God is so smart. He knew exactly what He was doing when He chose to teach us about boundaries with sleepovers and birthday parties at a Growing Families International (GFI) conference back in 2009. I had no idea how this one teaching would shape our family over our kids’ combined 8 years in the Middle Years (2010 to 2018).
At the conference, during a “lunch and learn” breakout session, the couple teaching asked if we would like to hear their family’s perspective on sleepovers and birthday parties. We enthusiastically agreed. Their family decided that birthdays were special, but that they wanted to celebrate them at home as a family without “inviting the neighborhood”. They also decided that play dates should end before bedtime and sleeping should be done at home. They had several reasons for making these decisions, including their children’s safety when not under their supervision, the financial strain of numerous birthday parties, and the time involved.
As we drove home from the conference, with so much new information in our “parenting tool box”, we decided that we needed to pick one topic to focus on. This was the topic we chose and it was an easy one to implement, since our kids were only 3 and 7 at the time. Our son had a best friend since kindergarten, who he was already spending a lot of time with, and we made an exception for them, as we had a close relationship with their family.
What I didn’t know in 2009 was that we would open our first fishing bait and tackle store at the end of 2011, and that I would have a nervous breakdown shortly thereafter when Joshua was 9 and Jordan was only 5. Keeping our children close to home, close to our business, and not “shipped off” here and there was so important. In the beginning of this crisis, we were fortunate to have friends help with public school drop off and pick up, but as I got healthier, I realized that part of my healing included taking over those tasks.
“The fifteen hundred days of preadolescence are all the time you have to prepare your kids for the nearly thirty-seven hundred days of adolescence. Let’s make the most of every minute.” – Robert Bucknam, MD, from the “PreTeen Wise” foreward
I wanted to make the most of every minute. John was extremely busy with his full time job and with the new tackle store and, whatever time he did have available, needed to be with me and the kids. Building our family identity happened in large part because we were always together. If our kids weren’t at school or at a church activity, they were most likely at home. Yes, Joshua spent time with his best friend and Jordan spent time with my parents, but these were all like-minded influences.
If the terms “building family identity” and “like-minded influences” aren’t familiar to you, I would highly recommend that you take the Middle Years class (ages 8 to 12). If a class isn’t available right now, Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, MD have a whole series of “On Becoming” books (think “On Becoming Babywise“) and “PreTeen Wise” is the book you’re looking for.
Leading your children from your authority is critical when your children are young and you’re establishing first-time obedience. But it definitely works against us when we get to the Middle Years. Moving from “leading from your authority” to “leading from your influence” could be the hardest task you’ll ever face in your parenting, but it pays such dividends. You’ve spent years “filling your child’s moral warehouse”, and now it’s time to see what’s really in there.
Think about this. God doesn’t ask His children questions because He doesn’t know the answers. God asks us questions to pull out of us what is inside, clarifying for us what we really believe. Just as God plants seeds of wisdom into us as we grow in maturity with Him, we as parents also plant seeds of wisdom into our children (“filling their moral warehouse”). It is our job to ask questions of our children, pulling out of them what is inside, clarifying for them what they really believe. If we’ve done our job well (with the Lord’s help, of course, as none of us are perfect parents), those seeds of wisdom grow over time and our children will be able to verbalize what they’ve internalized, further solidifying their beliefs for themselves.
We don’t want our children to act a certain way because “Mom said so”. We want their behavior to reflect what they truly believe inside. And the only way to do that is to pull that back out of them time and time again, just as God does with us.
Now that our kids are 14 and (almost) 18, they fully participate in family decisions and we consider their input carefully. We have made conscious decisions together to allow a sleepover or a birthday party here and there, allowing our kids to give their reasons, cite potential issues, and explain what they will and won’t participate in. It’s put the responsibility for their behavior in their court, not because “my parents said I can’t”, but because they’ve thought through the consequences of their actions ahead of time. Owning their own behavior has made all the difference.
**Having a middle years mindset begins by starting early, taking an age-appropriate parenting class and seeking advice from those who’ve gone before you. Thinking through and explaining the “moral reasons why” a family decision is made will help your kids to want to follow your lead.**