Tag Archive: Raising children well


Sidney+PoitierI am busy reading ‘The Measure of a Man’ – a spiritual autobiography, by Oscar award winning actor Sidney Poitier and this extract in particular stood out for me, especially from the viewpoint of parents trying to raise their children in an overstimulated image-assaulting society. He grew up on Cat Island in the Bahamas and later moved to Americaland and so he speaks here of some of the contrast and expectation and this is just some good stuff to think about and probably especially if you are a parent of a young child.

‘But the special beauty of Cat Island wasn’t just what we had; it was also what we didn’t have. Poverty notwithstanding, I was lucky, and the reason I was lucky was that I wasn’t bombarded with contravening images and influences that really didn’t have any direct connection to my nurturing. I didn’t have to digest television – children’s shows and cartoons. I didn’t have to digest the stuff on radio and have to ask, “What are they saying? They’re talking about selling me something. Why are they selling me something? I don’t have a job.”I didn’t even have to deal with the myriad stimulations that came from the presence of mechanized vehicles. No one on the island had so much as a car or motorboat.

Now, if you take children in the modern United Stated that you and I are living in, they probably have a mom and a dad [or at least one parent], a set of grandparents possibly, and some siblings. But they’re also going to have a radio in the house, and they’re going to have a telephone (or at least know that such a thing exists], and they’re going to know that there are television sets, and they’re going to see people on the television sets who speak just like their mom and dad speak.

And they’re going to be familiar with motion pictures too, because they’ll start going when they’re five or six. They’re going to see talking animals moving around like people. They’re going to see animals beating up on each other and slapping each other and falling down in crevices and getting up without experiencing intense pain. Some of these animals are then going to turn around and sell them breakfast cereal. These kind of stimulations come at today’s American kids on a daily basis, but the mental and emotional apparatus for sifting through them, for processing them, for dealing with them in some meaningful way, simply isn’t there.

But children still have to try to make sense of everything they’re bombarded with. They have to assume something, correctly or incorrectly, factual or otherwise. They have to encode all these distractions into the self that they’re slowly day by day, building. Child psychologists have demonstrated that our minds are actually constructed by these thousands of tiny interactions during the first few years of life. We aren’t just what’s directed by our genes, and we certainly aren’t just what we’re taught. It’s what we experience during those early years – a smile here, a jarring sound there – that creates the pathways and connections of the brain. We put our kids to fifteen years of quick-cut advertising, passive television watching, and sadistic video games, and we expect to see a new generation of calm, compassionate, and engaged human beings.

In the kind of place where I grew up, what’s coming at you is the sound of the sea and the smell of the wind and your mama’s voice and the voice of your dad and the craziness of your brothers and sisters – and that’s it. That’s what you’re dealing with when you’re too young to really be counted into anything, when you’re just listening, when you’re watching the behaviour of your siblings and of your mom and dad, noting how they behave and how they attend to your feedings and how they care for you when you have a pain or when the wasp stings you around the eye. What occurs when something goes wrong is that someone reaches out, someone soothes, someone protects. And as the people around you talk, you begin to recognise things that are carried on the voice. Words and behaviour begin to spell out something to you. All those subtleties are what’s going on with you, and that’s all that’s going on with you, day in and day out.’

If you’re a parent are you doing anything to interrupt the overstimulation of your children? Technology timeouts… Television boundaries… Limits to screen access… And if you have not been, is this maybe something you want to or should think about considering? 

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I have already shared an article on my blog about Nigel and Trish before and how they moved into what is known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods with their family and how some of that has played out. Val and i managed to have a Skype call with Nigel a few weeks ago and it was truly inspiring hearing some of the story of how they got to where they are and how it has been playing out. Nigel takes some time here to share about some of the ways in which their decisions and actions have influenced their children in growing up as World Changers…

Nigel,Trish,Hannah,Rachel,Jordan,Daniel,Sarah

Nigel,Trish,Hannah,Rachel,Jordan,Daniel,Sarah

Reflections on parenting: Choosing to put God first

When my wife and I moved into Hillbrow, Johannesburg over a year and a half ago, the main concern expressed by many of our loving friends was for our children. People literally asked questions like “What if one of them is kidnapped, raped or murdered?”. Hillbrow is just one of those communities which seem to invoke fear.

