Parent Like You Mean It 2: Parenting Through the Holidays with John Stonestreet

Parent Like You Mean It 2: Parenting Through the Holidays with John Stonestreet December 19, 2014

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Welcome to Parent Like You Mean It – I’m Jefferson Drexler and this is the podcast where we talk about what it means to parent intentionally, instead of just letting life happen to you and your kids.  Too often, we get bogged down by life’s circumstances: work, school, meetings, little league games, dance recitals, picking up the house, folding the laundry, re-folding the laundry, feeding the dog… there is perpetually 25 hours worth of things to take care of each and every day.  So, how on earth are we parents supposed to be purposeful and intentional in how we raise our kids?

I don’t know.  I have a few ideas, but I don’t know. 

But, one – I do know what it means to “mean it” – to have so much conviction about something that you couldn’t name a price that would make me waver from it; to hold something as so valuable that you would give your very life to protect it.  So when I say “Parent Like You Mean It”, that’s what I mean… parent with not just purpose, but conviction! 

That’s one… two:  while I may not know exactly how to intentionally raise our kids to be filled with unwaivering values and character, I know a few people who know a lot more than I do.

One such person is a guy who I’ve become a huge fan of, as a speaker, author and thinker… and as a fellow dad who pours himself, and the pearls of wisdom that God has given him, into his kids.  He’s a fellow homeschool dad, as well as a fellow survivor of 80’s hair band fandom, and as he puts it, he spends a lot of time “Thinking about intersections: faith and culture, truth and life, the already and not yet.”

But enough of my gushing, here’s my interview with John Stonestreet:

JEFFERSON: John Stonestreet’s bio says that he is Executive Director of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is the co-host with Eric Metaxas of BreakPoint, the Christian worldview radio program founded by the late Chuck Colson, and the voice of The Point, a daily national radio feature on worldview, apologetics and cultural issues.  He also serves as a Senior Content Advisor for Summit Ministries… and apparently John never, ever, ever sleeps.

John, when we talk about “Parenting Like You Mean It”, we’re talking about intentionality, and not just letting parenting “happen” day-to-day, but actually setting out with a purpose.  I know that you’ve got three daughters, but could you sort of set the stage and describe what the Stonestreet house is like.

JOHN:  Well, it’s like any other house with three little girls these days.  Which means there’s a whole lot of the song “Let It Go” playing over and over and over again; and there’s a whole lot of Disney princesses decorating everything.  So, it’s a pretty normal place.

But it is a place where we try to seek as much advice and counsel – my wife is particularly good at this – from older parents: parents who are just down the road from us.  We are blessed to have in our lives my grandparents who were married for 63 years before my grandfather died just this past year; my parents have been married for nearly 50 years; and my wife’s parents have been married for a long time as well.  So, we’ve got some great examples around us.  We’re also part of a solid church, and all of this is indispensible for us – to have that sort of support and network. 

We actually have several friends who don’t have that kind of support system around them and they feel very alone.  I’ve even seen it amongst homeschool parents who may find themselves within communities where others aren’t homeschooling, or maybe their church isn’t as supportive of it, and they’re trying to do it all alone – while at the same time comparing themselves to the “All-Star Homeschool Parents” that get on the cover of Homeschool Digest and speak at the homeschool events.  This can be a pretty oppressive environment for them.

And so, we’re just really blessed to have so many healthy examples.

JEFFERSON You mention homeschooling, and as you go around the world imploring people to hold fast to a Christian worldview, where we view all people as if everyone is made in God’s image as a foundation for our lives, how do you and  your wife instill this in your daughters?  I mean, to speak on these terms to high schoolers or college students is fairly easy, but how do you address this with your girls?

JOHN Well, I don’t think that it’s unique to homeschooling parents.  I think that, as parents, it’s the first thing that we want to teach our kids – Who is God and how has He made Himself known to us?  How do we know what we know?  That’s probably one of the most disputed ideas in our society.  And so, when children see their parents under the submission to the Word of God, to historic teaching and from the Church, and to a local congregation, when they see mom and dad submitting to authority, I think that communicates an awful lot about how we know what we know and what is true.

