What I told my kids about LGBTQ+

What I told my kids about LGBTQ+

 A Biblical Guide for Christian parents.

This blog is aimed at Christian parents and kids who 1) find themselves on the back foot in terms of current culture and popular opinion and wish to equip their kids and themselves with both love and truth, and 2) have a deep awareness that this is only the beginning and a very real sense that the conservation of biblical truth, especially in terms of scriptural sexual ethic, will be the next battleground of Christian persecution. If this is not you, don’t bother reading this. Also, you know this is not going to be a short blog post, right?

Reading time approx:  17 minutes.

I cannot discuss every angle of this in this blog. Lots of people have written about this more and better than me, plus they are all cleverer than I am (the fact that I am not even sure if “cleverer” is a word serves to prove this point! Ha!), So here are some helpful articles if:

Someone said to you that homosexuality is not actually in the Bible, and if you have the appetite for a theology lesson: here are 2 articles that might help you further understand the revisionist/ affirming position.

I was in no mood to write this blog. A lot of my blogs start off this way. I had to write this blog for myself AND for my son, who came home from school recently after his Math teacher wanted to teach them about fractions in class by dividing up the girls and boys and one little girl refused to participate because she doesn’t “identify as either”. My son is 12. It’s already a minefield out there for our kids! We are past the time of pat answers, about God and about culture. We are as parents as always called to lay a foundation, something we can’t do if we ourselves don’t even know the truth we stand on in terms of all the cultural narratives swirling around us and our kids. So I leant in, to the point where I can now, hopefully, through this little bit of writing, at least give you a view steps of light, a few bricks for your foundation.

This is not a black and white issue. I mean, biblically it is. But socially and conversationally and relationally it calls for immense grace in the grey, it calls for huge sensitivity that I pray I can bring to this writing.  You can’t always draw straight lines across a crooked world, and I am not about to try. Here is what I will try to do:

Be as tender and nuanced as possible here as I

  • understand that this is close to home to many, raising kids in an environment where gay or lesbian is not just the parents of a friend at school but a loved one or close family member, or a class or teammate
  • understand that our kids as young as 7 are having to navigate social settings with puzzling pronouns and a social contract where the rules of friendship (and everything else) seem fluid, and all values and beliefs are not always considered as equally worthy of respect, and certainly not biblical ones.
  • Share with you what I shared with my sons, to equip them with understanding so they can navigate relationships – NOT POLITICS. Let’s leave that to someone else.

Considering that our kids are already being confronted with the LGBTQ+ issue, from the classroom to the Disney Channel, I want my kids to

  1. Be informed
  2. Be Tender
  3. Be Truthful
  4. Be prepared

So here is what I told my kids:

Be Informed:

It has never been more vital for all of us to understand what the Bible says, about God, about people and about sin. Any thorough reading of the whole of scripture will confirm that the premise and practice of the LGBTQ position is incompatible with the Bible. It is important for us and our kids to 1) know what the Bible says and 2) know that we can trust what the Bible says.

The way we deal with Scripture in our homes should attest to our kids that our definition of truth does not get set by the world but by the Word.

So begin by talking with your kids about God’s good design, set out for us from the beginning of scripture and why this design is good for families and communities and our world. And talk with them about sin, which is the deviations, temptations and desires that move us (yes, all of us!) away from God’s design. That is what all sin is, a departure from God’s plan. This is something we are all always tempted with, in what we do and say, how we think and reason, what we desire and long for. We can have compassion for the way in which LGBTQ people struggle with sin, because we all struggle with sin. Sin is not God’s best and it’s not His plan or intention.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written you will know that God’s word is always my jumping off point. We have a saying in our house: “Truth is God’s opinion about everything”.

In light of that, this is what I told my kids:

  • I read Romans 1 with them. This is a great starting point. We are all born sinners. Paul points out that we all have this 1 big problem, which lies at the root of every problem in our heads, our hearts, our bodies and our communities: that we exchange God’s truth for a lie. This is not just a problem the LGBTQ community has. This is a problem we all have. All humans everywhere. This is also a helpful starting point because often what our kids are hearing are people saying they where “born this way”, but the truth is, we were all born this way. Born into sin because of the fall of man. And we all have natural tendencies that are contrary to God’s design. One person might struggle with same sex attraction, but another might struggle more than others with greed, with selfish ambition, with lying. We all have areas in our lives where we feel tempted to sin more than someone else might struggle in that same area. It is the nature of fallen man.
  • We need to be clear with our kids that this is a problem we all have. Not just some people. But then we need to be clear about why the LGBTQ conversation differs in the following ways:
    • What God’s word calls sin is now being normalized. In fact, if you just look about what Hollywood and the media present to us, our current culture is not just trying to normalize what God has called sinful, it’s trying to promote it. In this way the world is trying to define for us what is and isn’t sin, and that definition does not line up with what God says.
    • Yes, we are all sinners, but the Bible tells us that sexual sin is different from other sins and here is why:
      • It corrupts God’s representation of his full character in the world. Both male and female represent the image of God (Gen 1 v 27).
      • It corrupts God’s intention: God’s model of male and female matters. God’s sexual ethic as revealed in Scripture is 2 sexes, male and female, created in God’s image, for the sake of family, for the sake of community, and ultimately for the sake of a fulfilled representation of the loving, sacrificial relationship between Him and us, His bride, the church. God is against anything that disrupts this sexual ethic because it’s a disruption of His intention, plan, and purpose with and for us.  The way God creates, the way He does things, always has a purpose!
      • It corrupts us on every level, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It defiles more than just our bodies because we are sinning against ourselves, our nature, our design, and that is why Paul says in 1 Cor 6 v 18  that it stands apart from other sins.
  • Even though homosexuality is one of the most vivid representations of this breakdown, any disorder of God in our hearts leads to disorder in our lives and in our communities. We were all born sinners, with desires and longings contrary to God’s design, because of the fall of man. We all stand condemned (Ps 14 v 1 – 3). It is not about having less of a desire for what is wrong, it is about having more of a desire for God. We all have to deal with sin when we come to Christ, and not just some sin, all sin, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3 v 23). That is why the healing of someone struggling with same sex attraction is the same as the healing of any other soul, in repentant returning of God to His rightful place in our affection.
  • As Christians, we believe that God tells us who we are, because He created us – not the other way around. We read about how we were made in Genesis 1 v 27. Biblically, sex and gender are one and the same. What is now referred to as “Gender Identity” is not a biblical or even biological concept. Some people might tell you that gender is a social construct, meaning people came up with it. Now, of course, some ideas about how men and women “should behave” have been socially and culturally constructed over time – like for example saying all boys like the colour blue and all girls like the colour pink. But the biological categories of male and female is not a social construct. It is not a feeling. It is not fluid. People cannot claim an internal identity that trumps their external reality, that man decides himself who and what he is, is simply people playing God and that is a sign of our times. But that doesn’t mean it’s true or accurate.
  • Eventhough we may live in a world where, in the name of “love” anything goes, and we are expected to change our truth in line with what is popular, God doesn’t change. The first words of the Bible is “God created”. That means He is in charge of it all. That means He gets to say what is right and wrong, true and false, and what is male and female too. Read these scriptures with your kids about the unchanging nature of God: Heb 13 v 8, Malachi 3 v 6, James 1 v 17, Numbers 23 v 19, Is 40 v 8.
  • Many today reject biblical authority by saying that certain texts in scripture have either been misinterpreted or need to be revised. People will base these arguments on for example the fact that Leviticus forbids homosexuality (Lev 18 v 22) but it also forbids eating shellfish (Lev 11 v 9 – 12), yet, how many Christians do you know who don’t love a plate of prawns! But this view does not consider the full counsel of Scripture. , The perfect life of Christ fulfilled all the ceremonial laws (i.e intended to make us physically clean) of Moses around the sacrificial system and ritual purity, which were in place in the Old Testament to facilitate the relationship between a Holy God and a sinful man. We know from verses like Heb 10 v 16, that the moral laws (i.e to govern our spiritual, mental and emotional cleanliness) of the old testament are now written on our hearts (i.e still in force), even though Hebrews also tells us that we are no longer bound by the ceremonial laws. But the prohibitions against homosexuality is  re confirmed in the new testament (Romans 1, 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1). PS, the prevalence of this message across the entire canon also puts to bed any argument that specifically the references to God’s sexual ethic, across both Old and New Testament, could have been mistranslated in Romans 1.
  • Lastly we must always be honest with our kids about the counter cultural nature of our faith. The ways in which our position on this and so many other issues alienate us should not be surprising to us (Matt 10 v 34 – 36), because the counter cultural way we are called to live affects everything from how we spend our money and our time, to how we vote, to what we watch on TV (and what we don’t watch!) and to what we believe is the best way for society to function. Just because there is something in the Bible that makes us feel uncomfortable or sound unpopular doesn’t mean it’s not true. This is the tension every believer is called to live in until The Day that all is set right and this is something we need to be honest about with every single person who comes to faith, including our kids. Jesus was honest about it in Matt 16 v 24.

