Identity Directed Home Schooling

This article is excerpted from a seminar by Chris Davis of The Elijah Company in the CD set From Home School to Home Business.

Most of us who home-school strive to give our children positive experiences with relationships and try to limit their exposure to people and circumstances that reinforce teen rebellion. So why, in home-schooling families, do we have children who begin to pull away from their parents as they reach puberty?

I have watched this happen time after time in close-knit Christian families, and I have also seen the stress this causes between parents and children. Even when the child-parent relationship seems strong, children can begin to develop a sense of “otherly-ness” when they reach the teen years, and too often parents interpret this “pulling away” as rebellion or rejection. Is this a sign of rebellion or rejection of the family values we parents have so carefully guarded? I want to suggest another interpretation of this often painful time in the lives of teens and their parents.

I don’t consider my children’s teen years a time to simply endure, as in “This too shall pass.” Instead, I prefer to say that these are the “Years of Identification.” I use this phrase because I believe that too many parents dislike and fear adolescence; but if they understood the dynamics of the teen years, they would look forward to them with real excitement.

I believe that when God gives a child to parents, that child comes prepackaged with a set of giftings and callings uniquely his or her own. Inside that child is a seed which, if properly nourished, will grow up into the mature expression of what is within that seed. Just as simply as an acorn (which looks nothing at all like an oak tree) becomes an oak tree under the right conditions, so a child will (under the right conditions) grow up to become exactly the person his Father created him to become.

Destiny

Christians don’t speak much of “destiny” anymore, mainly because it has become a catch-word among humanists and New Agers. But we need to look again at the concept of destiny. The Bible is full of hints that each one of us is created for a specific time and purpose in God’s unfolding plan.

Ephesians 2: 10 even says we each have “good works which God predestined for us” before the world was ever created. Before time began, God had your son or daughter on His mind, He chose your child, and He prearranged a life for him or her to live. So parents, those teenagers in your home are not just biological events. They are beings pre-determined by God and destined to, just as the Bible says of David, “serve their generation well.”

During the teen years, children begin to realize they are not just extensions of their parents, but have their own identities and destinies. When the child’s developing identity is very different from the parents’ expectations, there can be a lot of relational grief and adversity.

Family tensions are compounded because the child (being a child) will tend to express his still developing identity in immature and inappropriate ways. If you want a biblical example of an adolescent who created family tensions because he had a special destiny, just read the story of Joseph. He must have been one obnoxious teen!

I have seen much that is adversarial in home-schooling a teen be nothing more than the parents’ inability to let go of personal expectations and accept what God may be creating in the child, even though that creation is still very rough around the edges.

We may have dreams of our children following certain careers (like becoming missionary doctors), or having certain temperaments (compliant, sensitive to the needs of others, respectful), or excelling at certain skills (like math or science or music), or even accomplishing one of our goals (like getting a basketball scholarship to college). When a child doesn’t follow our dreams, and even seems resistant to fulfill them, it is easy to form negative opinions: he’s lazy, he’s not trying, he’s resistant, he doesn’t have any initiative, he’s rebellious, he’s uncooperative, and so on.

The simple truth may be that we are forcing the child to fit a mold he was never created to fill, and his spirit is reacting to the pressure. We are trying to make our child into something he was never meant to be. There are a thousand little ways we may be doing this—from forcing him to have the same interests we have, to trying to make him become involved in activities we wish we could have been involved in when we were young, to sending him through a course of study that has nothing to do with what God Himself wants this child to prioritize educationally, and on and on.

Could we actually be violating our child’s spirit by pressuring him to become someone God never meant him to be? Could the resistance we see simply be his way of coping with the pressure?

Frustrating a child

When a child becomes resistant, resentful, or obnoxious, and we parents are tempted to label them as rebellious and disrespectful, we should ask ourselves, “What’s really going on here? Is there something God has placed in this child that we are not respecting and encouraging? Is he struggling with a sense of destiny that leads him in a different direction than the direction we are trying to make him go? Is his way of being a person different from our way?”

