Become a Proactive Parent
(and Stop Overreacting!)
by Audra Jennings Friday, April 16, 2010
Real World Parents is also the source for the parenting seminars of the same name, which will be presented beginning in the spring of 2010 by seasoned youth workers around the country (over 200 pastors and youth leaders have received training to present Real World Parents). Matlock’s vision is to empower churches (who he calls “the people doing the real ministry”) to spread this emerging parenting model on a local level.
To find out about Real World Parents seminars and presenters in your area, visit www.RealWorldParents.com.
Q & A with Mark Matlock, author of Real World Parents
Q: How is Real World Parents different from other parenting books and philosophies?
A: There are several big differences. I've been frustrated over the years with some teaching on parenting built around making parents feel guilty. There are teachers, authors, books, and programs that build parenting models based on our common fear that we’re going to mess up our kids—or that we’ve already messed up our kids. That’s an easy road that plays on our fears and appeals to our guilt over areas where we struggle. Then these authors suggest that their program or perspective is our final hope to “get it right” or, worse, to do it the only way God intends for it to be done.
That’s not what Real World Parents is about. As an author, I’m not trying to use parents’ fears and anxieties against them. We all have those feelings. I have them. If you could spend a little time with my family, you’d quickly see that we have issues of our own. Those prone to critique parents would have no trouble finding things for which to criticize us. So, no, I’m not interested in beating us all up to somehow make us feel better or more motivated as parents.
Real World Parents is not so much about the things we do as parents. It’s about who we are. That's what this book is about. We’re not interested in presenting more artificial techniques and methodology to “fix” our kids or do what Christian families are “supposed to do.” Rather we want to discover how to live for God in a real way, right in front of our kids, so they can’t help but catch the big picture that God and
His Word mean the world to us and that living for Jesus really works in the Real World.
Q: It often seems like the world is more dangerous and that parenting is more challenging in this time than it ever has been. In Real World Parents, you reveal some startling statistics that suggest this is a wrong assumption—that in fact, the world is not getting worse. Why haven’t we heard this news lately, and why does it matter what we believe about “what’s out there”?
A: Sometimes Christians are absolutely convinced of the big truths of God’s story of the universe—creation, the virgin birth, God’s love for the world, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins—but still arrive at the wrong conclusions about the way that story is playing out in the world right now. And sometimes the church—and those who market messages to the church—doesn’t help parents come up with the right story, either.
Let’s put it this way: When it comes to teen drinking, smoking, and sexual choices, do you think things have gotten better or worse in the last twenty years? Our answers to these questions are shaped by the stories we’re being told by the secular media and even by Christian writers and speakers. Those of us who live in church subculture have even more people telling us stories than those who don’t, because we’re listening both inside and outside the walls.
Frankly, sometimes the messages that come from inside the walls are distorted or just flatly untrue. Why? A certain segment of Christian storytelling is heavily dependent on selling books, filling chairs, and raising money. That segment is driven to tell stories that sell, that motivate a specific kind of action. And it’s easy to slant the story in ways that don’t line up with reality. In other words, it’s sometimes helpful to those trying to sell a story if that story demonstrates that everything is constantly getting worse—because that motivates well-intentioned people to pay attention and/or write checks. The fallout for parents, though, can be a lot of fear and misperception about the world their kids are growing up in. We end up telling them the wrong story.
Why does this matter? If we’re parenting out of fear based on incomplete stories, we’re less likely to make the right decisions. We need to be open to reevaluating our assumptions and rethinking the stories we’ve believed for so long. The truth is parenting is not harder now than it has ever been. Things aren’t necessarily getting better, but they’re not worse either. Things are just different.
Q: Why don’t you devote more time in the book discussing kids’ behavior? Shouldn’t parents teach their children to behave?
A: That’s a good question. When my kids came along, though, and I started making my way through all the different kinds of Christian parenting books, I noticed that a lot of them focused on helping me figure out how to raise well-behaved, well-mannered kids. And while that's an important element, not much focused on raising kids to have hearts that seek after Christ. Of course we can't force that kind of spiritual openness and connectedness with God onto our kids, but we can learn to create in our Real World homes environments that promote such growth.
In my experience, books about tips, techniques, and tricks succeed at making readers feel good for a while. They make us feel hopeful, like we’re doing something about the problem. But they often fail in the long run because we just can’t keep it up. We can’t change the personalities of our families enough to fit the models of the new programs on an ongoing basis.
What we don’t want to generate are well-behaved kids who mindlessly follow our directions without ever willfully owning the faith in Jesus they see in us. The goal of parenting, in the long run, isn't for our kids to be known for how well behaved they are, but for how well they know and respond to God.
Q: Since changing our children’s behavior is not the point of parenting, what should parents be focusing on?
A: In a way, our children’s behavior is kind of like the tip of an iceberg. From countless illustrations we all know that the part of the iceberg that sits above the waterline is just a fraction of the object’s total size. As such, you could conceivably make all kinds of alterations to the exposed part of the iceberg—i.e. the outward stuff (behaviors)—without significantly altering the iceberg itself.
What we've got to get at in our own lives and in the lives of our kids is the 80 or so percent of the berg that’s under the waterline. In our illustration, that represents one’s worldview. We believe that our behaviors are ultimately driven by our understanding of the way the world works, of what we believe to be true and false about the universe, of our perception of reality.
And that’s what we want to focus on as Real World Parents. How can we communicate God’s worldview to our kids? What story are we telling them about the universe, both intentionally and—more importantly—in the way we live with and for God over time?
Q: Why don’t more parents communicate God’s worldview to their children? What would you say to those parents who aren’t sure where to begin?
A: Too often we believe it is the church’s job to tell our kids God’s story, to make sure they know God, Scripture, and their responsibility to follow both. But research shows that the teenagers who really take ownership of their parents’ understanding of the story of God are the ones who have heard and seen it at home. As researcher Christian Smith puts it, a parent is “the most important pastor a teenager will ever have.”
But don’t worry! This is not about holding family devotionals or any other prescribed “spiritual activity.” Every four or five months my own dad would hear some program on Christian radio about family devotions, and he would come home determined to make the idea work for our family, but it never worked because in our house. That felt forced and unnatural. And yet, all four of my father’s sons grew into men with a real passion and appreciation for God’s Word.
Why? Ultimately we were convinced of the worldview contained in the pages of Scripture because we saw our parents openly endorsing it, talking about it, learning from it, and living it out day after day, year after year. That was enough for us—despite the failed attempts at family devotions.
I don’t know of any other way to communicate God’s story than living in it ourselves day after day—to make talking about God and God’s Word as natural a part of our family life as talking about school or sports and what’s for dinner. If our kids don’t hear and observe that God’s revelation through His Word is important to us, why would we expect it to be important to them?
Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Families Living in the Real World by Mark Matlock
Zondervan/Youth Specialties March 2010
ISBN: 978-0-3106-6936-4/143 pages/softcover/$12.99
Audra Jennings is Senior Media Specialist at The B & B Media Group. Since 1987, The B & B Media Group, Inc. has used its broadcasting, marketing and advertising experience to provide the specialized and strategic publicity necessary to achieve the public relations goals of each client. The Barnabas Agency, a division of The B & B Media Group, Inc., is a proven provider of exceptional public relations and personal management services for authors, speakers, ministries and organizations.
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