“Forever O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” Ps 119 v 89

Be Tender:

We need to help our kids understand both tolerance as it is required of them to live along with others, but also to understand what I believe is a higher value than tolerance, which is kindness. Because tolerance as a word, can feel a little bit loaded, right? And with the compromise of Christian beliefs in many countries including the US now being set into law (and soon with the PEPUDA act here in SA too!), where standing on what you believe and value now is something you can be prosecuted for (not to mention culturally persecuted for), what is set before believers is a difficult road that must be walked with wisdom, the kind of wisdom that most of us grown ups can scarcely manage!

Even if this is something we as adults still struggle with, here is something I think we would be wise to help our kids understand:

It is possible to love someone without agreeing with them. It is possible to disagree with someone without hating them.

Yeah! Read that again!

So in terms of tender responses, this is what I told my kids:

  • God calls us to look at people the way He looks at them (2 Cor 5 v 16). This is why Jesus was never mean or unkind to people. But He was firm. He was uncompromising. He could do that because He was perfect, representing both love and truth at once.
  • Jesus’s example of compassion towards the woman at the well should be our template for engaging with people in sexual sin of any kind. Jesus saw people through a lense of love and truth, he didn’t see her through the labels others had for her, or that she had for herself. Understanding this, and having a deep awareness that we are all sinners and image bearers at the same time, will help us be more tender with people. When we see ourselves and others as God sees us it means we can have empathy for anyone else deceived by sin, stuck in sin, struggling with sin (even if they/ society does not name it as such and rather calls it a choice or an identity) because we have been there. This is where grace comes in. It is only possible to be gracious out of the position that we are all sick and in need of healing, that we are all sinners in need of saving.
  • So seeing people the way God sees them means being gracious. But it also means seeing their need for Him and responding. That is truly loving. God has a missional heart and so should we. It’s what we are all called to – to share the gospel. The gospel displays the kind of love people really do need, not the watered-down lipservice kind of the World.
  • But we cannot share the gospel in a vacuum. The Gospel is God’s message of love, and so we cannot share it void of love for the person we are sharing it with. Otherwise the gospel becomes a weapon or a stick, something it was never meant to be. So tender compassion is the only valuable starting point. We need to be kind in our conversations, and tender in our telling of the truth, because what people need before they need to understand what the Bible says about their lifestyle choices is the gospel. We cannot lead people to God’s greatest act of love by leading with a theological argument. Before people need a lesson on doctrine, biblical literacy or the inerrancy of Scripture (ps, tell you kids what the inerrancy of scripture means!!), they need the Gospel. Not the other way around. It is a person’s relationship with Jesus that will help them see what He says in His word and start applying it. Without the gospel, none of us can change. My teenager can’t stop being disrespectful, the bully on the playground can’t stop being aggressive, that bachelor can’t stop looking at porn, that neighbor can’t stop gossiping, and someone struggling with same-sex attraction or stuck in sexual sin has no means for change without the gospel. (if you need help talking to the kids about the Gospel’s relevance to our hearts and lives, please consider getting a copy of THE MOMMY DIARIES to foster Gospel-driven change conversations with your kids!)
  • Always remember that how we act is as important as what we believe. We are, for Christ, both messengers and witnesses. If we want to be messengers of His truth, we have to be witnesses of His love.

God’s love doesn’t mean we accept ideologies and ideas contrary to scripture because that seems “more loving”. It’s actually the opposite. The world tells us that to be truly loving is to “love people just the way they are”. But that is not loving. God loved us so much He died so we wouldn’t be stuck “just the way we are” (Rom 5 v 6-8), relegated to a life separate from Him, His peace and His purposes.

“What separates Christianity from other faiths is found in the scandal of grace. It is when we acknowledge our brokenness and inability to live as God wants us to that we begin to experience inner transformation.”

Sean McDonnel

Be Truthful:

In Jesus we saw the example of how love and truth must always go together. He showed us in the way He lived his life that they cannot be separated.

Bring truth in love, and do not sacrifice either, because only truth in love is the fullness of Christ.

Mila Venter

And to His followers, Jesus said: “If you love me keep my commandments” – Jesus said (John 14 v 15). But truthfulness gets tricky when the LGBTQ issue or any other type of lifestyle sin hits close to home. Like when it’s someone we know and love. And we are tempted to tell our kids, when they ask why “so and so” has chosen to do “such and such”, that it’s “it’s ok for him but it’s not ok for us”. What we don’t realise is that this definition categorises truth as 100% subjective, exactly in the “your truth is your truth, my truth is mine” way the world presents it. If you’re truth is your truth and my truth is my truth then what we are talking about is not truth, but opinion. Rather say “it’s not ok for anyone, but he/ she does not believe that. That doesn’t mean we don’t love him/ her. It just means we make different choices.”  In a post-truth culture, we need to be clear with our kids about understanding the nature of truth.

And one of the things we need to be the most truthful about, is love, because this is what our culture tells our kids about what love looks like:

Loving our neighbor = affirming every narrative our neighbor holds to. Every latest sitcom normalises alternative lifestyles and shows our teens that real friendship means saying “You are so brave, I support you no matter what!” But what if that is what God had done for us? What if He had said to us – “you do you! I support you no matter what!”. That is not merciful, loving or gracious. And brazen sin is not brave. And being supportive of it is not loving. We live in a world that tells us that hurting someone’s feelings is what we should truly fear, not the ultimate spiritual position and the health of their eternal souls. It is indeed a most unloving approach to love and as those set apart we have become really terrible at loving people enough to tell them the truth.

“Our culture has wrongly equated loving everyone with approving everything”

Lisa Bevere

So how then do we bring the truth to conversations about love and tolerance, identity and gender, biology and feelings, choice and freedom? What will be their foundation in current culture’s arguments against truth?

