“You don’t agree with me that gay marriage should be legal?” All eyes around the lunch table were suddenly trained on my sixth-grade daughter. “But that means you hate gay people!” Morgan exclaimed.
“No it doesn’t,” Faust daughter replied. “My grandma is gay, and I love her. So, what is your argument?”
“Well, if a man and a woman who love each other can get married, then two men who love each other should be able to get married, and two women who love each other should be able to get married. There’s no difference.”
“The difference is that a man and a woman make a baby,” Faust daughter responded again. “A man and a man don’t make a baby, and a woman and a woman don’t make a baby.”
“Oh, I guess that’s true. But the two men or the two women could just adopt if they wanted a baby.”
“No. Adoption is not about giving kids to adults. Adoption is about finding homes for children who don’t have parents. And all children need moms and dads,” Faust daughter insisted.
“Well, I think kids just need adults who love them,” came the response.
“No, dads teach kids certain lessons; moms teach kids other lessons. And kids need both kinds of lessons,” Faust daughter concluded.
Amazingly, No.1 Faust daughter was able to identify three truths about marriage and family that escape most adults: 1) The public purpose of marriage is not about adult feelings, it’s about children. 2) No adult has a right to a child. 3) Men and women offer distinct and complementary benefits to child-rearing.
As she retold this lunch-time drama, I remember thinking, “Wow, it worked!” No. 1 Faust daughter had retained and could explain much of what we had been talking about at home. It was proof that not only can kids handle these big conversations, they thrive on them.
Parenting Is About Training
After our eldest daughter’s relatively sheltered elementary school life, my husband and I decided it was time for the “Great Equipping.” Our philosophy throughout her first decade of life had been focused on filtering out damaging ideas about worldview, gender, sex, etc. We strove to saturate her in truth and beauty during the phase wherein kids unquestioningly absorb everything they see and hear.
We limited her exposure to distorted depictions of sex, violence, and competing worldviews whether from media or agenda-driven adults. We encouraged scripture memorization, modeled imperfect-but-healthy relationships, and emphasized the purpose and inherent goodness of sex within marriage. But the time for sheltering was at an end because she was about to enter the ultimate worldview battleground — a woke Seattle public school.
The Great Equipping is the time in a child’s development when critical thinking begins, accompanied by questions like, “How do we know that’s true?” “But what if you’re wrong?” It’s easy for children to catch their parents off guard when they begin challenging core theological concepts that, only a month before, they were happily regurgitating. But fear not, these questions are an indication your kid is ready for more. They are ready to be experts.
We tell every one of our kids upon entering middle school, “We want you to know more about controversial topics than all your friends.” Yes, the Great Equipping means talking about difficult and uncomfortable subjects with our kids way before we’d like to.
But we really don’t have a choice, because the world is messaging to our kids nonstop about sex and transgenderism and every other topic that may make us squeamish. To the world, our discomfort is irrelevant. Having conversations with our kids about abortion or pornography may be discomforting, but choosing not to have them doesn’t protect our kids. It dooms them to leftist assimilation.
Uncomfortable as it is, the goal of parenting is not to keep kids safe or happy. The goal is training.
Pre-parenthood, my husband and I worked in youth ministry. We witnessed both ends of the parenting spectrum: the laissez-faire, uninvolved-and-unaware-of-what’s-going-on-in-their-child’s-world parents. Those kids were so overwhelmed by the messages and pressures of the world, they were often swallowed whole by the time they graduated high school.
On the other end of the spectrum were the Christian kids smothered with protection. These kids often fell apart when they went to college. Their parents’ extreme sheltering meant they never had a chance to come up against a worldview challenge, whether evolution or sexual morality or the veracity of scripture, which left them woefully outgunned when they encountered the slightest pushback.
My husband and I decided on a middle road: train our children on every question the world would throw at them while they were under our roof. That middle road demanded we take our role of “primary educators” seriously. Not only by laying a solid foundation of truth and beauty when our kids were young, but also by introducing them to competing worldviews in middle school. The summer before our oldest entered sixth grade, we studied abortion, transgenderism, same-sex attraction, socialism, and more.
Being the “primary educators” of our children means being the first to talk with them about difficult subjects. Why? Because the person who introduces your child to a new something, especially a sensitive something, is the person your kid will consider the authority.
For example, if the first time your kid hears about porn is when a fifth grader with a smartphone shoves a video in his face, where do you think he goes for more information? Even if your initial conversation is not exhaustive, the first person to tell your kids about tough issues has to be you. As the mothers who lead the grassroots marriage movement CanaVox often say, “Better a year too early than five minutes too late.”
While good programs are helpful, don’t think this training requires formal curriculum. My husband and I have opted for more of a Deuteronomy 6 approach wherein you incorporate worldview conversations as “you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
This brand of training is more of an incremental handoff than a course-completion. I once heard of a discipleship model that encapsulates this slow equipping:
Step 1. I do, you watch.
Step 2. I do, you help.
Step 3. You do, I help.
Step 4. You do, I watch.
By the time your kids exit childhood, you should be done with Step 1. Your kids should already have observed you living it. Our kids have witnessed their parents read about and work through difficult scriptural and worldview questions.