We were however convinced that God had spoken to us about moving into the neighbourhood, about downward mobility, and about standing in solidarity with our urban poor neighbours. Trish and I had long discussions about the call of God on our lives, and in fact the potential suffering that following Jesus may cost any believer, and therefore also us. The question we had to answer was whose voice would be louder… the voice of God or the voice of fear.

We searched the Scriptures and were convinced that if Jesus were alive today, He would be spending his life not in comfort and convenience, but rather in places like Hillbrow as friends of prostitutes, drug dealers and the homeless. The more I studied Scriptures, the more I became aware of the dangers of greed, individualism and consumerism.

We drew courage from reframing the question as this: what is more dangerous for our children, given the realities of eternity – to grow up in a society and culture which teaches you to worship the unholy trinity of “me, myself and I” or to be in a potentially physically dangerous place where you can learn the values of Jesus of justice, compassion and love?  Jesus said “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Matthew 16:26). An important reflection.

We started to dream of a new world, the kind of world we would want to leave to our children.

We want to see a world in which the rich do not tolerate extreme poverty and inequality. We want to see many people actually laying down their lives of comfort and convenience for the sake of bettering the lives of others. Seeing people freed from poverty, inequality, racism and exploitation is more important than fulfilling our lust for more things! We want to be part of a society in which people are valued more than things. We want to see the god of consumerism in South Africa bowing its knee to a love motivated revolution which results in freedom from oppression and exploitation. We want to see this for all people, regardless of class, citizenship, race or religion. We dream of equality in every sector of society. We believe that if the education system is not OK for a rich kid, it is not OK for a poor kid. The same goes with healthcare, housing, security. The same goes for rural kids and inner city kids. The same for black kids and white kids. We are not more valuable than the least valued in our society. We are doing our lives in a new way. We are going to live our dream and see this reality briefly described above happening around us. We hope others will join us and this will happen around them too. Who knows, very soon, the world can be a different place!”

As we weighed up God’s Word, His call and his promises, we finally came to the decision to move regardless of the cost. As a side reflection, I have subsequently found that the time God gives you grace to do something often coincides with the moment of your decision to obey His Word to you. Grace comes through faith and faith comes from putting the Word of God into practice in your life.

So fast forward a few years from when we made this decision, and here we are living in what many describe as one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world. As responsible parents, we do all we can to protect our children. They know the rules and the risks and we are always close by to protect them. What we have found is that rather than restrictions, we are now in the most spacious place in our lives and the move has in my opinion been the best thing we could have done for our children. So often we think doing radical things for Jesus will harm our children, when in fact the opposite happens – they grow and develop.

I am so often overwhelmed by the things my children do in response to the poverty they now see in the lives of their friends who they love. My son Jordan, aged 8, has spent very little of his pocket money on himself since we have lived here. A little while after we moved in he came to me with his savings and said “Dad, you give me everything I need, I don’t need this money, who do you think we should give it to?” Needless to say my chest swelled as I held back tears of gratitude at the work God was doing in my boy’s heart. He has since done this again and again. His little brother, Daniel, aged 6, also loves to give his pocket money away or to buy food for the homeless with it.

In our block of flats, one of our children’s friends is a little boy named Sipho. Sipho lives with his 4 year old brother, Thabo, and his two year old baby sister, Princess, (not their real names)and single mother in a single room that they sub-let as a family. The room is barely big enough to fit the double bed which they all share. His father is legally not allowed to see him after he tried about 2 years ago to poison the two little boys and himself in an attempted family suicide. Their mom works at night and so the boys are often chased out the flat during the day so she can sleep. They are often hungry and so our two older girls love making them food. Sipho recently turned 8 years old. It was obvious that his mom was not going to throw him a birthday party or buy him any presents. Enter my children! All by themselves they conspired to bless this boy with a birthday party. They all pooled their pocked money together. Hannah, our 12 year old and Rachel, our 10 year old baked the cake. Jordan bought the presents. It was an amazing event. Through these and other similar stories I have become convinced that you cannot teach your children how to love and show compassion through  your words, you have to demonstrate it as a parent and create opportunities for them to take the initiative. Living among the urban poor and standing in solidarity with our neighbours constantly presents opportunities for acts of love.

