This month, David’s cousins brought him a pregnant lizard. We set up the terrarium, and this weekend, she laid five eggs (that may or may not be viable). Then last week David found a dead bird, and he wanted to examine it. He got a pair of latex gloves, and spent nearly 45 minutes studying the bird and making notes in his notebook (a few unlabeled measurements and some unremarkable pictures).
I’ve had a few comments from moms who indicate that these kinds of activities are off-limits at their houses. Some have suggested that the decision to allow them makes a good mom. These comments have gotten me thinking. Is allowing a lizard a spiritual decision? Does it make me a godly mom because I endure crickets in my house (some do get loose)? Can a godly mom refuse her child the desire to keep a reptile that she might abhor?
Maybe, and maybe not. I think a lot depends on my motives.
- If I want my child to be a genius, change the world, be the best and make me look successful, my motives are prideful.
- If I merely act because of the good feelings from knowing my child is doing something “intelligent,” my motives are selfish.
- I can discourage interests because of my own selfishness, too, when I’d rather he do something that interests me.
As parents, we all make decisions that are uncomfortable for us that are best for our children. This is the essence of biblical love. In any area when we love our children biblically, I believe God gives grace to an individual mother to make good decisions that may not be important for another family. God’s given me the grace to have bugs in the house, but God may be giving another mom grace to have a loud tuba playing every morning at five. God knows where keeping reptiles is an essential part of my child’s life, whereas tuba playing might be an essential part of another child’s life. Although I believe it is good to accommodate an interest that is contrary to my own, I must recognize that families are different.
Recognizing that all families are different (avoiding the compare and despair trap), I can evaluate my own decisions and motives. Fact is, while I don’t care for pets at all, I value very much the results of caring for them, the scientific inquiry and curiosity, and the mind kept happy by busyness. However, what if my children were interested in something I don’t value or care for? How would I respond then?
I have a good example. My children don’t swim. Although my lack of skill and dislike of swimming is not the only reason, if I’m honest I would acknowledge that if I loved to swim, I’d make swimming lessons a bigger priority. I’m asking myself, Is my discomfort with the water a legitimate reason not to give them swimming lessons, for example. For that matter, will I avoid sports with my kids because they’re not all that important to me?
I think it is inevitable that we will guide our children toward things that we value. Music lessons are simply not a priority in some families; in others, books may be limited to a few Sponge Bob and Spiderman books. We do have much control over the interests of our children. I’d like to consider some principles that will help me make good decisions about developing my children’s interests. Here’s what I’m thinking:
- It’s a good idea to keep interests broad. When a child expresses an interest in a good thing, I should encourage it. I want to avoid situations where a single focus can become a child’s god, or where a child has no direction in young adulthood because he simply doesn’t know what he would like to do. And since I don’t know where God will lead my children, I want to be sensitive to any opportunities He provides.
- Because I don’t know where God will lead, I must also be very cautious when I discourage opportunities or interests (or simply ignore them). It’s too easy for me to be selfish when it comes to the time I spend encouraging my children.
- Be creative when financing interests. Libraries are wonderful resources. Expensive music lessons might ordinarily be out of the question, but exchanging babysitting for lessons is a possibility. I’ve been interested in the online local yard sale community and how effective it is for gaining information. We needed a lizard expert. Within a day of posting an ad online, I had several credible responses from people who were willing to share their knowledge for free. On the other hand, if God has provided the resources for a valuable skill, then I should consider that using the resources for this purpose is simply good stewardship.
- Think of the future ramifications of a hobby or interest. Riding a skateboard is probably fine, but I wouldn’t steer my child toward a professional career in skateboarding because the skate culture isn’t a particularly wholesome environment. I may have a child who can win the national spelling bee, but if the time it takes to make that a reality will likely get in the way of other responsibilities (like church, or other family members’ needs), then I need to rethink how I encourage this interest.
- Consider how an interest or hobby can be used for God’s glory. This is one reason I see music as a higher priority than sports. There’s great opportunity to glorify God in sports, I know, but music is a particularly valuable skill when serving in the local church. If our children are musical, they’ll be taking music lessons.
- Consider how an interest or hobby can be used for future vocation. This is particularly important for boys, I think. I watch my son’s interest in birds and reptiles, and encourage him with the realization that his interest could become a focus of study in later years. I’ve learned that there is a large body of undiscovered knowledge in herpetology and entomology and even ornithology [had to look that one up]. Yes, it could be simply a lifelong love that can be used to glorify God as he appreciates His creation, but it’s important to me that I not limit a possible future because of my own discomfort.
- It’s a small matter, but as a Christian living in the world, I avoid a good number of things. So I want to say yes to more things. We don’t have a television, but if I didn’t consciously fill the days with profitable (and fun) activities, my children would resent what they don’t have. Right now my goal is to keep them busy enough that they don’t ask for the videos. That is going to mean I have to say yes to things that are inconvenient for me if I want to reach that goal.
- Help our children understand that their strengths and gifts come from God. It’s hard not to crow when our children do something spectacular, but it’s important that in our conversations with our children and in our children’s hearing that we make much of God and not our talents.
So that means… that I need to be careful how I talk about swimming. I need to make sure that I’m not steering my children toward interests that I have or wish I had had as a child, while ignoring their own interests or wishes. I must be careful that I’m not encouraging them in an area in order to give me credit or glory (the good feelings I may have when my child is a star athlete or a straight A student). I want to keep their options broad as they seek to find God’s will for their lives. I’m not going to be critical if a mom isn’t willing to house a lizard for her son.
Can a good mom refuse a reptile? Yes, I think so. But I think a godly mom will also be encouraging a great many things for the purpose of helping her children grow up to glorify God.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. I John 3:16