Why I failed Revolutionary Parenting.

I’m usually not a prickly person. I don’t argue much because I honestly don’t have a lot to defend. Most of my opinions are moldable and if I read something different than what I believe, it usually causes me to stop and consider for a while. I’m a simmer-er. It takes a few weeks after a read or a discussion for my opinion to be fully formed. And by then, most people don’t care anymore. That means I was never interesting in my college classes. I didn’t raise my hand. It isn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. It’s just that I was always a month late to say the things. By then the rest of the world had moved into the more brilliant places.

That said, I don’t like parenting books. I think it’s because I already have opinions about little people. And they feel pretty set in stone. Now, if my mother wrote a book about parenting, I’m pretty sure I’d read it and totally buy into it. That’s basically because she’s my child development expert. If there’s an amazing toddler game, she already knows how to play it. If there’s a song that goes along with the present situation, she knows it and will break into melody. My mom is great at playing. That’s why I’d agree with her book. She’d tell me to play with my kid. She’d tell me that everything else (How advanced is his speech? Can your three-year-old count to ten in three languages?  Does she sit quietly and not make a scene?) just doesn’t matter that much. Just love your kid and play, she’d say.

My parents raised three children who have all continued to live in the faith passed down to them. According to Revolutionary Parenting, a book by George Barna that I’ve been reading for my mom’s group, we’re “spiritual champions.” That means we’ve (despite our few hiccups along the way) all become adults who are deeply committed to our faith. We are active in our churches. We pray. Our faith affects our lives on a daily basis. In fact, my brother Brooks is a licensed minister who runs an organization that cares for impoverished children. My other brother Jason writes about faith for a living. I…well, I talk about monks a lot.

My parents should know how to raise a “spiritual champion” if anyone does. And, if you asked them what they did to produce the Boyett children, I imagine they’d say, “Well, we ate dinner together and we talked about God at home. We went to church together. Our kids saw us reading our Bibles. We held them to high standards and expected a lot.” Other than that, they’d probably say they had no clue. They prayed a lot. They loved us. They hoped.

Revolutionary Parenting has some good stuff to say about the value of praying for your children, the power of love in the home, the significance of holding up high standards. But, it also says a lot of things that ticked me off. First of all, “spiritual champions”? What kind of term is that? Does that mean I’ve won the spiritual race and I get a gold medal? Because, Mr. Barna, with all due respect, I didn’t get the gold. I learned a long time ago that my attempts to win the spiritual prize were pretty screwed up and God likes me best as an honorable mention.

Secondly, there’s everything else. Barna uses a lot of legitimate research (the Barna Group is a recognized research firm that most often explores matters of faith in America) to discover the secret to raising children who are followers of Jesus. Listen, there are just some things that cannot be explored through “research.” Do you really need to mention that “spiritual champions” are more likely to come from small families? Warning! If you have a lot of kids, they won’t follow Jesus! That kind of stuff just really annoys me.

Barna talks about having a plan, a goal, a mission statement of sorts for the kind of person each child is going to become. Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t have a mission statement for August. I have hopes for him. I want him to be kind. I want him to care for the people around him. I want him to feel deeply and love people so deeply that it wounds him. I want him to believe in Jesus because he believes in the story of redemption and reconciliation and renewal. I want him to long for the world’s healing and be active in working toward it.

Is that the same as a mission statement? I guess. But I don’ think it’s what Barna is referring to. I think Barna’s research shows that I should have a spiritual formation plan for my son’s 15th year of life. That I should be intentionally instructing him daily in God’s word according to that plan for his own personal growth. I should be manipulating his relationships to make sure that as a teenager he is not spending time with the wrong kinds of kids.

Look, to an extent, I believe in these things. I want my kid to learn scripture at home. But I want it to come to him organically, because scripture is a part of our lives. I want to pray specifically for the hopes I have for my son in his teenage years. But I don’t think my job is to thrust the scripture passages I think he needs to work on in his face. (Do kids really survive this kind of parenting with their faith intact?) And I certainly don’t think I need to meddle in my child’s friendships. Now, that’s not to say it’s not a parent’s role to intervene in their child’s relationships if they are damaging, but if I understand Barna’s commentary clearly, he has no qualms about a parent’s interest in manipulating who their child hangs out with (a comment here, a nudge there) to make sure that their child is not being influenced negatively. Here’s where I draw my angry line in the sand.

After years of ministering to high school kids who have no background in faith, I know how vital it is that non-believing kids have friendships with believing kids. To deny those relationships is to deny non-believing kids any kind of picture of faith. I’ve seen both kinds of Christian kids: the ones whose parents protected them from the reality of teenage sexuality and self-destruction and alcohol abuse, and the ones whose parents allowed them to live in that world and prayed like crazy that they might thrive as a hope-bearer in a broken place.