I have so many more stories to tell, like how Hannah, our 12 year old has become a real advocate for the rights of the oppressed. Our children have had opportunities to speak on radio and television and to many journalists about how society should be helping their friends. Hannah often comes to me and asks me to help a friend get back into school or to get some form of assistance for someone, whether adult or child. We have often involved friends who are lawyers to help her friends and have even taken cases to the Constitutional Court (South Africa’s highest court) on behalf of Hannah’s friends. God is not only doing a work in their hearts, He is giving them a voice to the world.

Moving into Hillbrow has been the best thing we could have done for our children. When we put God first in our lives, He takes care of all the details of our lives. He really does love us and wants the best for us and we can trust Him with our children as we pursue Him and His call with all of our lives. We should never let our children set the agenda in our lives, as precious as they are. We believe they are more precious to God than to us and that He will work in their hearts and do things in them we could not even dream of if we allow Him to really be on the throne of our lives completely.

So in conclusion, let me quote Jesus who said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We have found this verse to be true in our new life and Hillbrow and know that Jesus can be trusted!

To follow their story a little more closely, check out www.transforming.org.za or connect with Nigel on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nigel.branken

[For the next inspiring story, with a similiar flavour, in this series on raising world changers, read this one on Lara Harler Lahr and family in Philly]

FamilyOnAWalkDanielTrishSarahHannahRachelNigelAndJordan

Candice family

When you have a baby, just getting through one day without falling asleep in our cereal is the biggest achievement. As my two ninjas get older, I’m beginning to realise that raising kids, as much as possible to be Jesus kids, doesn’t just consist of trying to make it through the day in one piece, making sure that homework is done, ensuring that veggies are eaten and that naps are taken. God actually relies on me (and Matt) to give our kids character building lessons, to teach them Godly values and to show them how to be Jesus to people. Because we’re the closest people to them, we’re the first example they’ll know and see ~ ahem. The pressure is great.

Noah, my 4 year old, is at school in the mornings. At the start of the year, he was at another pre-school where he was bullied. It impacted him and his little self-confidence and character a lot. As his mommy, it was just the most heart breaking thing to have to walk through. Needless to say, he’s in a different school and loving it BUT even though Noah and I walked that path, and it was horrible, it gave him a chance to learn an important lesson. Because he knows that being ugly to other kids hurts, because he’s experienced it himself, he knows what it feels like. He identifies. So everyday when he gets out the car at school, and we walk into class, I say to him “Mr Noah, you be the little boy who makes another girl or boy smile today.” Look, he’s 4 ~ and he’s totally not into sharing at the moment and really is feisty so of course, he’s got his moments where he’s not even close to bringing a smile to someone else, but rather a flood of tears. But every morning as his mommy, I pray “Lord, help my baby help someone smile today” ~ and I try remind him at the start of every day as he heads into his classroom. He’s never come home and told me he’s been a smile-bringer but his teacher told me the other day that he prayed in class and this is how his prayer went “Dear Jesus. Thank you for our mommies and daddies and please help us to be kind to each other today. Jesus doesn’t like it when we’re ugly to each other. Amen.”

Candice Noah TylaI’m trying my best to teach my kids to bring and be joy to the people around them. By doing that, they’re demonstrating Jesus, even in the small things, like sharing Lego blocks or by asking another little girl or boy if they’re ok if they fall and helping them up ~ it’s a tough one to teach a little person who’s still trying to figure out what they want in life and who they are in life, never mind trying to be a light in someone else’s but we take it one day and one prayer at a time.

There’s also the practical side of things like trying to get my kids to be involved hands on with people who they wouldn’t normally get to interact with, to get them to see and be face to face with kids who don’t have as much as they do.

