Principle #3: As you walk along (teach your children godly sexuality part 14)

as you walk along copy

In our last post we began to look at the how of communicating the goodness and holiness of our sexuality.  We saw that it’s not “the talk” but lots of “talks” in the messiness of everyday life as it comes up.

We’re now going to tease this out a little bit in three short posts.

Be there and be first!

Since most our conversations about sexuality will come from answering questions/dealing with situations as they arise we need to be askable parents.  I don’t think I know of any parents who didn’t inwardly baulk when their child asked them something about sexuality.  But believe me: it’s far easier answering them when they’re little rather than having this conversation for the first time when they’re teenagers.  Just take a deep breath, pray for wisdom and talk as naturally and as matter of fact as you can.

However, sometimes certain topics don’t come up – whether because the child hasn’t thought about it or because they are shy and don’t like asking.  In which case we as parents need to initiate a conversation.  A simple way to do this is to say something like “when I was your age I used to wonder about…” or “when I was your age I used to worry about…”.

Don’t assume that no questions means that your child is not thinking about things!*

It might be worth drawing up a checklist of topics that your want to cover with the ages that you feel are appropriate (yes really! I’ll do one at some point in the future to share). Then you can tick them off as you cover them.  This is important because ideally we want to be the ones giving the first message about sexuality.  So in the UK children will get the “plumbing” science lesson about sexual organs in Year 7 so it needs to be covered by then at the very latest.  Otherwise we have to undo a lot of confusion.

A simple example that really brought this home to me was when one of my children listened to Jonathan Park story about aliens which used the bible to prove (yes really!) that they couldn’t exist.  They were adamant that this was true – as it was the first message they had heard.

So let’s ensure that the first message they hear about sexuality is about how special it is because it reflects God’s glory!

Think about your own experience of this:

When did you first hear about sex?  What was the message portrayed?  

OK.  Now it’s your turn to practise being an askable parent by answering this tricky question I received from one of my children.

Dad, why does my willy get hard sometimes?

Talks not “the talk”

We’ve already mentioned in this post and the last one that we respond to questions as they arise and give answers that are not only godly but also age-appropriate.  So we won’t ever have “the talk” but lots of little talks.

It may be tempting also to breathe a sigh of relief after you’ve “covered” a topic but repetition is important.  Children will ask the same questions again for reassurance and also we can never be sure that they’ve actually learnt what we’ve said.

I learnt this the hard way.  We worked so hard with our oldest child on giving godly responses to the many questions she asked when she was young and we’d covered all the topics so I secretly congratulated myself on a job well done.  However, it turns out in conversation with her some years later that she had forgotten everything we had said and because she was older and bit more shy about these issues (especially so since we hadn’t been talking about them because we thought we were done) – she stopped asking us and started asking others instead.  Hence she started all sorts of contradictory ideas.

Stories are better than facts/rules/morals

Facts are dry and don’t engage the soul whereas stories draw you in and teach concepts in a much deeper way than ever “objective” facts could hope to do.  This is the Hebrew way of life – sharing their collective story with their children, for example the Passover meal (Ex 12:24-27) or telling stories of why memorial stones are placed there (Josh 4:2-7).  Much of the Bible is written as narrative/story and Jesus taught ideas through parables/stories (eg  “what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Lk 10:25-37).  A story invites our participation whether it’s true or fictional.

For example, one of our girls was flirting with a boy who was, quite frankly, treating her appallingly.  But she just couldn’t see this.  So I made up a story called “The Princess and the Crocodile” where a princess who loves pets wants a crocodile but her father refuses saying it won’t be a good pet because it won’t love her back.  So she decides to go to the river and well, let’s just say her father had to rescue her from a sticky situation…

Our children also view any stories about us (especially about when mummy and daddy were courting) as something extra special and so they are powerful messages.

However, it isn’t always appropriate to share specifics so we may say something like “before I was a Christian I made some wrong choices about…which I regret now and so I want to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes I did”

But just like we talked about in our post about godly parenting, we don’t have to be perfect.  We just have to point to a perfect saviour.  For example: “I struggled with that too…but God helped me…”

This is easier said than done, particularly if you have shame about something.  Like Adam and Eve we want to cover it up but still want to prevent our children from making that same mistake.  However, what will happen is that we’ll simply end up preaching at them which will turn them off and will then cause them to repeat the same mistakes as us!  The only way to break the cycle is confession to God and then humility to our children!

