Saturday, November 16, 2013

Parenting Unrehearsed (8): Why we send our kids to a [broken] public school

— adj

 a play, speech, etc) not having been practiced in advance

I might also add off-the-cuff, in no particular order, results may vary. A series in which I share a few practices we may have learned in our twenty-two years of parenting four children.

Chapter 8:  Why we send our kids to a [broken] public school

I spoke at two different gatherings for mothers-of-little-ones in October. One group asked me to talk about how Brian and I have navigated bringing up kids as a part of culture, both engaging and discerning our culture.  I primarily spoke from chapter 5 in the Parenting Unrehearsed series:  How to keep your kids from spending too much time at church.

One part of that chapter they specifically asked me to share was our decision to send our kids to public school.  Let me tell you, I felt a bit nervous on the subject.  I remember plenty of vitriolic arguments about the best place to send kids to school from my days growing up as a preacher's kid. In my experience, people get pretty intense in this conversation.  Brian and I are firmly committed to this path, but that does not mean we believe it is the answer for everyone.  

I've been parenting long enough to determine that the best place to share tips and techniques is within community.  I'm a big fan of moms of little ones spending time together.  In an ideal scenario, parents would have this sort of community, in addition to their own families, to build a life-speaking tribe.  Anything that I could add -- as a speaker or writer -- should be only a layer of grace-filled encouragement to an already-vibrant community conversation.  

To prepare for the first moms' talk, I wanted to articulate some of the parenting values Brian and I have chosen.  In the middle of Monday night football I said: What are our parenting values? Five minutes. Go!

Here's what we came up with:


1. We've refused to live for our children. Parenting is a lifetime act of hospitality; we invite our children into a family that already existed in the form of Brian and me. The reverse of this mindset is more common: husband and wife exist in supporting roles as Dad and Mom for the children.

When you think about it, it’s a reflection of the Trinity. God had complete and rich community within the Godhead, and created humans from an outpouring of His own abundance rather than as a filler of His own need.

2. We do not place our own emotional, physical, financial, relational, intellectual and spiritual well-being on hold in order to pour into our children. Instead we employ the "fix your own oxygen mask before assisting others" principle. As I submit to all sorts of disciplines to steward my true self, found in Jesus, I am better equipped to help my children.

With blessing from my own parents, I often share a bit of their journey and mine in raising children. While there was an abundance of good in my growing up years, there were also extremely painful parts of the story. My mother struggled with an often debilitating depression. My father struggled keeping a healthy and protective balance for himself and our family while he pastored a growing church. I carried into my own parenting both struggles: bouts of severe depression and difficulty in setting healthy boundaries.

Of all the things my parents did well and all the things that did not go well, their most excellent gift to us was they never stopped pursuing Christ and they never stopped pursuing relationship with each other. This is a powerful and contagious habit to pass along to your children.  This is the hope I carry for my own children.  My frailty as a mom is saved -- redeemed to strength, even -- by the crucified, buried, risen and ascended Christ.  That is the true hope for our family.

On the specific decision to send our kids to a public school, let me start with two potential motivations that are NOT the reason we send our kids to public school.

These are NOT the reasons we send our kids to public school:  
  • To be missionaries.  In the sense, that we're always called to share Gospel-hope, yes.  In the sense, that our kids wear some sort of special badge of mission, no.
So why did we choose public school for our kids?
  • We believe in living planted in neighborhood and community. Public school is a central connecting point for neighborhood and community. Going to a private school (usually) means living a major segment of life outside neighborhood.
  • Along those same lines, sending our kids to private school means introducing an entire new subculture into our family life.  We have found that we have a low limit of subcultures we are able to effectively engage: neighborhood, church and family with intermittent additions of extra-curricular subcultures.  For example, when my daughter participates in musical theater there is a whole new world of financial, communication, scheduling and relational obligations.  This is why we limited our kids to one extracurricular activity, but, that's another subject. 
  • We believe in blessing people around us with Gospel words and actions, and that the best way to do that is to live together with them.

  • Private school is -- in almost all cases -- expensive. In full disclosure, some of the decision of where to send our kids to school was simplified by our own financial limitations. We know many parents (including Brian's family and my own parents) made gigantic sacrifices to afford Christian schools for their children. We've made a decision that we'd prefer our financial sacrifices for other needs in our family, city and world.

  • The public school shows a truer picture of our culture, the same culture our kids will have to navigate when they graduate high school. We'd prefer to allow our children to experience both the good and the hard parts while they live under our roof so we can walk with them, help them navigate these realities together.