On the flipside, teaching them that people are made in the image of God, is talked through in various means of catechism.  Some people use things like the Heidelberg or the Westminster Confession or something like that, but even just – one of the things that we try to repeat over and over and over again – and we’ve had some very interesting conversation this year in particular in our house.  I’ve just finished a book with my good friend Sean McDowell on same-sex marriage, which of course is not a topic you would typically teach your young daughters about (my daughters are nine, seven and five-years-old).  My oldest daughter asked, “Hey, Daddy, could I read your book?” and I was like, “Absolutely not.”  But, you know, they did ask about what it was.  We live in Colorado, so this is something that they’ve at least noticed and so they’re aware that there are those in our country and community who are two men or two women who essentially act like they are married.  So, we don’t go into the technical details of the sexuality, but we do describe to them that this is a very bad decision and that there is a difference between men and women and so on. 

And that’s part of the image of God, right?  First and foremost: “God created them male and female…” (Genesis 1:27).  And when the Pharisees asked Jesus about marriage in Matthew 19, He points back to the image of God and He talks about “male and female”.  And so our “maleness” and “femaleness” is not incidental as to what it means to be made in God’s image.  We image God, specifically the way we do, partly because of our sexual identities.

On the flipside, we’ve also had to talk about how everyone is made in the image and likeness of God and are therefore worthy of dignity and respect.  So if we see our daughters being selfish with stuff, or fighting with their sisters – we ask, “What’s more important: people or things?”

That’s a line that my wife came up with, which is just extremely important.  It obviously addresses materialism and “wanting stuff”.  I mean, our kids have more things than they know what to do with, so it’s easy to start to think that things are more important than people.  So, this becomes a more tangible way that we discuss the image of God.

So this all is really just part of our day, from the beginning to the end.

JEFFERSON I find it amazing – how much our parents learn from just observing their parents and what we do.  You mentioned that you have the standards of your parents, grandparents and in-laws as examples of keeping your marriage together.  And, obviously, when it comes to the big picture, we all have Christ’s example to follow.

But, when it comes to this time of year – you mentioned the role Disney’s Frozen plays in your home – how do you change your pace of your home, as we near Christmas and go through the Advent Season preparing for Christmas?  How do you switch gears and teach your girls, “I know that there is a lot of stuff going on in the world around us, but in our house, this is how we’re doing things differently”?

JOHN You know, that’s where intentionality really comes in.  I’ll just say what we do in our house.  I mean, we only know what we know because of people that we have learned from, and our church has been extremely helpful.

You see, I’ve always been super hesitant – and I’ll just go ahead and admit this – to give any sort of parenting talk.  I speak at a lot of homeschool conferences and I pretty much talk about philosophy and theological and philosophical framework for marriage, and what is culture and how do we understand it.  But when somebody asks me to do a parenting seminar, I pretty much always say, “I’m not old enough to do that.”  And I really believe that.

I also believe that (and I don’t know if I should really say this out loud but…) there are far too many young homeschool moms and dads that are willing to jump up front and give parenting seminars – and some have become “All-Stars” of the homeschool movement – and it’s really a bad idea.  We didn’t respect the clear Scriptural teaching of respecting our elders who have gone before us.  So, I’m really hesitant to do something like that.  That being said, I can just tell you what we’ve learned.

There are two things that have been incredibly helpful in our home on that front.  Now, there’s the approach out there that you stay away from all the “stuff”:  Santa Claus, Disney, Frozen, etc. – and there are days where I would really like to do that!  But, my theology is one that is deeply influenced by guys like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others that were incarnational.  Chuck Colson, obviously, was a huge influence on me, especially his idea that every square inch of culture belongs to Jesus Christ, as Chuck would quote from Abraham Kuyper.  So, if we believe that this world belongs to God, that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, then it is true that every square inch is claimed by Christ and counter-claimed by the enemy.  And so, hiding from culture is not a real Christian option.

We’re actually called to be deeply engaged – proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  So one is “How do we engage this stuff?”  So, between not engaging it at all or hiding from it and engaging it as a passive consumer, I think that there are a lot of other options. 

One is:  Always asking questions.

Take “Let It Go” as an example.  There is a lot that is redeemable in that movie.  There were a lot of good lessons taught.  It was very different than other Disney films.  But the song that became so popular, “Let It Go”, has a really bad idea in the middle of it:  “…No right, no wrong, no rules for me.  I’m free!”  So, what we do in our house, when we’re watching a movie or talking or singing, we stop in the middle of it.  We ask about what just happened.  We ask what would happen if they actually lived that out.  We then were able to discuss how Elsa was being very selfish, and ended up hurting her sister, her town and so on.  There were very clear consequences to a really bad decision.