Here’s some questions for personal reflection:
Think of a story that your parents told about themselves before they were married.
What effect did this have on you?

Is there something sexual that you did that you now regret?
Confess it to your Father and receive His forgiveness and healing.
How can you communicate this mistake to your children in a sensitive way that will help them to break the cycle?

Now let’s see if we can apply this principle to helping our children:
Think of a story from your life that you can share with your children about:

  • A worry you had about your body when growing up
  • A hard lesson you learnt about sexuality being holy/about character

I hope you’ve found this post helpful.  Feel free to share any comments, stories or experiences below.

Firm Foundations: Godly parenting (Teach your children godly sexuality part 4)

godly sexualityBuilding Firm Foundations with your children: godly parenting

As we saw in our previous post: marriage is a prophetic declaration of the Trinity and so we represent the child’s first understanding of the nature of God.
Which is why it’s no surprise that atheists are far more likely to come from homes with defective fathers (see Faith of the Fatherless).
So our desire is to relate to our children like God relates to us.  This is a huge area and will form the basis of our godly parenting blog in the future.  So in this blog entry we’re just going to look very briefly at how we can communicate two aspects:  love and grace.

Love

God is love (1 Jn 4:8b) and exists as a loving daddy to us (eg Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6) but also as a loving mother (eg Isa 66:13; Mat 23:37).  We as parents need to love our children in the same way God loves us. Children who feel loved won’t look for it elsewhere, particularly in the realm of relationships.  Indeed a close relationship with parents is one of the key predictors of lack of teenage sexual experimentation.

But even though we may love our children they may not feel loved as we may not be loving them in a way they understand.  For example, my dad grew up as an unwanted second child in a family that was struggling financially – so his aim was to love his family by ensuring that we were provided for.  Whilst we did have holidays the reality was that I had a dad I didn’t see much and when I did he was stressed out by his high powered job and very quick to anger. What I wanted (and needed) was some closeness and affirmation from him.  As a result I ended up looking to porn to try and fill that gap.

We’ve already mentioned the five love languages in the previous as a tool to help you speak the same “love language”  I’m going to look briefly at three aspects here with respect to our children:

•    Physical touch
God made us physical beings (embodied spirits) and has designed our bodies and emotions to thrive from touch.  We release a chemical called oxytocin (often called the “cuddle chemical”) which in babies has been shown to increase growth, immunity and neuron development*.  For all ages it increases trust,bonding and feelings of closeness between the individuals involved.  It also leads to increased self-esteem and optimism.
As such it is essential to ensure that our children receive adequate touch as they grow up.  It doesn’t have to be hugs and kisses – any kind of touch will do such as rubbing a head, touching a shoulder or snuggling next to each other when reading a book.
For boys as they grow up the wrestling/rough housing play between father and son is actually a great way of having physical affection but in a way that isn’t viewed as childish.  I noticed that my eldest son used to beam with happiness after our “throw me on the sofa” games or cushion fights which made total sense once I learned about oxytocin.
As girls mature fathers may become wary of showing physical affection (especially in the current environment where every action is sexualised) – but to pull back at this critical time will devastate their fragile confidence – so continue to show affection – but in a respectful way.
•    Quality time
Quality time is a lovely idea – but you can’t choose when your child will open up – so you have to be ready.  For one of my children it was always just as I tucked them into bed and was just about to rush onto my next job.  For quite some time I was caught off guard as “it was their bedtime” – and I confess I used to curtail it – then I realised what was happening and so used to mentally plan an extra 10 minutes just to listen.
Part of giving your child quality time is what I call the incarnation principle: our God didn’t stay far off but in Jesus entered our world.  Similarly we need to enter our children’s world.  What is important to them? Then it needs to be important to us.  This is so much easier said than done!  For example, it’s easy when they play you the music they like to rubbish it (as it clearly won’t be as good as the music you listened to when you grew up) – but doing so will cause them to withdraw from sharing with you what they’re interested in and their heart’s desires for fear of rejection.  Instead pray for grace and take an interest, ask questions about the artist and tell them what you like about it.
•    Words of affirmation
God the Father publicly affirmed his son (Mt 3:17; 17:5) how much more do we need to affirm our children to other people in front of them?  There’s something about saying it to other people that causes children to actually believe that what we say about them is true.  For example today my eldest son was helping me chop wood with an axe but I could see that he was frustrated despite my encouragement.  So when my wife comes outside I say to her “look at Josiah’s chopping – he’s doing such a good job”.  My wife who works as a team with me on this replies “you’re right – that really is good chopping.”  I turn and see my son beaming.
An aspect of this affirmation is what I call prophetical calling out.  Here we ask God who are child is going to become and then we affirm and call out who they’re going to be rather than who they are at the moment.  That is the spirit of prophecy, for example when Ezekiel prophesied over the dry bones (Ezek 37) didn’t say “you’re dry bones, you’re good for nothing” – but “you’re a mighty army” and they rose up to it.  Same with our children.  For example, one of our children was hopeless at looking for things and unless it fell out of the sky into their hand they would never find it.  We used to get so frustrated that we began saying “you never find anything!”.  The Spirit woke us up to the fact that we were cursing them – saying that this is all they will ever be whereas God will finish the work he began in us (Phil 1:6) so we started prophesying over them “that’s strange that you can’t find it – you’re really good at finding things” and soon we asked them to help the other children find items and now they are amazing.

