy and successful and will do anything to make them that way, teachers who embrace “different learning styles” to shield a 7th grader from the simple fact that he isn’t that great at math, parents who try to protect their children from all hurt and failure, and little league coaches who give life-sized trophies to every five-year-old—they are now being told to let the kids cry and let them learn how to deal with hard things. If there aren’t hard things in their lives, then feel free to impose some hardship. And, for crying out loud, stop trying to make your kids feel so special and learn how to say “no”! It’s time for them to earn their stripes.2

Perhaps the next decade will be filled with “Tots week with Bear Grylls,” cold showers in every locker room, and drill sergeants in elementary school classrooms.

Indeed, as Ecclesiastes says, nothing is new under the sun. It isn’t only the nutritionists who change their tune every five years. Pop psychology does the same.

The reality is that not every kid can be President. Kids are like the rest of us. We are good at some things, bad at others, and average at most. Wise people consider their strengths and weaknesses, and have sought the help of their critics so they don’t indulge in wishful thinking.

“An accurate self-image.” That’s what I remember John Bettler3 teaching almost thirty years ago. Not an inflated self-image, not a low-self image, but an accurate one. It sounded like heresy then. Now it is mainstream! And though John’s teaching was wise, he wasn’t ahead of his time, he was just thinking biblically about this topic. There is a timeless quality to that.

In other words, expect your biblical thinking about morality and human nature to have two distinctives: (1) parts of it will be ridiculed because it will be out of synch with popular thinking, and (2) parts of it will be received as ordinary wisdom that has broad, popular appeal (there are facets of God’s wisdom that are available to the naked eye). And—if you wait long enough—what was once ridiculed will often become ordinary.

What does this mean for parents? If you never really signed on with the self-esteem movement, then it means nothing. If, however, your parenting philosophy is that your children must always be happy, they have unlimited potential, they could be great at everything if it weren’t for that pesky algebra teacher and tennis coach, both of whom are blind to real talent, and your children live in a world where life is about them, then now is a good time to recalibrate your understanding of discipleship.

But you certainly can pay attention to your kids’ feelings.

1 Baumeister, Bushman and Campbell, “Self-esteem, narcissism and aggression: Does violence result from low self-esteem or threatened egoism?” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol.7, no.1, Feb 2000, pp.26-29.

2 E.g., The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel; “How the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids,” by Lori Gottlieb, The Altlantic Monthly, July/August 2011); and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

3 John Bettler was a co-founder of CCEF and Executive Director for more than 20 years.