This is what I told my kids:

  • Soulish love and spiritual love are not the same thing. Love covering all cannot be used as an excuse for the acceptance of sin. One theologian said “better bad theology with love than any theology without love” but these things cannot be mutually exclusive. It can’t be love at the price of truth or vice versa, well it can, but then we can’t call it Christlike. We can’t call it “what Jesus did”. Jesus is 100% love and 100% truth, that is the fullness of who He is (Eph 4 v 13-16). So without that what we are preaching, what we are representing, is simply not Christ.
  • In a world obsessed with “freedom” which means the absence of restriction, the Bible calls us to a new kind of freedom. Tim Keller puts it this way:

“A fish is designed for water. It is meant to breathe and move in water. Only in water is it free to realize all its inner potentials. But if it is not confined to the water, it cannot realize this freedom. If it is “free” from any restrictions—free to go up on land—then it will die.”

Tim Keller

  • True freedom, then, is not the absence of constraints or restrictions. It is finding and complying with the right restrictions, the ones that fit the givens of our nature and being. Who better to tell us what those are than the One who called into existence our very selves? History is a wasteland of people who pursued the worldly freedom to dispose of the “yoke” of morality and Christian values, to their own destruction. Being left to ourselves has not worked out well for any of us. That is why Jesus came!
  • We live in a world where people believe that how you feel dictates who you are. That it’s our desires that define us. The very nature of the LGBTQ argument affirms this. But the Bible says that Jesus came to restore us from the desires that are at war within us (Gal 5 v 17). The world says those desires define us, but Jesus came to truly set us free!
  • We are all broken, every last one of us, even if our brokenness is expressed in different ways. Brokenness = sin. Sin = the distortion and depravity that is part of every person. Paul states so clearly in 1 Cor 6 v 9 – 11 how we are all sinners, justified only by faith (Rom 5 v 1), battling all our different genetic, hormonal, environmental, and contextual difficulties and disorders that constantly incline us towards sin. It is important for our kids to understand this because the distortion of our affection is justified everywhere around us, the loudest voices in the crowd is calling us to love ourselves first, put ourselves first and be true to ourselves first, because, according to the world, that is what freedom is and that is what is the truest truth and the highest love. But that is not the truth of Scripture.
  • The world and its Instavangelists tell us to just trust ourselves, to follow our hearts, but you just have to be around people for a second to realise that we don’t have to be taught to lie, cheat, steal, be selfish. Original sin is a reality, and that is what has made the heart deceitful above all things (Jer 17 v9) – certainly NOT worth following, until you can – through faith receive a new heart, and a new spirit (Heb 8 v 10). In a world where gender-confused individuals believe their desires reveal their “true self”, it really only reveals the sin nature that is true for all of us. The Bible doesn’t speak of the “true self”. It speaks only of the old self (dead to sin) and the new self (alive to Christ). So the best thing we can do is not to become more like ourselves (whatever that means in terms of feelings/ desires) but to rather become more like Jesus. Putt off the old self, and be constantly renewed (Eph 4 v 22 – 24). All of us need this.
  • That is why the gospel is good news for every single person.
  • But the Gospel is hard, that is a fact. Why? Because it represents a dying to self (Gal 5 v 24), it represents a cross to carry (Matt 16 v 24 – 26), it represents repentance of everything that is contrary to His order and ordinances. The cross will always make us choose. An old way of life, or a new one as I’ve already mentioned. And secondly, when God calls us He doesn’t just call us out of some sins. He calls us to repent of all sin. God does not call us out of these things to be a party-pooper, His biggest driver is always love. And so He calls us out of these things because He knows, they can never bring about our ultimate, eternal good and thriving.

“To carry a cross means you are walking away, and you are never coming back.” A. W. Tozer.

Be Prepared:

Especially in the teenage years and going into young adulthood, our kids are going to be confronted with these things and drawn into conversations about them, whether in person or online.

“You need a thick skin and a soft heart to stay faithful in this world”

Jackie Hill Perry

Here are some things that are good to know for them (and us) to be prepared in these conversations:

  • Not everyone is going to want to hear what you think about this. And that is ok. If you are a kind person, you will in your life have many opportunities to walk with people, and they may even ask for your help or guidance. Always be ready to share what you believe. Also always be ready to defend what you believe. That’s 1 Pet 3 v 13! But never confuse these 2 things. God is a relational God, and it’s not your job to go out and crusade for truth in the absence of relationship and love. Especially in this space and in these conversations, we need to have soft hearts for people who are hurting.
  • Our kids live in a way more volatile world than us, the internet brings aggression, anger, and hate right into our hands, our homes, our hearts. So we need to be sure they know: Yes, your convictions can be expressed, but be sure to express them with compassion. That whole sticks and stones thing is “malarkey” as my dad would say, words ignite, words explode. And we will get it wrong, all of us, all the time. Sadly, what has happened in the church around this issue is an example of this. So remember to be gracious. There is only ONE Word that is infallible, the One that became flesh (John1v14).
  • Walk in step with the Spirit and always practice discernment. 1 Cor 2 v 14 tells us that not everyone is open to the things of the Spirit of God, that to some, it’s foolishness. Seeds cannot be planted in soil like that.
  • Remember that love and compassion should not demand agreement. But, and this is a pretty big but, the rights of one group should not be used as a weapon against the beliefs of another. And that is what we now see happen in the US and it will start to happen everywhere. Disagreement is not the same as discrimination, but there are many agendas today that will try to make it seem such. We need to be aware of this and do what He told us to do when the love of many start to grow cold, which is to endure, with His help (Matt 24 v 11 – 12).
  • We don’t have to honor someone’s lifestyle or choices. We do have to honor their humanity because we have to honor God. We do have to love much because we have been forgiven much (Luke 7 v 47). Remember God looks at our hearts.

“Theological zeal must be subject to the test of love. Not all zeal is from God. Even when the error we oppose is clearly heresy, our aim must be to heal, not to disgrace”

Gavin Ortlund.

If you want to engage with me on this, I would love to hear from you, so please connect with me where I am most of the time, which is here.

I will try my best to respond. Know that every single one of my readers and subscribers are in my prayers.

What I told my kids about Covid19 – 7 Keys to help them cope

What I told my kids about Covid19 – 7 Keys to help them cope

How can we help our kids cope with COVID19? Do you also feel like at the moment we are making a gazillion dreadful decisions every day, go to work/ stay home, go to school/ school at home, eat out/ eat-in, visit/ don’t visit? All the regular things of life have been upgraded to monumental declarations of position, opinion and faith. And our kids have a front-row seat to the whole thing, to the anxiety, the struggle of work, finances, “home” school and the constant flux in context and every other impossible challenge this pandemic has thrown at us, with their own little lives, not to mention futures, currently residing under a giant question mark. These are hard days. 

The undercurrent of anxiety that is now part of our homes affects all of us in different ways, even our kids. Their stress might not look like ours does, like too much coffee and too little sleep, or too many hours escaping in Netflix, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Kids become unmotivated, discouraged and younger kids even regress due to stress. Have you seen any of that happen at home? Here are some helpful focus points in shepherding our kids through this season:

Create predictability

Stress is most often a product of uncertainty, and so in this our kids have the same needs we have when we are stressed –  predictability, security, and practical tools!  These must include regular exercise, and a daily routine that takes at least some of the uncertainty out of a very uncertain time and helps them know what to expect in a time of a lot of unexpected things. One of the things that kids stress about the most is not knowing what’s going to happen next. And even if the one minute they can go to school and the next minute they can’t (which is one of many uncertainties we as parents can’t control), there is a lot of comfort in creating a little bit of predictability in their day in order to better cope with the unpredictability of life. Doing this for them (even if it doesn’t come naturally) and for ourselves is one of the best ways to deal with the stress of this season. If you are suddenly juggling work/home/school a flexible but predictable routine will be your saving grace. 