So, having these types of conversations – where you stop in the middle – this is the Jesus form of teaching.  When we walk around, point things out and talk about it.  He did it with His disciples, you see it in the Sermon on the Mount, you can see it in his parables and illustrations.  Jesus was kinda looking at the culture of the day and pointing things out.  It’s kind of a “Walk Around” form of learning.  We’ve found that to be very helpful, and I owe that to a couple mentors of mine who I have learned from.

And the other thing that I think is super helpful for this particular time of year is this:  You can’t let it become the “Shopping Season”.  I mean, the day after we give thanks as a nation, we trample security guards for flat screen TV’s… and that is the start of the Christmas Season.  It’s insane!

So, what happens is that Christmas becomes a “Shopping Season, decorated with Jesus Talk on the weekends”.  And one of the things that the Church realized – WAY BEFORE our materialistic consumerist culture, though it’s probably never been more helpful than right now – is that we need a time of preparation and expectation.  If you look at the Biblical story – you talk about expectation – take a look at Zechariah’s song in Luke 1 or look at Anna and Simeon when they see the Christ Child in the Temple.  There’s an expectation that’s part of Israel’s story – a longing, waiting and anticipation.  And we’ve gotten rid of all that in our culture.

But the Season of Advent helps bring it back.

So to recognize that after Thanksgiving, each day we’re going to stop and intentionally go through some sort of disciplined practice to recognize and honor the Season of Advent, so that we’re anticipating and talking about Jesus coming. It helps reclaim the calendar.  The calendar has been hijacked by Black Friday and weekend sales.  We can reclaim that calendar through observing Advent, which I think is extremely helpful.

JEFFERSON So, is observing Advent something you do in your home as a morning devotion, or is it something that you drip in throughout the day’s activities?  How does it, practically, play itself out?

JOHN Well, we are part of a church community that does this really well and that’s extremely helpful.  What we do would not be nearly as effective if not for our church community, and that’s something that we have become very reliant upon.  And I think that’s good.

Sometimes I get a little concerned by some homeschool parents that I talk to that are “anti-church”.  I don’t think that we have a choice of whether or not to be in the Church.  We shouldn’t let the school or the government or the Church replace the home, but we also shouldn’t let the home replace the Church.  The Church has a very important role.

We also have a nightly discipline:  we do an Advent Candle, or we have friends that have a calendar or an Advent Tree… there are all sorts of ways to do it.  And we also sprinkle it throughout each day.

The other thing is this:  My kids would listen to Christmas music every day starting October 1st if we let them.  And I’m a big fan of Christmas music as well, but there is a little bit of a difference between Christmas music and Advent music.  Advent music includes songs of expectation and songs of longing.  Some of them are very familiar Christmas songs like “O Come O Come, Emmanuel”.  It’s important to take time and talk about these things, and being intentional and playing some Advent songs in the days that prepare for Christ’s coming.

Another thing is that I don’t want to get away from the celebration.  There’s some sort of false spirituality out there that says, “If we’re having too much fun, then it can’t be really Christian”.  Actually, if you look at gift giving in the extreme, this is what God did!  So, we also have a lot of fun during this time.  Now, part of it is due to the fact that I’m not traveling as much, so I’m home more than usual.  But, we put the lights out, we have people over, and it’s a holiday… and that’s a good thing.  There’s a time to celebrate and a time to recognize and I think it’s possible to do all of that during this time of year.  There’s a great article, by the way, written about two years ago in Christianity Today by Doug Wilson that spoke about being merry at Christmas.  You know, Jesus was invited to weddings and had fun, so, He set an example – Jesus really liked a good party!  And I think that Christians should, too.  You see this in the classic story A Christmas Carol – there’s a time to celebrate and rejoice.  So all of that is how Advent plays out at our house.

JEFFERSON Earlier, you mentioned the “dilemma” of discussing the content of your book with your daughters.  How do you bridge the gap between protecting your kids and engaging the world that is right outside our doors?  A lot of parents feel as though, especially in light of the headline news items of the day, we need to build up a hedge around our homes to protect our children from these dangers out there.  But then, there’s the approach that we should expose our children to the world around us and begin a dialog with them about what’s going on.  So, what’s your approach to all of this?