At this point, three types of trust are critical. First, we must trust God—trust that He knows what He is doing, trust that He has put this “seed” of identity and destiny in our child, trust that He is capable of bringing that seed to fruition, and trust that He will “clue us in” about who our child really is and whether what we are dealing with is identity-related or is truly rebellion.

Second, we must trust ourselves—trust that all of our effort to be good parents and give our children a nurturing, Christian upbringing will ultimately be rewarded, even though we made plenty of mistakes.

Third, we must trust our child, and this is the hardest kind of trust to have. It is also very humbling, because this kind of trust requires us to relax our parent roles where we are “large and in charge” and become more like older brothers or sisters in Christ to our sons and daughters. We must trust that all the good and godly input we gave over the years actually lodged in our child’s heart, and is really in there, even though we can’t see any evidence of it.

We must also trust that our child has a deep enough relationship with the Lord to actually hear from God and respond to Him, even though that response may be expressed in foolish or immature ways. When we start trusting our children’s relationships with the Lord, we allow them to have more and more say in who they are and what they want to do with their time, and we begin respecting their individuality.

Training up a child

We have all heard the biblical injunction to “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Most often this Bible verse in Proverbs is used to justify moral training, but that is not all the verse is about.

The Hebrew word which is translated “to train up” is also used in another place in the Bible. When Solomon dedicated the Temple, the word translated “dedicate” is the same Hebrew word used in the Proverbs verse as “train up.” This Hebrew word means to “discriminate,” to “narrow the focus.”

Simply put, as a child grows up, we the parents should be continually narrowing the focus of this child’s set of educational and practical experiences to be more and more specific to who this child was created to be. When “dedicated” (the focus narrowed, or the Temple identified as to what it really was), the Temple could never again be considered whatever those watching might have speculated was being constructed in their midst. It was the Temple of God! It was not a racquetball court, a school, or the king’s palace.

God created your child. He gave this future young man or young woman to you. As the years go by, He will let you know who this child is (or is to become). Each child is different. Some children are so different from the other members of their families that parents can hardly comprehend how to best help them. Parents should pay attention to each of their children and ask the Creator to constantly give them insight into who each child is. Slowly but surely, the Spirit of God—the unseen Presence in your home—will let you know His design for each child you are raising.

With this growing knowledge, you will be able to give that child an education (actually a growing-up experience) tailored to his specific needs, and one which will prepare him or her to fully become the person God had in mind before the foundation of the world.

When you are “narrowing the focus” so that you concentrate on certain things, you will have to leave other things “out of focus;” you will have to let go of the “good” for the sake of the “best.” Perhaps the biggest fear of home-schooling parents is that their children will have learning “gaps”—that something will be left out of their child’s education.

Because of this, and because our society promotes over-achievement, parents tend to try and cover too much, to make their children knowledgeable about everything. The better approach would be to use the elementary years to build a general academic foundation, but then continually “narrow the focus” as the children grow older and as the parents have a better understanding of each child’s unique skills, interests, and giftings.

It takes both time and resources to be good at anything. Helping a child find his identity means money must be spent on resources and experiences. It means time must be spent paying attention to the child’s personality, abilities, and likes and dislikes. It means emotional energy must be spent working through the inevitable relational problems that arise from trying to get to know children as people, not just as “kids.” It also means giving your children the large blocks of time they need to become good at whatever it is they need to master.

Consider the following statistics:

1. The average college student now takes six years to finish a degree since he changes majors 2.3 times (and 40% never finish at all).

2. Only 10% of those who finish college go on to work in the field for which they spent years and thousands of dollars preparing.

3. The average American changes jobs seven times and has three complete career changes.

4. Many adults, especially men, experience a period of emotional turmoil in mid-life when they question their meaning and purpose. This event is so common that society has coined a term for it: “identity crisis.”