Learn to Pivot

No, this point does not oppose the first one! If you’ve been around here for any length of time you will know that I believe flexibility is like a superpower. And by flexibility I don’t mean chopping and changing, I mean creating structures and routines that are more task bound than time-bound. That means our routines can adapt to changes in our circumstances, like someone getting sick or a car breaking down (or some new and unexpected news from the President’s command council let’s say). It’s about knowing what you want to get done but being flexible about the when and how. A goal-driven routine (as opposed to a time-driven one) will help you accomplish that and allow you to pivot when you need to. Keep an eye on the blog for a course on this coming soon. 

Provide Perspective

In my book I used some of the many names of God to teach my kids about His character. As AW Tozer rightly says, what comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us. In the face of a global tragedy, what do we tell our kids about God? Did God cause this to happen to us? What does this tragedy reveal about His character? Our faith remains the lens that we view all of life through, so we need to help our kids (and maybe even ourselves) to have the right perspective on this pandemic. Our older kids might have questions, and our younger kids are at the perfect age for us to deliberately bring biblical understanding to this confusing context. I will just briefly highlight some helpful discussion points. 

God did not cause this pandemic:

Like other natural disasters and pandemics, it’s a product of living in a fallen world, where there exists natural evil and moral evil, sometimes acting separately and sometimes converging to cause disaster. The pandemic once again evidences to us that there is brokenness between us and creation and us and our Creator and in a broken world, human sin, suffering, and pain are simply inevitable. If we did not want to recognize this fact before we have to recognize it now because it cannot be ignored and it’s a wonderful waypoint to discuss the gospel with our kids and what it means for us today and into eternity. God didn’t cause this pandemic, but He can use it in the lives of people. 

We live in scary times but we don’t need to be scared:

What did Jesus want us to know about being here on earth before He left? In his “farewell discourse”, in the 13th to 17th chapters of the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly displayed the truth that his death and resurrection had both temporal (for today) and prophetic (for eternity) application, and these are great words to go over with our kids. Some of His final words to us include tellings us to “take heart”, in Greek the word means to take courage. How can we be courageous? By remembering that Jesus took the sting out of death and the teeth out of suffering, both of which we will face on earth but neither of which have the final say over us. This truth means we face the realities of COVID 19 differently. It has to! 

(I know sometimes the gospel/ biblical concepts can be hard to explain to kids, and as adults sometimes we understand something in our heads/ hearts but we don’t have the words for it. My book helps with this. Just saying.). 

<What I told my kids about Covid19 - 7 Keys to help them cope

Process Disappointment

Disappointment. It’s become a staple of this season for grown-ups and kids alike. On some level, we are all mourning losses, canceled plans, even the death of loved ones, all the “could’ve been’s and shoud’ve been’s” of school tours and galas and matric dances and hopes and dreams and plans and goals. 

Validate their experiences

One of the best ways to help our kids deal with their disappointment is to validate its existence. To acknowledge that it’s terrible that he won’t be going on hockey tour/ she can’t have a birthday party/ we can’t go to granny’s house. It’s sad and sore and unfair. One of the most precious things we learned as a church this year has been the value of lament (Thank you Pastor Richard!). 

The examples of lament in scripture is of people allowing themselves to come before God with their heartbrokenness, their disappointments, not with complaining as the end goal, but for the sake of drawing them near to a God who hears, sees and understands. Why not use this opportunity to teach your kids to mourn and then release their disappointing experiences to God? There are almost 42 Psalms of lament that you can use to help you. 

What I told my kids about Covid19 - 7 Keys to help them cope

Practice Gratitude

In lament, we mourn the loss of something good, and in that sense, it is also an acknowledgment of all that has been good in our lives. That we have things/ people that are worth mourning is a wonderful privilege! Is your son sad about not going on a hockey tour? Why not talk about what he would’ve enjoyed about it most? Frustrated at not being able to visit her favorite places? What makes it a place she loves and misses? In the context of loss and disappointment, we can highlight for our kids how much good we truly have in our lives, and in doing so shift the focus to what remains good instead of what is less than ideal right now. 

I think we talk way more now about what we can’t do and don’t have, much more now about what we lost than what we’ve gained. But this is not the example set for us in scripture. Asaph in Psalm 77, in the context of his difficulty and disappointment, after a heartfelt lament, pivots, makes a diligent search, and comes up with a list that reflects God’s faithfulness. And then he goes one step further, he talks about it

Lean into Prayer

I honestly don’t know how people are getting through this season without Jesus. With so many burdens and concerns, within our own homes and outside our walls, understanding the power of prayer has never been more important. Prayer is also our (and our kids’) first line of defense in helping them bear up, process and cope with so many emotionally and mentally challenging truths of this time, such as increasing poverty and fearful situations and unpredictability. This is what I taught my boys about prayer.

Protect them from the Media

TBH I use to listen to the news a lot more. One of the reasons I started writing the blogs that ended up turning into The Mommy Diaries was because my kids starting asking me about things they heard reported on in the news, such as #FeesMustFall and #metoo

But the old adage, don’t believe everything you read, remains true, especially in South Africa where we do not have a well-regulated and appropriately accountable news media. I learned first-hand this year that even the most “reputable” (and I use this word VERY loosely) news outlet will do anything for clicks and shares even if it means exploiting children and their trauma or blatantly reporting in an unbalanced way. This is what we need to know when we engage with the news: the side of the story that wins every time is the side that induces the most fear, anger and morbid fascination because that will keep us clicking. If we don’t tell our kids this they will also haplessly follow every trend or news story down the rabbit hole of half-truths and sacrifice their very peace in the process!

And now, our kids have phones and WhatsApp and they hear and see everything. And it is 100% up to us to teach them how to walk the line between being watchful and informed on what is necessary to know on one hand, and unaffected, unoffended and unafraid on the other. I don’t get this right all the time, I don’t know many people who do. But in this season where we are constantly being overloaded with information that provides no solutions and burdened by bad news we can do nothing about our discerning consumption is a vital act of safeguarding our kids and our own soul- and spirit-wellness. 

This blog is focused mostly on kids between the ages of 8 and 15, but if you’re kids are younger and you are looking to spark a conversation or simply give them a tool to help them process the mixed emotions of a global pandemic, I can highly recommend you visit https://www.stronganchor.co.za for some very helpful resources. 1 New subscriber to this blog will win their books, Monster in my neighborhood and Monster in my School! 

As parents, it’s up to us to equip our kids to contextualize, understand, and engage with what is happening around them on a basis of truth, compassion and hopefulness. But that’s not always easy. But in an era-defining pandemic, if we do not concern ourselves with our and our kids’ worldview, both our approach and perspective and even our faith and hope will be on shaky ground. The Mommy Diaries was written to help you with this and you can get it here!

What I told my boys about #metoo #amInext and being a woman in South Africa

What I told my boys about #metoo #amInext and being a woman in South Africa

My son saw the #metoo #amInext march in Cape Town last week on the news. The conversation went like this:

“Why are they marching Mom?”

“Because violence against women in South Africa is like an epidemic my son”

“But why Mom?”

“Because there is something fundamentally wrong in our society?”

“But why Mom?”

“Because my son, there is something fundamentally wrong in our hearts.”