SUSPENDED COFFEE AND GROCERIES

I read up a couple of weeks ago about this idea of suspended coffee. I’d never heard of it, and its apparently an idea that’s in operation all over the USA but I was totally keen to try it.

Suspended coffee works in some coffee shops, where if you buy a coffee, you can say “One decaf to go and one suspended.” In essence, you’re paying for two coffees but one is suspended. Someone in need, for example, a homeless person, a family in need ~ when they come into the coffee shop, they know to ask for a suspended coffee and they receive a free one because of you, paying for one. Stunning idea and really just demonstrates an act of kindness and giving to those who can’t even afford a simple luxury of coffee in the morning.

So, because I’m not really a coffee drinker, I decided to rope my kids in when we do grocery shopping, in a kinda “Suspended Grocery Shopping” idea. When I take my two little ninjas in the trolley down the aisle at the grocery store, whatever they choose as a treat, they throw another one in the trolley for “a baby who doesn’t have one.” Living in South Africa, my kids come into contact with loads of kids who are less fortunate than they are so I pack the extra goodies in my car. It’s never anything big, maybe like a sucker, or a packet of chips, or a boxed juice, but my kids are slowly learning that things that they have, some kiddies aren’t fortunate to have themselves. When we come across a little girl or boy that is in need, we can dig into the stockpile we have and hand it out. Not only is it a blessing to the little kiddie in need, but it’s a HUGE blessing to my two babies to see how much joy they bring to someone by just sharing something they take for granted everyday. Again, it’s being someone’s smile, even just for a few moments.

Being only 2 and 4 years old, my children still have so much to learn. They are only just beginning to find out what they’re capable of, and just because they’re tiny, doesn’t mean they can’t change the world for good, for Jesus. My kids and I have this little line we always say. I say to them “I may be small” and they end it off with “But with God’s help, I can do big things.” Me, as their mommy ~ I have to show them now that even the smallest things now, make an eternal impact ~ and that’s not restricted to their age at all. I pray every day that my kids, starting now at 2 and 4 years old, will start to realise the kind of impact they can make on the world.

[my friend Candi has also written a great piece on how to be a parent of young children when it’s not so easy and you can follow her writings on her blog titled ‘Moments with a mom.’]

[For another great story on raising your children to be World Changers, click here]

So cousin Brett asks for some practical, creative suggestions that can inspire parents to inspire their children. And we have 5 children of our own and 4 long term foster children. All boys. And people are often saying nice things to us about the boys.  And we get good reports back without looking for them. Often from people we don’t even know. So I’m thinking straight away, like the truly humble guy I am: “Yep, I’m the man for this job”. 

Joel, Daniel, cousin David and Michael

Joel, Daniel, cousin David and Michael

And I know the kind of thing Brett is looking for, because he spells it out in an email. The kind of stuff that I’ve often planned to do, or thought it would be good to do…but actually, in practice have never got round to, or had very little success with. Like getting the boys to choose a charity to which the money which  usually gets spent on them for christmas would go to. That was in my mind to do last year. But I ended up taking them all for a days go-karting. Which of course isn’t a bad thing, but not what my cuz is talking about in this instance.

But here’s my offering. It’s a very obvious one. It’s simply about maintaining a relationship with a child, so that suggestions made when they are young men or women aren’t rejected out of hand. Two years ago our second son Michael, who has very itchy feet, was planning to go travelling. So we said: “Hey, why not go and help at this place for street children in the Philippines, which the daughter of some friends of ours is running?” And that’s what he did for 3 months. He loved it. Now he’s in South America, building walls of horse dung on a community farm, visiting Ecuadorian prisoners, working in bars, doing border crossings from, ahem, Columbia to Peru. And, um, other stuff. We get skyped every 2 or 3 weeks, and Michael tries to scare his mum.