JOHN You know, I think that safety has become an idol in the homeschooling community, frankly.  First of all, I think that it’s an illusion that we can protect our kids.  Scripture says that it’s only in God that we can find true safety.  I think that we’re about to receive a really rude awakening in American culture from our illusions of safety.  And it grieves me – I don’t want to throw my kids out into the lion’s den.  But, historically, Christians have not found the world to be a very safe place.  We’ve been able to in the U.S. and we want to cling to that, but I don’t know if that will last. 

And there’s also the illusion that safety somehow equals morality.  If we keep our kids safe from being exposed to these questions then they will make good decisions later.  That’s certainly not true.  Scripture says that it’s out of the heart – it’s what comes out of a man that defiles him, not what goes in (Matthew 15:11). 

So, in our house, we certainly are very careful with age appropriate things.  We’re careful regarding things of innocence.  But, if they ask the questions, and if it’s asked the right way – respectfully and kindly, we answer them.  Sometimes, and I know that I experienced this when I was a boy, they ask questions out of mere curiosity.  And when they do this, we sometimes look at this as a moral failure that they even know this stuff.  We’ve been very careful to guard our kids’ innocence in regards to the things they watch and see and hear and so on, but we don’t always get to choose what our kids talk about.

Just the other night, my oldest daughter came downstairs and asked about same-sex couples.  So, we got into In Vitro Fertilization and how they have babies, and we just talk about it.

At the same time, our kids are very used to us saying, “You know what, that’s a little too old for you right now.  But we will talk about it later.”  It’s become normal for us to say that to them, so they accept that.

Something that we have to realize is that somebody is going to have a conversation with our kids about all this stuff.  It’s either going to be us, or the culture.  So, it becomes a choice of either we send our kids out into the culture eventually or we bring the culture into our homes and we analyze it, we talk about it and we help them learn to think about it.  Now, there’s no doubt about it, it’s a moving target.  There are things that we’re going to find attract and titillate our kids in different ways, as James talks about in the Bible – certain temptations that are going to pull them.  But they’re either going to encounter these with awareness or with unawareness.  And I think that we need to do it together.

Another thing that we find important – and my wife has been doing a lot of reading up on this, which I really appreciate – you don’t just learn to handle sin, evil and temptation by avoiding it.  The season of Lent on the Church calendar teaches us this.  We all know that you’re supposed to quit something for Lent: chocolate, dessert, etc.  But actually when you truly want to break a habit, you typically need to pick something up as you put the something you want to quit down.  So, as Augustine and Jonathan Edwards wrote, if we look at “cultivating affections”, as we walk our kids into the world and say “no… no… no” without having helped them cultivate proper affections by addressing them what they should love, then we set them up for failure. 

And that speaks to intentionality as well.

So this is another thing that helps kids deal with culture – helping them foster good habits of watching.  Not just saying, “don’t’ watch this… don’t watch that…” but examining how we are watching it.  What are the habits that we are using when we engage with entertainment or shopping or the news or whatever?  What are the right habits to have?  These are important questions to ask and to foster.

JEFFERSON And it seems that when it comes to the long run, if this is your practice, then your kids will have a strong grasp as to why they make the decisions they do as young adults, right?

JOHN Right.  And another key part to this is very clearly holding up the Gospel.  I struggle with this deeply.  You see, I grew up in somewhat of a moralistic environment where “you do the right thing and you don’t do the wrong thing” and that’s just it.  As parents, it’s very tempting to fall into that.  I mean, we want to proclaim virtue and what is good and true and beautiful.  But the heart of the Gospel is that we’re sinners.  So always remembering that we have that gift of redemption sometimes seems like we’re offering a mixed message:  God loves you… God loves you… God loves you.  He loves you just the way you are.  He’s willing to forgive you… BUT DON’T DO THIS BECAUSE YOU’LL DISPLEASE GOD!

Now, while all this is true, it’s important to walk our kids through that and not treating a child’s failure as if it’s the end of the world.  All of us have made huge mistakes, and our kids will, too.  So it’s important to walk alongside them through their failures and help them find redemption and grace is key.  And the way you do this is by always keeping the Gospel in front of them.