I stand behind that protest 100%. But a protest is like a volume button, it get’s your attention. but making something louder doesn’t make it better. It is certainly no substitute for action (Yes this is actually also something I’ve spoken to my kids about). But action by whom? As a mom raising boys, I find myself at the coalface of where I believe the change must happen. Graca Machel was right as she addressed mourners at the memorial service of tragically slain student Uyinene Mrwetyana, when she said: “it is in our families”. The correction needs to happen much closer to home than in a courtroom or a police station or via some system or law. At home is where the shaping happens, make no mistake. Your home is the frontline where mutual respect (yes, boys should respect girls and yes girls should respect boys because people should respect each other. Bottom line ) is modeled or distorted, where we either uphold or disregard, instill or destroy the fundamental truth of our shared worth, value and humanity. We don’t need governments and systems to change. We need people to change. And we are people…raising people. That is actually why I wrote The Mommy Diaries, because we are raising kids in a complex world that is only set to become more so. But there is a way to live and lead in that complexity with courage and wisdom. 

The hashtags of #metoo and #amInext and #femicide is a call to a higher standard of engagement. But as parents we must call ourselves to it if we are hoping to call our kids to it. And so I believe it is above everything not a call to governments and leaders, but a call to action directed at families, a call to parents. 

It’s all of our responsibility to raise the kind of kids who appreciate the uniqueness, equality, dignity and value of the opposite gender. That doesn’t just happen.

It has never been more important to engage with our kids in a new and focused way around these things and to be intentional about it. So this is what I told my boys:

The way women are treated is an atrocity:

This is not limited to South Africa or certain communities or cultures. It’s true everywhere. And women have had enough. Our breaking point has been centuries in the making and now it’s here. And I want my boys to know why. It is based on certain misinterpretations of biology and theology, that didn’t take into account a full set of facts or context.  Misinterpretations (i.e the “glasses” through which people “read” these things) that have been accepted as truths, but that are in fact lies. And I have no problem in calling them lies because the idea that women are somehow “less than” has no biological, cultural or scriptural basis. These lies have informed everything from how women are treated and paid, to where they are and aren’t allowed to be/ serve/work/play and have snowballed into the utter disregard with which they are hurt, abused, spoken of and to. These lies are present in homes, in businesses, in churches and in cultures. I know this first hand.  

But the problem is not in how women are treated:

The true problem lies in the way women are viewed. The problem is deeper than history, than a culture of patriarchy, than biases and blond jokes. Because all of those things find their origin in one place, in the way one person sees another person. In that sense racism, xenophobia (another evil that rocked our nation again this week) and femicide/ gender based violence is not that different. Because at their root they all find their origins in the way one person sees another person. And as is always the case, the way you see someone else is most often based on how you see yourself. If you see someone as less than, it’s because you see yourself as “more than”. If you see someone for some reason as less deserving, it’s because you see yourself as more deserving. 

So yes, it’s important that we address equality, pay equity, femicide and all those good and essential things, but lets make no mistake, real change happens in a different direction. 

I don’t want to raise boys who know how to behave in a way that honors, values and respects women. Having the good manners to not tell blond jokes and not hit girls is not the same as holding firm to a fundamental believe that all people are worthy of honor, value and respect.

Because ultimately if we wish to see changes in our society, in legislation, in our communities, there can be no fundamental change effected on that level if we don’t dig down a little deeper and try to affect change at a heart level. 

Change will not come through laws and loudspeakers if it doesn’t first come in hearts and homes

Always fight lies with truth:

This is the definition of truth in our house: God’s opinion about EVERYTHING. And if God sees everyone the same so should we. His opinion is that we are all equal (Gen 1 v 27/ Deut 10 v 17/ Rom 2 v 11/ Gal 3 v 26 – 29) and have equal standing with Him. 

In God’s eyes we are endowed with worth not because of this or that attribute but because of His likeness in us and His love for us. It is not dependent on status, race, gender or culture. This is something that is true of every human person.

God gives us a different lens through which to see the world. In fact Jesus in word and deed was an example to us in how women are to be regarded and treated in society, in defiance of the social, judicial and religious customs of His day. In all things He is the embodiment of what loving others should look like. Jesus shows us that our lens must never be culture, or history, or tradition or popular opinion. The examples that proves that there is no “less than” attitude in the bible when it comes to women are too many to mention, but I like to throw some at the boys from time to time just to make sure they know: “The first person Jesus told He was the Christ was a woman, the first person He appeared to after He rose from the dead was a woman. Oh, and just incase you were wondering what God thought about women consider this:  none of you would even be here if it wasn’t for us”.

The call on all of us is to regard everyone not by what we see on the outside, but by the truth of them as spiritual beings (2 Cor 5 v 16) and image bearers. Misogyny (and yes, my kids know what misogyny is because they understand prejudice. Thank you South African Public schooling) is based on a skewed idea of worth that we can only correct by acknowledging a higher truth.

Consider carefully, don’t consumer carelessly or accept mindlessly:

When we say things like “the problem is in society or culture or whatever” what we are often trying to communicate is that something has been “normalized” over time to a point where it is accepted. If we do not pinpoint those “accepted lies” and reveal them, they will hide in our hearts forever. That is why I encourage the boys to look and think a little deeper whenever I get a chance. 

At a recent school prizegiving, a Gr 7 girl in The Elder’s class received an award for taking the most wickets in a cricket match at provincial level. Even though my kids attend a wonderfully integrated and dynamic school, there was still that ripple of suprise that went through the audience, and it made me chuckle a little. But it also presented a great object lesson for the boys. Why shouldn’t a girl perform well on the cricket field, or any field?  Look, I’d be the first to tell you I don’t enjoy watching women play rugby, for example! Because frankly if I wanted to watch women shoving and bumping at each other aggressively I’d much rather just go to the Woolworths Quality sale, am I right? But that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t play rugby, or go to space. I don’t want my boys to just mindlessly go along with what societal pack thing dictates as the “norm” and so I look for opportunities to challenge that thinking and to put forward this truth: 

Roles, jobs, positions and participation should be based on gifting, not gender! Always. Everywhere.

Our words reveal our attitudes and so I am pretty brutal when it comes to blond jokes, the use of phrases such as “women driver” and I strongly discourage the boys from listening to music that objectifies women. As an Afrikaans speaking female I am deeply horrified at how often in my culture songs contain those types of messages, but they serve as great object lessons to explain to the boys: 

Make sure that even to the level of the content you consume and the jokes you tell you are reflecting the honor and respect that you yourself would like to be on the receiving end of.

Recognize and respect:

I tell the boys to pay attention to the contributions of not only the women in their lives (there are some epic ones!) but also the women in our world. Reading female authors, watching female athletes and considering the specific strengths and traits of the girls and women in their world that they admire. Not in an “anything boys can do girls can do better” kind of way, then all we are doing is swinging the pendulum the other way. That also doesn’t reflect respect or value. But in a way that sensitizes them to recognize and respect women equally in a culture and society that is possibly not set up for that to happen naturally. 

We have the power to change things.

In a world of man-bashing (mostly rightly so), we as boy-moms should try to encourage positive masculinity and chivalrous behaviour that has nothing to do with long-dead ideas about men and women, but has everything to do with the heart attitude that there is never a reason to be mean, that kindness is always the best response, and the golden rule of putting others first that helps our kids to shine a light in the world. 

