I have mixed emotions as I think about our who I am as a father. I am a missionary. And when a missionary is visiting the United States, or wherever his/her home is, coming back to that place sometimes urges one to do some self-evaluation. Returning to where your roots are stirs you to ask, “how far have I come since I was here last time?” I have been thinking just that: “how am I doing as a Dad for my children?”
As I think about my role as a father, some challenges pop into my mind. Yes, being a dad from the “front seat of a car”, where I am supposed to provide insight and wisdom to a teenage daughter proves a distinct challenge. Here are two of those challenges.
First challenge: keep the school work top priority. Yes, we cannot let our daughter be “truant” just because we are 5,000 miles away from school. Home schooling an 11th grader, facing Geometry, US History, Grammar and Science demands not only her time and effort, but one of the parents as well, who in this case, is Mom.
I am assume that you already know that while in the US for a home ministry stretch requires that school age children still study. I mean who would put up with an academic slacker? But what about the matter of motivating or insisting on that assignment being done before the student goes to a church activity or meeting? And what about reminding her that school work while not limited by strict schedules cannot be put off indefinitely? And all this, while still showing parental concern about what she does or doesn’t understand. She is, after all my student and my daughter!
Sometimes this matter of trying to fulfill both roles—both teacher and parent—as many more families have learned in the flux of the home schooling movement, that one way to deal with this is to divide the tasks between parents. One parent teaches, and the other helps review, correct, encourage, and generally “pound it into their heads!” (as a figure of speech). But, the lines are not always so clearly drawn!
Parenting an MK poses unique challenges
And that’s where I find myself today. Our daughter is sitting on the couch, studying while Mom, who is the “first string” teacher, is preparing for the ladies meeting she is committed to speaking at today. At this juncture, the question becomes, “how do we divide the tasks this time?” And that is my challenge today.
I probably don’t have the ideal solution, but here is what I have been thinking. Since school work is a constant from now until we return to the field, and because Mom is preparing for a speaking commitment, the first priority is being “Dad” to my daughter. That means, keep reminding her of the assignments while offering study helps. But, if the student runs low on energy, I will step in and be there to support, to help share the burden, and be a source of encouragement, rather than be a hard-nosed teacher. After all, as I always say, “there are only 4 people who can call me Dad, and they will always deserve the best I can give them.”
The second challenge, not just for an MK or while in the States traveling, is how to instill in our daughter, or any of our children, true spiritual-mindedness and a tender heart for God and His Word? Of course this question requires much more thought and time. And actually it is one we have been asking ourselves for over 20 years or more, since our oldest daughter became a teenager. It’s a question that so many missionary parents wrestle with, especially when we know that our teenagers must fight (I use that word seriously) to live between two cultures, two “boxes” if you will, as a way of life. I am not here zeroing in on the “tri-culture kid” reality so much. I am only thinking of how to guide a teen to have a tender heart toward the things of God, and specially, toward spiritual genuineness. I want her to not be not trapped or swept away in the current trends of pop culture, infinitely unending distractions and critical attitudes toward all that is anchored in a moral and spiritual certainty.
My take on this subject ranges from the more structured, such as give the teen a spiritual journal, spending time every day in family Bible study and discussion and putting a Bible app on her tablet, to providing a more relaxed way like finding windows of opportunity to talk openly about issues, struggles, fears, or putting good reading material in her hands, or just sharing personal lessons from life. It is crucial after all that she learns to stand against those practices that are self-destructive. The reality is, however, that there is probably never just “one silver bullet” to meet the need in a teen’s life!
While not trying to over simplify things, at this point in time, our teen’s spiritual life needs to be built up, encouraged and supported. She has been getting to know a pastor’s wife in one of our supporting churches. The pastor’s wife asks simple, loving and open ended questions, which are to draw out her deeper thoughts and feelings. Through this simple, personable and timely approach which I have witnessed in just two short encounters with this pastor’s wife, that lady is on to something! She is building a friendship with our teen and opening up windows into her soul. Looking and listening, asking and digging in, helping her see and understand her own reality as she grows, matures, and faces new challenges.
Spiritual growth, spiritual-mindedness, tenderness towards the Word and toward God himself can often come in little doses and from other fellow pilgrims. Praise God for a chance for our MK to hear from other people as with this caring, joyful cancer survivor who as a pastor’s wife who just knows when and how to ask a valid and yet constructive question!
What to do to help our teenage daughter respond to God’s love and truth? One great option is to let her see it played out in the life of others who also love and follow the Lord. That can open doors to her heart, and allow me as Dad, to show that parents can learn too.
David L. Rogers, M.A.Min.
Atlantic City, NJ