Back in April I mentioned my interest in reading a book that’s received a far amount of buzz this year called Do Hard Things, written to a teen audience by twin Christian teenagers. Last week while visiting family in the northeast, I discovered that my 13-year old nephew had a copy so I perused it. I found it inspiring both in its content and in the family behind the book’s authors, a large Christian family that’s clearly intentional and God-focused in its parenting. (The twins’ older brother is the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, another thought-provoking and influential book, so clearly this family is raising leaders in the next generation).
The two big takeaways for me that I’ve been pondering since reading it are both related to expectations, and they’re these:
1. We parents need to raise our expectations for our children. A focal point in the book is that today’s teens are floundering and failing because society expects so little from them – expects them to goof off and cause trouble and flirt with sex, drugs, and alcohol. That contemporary teens do can be attributed in part to the reality that humans rise (or fall) to the expectations placed on them. Without high standards and a vision of who they can become, teens are often left lost and prone to yield to their worse instincts.
My thoughts went beyond these points raised in the book to the realities behind them. Before these kids were teens, they were children — and before that, preschoolers and toddlers. And generally speaking, low expectations characterized adults’ interactions with them right from their infancy. Because when you stop and look around – aren’t our expectations for kids pretty low in society today? One need only glance around the nearest playground or mall to see that it’s so. We don’t expect our kids to control their behavior (much), or their words, or their attitudes. We (wrongly) believe this type of self-control to be beyond their capacity, so we don’t insist they try. We don’t expect children to obey their parents or other authorities; we view tantrums as normal and age-appropriate. As Dr. Guarendi has written, “parents have been conditioned to ask, ‘Is this normal?” regarding their children’s behavior, rather than asking ‘Is it good?'”
Numerous times while I was visiting family members and friends whom we rarely see last week I received positive remarks about my children’s behavior – that they weren’t overly loud, for example; that they played pleasantly in a room with among mixed company; that they complied with my requests without negotiation. People were surprised to see these behaviors; why? Because my children are perfect, are exceptional? No, far from it. They just live in a house with two parents who have high expectations for their conduct, words, and attitudes. This has become a rarity. Which brings me to the next point, related, that struck me in the book.
2. It’s unhelpful for us to feel that see ourselves as succeeding in parenting because our children are ‘better than lots of other kids.’ The books authors, Alex and Brett Harris, challenge their teen readers to stop comparing themselves to others around them who are screw-ups, thereby lulling themselves into a false sense of success. The standards are low by every account, they say; just doing better than druggies or kids addicted to their Wii is insufficient. Don’t be known for what you don’t do; be known for what you do – for the positive impact you make, for striving and excelling. Don’t just coast by because the standards are so low.
What a pertinent message for us parents. I for one am guilty of observing a child on a grocery store floor having an all-out tantrum and thinking, “Well, at least my child doesn’t do that.” It’s easy to feel that we’ve arrived if our children regularly say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ obey us most of the time, and can sing “Jesus Loves Me.” Phew, we think. Our kids are doing better than most; we’re fine. Problem: the goal isn’t simply churched kids who behave passably well. The goal is kids who love and live for God or, as Elizabeth Krueger says, “godly children. That means you train their hearts to think as God thinks and their bodies to do what God would do.”
In the end, then, the book left me thinking about maintaining high expectations for my kids, so that they can be and become all that God intended them to be… And also maintaining high expectations for myself and my parenting – keeping my eye on what God is calling me to as I raise my children and not getting sidetracked with unhelpful comparisons to others.