When we sensitize our boys to inherent biases I believe we are actually empowering them. It equips them with an understanding of the world that helps them make sense of things, and an understanding of themselves that helps them grow. The power for real change lies not in the pressure we can put on a government or system or institution. Because at a fundamental level it’s not society, history or culture that govern what we do and don’t to, it’s what we have accepted as true, have bought into on a belief/ heart level. 

It is only change at a heart level that helps us see things differently. Only then can we do things differently. 

What I told my kids about Mandela Day

What I told my kids about Mandela Day

My youngest asks allot of questions. His quirky, inquisitive randomness is a great insight into how his 9 year old mind works. Of course, these often present a teachable moment, case in point:

“Mom, I have a question..if you’re a policeman and you just got takeaways, can you put your lights and sirens on to go home faster so your food doesn’t get cold?”

I am sure he wanted a simple yes or no, but me being me, he got a mini tutorial on integrity, privilege, power and Mandela day. It went something like this:

Power is a big responsibility: Just like having access to lights and sirens when you’re a policeman.

With great power comes great responsibility – as Uncle Ben repeated to Peter Parker. (Spiderman quote, BOOM! This mom is off to a great start!)

What you do with your power directly relates to your level of integrity. The policeman has the position and privilege of serving people along with the power to do it, but when he decides to use his sirens for personal gain, he is considering himself above others, his own good as higher than the greater good. A good metaphor for what has happened in SA? I think yes.

Whatever power, position, and privilege we get given in life must be used for the good of others: 

In the words of Spock (by this time I was on a roll!)

“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

We are yet to have a party in power that displays this kind of integrity. Because despite the hard-won power, privilege and position, those who gained it has for the most part considered their wants needs and desires as more important as the call of their office and the needs of the masses. And I dare say, they are not the only ones. As we the people have the power to vote and the right to protest, these powerful privileges have by and large not been used in line with our call to Ubuntu. Nowadays I dare say protest action is simply mimicking giant temper tantrums that serve a few to the detriment of the many (think Eskom strike action and it’s the direct link to higher electricity prices for everyone. Think school protests that literally rob the innocent of their right to the very education you’re are striking over. Thankfully and tragically these are examples my 9-year-old and 10-year-old actually “get”)

I have no illusions about my 1% life. Neither do my kids. We have the privilege conversation allot. We talk about the poor allot. We talk about what we can do to make a difference  and being socially responsible, allot. But this Mandela day, what I want my boys to know is that what he did can’t have all been for nothing. As I show them the footage of Tata Mandela being released, a day marked in my memory as a girl, I want them to know that there is a lot of work to be done still and we, the regular South Africans, whether you are the 1% or the 90%, have each our own power, position and privilege to enable us to make sure it wasn’t all for nothing.

We have the power to make our voice heard: We can vote. This is a democratic superpower (superpowers are things boys understand!) that we are to use wisely and with eyes wide open.

In view of our beautiful democracy and the hard won right to vote, if leaders who lack morality, integrity and responsibility remain leaders, then the problem is not the leaders.

We have the privilege of freedom: Freedom to access education (yes, I realize not everyone has the access they should have or the quality they deserve, but don’t negate the good news stories of motivated individuals who took this privilege seriously and rose above the challenges in the education system. And don’t negate your own ability to influence the system, for the good of the many, something I consider to be the responsibility of the “few”.) We have the freedom to engage with our government, freedom to engage in healthy debate, freedom to live out our convictions without fear of persecution. Not all countries have this.

We each have a unique position of influence: My housekeeper wanted to be a teacher. Thanks to apartheid-era “Bantu” education she never got the chance. But she has not let that stop her from using her influence in her community to find an outlet for her teaching passion. She teaches sewing and crocheting and focusses that on young women in the community so as to create an opportunity for ministry and relationship. She takes her influence and her position seriously in her community and I learn so much from her.

As a 1%”er” I don’t’ have to wait for a wage bill to pay an employee a living wage, I just need to educate myself and listen to my conscience. As a suburban mom I don’t have to start an NGO to help someone in need, I just need to step outside my door and be a bit proactive. As someone with access to the internet and thriving relationships, I don’t have to print a billboard to inspire a fellow mom to live with intention and meaning, I just need to post something or have coffee with someone. I think you get where I am going with this.

We have the most amazing country! Seriously, what’s not to love? Check out this cool article on 100 Best Things to do in South Africa if you need some SA inspiration. Now is not the time for giving up, but ramping up!

May we as South Africans resist being mere branches in the flow of negativity about our country, and instead be kindling that sparks action and ignites hope. May we as South Africans take our power, privilege and position seriously.  We don’t need more protesters, protagonists, patronisers and problem-pointer-outers! We need more boots-on-the-ground, BHAG Believing, brave ones who refuse to stop moving forward. So I told my boys, don’t be fence-sitters, naysayers, complainers! Be dreamers, believers and doers. And may that not just be a Mandela day thing, but an everyday thing!

What I told my kids about the poor among us…

What I told my kids about the poor among us…

Do you give to beggars?
We pass 7 traffic lights between our house and school, and 7 beggars, 8 if you count the toddler accompanying the woman at the entrance to our local mall. Sadly, in South Africa, this is disturbingly commonplace. And just like you are suddenly more aware of how crooked your handwriting is when the teacher is looking over your shoulder, you are suddenly more aware of how crooked your society is when your kids are in the back of the car. Asking you hard questions.
Stats SA’s poverty report shows that 30 million South Africans live in poverty out of a population of approximately 58 million people. If these numbers alone don’t confront our hearts, then the daily confrontation with the poor among us definitely should.
But how do we teach and model to our kids the right way to interact with the socio-economic needs of our nation? Is it really to just randomly hand out money or food at every street corner? I don’t think so.
“She sets her heart upon a nation and takes it as her own, carrying it within her. She labors there to plant the living vines.” (Prov 31 v 16 TPT)
So here is what I’ve told the boys:

We MUST give, and we must give with joy: 

Our privileges and yes, our blessings too, are in our lives for the sake of others, not just for our own sake. We are blessed in order to bless! Our giving is not benevolence for the sake of assuaging our conscience or giving ourselves a (usually public by way of Facebook) pat on the back. According to God’s word, our giving is an act of both obedience (Heb 13 v 16) in response to God’s goodness, but also a joyful opportunity (Rom 12 v 7-8) in response to God’s love.
“God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with” – Billy Graham.
If we consider where God placed us, and what He placed in our hands, how could we not give? I have written before how I’ve tackled what I call the “burden of privilege” with my boys, so that they can deal rightly, carefully, generously, and intentionally with the privileges that are a part of their lives.

We must be intentional and obedient in our giving: 

As believers, our giving takes 2 forms. As citizens of South Africa, both my husband and I honor God by paying our taxes. A portion of our taxes goes towards social grants.  More than 17 million South Africans receive social grants, which is our governments’ way of bringing to fruition Section 24 through 29 of our country’s impressive Bill of Rights, which focuses on the socio-economic rights of citizens, including the right to social security. The social grant system is a verifiable, standardized system of care, and the grants available include the child support grant, older person’s grant, disability grant, foster child grant, war veterans grant etc. So already, by merely following the laws of this land, (and God’s command Mark 12v17), we are already taking care of the poor. All people may not be able to make all the choices I have the privilege of making, but in a welfare state, they at least have some protection offered by law.
The second way we respond to the poor is by our tithes and offerings, where we commit our first fruits to our church and it’s various ministries, including it’s outreach to the poor. At my church, as I am sure it is the case at yours, our social outreach is by way of focussed, intentional initiatives that take a long-term, holistic view of caring for the poor in both a physical and a spiritual way.