They’ve watched us respond to situations with, “I don’t know. Let me learn more and get back to you.” They’ve listened to us listen to political and worldview-forming podcasts. They’ve seen us survive the real-life fallout of speaking unpopular truth about cultural topics. Your kids should understand healthy marriage, friendship, and conversations because they’ve witnessed you living them. Modeling is a critical part of Step 1. You are “doing,” and they are “watching.”
When they are near the end of the innocent phase, you should introduce Step 2. As a Federalist reader, I assume you are engaged in apologetic or policy discussions online, yes? Invite your 10-year-old or 12-year-old to read your exchanges and discuss your critic’s objections. Ask your daughter to help you with your response.
What part of your argument is the strongest and the weakest? What would she add? When you want to share a powerful pro-life video, watch it with your son and ask him to help you write a few lines about the “rape exception” in abortion. You are “doing.” They are “helping.”
When they hit that phase where the Great Equipping begins, you should be in the midst of Step 2 and moving into Step 3. If they’ve been saturated in truth and beauty and received honest answers to honest questions, the urge to further investigate and defend their worldview comes naturally. They will likely start pushing back in their classrooms, engaging in difficult conversations with friends, or identifying objectionable content in the shows they are watching (preferably with you sitting on the couch next to them).
Step 3 done right looks like this: Your middle-schooler reports that his class discussion was based on the idea that “slaveholders in the South must’ve been Republicans because Republicans are racist.” You stay your fingers from typing an angry email to the teacher and instead ask your son, “Would you like to watch a video on the history of the Democratic Party together?” or “Would you like to read the first Republican Party platform, which denounces slavery as one of the ‘twin relics of barbarism’?” You “help” while they “do.”
Ideally, by the time our kids graduate high school, they regularly dwell in the land of Step 4. You “watch” them from the sidelines responding to objections. They are drafting their own social media comments about the harms of puberty-blockers and writing pro-life essays all on their own.
A precaution: There is no shortcutting this. Do not live in the fantasy that you can skip from Step 1 to Step 4. You arrive at Step 4 only after your kids have had a couple years in Step 2 and Step 3 and have had many opportunities to practice grappling through difficult topics in the safety of your home.
3. Balance Protection and Exposure
I don’t knock any parent who chooses private school or homeschool to protect their children from the world. The only mommy war I fight is the one that really matters — to insist that every child has a right to his or her mommy (and daddy). Whether your child takes a bus to school or just has to come to the kitchen table, Christian parents are responsible for equipping their kids.
Some Christians bristle when I tell them our children are in public school. They ask, “How could you allow them to be subjected to that liberal agenda?” Their concern is justified, of course. This educational path is wrought with daily political and religious friction. We have to evaluate, child by child and year by year, whether this friction is sharpening our kids or grinding them down. If it’s grinding them down, we retreat and regroup. If the friction results in stronger mental and spiritual acumen, then they remain.
Now spanning grades four through 11, our kids often share with us the difficult conversations they’ve had with friends or a ridiculous statement from a teacher, or lament some biased curriculum. Such conversations are followed by a heavy does of Step 3 as we conduct joint research into what the Bible says about that subject, as well as supporting natural law and social science arguments. Our two oldest have spent hours investigating the character of Christopher Columbus, whether our Founding Fathers were racist, the sexes wage gap, the truth claims of Islam, and more.
For example, recently, No. 2 Faust daughter stormed in and told me, “Mom, you wouldn’t believe what Jenna said! She said abortion was okay because ‘my body, my choice.’ I was so mad, but I didn’t know what to say.” Three hours later, after an exploration of videos on natal development and some research on pro-choice talking points, No. 2 Faust daughter said confidently, “The next time one of my friends says ‘my body, my choice,’ I’m going to say, ‘If it was your body you’d be the one dead at the end of the abortion.’”
I have seen the fruits of this Great Equipping in my friends’ children as well. One friend’s sixth-grade daughter, championing the pro-life cause while riding the school bus, successfully converted four pro-choice classmates by simply being prepared to have the conversation. Another friend found out during her seventh-grader’s conference that her child had spoken directly to the history teacher himself regarding his obvious political bias in the classroom, which resulted in a humbled, more mindful educator.
Of course, not every conversation will result in such tangible “wins.” Many times our kids will experience the same rejection we adults face when we stand for our convictions. The sure result will be, however, that every oppositional interaction they have will help to sharpen their minds, and that is always a win.
4. Stay Connected
One last thing, and it’s a big thing. These conversations will be impossible or have little effect if we aren’t connected to our kids. Connection comes not only from physical proximity — driving them to school, joint dinner prep, working in the yard together — but also from emotional proximity.
If your kids are going to navigate a hostile world of competing ideas, they must know you are the safe place to put all their questions, feelings, and doubts. You demonstrate this by not freaking out when they tell you their friend came out as bisexual, or when your little girl says she wants to marry Taylor Swift, or when your son wants to know what “trans” is. While your head may say “WTH!” your face needs say, “I’d love to talk with you about that.”
Have my husband and I achieved the right balance of modeling and exposing, sheltering and training? I hope so. But we are only at the virtual half-time in this parenting game. I’ll tell you what the scoreboard says in another decade when the game is over.
What I can say is that my kids can hold their own. They can spot a lie when they hear one. They know that answers to the hardest questions do exist, even if they don’t yet know what those answers are. They know their parents are in the fight with them. And they know that while they may lose friends if they speak up, they earn the respect of their friends who remain.