I’ve also seen the kinds of adults those kids became. The protected teenagers may still be faithful in the terms of Barna’s research: church-goers, Bible readers, people of prayer. But, most of the time, they are shallow, not at ease in the world, afraid of any other way of thought. The teenagers whose innocence was risked in hopes of their ability to thrive in the relationships they chose for themselves? Their parents bit their nails, paced at night, and watched some of their children leave their faith. However, the ones who survived are the kinds of people I hope my kids will be—sincere, faithful, unafraid of moral stances yet loving, able to articulate why they believe in Jesus because they’ve had to make that choice for themselves in a world that didn’t make it easy.

Will I be a Revolutionary Parent? Does it involve playing and eating dinner with my kids, and possibly singing songs with them? Pacing the floor and praying? Then, yes. That’s in my mission statement.


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7 Responses to Why I failed Revolutionary Parenting.

  1. Clio

    How faith is perceived is so interesting. An important part of “coming back to my faith” recently has been letting go of trying to predict and control every outcome and let God work in my life. From your description, I don’t see that God gets much room in the mission plan really.

    I work with pediatric (and adult, but that is whole ‘nother can of worms!) feeding. I see lots of families with an agenda for their children. For instance, Dad might want a football player but his child is in the 10th percentile for weight-for-age. Or Mom pictures a 3-year-old with perfect table manners who eats a well-balanced meal at every meal time. Unless you have a compliant child, those agendas seem to cause alot of conflict. If you do have a compliant child, the conflict looks different and usually shows up later, often in even more profound ways. All this to say that my experience in my work and with my kids is that very specific agendas are usually a source of conflict! I stumble on them in myself all of the time, and really work to let those go and love the kids I have (who are wonderful!) instead of trying to make them into the kids I thought I would have.

  2. If I’m so Type A that I write a mission statement for my 15 year-old, then I think I’ve stopped parenting and started managing.

    But what do I know?

    Guess I’ll find out when my kids turn 15.

  3. CAQ

    Micha, I am probably the meanest person you know. So, read the rest of this with that in mind.
    You were definitely interesting in your graduate classes, and have been since then. You know I would not say a complimentary thing if I didn’t mean it. I just edited a friend’s personal statement for a PhD program, and I just found myself writing, Stop apologizing! over and over. Stop apologizing.
    Maybe you should write the parenting book. I came from a family with one awesome parent and one very abusive one; I feel lucky that I had one great parent. Many people don’t get that, ever. He treated all of us differently, because he responded to us, our personalities, our needs, etc. There was no schedule, no prescription-we were four different humans. You seem so responsive to your child-and Chris does, too-and I would never doubt you would act differently to the next bebe. You and Chris both have a committment to self-reflection that many people don’t. That is going to be passed on.
    I have to go make books with 8th graders! Otherwise I would keep rambling. xocaq

  4. Stephanie F.

    Thanks for writing this today, it made me laugh. Seriously, I cannot imagine writing mission statements for my children!

    Raising children is were I think the Benedictine principles are helpful to take life as it comes. We are faithful in the little things and trust God for the larger things. As parents our scope is small and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. To me the stuff Barna’s talking about here seems manipulative and exterior (but maybe I’m getting the wrong idea)

  5. I think you call it well. Right with you.

  6. Sam

    As I told you on Twitter, I agree with you a thousand percent.

    Like you, I take some time to process. I mull, I think about things while I clean up the kitchen, while I drive my routine trips to playschool and the grocery store.

    I was in a Bible study for awhile where all the moms had a ‘life verse’ picked out for their child. I think this is kinda sweet in one way, but also, maybe a little constricting. We have NO IDEA of who our children will become - if your expectations aren’t shattered in the process of raising your children, then I would really wonder about control issues. Like you, I pray for my son to be loving, so wildly loving that he can’t help but be full of compassion.

    I would love to hear more about your mom’s take on parenting! Seriously.

  7. Thanks for all of your thoughts. CAQ, thanks for thinking I was interesting in class. (I still don’t believe you, though).

    I have to add to this that I went to my Mom’s Group and we had a really good discussion about the book. There were definitely some issues a lot of us had with the book, but our discussion leader (wisely) didn’t let us focus on those. You know what I learned? The people who were most moved by the book were those who are more Type A. (Which we all know I’m not.) These are the moms who do think to have goals for their children and take comfort in the research that shows children develop better when they have the same schedule everyday. (I’m the kind of mom who feels guilt about children developing better because of schedule.)

    All that to say, though I still feel the same about the prescripted-ness (that’s not a word, is it?) of the book and even more concerned about its “research,” I was opened up a bit to the value of Barna’s thoughts and how it spoke to a specific type of parent. And I wasn’t as bitter when I left the discussion. That’s always good.

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