  • Although every possible temptation is alive and well no matter where you send your kids to school, we felt that each education option for our children came with its own potential temptations/pitfalls.  We made a conscious decision to expose our children to the more obvious temptations (sins of commission, if you will) rather than the more hidden types of temptation (sins of omission). Put plainly, we'd rather our kids struggle with temptation toward the infamous "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" culture in a public school than the more hidden temptations sometimes inherent to a Christian school or homeschooling subculture. Sin is sin, no one worse than the other, just some more obvious to fight against.
  • A few years ago Brian and I heard Eugene Peterson speak at a conference. In the midst of Q&A he made a statement that (first) made us laugh and (second) became part of our list of family values: "Most of us are pretty damn ordinary." I guess another way you could say this is that we do not want to take ourselves too seriously. One result of this value, for us, is allowing our kids to spend a good deal of their growing up years as an unrecognized figure among a mostly unrecognized crowd. We do our best to surround our kids with a tribe of thoughtful, affirming friends outside of the more generic education. This is not to say they've never had the opportunity to shine in their classroom but that is more the exception than the rule.
Alex's graduation at the University of Texas Frank Irwin Center.
I wrote about the 15 seconds of fame he enjoyed here.

We know, personally, scores of families who have made thoughtful decisions for their own children that differ from ours. I suspect some of our children will make different choices for their children's education, since it's normal -- and often, healthy -- for convictions to shift and expand from one generation to the next. I'm grateful for the option to homeschool at different times as needed over the course of our family life. We are one family with one set of convictions. Hopefully you'll be encouraged as you make your own thoughtful decisions for your family.

How do we as parents make thoughtful decisions for our kids?  

For starters...

Practice Healthy Self-Assessment

Gospel humility is a covenant value at our former church in New York, and defined this way: 
Gospel humility is an attitude that causes us to submit to one another and to listen intently to godly counsel. On the one hand, it prompts us to be gentle and forgiving, and to admit when we’re wrong. On the other, it prompts us to walk in spirit-led boldness. Gospel humility requires a healthy self-assessment. It liberates a person to pursue God’s way of living—regardless of the interpretation of others.
The primary determiner of a healthy self-assessment is that we do not "discover ourselves" by ourselves.  We must practice -- among other disciplines -- confession, forgiveness, tribe-building, discernment, sacramental living in the rhythms of work and rest, fasting and feasting as one part of a whole community of Christ-followers in order to know our truest selves.  

Our Heavenly Father gives us a wide array of options to live our everyday, ordinary life—our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life. The same God we often criticize for being a rule-maker, in truth, gives us more freedom than we know what to do with sometimes. Freedom to make choices in where we live, what we eat, where we work, what we do for fun, how we parent and where we send our kids to school.  

Making thoughtful and wise decisions in the midst of all this freedom is what it means to be a disciple. We resist the temptation to make up our own set of laws to make us feel better in our uncertainty. We rest on the firm foundation of Christ and trust His Spirit to give us insight about Himself and ourselves so that we might live kingdom-building lives. We need our tribe to help us know ourselves -- our gifts as well as our weakness, our passion and our wounds -- in order to live thoughtfully in this world.

By God's grace and the help of his people, we do this without paralyzing introspection.  Self-assessment is not the same thing as self-obsession.  We do our best, knowing that without the crucified, buried, risen and ascended Christ our best does not get us far enough.  We live as ones who have been saved, who are being saved and who will be saved.  

Praying blessings over our kids as they head out to school.
In order to make thoughtful choices, then, about any of the many areas we're offered freedom, ask yourself (and your community) a few questions:
  • What am I most afraid of?  How does this fear relate to the decision I'm making?
  • What does this decision free me to do?  How does it limit me?
  • What sort of need-gaps does this decision create and how will I seek to fill them?
  • Does this decision make it easier or harder to follow other convictions we've already decided?
  • Where will we need Christ to save us most if we follow this decision through?
Our decision to be part of the public school system both fills needs and creates needs.  Healthy self-assessment requires we understand and seek creative solutions to meet those needs for our family.

Let me repeat an important disclaimer:

Relax. You've got time, it's going to take time

I know, I know - old ladies have stopped you in the store five trillion times to warn you that the time flies by faster than you can imagine and that you need to make the most of every single moment with your cherubs.  And that's sort of true.  

Most true, though, is that Jesus is a redeemer of time. He moves outside of time and space, He returns time and stretches it out in just the right ways so He can save you and your kids.  When you read any practical suggestions I have to offer please take your time, consider, pray, laugh, relax.

Put another way, maybe the very, very best advice I have to offer parents is this:

Reject hyper-vigilance, embrace spacious grace.

And on your very worst days, there's always this sort of alternative form of self-assessment:


Next time on Parenting Unrehearsed: 
  • Family liturgies: Birthday celebrations
  • Why we gave our son a new name for his 21st birthday
  • Practice Storytelling
I love to hear from you!  For example, what are some thoughtful decisions you've made for your family?  Also, please feel free to share the sorts of questions you've been asking about parenting.


P.S. If you'd like to receive This Sacramental Life in your inbox, enter your email address here

*Thank you to the lovely Lindsey from Lindsey Davern Photography for capturing the hilarious -- and unrehearsed -- family photo I'm using for this series.*

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