How do I interpret these statistics? One thing seems fairly obvious to me. Americans are trying to figure out who they are and what to do with their lives! I don’t want my sons to contribute to these statistics. I would like to believe each boy could enter adulthood with a fairly clear sense of identity and having had the time, resources, and emotional support to become really good at what he does best.

Our three sons have never known any other form of schooling but home-schooling. They have now all graduated from home school and gone on to Bible school or straight into a career. We have had a close family and strong relationships for years, and all my sons are walking with the Lord.

But as they entered puberty, they no longer saw themselves as mere extensions of Mom and Dad. They began to develop a personality, character, and dominant traits that said, “I am someone different and not just an extension of you.” The way they expressed their differences was often inappropriate and immature and sometimes offended me.

So I had to look beyond their behavior and try to distinguish their true identity. I could look beyond their behavior because I believe two things: first I believe that my sons are children of God, which means they are not just my sons but also are my brothers in Christ; second, I believe my sons, imperfect as they may be, genuinely want to become men of God. Believing these two things, I can place myself “alongside” them in the role of brother as well as “above” them in the role of father in the process of helping them find out who they are. I can also trust that “He who began a good work” in my sons “will be faithful to complete it.”

Fathers identify their children

A special plea to fathers: I am convinced that one of the most important responsibilities a father has is to identify his children. What do I mean by “identify?” I mean that he helps his children know who they really are. Over the years I have realized just how powerful a father’s words can be in the lives of his children.

We fathers are constantly identifying our children with our words. Unfortunately, many of us speak words which say, in effect, “You are no good. You are not worth much. You will never amount to anything. You’ll never make it.” Over time our children incorporate what we speak over them into their identity and begin thinking: “I am not very smart/good/pretty/worthy, etc.” With our words we fathers have not only given our children negative identities, but we have undermined God’s identities for them.

What else do I mean when I talk about a father identifying his children? I mean the father pays attention to what the Holy Spirit reveals as identifying characteristics the child is showing on a daily basis. What does the child like to do in his or her spare time? What toys does the child like, or what games is the child good at? What broad areas (such as people skills or mechanical skills) is the child beginning to exhibit?

As you see these (often only with an internal eye), take the time to speak words of positive identification to the child, such as “I notice you are really good at working with machinery. You seem to be able to sense what is wrong with a piece of equipment and you can usually figure out how to fix it.”

I do this when the boys are together with me (and I make sure this happens often). I will tell Seth, “I am always amazed and impressed when you are able to look at a problem and go right to the source of what’s wrong. You may be wondering why I am always calling on you when I can’t figure out what’s wrong with the computer or lawn mower, etc. That’s because I know you can tell me right away. You have tremendous problem-solving skills. I believe you could take just about any problem and solve it.”

My second son James may be listening to these words. He knows he cannot do the things Seth can do, and he will begin to feel a little jealous of Seth and how I am able to say such good words to his brother. Everyone needs a benediction—not flattery, mind you—but exactly what the word “benediction” means (bene: good, diction: word): “good words.”

So James may ask, “And what about me, Dad?” I turn to James and say, “James, you are not very good at these things.” James knows this already, but he is a little surprised that I would say so. He wants me to say something good about him, too. But part of defining James is to let him know who he is not. He is not a problem-solver, but he has other strengths.

Now I am able to say to James, “The reason you are not very good at the things Seth can do is that God has put in you completely different abilities. James, you are one of the most ‘people’ persons I know. Even little children follow you around.”

“Everyone loves you, James, and you are a strong man of God. People watch you, and you give them the courage to trust the Lord in their lives because you, as a young man with many health problems, are trusting in the Lord for your future: a future filled with music and drama, because that’s who James is.”

When I am through talking to James, he has no desire to be like Seth. He is James—that unique person who is like no one else. And so it is with Blake, and so it should be with each of our children. It is the great responsibility and joy of fathers to do this for their children. It is one way of imparting the “blessing” so often mentioned in the Bible.

Let us seek to identify our children and give them the great edge others leave home without: a sense of who they are meant to become, and the skills to begin on the path of what they came into the world to do.

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