We must give to help, not to hurt: 

According to a study done by Solidariteit, 90% of beggars in the Twane area use the money they obtain exclusively for drugs/ addictive substances. They make an average of R500 a day. The fact is that when we give money to someone on the street, we are often under the wrong impression that this money will go towards really helping, towards actual material needs such as shelter, food or clothing. But for the most part, this is not the case. Even the clothes and food we give gets bartered and sold. And in our thoughtless giving, we seldom realize the damage we do.
In my city women begging with one or 2 kids in tow is also commonplace. Very often, these kids are “on loan” and not even their real children. In the case of these scenarios, the damage we do in our “giving” is actually far worse and far-reaching.  At my local mall there is a woman and a child begging on a daily basis. She keeps showing up with the toddler in tow because suburban housewives with their Woolies packets and their pampered guilt continue to happily part with a few bills on the way home from the mall.
They are under the wrong impression that they are making a difference, but they are in fact just keeping things the same, or making them worse.
By giving in that situation not only are we thoughtlessly enabling an adult to (ab)use a child for monetary gain (there’s a name for that you know! It’s slavery), but we are actually funding the long-term neglect and abuse of the child as a means to make money (and yes, there is a name for that too..it’s human trafficking). We are cooperating in depriving that child of his/ her basic rights as underpinned by our constitution to be educated, protected from exploitation and to be safe,  keeping that innocent out of school and enslaved, likely having a shocking long-term impact on his/her development. The adult has a vested interest in keeping the child on the street, out of any early childhood development centre (of which many free or funded ones are available in poorer areas) or school (where a parent can apply for exception from school fees) because she knows if she is there with the child, motorists and passers-by are more likely to give than if she was there without the child.
So what to do? I have engaged (together with the boys) where it’s been possible especially with women and children in these situations, supplying walk-in centre information for organisations such as MES, which does amazing work especially in inner city environments, and who have the facilities and infrastructure to help with paperwork for Grants, who have Early Childhood Development Centres, Employment programs, Shelters and the like. Instead of arming yourself with small change, arm yourself with information about reputable non-profits or charities that are active in your area. Most soup kitchens and feeding points also have referral and ministry systems in place that go beyond “bread alone” for those in need.
So here is a key question: Does what I give and how I give it keep people enslaved, or provide a way out for them?

 We can’t help everyone, but we can help someone: 

Having worked at an NGO for 4 years, this is a very hard reality for me to stand in. And it’s a struggle to not become overwhelmed by the needs around us. We can’t help everyone. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, especially if you are a South African, you don’t have to go very far for an opportunity to make a difference. In our neighborhood, at our school, in our kitchens, and on our street corners we are every day presented with multiple opportunities to have an impact, be an everyday radical, to leave things and people, better than we found them. And in all of those encounters, we get to reflect Jesus to the world. In all of these encounters God is always asking, “who can I send?”
If we feel like we should change the world, maybe we will be too overwhelmed to do anything. But if we see how we are uniquely placed to change things for one person, maybe we will be inspired enough to do something. As a family, we recently signed up as sponsors for 2 kids via Compassion International. It an amazing opportunity to expose the boys to what it takes to break the cycle of poverty and how we can play a role (however small) what holistic care looks like, and by helping 2 boys not dissimilar to my 2, the journey is both relatable, practical and impactful.
Key question: are the people I encounter/ in my sphere of influence, better off or worse off because of me?

 We must acknowledge the humanity in every person: 

Even though the boys now know that we don’t hand out money to beggars,  I try to model to them that we also make a point to greet every person that we encounter on our travels. Regardless of how far we have all fallen, we remain image bearers, and when we acknowledge a beggar by greeting them and making eye contact with them we are doing more than being polite, we are acknowledging our shared humanity, our shared brokenness, and fallenness. It’s both a restorative act as well as an affirmation of value. Their fall from grace might look different from mine, but fallen is fallen isn’t it? And our need for Jesus is the same. Because the gospel informs us that we are all poor. Of course it’s different types of poverty, physical, emotional, spiritual, but in each of those settings, our need for Jesus is the same. we are all in need of God’s grace and above all His deliverance, salvation, restoration and sanctification. Poverty is not the thing that separates us from the people we aim to help, it is, in fact, the one true leveler and the one thing we have in common.

We must continue to sow small seeds because many “ones” soon become “thousands”:

Acts of kindness are cumulative, and with our actions, we choose what we put out into the world. Whether we will thoughtlessly join the streams of negativity and hopelessness, or courageously resist, not allowing ourselves to become fatigued in doing good (Gal 6 v 9) is a choice. To help the boys choose to be a part of the solution, the good in the world, we use the Game for Humanity cards, the school version (there is an adult version as well). Have you heard of these? Every week the boys take a card with an act of goodness on it, for example:
  • Help with recycling at your school
  • Make a hungry child a sandwich
  • Help someone with their homework
Once they fulfill the action on the card they pass it on to another student, ideally the one they assisted, and so they spread good, one person at a time. It is a great way for them to see that they have control over their ability to infuse their environment with positivity, or the alternative, and to act responsibly within their little circle of influence to build on the cumulative effects of kindness and good deeds.
What I told my kids about the poor among us...
It’s tough out there. Doing good things takes a lot of bravery. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheels of response, opportunities are all around us. We are called to continue to choose empathy, even if it doesn’t come naturally because that is what Jesus did. I hope to raise children who are more deeply aware of the context they grow up in, of where they have been planted and why, certainly more so than I was as a white middle-class kid in South Africa. I don’t know if I will get this right but these types of conversations are a start.

This blog is an except from my talk about being and raising everyday radicals. For more on talks click here

What I told my kids about Bullying

What I told my kids about Bullying

I received so much reaction to last week’s post about how to help our kids deal with rejection, with an outcry for practical, biblical tools around bullying. Spoiler: I don’t think I have any! So today I am sharing from an evolving conversation that I have been having with my boys for the past 5 years. It’s truly been a challenge for me as a mom and believer to mine out the truth of how I believe my kids should respond to bullying in amongst the pop psychology, masses of content and school presentations on the topic. What makes it harder is that it’s, of course, tricky, especially with younger kids, to really get the full story of a particular incident. And the label of bullying is nowadays applied to things our parents would have just told us to (wo)man up about, like teasing or mocking or baiting or gossip.

Because it’s hard to be a kid nowadays, it’s also hard to be a parent!

In these ongoing conversations with my boys, my aim is practical, biblical advice that would equip them not only to function well in the conditions of social tyranny present (sadly I don’t even know what else to call it!) in our schools today (no school is exempt, I don’t care how fancy it might be or even what country it’s in!), and to be arming them with the confidence to live up to God’s expectations of them in those settings. This applies both to instances where they might be bullied or where they see someone else being bullied.

IF THEY SEE BULLYING AT SCHOOL:

Look for opportunities to do good:

“See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always persue what is good for one another and for all” 1 Thess 5 v 15 NIV

My boys are not the morality police. Nor can they fix everything. But in this as in everything, I want them to know that regardless of their age they always have a role to play. I cannot ask my boys to go and shine their light every day if that doesn’t include standing up for those who fall victim to bullies. Just like with poverty, wrongdoing, injustice, I tell them that our silence amounts to our consent and I encourage them not only to look for opportunities to be good to people (like taking extra tuck money for kids who never get tuck money) but to play their part in fostering an inclusive environment at school and looking out for peers who might need it.