Grace vs Law†

Are we saved by grace or by obeying the law? (eg Eph 2:8-9)
Does grace or law change our hearts to wanting to do right? (eg Rom 2:4b; 1 Jn 4:19)
Do we become more Christ-like by grace (God’s spirit working in us) or by trying harder? (eg Ezek 36:27; Phil 2:13)
So given these answers why do we expect children to become “better” by giving them law?
For example, “you must try harder to not to say that” or “well done you managed to stop talking with your mouth full!”

Rules will either produce children who think they can do it by their own effort and so become proud moralistic/religious children who have no need of a saviour or it’ll produce children who realise that they can’t change and so give up trying and instead become rebellious.The Law is powerless to bring change (Rom 8:3-4; Col 2:20-23) its purpose is to show us our need of a saviour.  Also rules also won’t capture our children’s hearts so that they actually want to change – only God’s love can do that.

How can we impart grace to our children in the disciplinary process?  Here is an outline of what I currently use:
  •  “I love you – you’re my precious son/daughter”
  • “I forgive you – as God has forgiven me of far worse”

I confess I used to give forgiveness only after they had said sorry – but I realised that I was training them that forgiveness and grace depend on their behaviour – whereas forgiveness is always available – the only block is our willingness to humble ourselves and receive it. Hence I forgive and then say:

  • “But you won’t be able to receive my forgiveness and love until you’re ready in your heart to say sorry – so we need to have time out where you decide whether your heart wants to do this”
  • When they return from their time out we have our cuddle and restoration:
  • “I also struggle with this (see Heb 4:15) and it’s too hard to change on our own but daddy God has helped me change and he can help you. Shall we ask him to help us?”
Then pray and for our Father’s help.
  • Then notice any evidence of grace and thank God for the change he’s brought in their hearts.  For example “look – you just shared your toy – you never used to be able to do that – daddy God has changed your heart so that you naturally wanted to do this!”

We are only a shadow of the heavenly reality

Remember, however, that we are not the ultimate reality – we’re only a shadow of the real thing and so we need to point our children to the perfect One.

We saw this in the discipline process where we point out that we also need God’s help to change.  If we make a mistake (for example shouting at them when we get stressed) then we need to apologise to our children and ask their forgiveness.  I also make clear how daddy God is not like daddy (so in this example I would say that daddy God is slow to anger – taking more than 400 years before punishing the Amorites Gen 15:16 – does your daddy take 400 years before he gets cross?)Then they see that we are living what we preach.  Failure to do so we cause our children to see as us hypocrites and lose respect.  In which case (as we saw in the previous post with my parents and lying) why would they listen to us?

*Some sources include:

Maternal-Preterm Skin-to-Skin Contact

†I am indebted to Jessica Thompson and her book Give them grace which first opened my eyes to the law-based nature of my so-called “Christian parenting”.