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You know the old saying as well as I do about hindsight being 20/20. This is because it’s really very easy to look back on the past and criticize others’ actions. I’m pretty sure people have been doing this from time immemorial. In fact, it’s quite likely that either Eve or Adam turned to the other at some point as they left the garden and said, “I told you those fig leaves weren’t a good idea.”
It seems like at least once or twice a week I hear about how some prominent figure in homeschooling circles has fallen; how children have been abused; how a marriage once held up as an exemplary model has crumbled. This narrative isn’t about that sort of thing at all. I’d like to share what my parents did right. And if you are a homeschooling parent, if you ever participated in the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), if you have children of any age, please listen to my story.
I was twenty-two years old. I’d been home educated through high school using ATI as the mainstay of our curriculum, and true to ATI ideals, I eschewed college for “apprenticeship opportunities” and “ministry oriented-goals.” I had just been through a difficult courtship, and I had not walked down an aisle. I held a minimum wage job. I had no friends my age in my hometown, no romantic prospects, and worst of all, no idea what to do next. I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do. There just wasn’t a script for “what to do after a courtship if you don’t get married.” I also had no idea what I wanted, other than nebulous concepts of God’s best for my life.
So, my parents and I talked. I cried. I journaled. And during one conversation my parents told me an amazing thing. This is one of the moments I think of when I look back on the things my parents did right.
They told me that they wanted me to be happy.
I don’t remember hearing this from them before. I certainly never heard it in ATI. My spiritual mentors such as frequent EXCEL speaker Elisabeth Elliot said things like, “God wants you to be holy, not happy.” Elliot reiterated that holiness means “wholeness,” but what I heard was “no happiness.” (Passion and Purity, page 43).
My parents wanted me to be happy. For me, having been raised with the emphasis on surrender to authority, surrender to God’s will, the focus on convictions, standards, seeking God’s best, this was freeing. I had a glimmer of hope as I heard their concern for me and for my future. I realized that they didn’t know what they were doing either. There was no hidden ATI script for “parents whose child just called off a courtship.” But they wanted me to be happy. They told me so. As I began to stretch my wings and figure out where God had called me and gifted me, this assurance gave me a lot of confidence.
I realize for Christian parents this is scary. You want your kids to turn out right. You what them to be godly, to make the hard choices, to choose the narrow way that leads to life. I understand that my own children are young. I know there are a lot of parents out there with years and years more experience than I have. But as I approach my 40’s, and look back on my life as an ATI teen, this is something I think needs to be said: it’s okay for your children to be happy. It’s okay for them to enjoy life. God will lead them to his best without guilt trips, and the most important thing you can do for your children is to live out your beliefs, to live out your love for God and for them.
This brings me to another thing my parents did right: they let me know how much they loved me. They didn’t always agree with my decisions as I reached my mid to late 20’s. They sometimes expressed this disagreement in ways I didn’t appreciate. But I never doubted my parents’ love for me.
I grew up. I went to college, got a job I loved, and made adult decisions. I traveled. I bought a car, then a house; I got married and had children. Now that I have children, I parent them differently than my mom and dad parented me. That’s okay. They did things differently than their parents did. But one thing I try to do daily is give my children the gifts my parents gave me: unconditional love and the knowledge that I want them to be happy in life.