Stand up for those who need it:

“Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death; don’t stand back and let them die. Don’t try to disclaim responsibility by saying you didn’t know about it. For God, who knows hearts, knows yours, and he knows you knew! And he will reward everyone according to their deeds.” Prov 24 v 11-12 (LBE)

I have made sure that they know what bullying is (actions where the goal is to cause harm, on purpose and repeatedly) – and also what it isn’t, and to be on the lookout for it in their little sphere of influence.

One of the ways my boys can honor God in their school is to portray His love for justice, to defend the timid and encourage the weak.

Be a courageous confronter:

I want my boys to not only notice vulnerable people but present themselves as defenders of the underdog if the situation calls for it. And no, not with their fists, but with loud and direct words. We have reviewed phrases and acted out scenarios to build their confidence for these types of situations. Using a loud voice not only draws the attention of (hopefully close by) supervising adults, but also increases the self-awareness of the bully, which might – even just temporarily – halt the bad actions.

“Hey, why are you doing that?”

“I know you might be in a bad mood/ going through a tough time/ whatever, but don’t take it out on so-and-so!”

Two by two:

Of course, my first instinct is to tell the boys to just stay out of it. But that actually goes against what I believe and the kind of boys I want to raise. And so if they have to possibly place themselves into difficult situations, I tell them to do it with someone else (preferably each other). Two is better than one, especially if you need a witness and especially if you are confronting someone who is older than you.

Pray for the victim:

For every response we might have in the flesh we must always rise up in the spirit. When my boys tell me about a bad situation at school, and we pray together for those affected, it bolsters both their faith and their confidence in prayer as an intentional action against the hardships of life. This is the prayer we offer up:

Dear Lord, today we want to pray for our friend who is being bullied. May he/she seek you and may you answer him/her and deliver him/ her from all his/ her fears. May they look to you and gain a radiant face, not blushed in shame or confusion, because your word says when we cry to you, you hear us and you save us from our troubles (Ps 34 v 4-6). I pray for his/ her safety, that eventhough they walk in the midst of trouble, that you will revive him/ her. Stretch out your hand Father God against the wrath of his/ her enemy and stretch our your right hand to save him/ her (Ps 138 v7)

WHEN THEY ARE BEING BULLIED:

Be a sleuth: 

Every time someone is nasty to you, they are not necessarily bullying you. But if you see a pattern, don’t just ignore a situation that you can discern will escalate. Take notes of instances and build a case. Schools sometimes tend to deal with these situations in a “conflict resolution” style, which is not always appropriate, as it can make the victim feel like they elicited the abuse and now we must “all say we are sorry to each other”. Bullying is behaviour that is actually surfacing another issue, mostly one that started at home. So that is where all anti-bullying efforts should start. Make a case (the boys take notes and if there is any physical evidence we take photos ) and push back so the school can actively engage the parents of the bully and provide support if needed. I encourage the boys to take notes of dates and times and situations.

Use non-violent words in a loud way:

We have taught the boys to use this question: “What is your problem with me?”. And they have used it to diffuse many escalating situations. Confrontation helps both you as the victim as it causes a pause in an escalating situation. I know that many Christian parents might teach their kids to “turn the other cheek”, but in instances of bullying the ideal outcome for my kids would be not getting angry or getting even, but that the boys grow in courage and confidence. In John 18 when Jesus was confronted by the High Priest and then slapped by an officer, this is what Jesus replied:

“If I have said anything wrong, make a formal statement about the wrong; but if I spoke properly, why did you strike me?”.

A reasoned pushback can be disarming. It may just be that the one time you confront him, your efforts form part of a domino effect that will end up helping this person see how their behaviour is not only harming others but setting them on a path of destruction. Every bully is some mother’s child!

Defending yourself and being hurtful is not the same thing and ensuring that you push back, verbally with a wide and confident stance, while at the same time not being abusive or demeaning to the other person (thereby turning you into a bully yourself!) is  a fine line that takes a lot of discussions – especially with younger kids and considering the emotions relating to these types of situations.

But I always circle back with the boys to the truth about their position in Jesus, that they are always approaching from a place of victory, not towards it.

Do not give in to fear:

“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but one of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Tim 1 v 17

Even in how I respond when my kids tell me about an incident where they may have been the victim (yes, I don’t like that word but let’s just use it for now for the sake of clarity!) it’s important to not make room for fear. They read much about how serious they should take the indignity or offence by how I react to them telling me about it. Of course on the inside, I am often seething. Of course on the inside, there are few things more frustrating than being in a position where you cannot defend your young. I’d rather be on hold with Eskom that experience that sense of powerlessness. But fear is demoralising and depressing even if you are a kid! I address the hurt caused by the rejection or hurt from others in my previous blog.

Being quick to forgive liberates us from the sting of hurt or rejection and fosters true inner strength.

Be a proactive peacemaker:

“Blessed (spiritually calm with life-joy in God’s favor) are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they will (express His character and) be called the sons of God.”(Matt 5 v 9)

If we want an environment where people treat us with respect, we must treat them with respect. If we want an environment where others have grace with our transgressions we must have grace with theirs. In order to find creative ways to confront and deal with bullies, I’ve asked the boys to think about how they would want someone to approach and deal with them should they be the cause of strive at school and – in that – to remember the golden rule, to treat others the way we want to be treated, even when we are at our worst.

It’s easy to love our friends, it’s hard to love peers who are prickly!

Pray for the bully:

“But I say to you who hear Me and pay attention to my words:”Love (that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for) your enemies, make it a practice to do good to those who hate you, bless and show kindness to those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”Luke 6 v 27-28

We pray something along these lines:

Dear Lord, today we want to pray for <enter bully’s name here>. You know the realities of his life that has lead him to this point. I want to pray that you would give him a soft heart, and put your Spirit inside him and remove his hard heart (Ex 36 v 26). I want to pray that you will bring people into His life that will reflect to him the way you see him, and that you will guide me if I must be one of those people.

A straight word to us as parents:

Firstly: Anti-bullying laws are not helpful. WE (not teachers or the government) are responsible to teach our children how to treat others. No law is going to teach them that. Read any letter that Paul wrote and you will soon deduce this truth, that a law can give us a consciousness of sin, but it provides no power to overcome it. Our laws are no different, just think about it. Anti-bullying laws have the potential to victimise or even criminalise someone who at the root likely already have their own trauma. Of course, a bully should be punished, but there is no point in perpetuating the cycle of violence instead of addressing the root problems that some kids are facing.

Secondly: Yes, you would hope that teachers would take seriously their responsibility for the safety of our kids when they are at school. But despite the old adage, teachers do not have eyes behind their heads and they cannot see everything. It remains our responsibility to connect daily with our kids on more than just homework and assignments and activities, to prioritise the time we spend pursuing open channels of communication where our kids have our undivided (as in no phone) attention. It is not the child’s responsibility to share this stuff with you. You are responsible to avail yourself of how your kid is feeling and how he is dealing with difficult situations at school. We are responsible for creating spaces for our kids to feel free to share. I believe that one of the biggest reasons for the rise in bullying in schools is the total and utter breakdown of families and family structures. We work longer, we see our kids less, we no longer prioritise in line with God’s word and the foundations of marriages and families are frail and unstable. As adults, we are failing our kids. We give them access to everything from private school education to tablets and smartphones and world-class coaching and extramural activities that will turn them into early astronauts, but we fail to give them access to us, our undivided attention, a view into our walk with Jesus, a firm grasp on home taught family values.

Go to war in prayer Momma, for your family, for your school (and all it’s families) and your community.