So, yeah. No prizes for originality to me. Or for following the brief. Though I’m looking forward to hearing other people’s input so I can be creatively inspired. It’s never too late. But, you know,  I’m going with: talk, talk, jabber, jabber, laugh, giggle, get angry, apologise for your mistakes, don’t be a judgemental monster, get ’em to adulthood with at least a little bit of that free spirit they had when they were 4.  

ps. And also make sure to follow through on your own dreams so that doing so will seem normal to them. Can’t expect them to try to change the world for the better if you’re not doing the same.

pps. In the changing the world stakes, and for the record, I think the funny vids Brett makes are just as important as all the other more obviously world changing stuff. Brad Fish is my guru! So I could probably do with some counselling really…

[David Fee is my mom’s brother’s son and lives in the United of.Kingdom. We like to refer to each other as ‘cousin’ cos that is what we are. One of his gifts is that of songwriter/singer and if you sign up for his mailing list you can receive his music for free over here]

[For another great story on how to raise your children as World Changers, read Candi’s post over here]

My kids are evil.

Good. Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain. Little kids are a lot of things – sweet, cute, sticky (most of the time), small, lovable, smelly (again, most of the time). But compassionate, kind, gracious and selfless? Nope, nope, nope and… nope. And here in lies the rub. All too often we mistake their sweetness and smallness for goodness. Our children are wonderful gifts. But they are not born with great character – the kind that will ultimately lead to world changers and planet shakers. Goodness is not a birthright.

Julie Now, teaching our kids these kinds of qualities is easier said than done. I mean, just keeping them alive, fed, clothed and (relatively) clean is a quantum job! As a parent with three children under the age of five, I’m discovering that it’s better to integrate big life lessons than to separate them from our day-to-day lives. I’m hoping that as the days, weeks and years go by, my kids’ lives will be peppered with lots of useful moments that help them to become people of real character and to navigate their way through this oft upside-down world.

Here are some examples of character attributes we want our kids to have, and some ways we’re trying to instill them into the little buggers:

 Compassion – I remember the first time I tried to teach my eldest this virtue. We pulled up at a traffic light and saw a man begging for food. I rolled down my window, greeted him warmly and gave him an orange. As we drove away, I explained to Eli what we’d just done. He cried all the way home. Not out of sympathy for the poor man, but out of utter self pity that I had given away our food. Our orange! He wailed as if it was the last piece of fruit known to mankind. Another time, he asked me why a man was digging in the bins. I knelt down and told him gently about the huge disparity between rich and poor in our country, about how that man probably had kids at home, and that their home was nothing like ours, and how different their supper would look to ours. And that, despite how different our lives were, we were no better than that man. Again, Eli wept. And again, not out of compassion, but because somewhere in my story I had mentioned the word cupcake, and now he was sure he would die if he did not have a cupcake right this very minute. I’m not making this up. My kids are evil!

Courage – One of our kids is inherently skittish. We feel it’s our job to build into him the confidence he’ll need to face life well. So we don’t just let him get away with not trying new, scary things. We encourage him. We often say, ‘Just because you’re scared, doesn’t mean you can’t do it – you can!’ And he’s always so glad when he does eventually try and succeed at something new.

Robustness – This is such an undervalued attribute these days. When was the last time you heard someone say, “John is such a catch. He’s so robust!” And yet it’s one of the make-or-break qualities to get through life alive and happy! We try to teach our kids to suck it up when life sucks. We don’t say that of course, we say ‘It’s not the end of the world.’ And we say it sooo often that most of the time now, we just say, “It’s not the end of the?” and they finish the sentence themselves, as they take a deep breath and wipe their snotty faces clean with their sleeves. Children are charming like that.

So to sum up, I’m learning that good character isn’t going to fall from the sky onto my little ones. But every day is jam-packed with great opportunities to teach, inspire and drag them (kicking and screaming) toward it!

[Julie, among other things is someone with a gifted prophetic voice, a writer of note and an amazing woman role model for hundreds of younger women around her. She is the wife of Terran who is a friend of mine i have done a bunch of speaking with or near for many years and they keep their friends constantly amused with an assortment of things their kids say via the Facebook]

[To read the next inspiring piece on raising world changers, shared by my great friend Bruce Collins, click here]

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