JEFFERSON Speaking of our own failures, while we do the best we can as parents, sometimes we just make mistakes.  What would be some “dumb taxes” that you and Sarah have paid that you can help other parents avoid?  By “dumb taxes”, I mean something that you did that you went in with the best of intentions, but as things played out you realized that wasn’t the right course to sail on (pardon the mixed metaphors).

JOHN Gosh, there are so many, it’s hard to narrow it down.  I know that I struggle, as I said, with that balance between moralism and grace.  So, a lot of what is running through my mind right now has to do with discipline.  I need to be better at disciplining my girls towards grace, forgiveness and redemption.  My wife is really good at that and I’m really bad at that.  So, that’s easily one of them.

Another is that we don’t do very well at that consistent, day in and day out, family devotion time.  And I always feel really guilty because I read about all these families that do.  But I travel a ton and we’re always doing stuff with our church late at night, so we try to create a habit of being faithful with it, but without beating ourselves up if it doesn’t happen for three or four days in a row.  So, what we do is take advantage of those everyday moments.

And then the biggest thing, and this is obvious to everyone who has more than one kid, but our three kids are so different from one another.  They respond so differently to different types of teaching and different types of relational interactions.  So, that’s a real challenge for us.  You know, my oldest daughter is the first born, so we joke about how God loves us and Abigail has a wonderful plan for our lives.  She’s dutiful and all that, and we can reason with her.  But trying to reason with our middle daughter – who is very, very emotional – in the midst of her emotions just isn’t very wise.  We’ve learned how to take a break and calm things down and then have a conversation afterwards.

So, all these things are just normal parenting stuff that we all run into.  I mean, we have human kids, right?  And we’re human parents.  So, we’ve been so blessed by being able to share our struggles with parents who are older and further down the road from us.  Mentorship is just so incredibly important.

JEFFERSON Well, John, thank you so much.  I just have one last question and it’s the hardest of them all:  You and I are about the same age and products of the ‘80s, so what is your greatest guilty pleasure from the ‘80s? Was it something like knowing all the lyrics to Tiffany or Debbie Gibson’s songs, or wishing that you went to Bayside High with the cast of Saved By the Bell, or were you one of those “good Christian boys” who hoped that Amy Grant would wait until you were old enough to get married?

JOHN Oh, man.  That would be none of the above.  I was far more edgy than any of that.  But here’s a funny story:  I was speaking at a homeschool convention, and I walked into this big convention center, then as I entered into the room that I thought I was supposed to be in, I see all these pool tables and a bar set up.  I thought, “Wow.  This doesn’t look like a homeschool conference.”  It was actually the Billiards and Darts Championships!  The homeschool conference was on the other side of the center.  So, that night, I got up to give the keynote address – and whoever planned this did not think this through – but the room we were in backed up to the Billiards and Darts Championships, where they were playing all the great ‘80s and ‘90s big hair bands:  Def Leppard, Van Halen, and all those lyrics that I really shouldn’t know.  But I wasn’t a great kid in the 80’s and 90’s, I’ll just admit that.  So, I was trying to give my talk, but all the lyrics to all these party rock songs are playing in the room next door and in my head.  You know, James 1:8 says “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” and I personified that man that evening.  I was trying so hard to be spiritual as I delivered my talk while Def Leppard lyrics were running through my head and I couldn’t do anything about it.  So, yeah… those sins of the 80’s and 90’s came back to bite me.

JEFFERSON Well, John, thank you so much for your pearls of wisdom and your transparency.  It’s a real treat to glean from somebody who has gleaned from some of the greats.  Thanks!

You can tweet John at @JBStonestreet, read and hear from him at breakpoint.org, and pick up his books: Making Sense of Your World and Same-Sex Marriage, A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage on Amazon.com.

But, before you start tweeting, clicking and buying… start commenting.  Let us know your thoughts about what John has to say about instilling a Christian worldview in our kids, or how to engage our culture without it governing over us and our families.  You can do that, as well as find so many other amazing podcasts and videos at the e-squared media network at www.e2medianetwork.com.

With that, I’m going to get to work on next week’s podcast.  So, until then, I’m Jefferson Drexler encouraging you to Parent Like You Mean It!

For more encouraging and engaging podcasts and videos, visit the E-Squared Media Network at www.e2medianetwork.com.


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