Parenting

'Daddy, why are those people sleeping in the park?'

MY 5-YEAR-OLD daughter, Zoe, is in preschool. This means, as most parents of school-age children know, that there is a birthday party to attend approximately every other weekend of the year.

On the way to one of these myriad celebrations, we stopped by the church in downtown Portland, Ore., where my wife, Amy, is the senior pastor. She had a daylong meeting, and we needed to switch cars, as hers was the one with the gift in it.

As we came down the front steps of the church and onto the South Park Blocks, a local city park, we saw at least half a dozen emergency vehicles parked in a haphazard formation along the street and on the sidewalk in front of a small public restroom. Several officers were standing together, making calls on their radios and discussing the situation at hand. At their feet was what appeared to be a lifeless body, lying on the pavement underneath a blue tarp.

“Daddy,” Zoe said, “what are those police mans doing in the park?”

“I’m not sure, honey,” I said, “but it looks like somebody needed their help.”

“Is somebody in trouble?”

“Something like that,” I sighed. “Make sure you don’t drag that gift bag on the ground. We don’t want to mess up your friend’s present before we get to the party.”

My first thought was, God, please don’t let it be Michael. Michael is a man about my age who lives outside and wrestles daily with an addiction to alcohol, among several other things. We have helped him get sober, only to see him relapse. We helped him get into supportive housing, only to watch him get into a fight and get thrown back out onto the street.

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The Struggles of Christian Parenting

Father and son, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Father and son, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Every mother and father know the struggles, frustrations, unrealistic expectations, horrific fears, and exhaustive drama associated with raising children, but let me just say this: Christianity adds an entirely new dimension to the chaos that is parenting.

Besides an assortment of play dates, sports activities, school classes, music events, and other social obligations, Christianity requires the additional burden of attending an endless array of church activities.

Mission trips, youth groups, service projects, summer camps, volunteer activities, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, evangelism outings, and church services require tons of time — it’s a huge commitment.

Christian culture goes out of its way to accommodate parents and their children, and while this is a good thing, it also adds social expectations that can often feel burdensome and frenetic — leading to burnout.

VIDEO: "American Promise"

In “Enduring Family Values” (Sojourners, April 2014), Lisa Sharon Harper highlights the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s report, “Fathers’ Involvements with their Children.” According to Harper, “black men were actually more likely than any other group to maintain contact and involvement in their children’s daily lives while living apart,” as well as feed, bathe, diaper, and read to them daily.

Though the report reinforces that African-American men are responsible fathers, a recent documentary shows that their children are often facing issues of inequality and implicit biases in their private lives and education.

American Promise, a PBS POV film, follows two African-American boys from kindergarten through high school as they experience assumptions and stereotypes in their education systems. Watch below to explore the complex reality of what it takes to educate and parent African-American children—all while maintaining family values.

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Enduring Family Values

NEARLY 50 YEARS ago, the U.S. Department of Labor issued one of the most controversial and influential reports of our time, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” aka “The Moynihan Report,” named after its author Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The March 1965 report offered our nation’s first comprehensive look at the roots of poverty in the African-American community 100 years after the Civil War. The picture wasn’t pretty.

Pointing to black poverty’s roots, Moynihan started with the hell that was the U.S. slave system: “American slavery was profoundly different from, and in its lasting effects on individuals and their children, indescribably worse than, any recorded servitude, ancient or modern.” Going on to quote Nathan Glazer, Moynihan illuminated the absolute powerlessness and dehumanization of enslaved black people under antebellum law and within the social structures of slavery.

Moynihan went on to examine the impact of the Reconstruction period, urbanization, unemployment, and inequitable wages on African Americans’ economic station in U.S. society. He concluded that the single greatest result of these forces was black families’ demise. And the single greatest result of this demise was entrenched poverty, according to Moynihan.

A 2013 Urban Institute report, “The Moynihan Report Revisited,” reflected that in the early 1960s Moynihan was alarmed that 20 percent of black children lived in single parent households with their mothers (not their fathers), but by 2010, 20 percent of white families lived in such households while 53 percent of black children were being raised by their mothers. According to the Urban Institute, fatherlessness in the U.S. has gotten worse, and it is no respecter of race.

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Grace At Home: Thoughts On Christian Parenting From The 'Village Priest'

"Offering your child to God is a way of offering yourself to God again, and it felt that way to me. For the religious and not, there is a powerful spirituality in the birth of a child. Already, we're learning a little about the unconditional love of God for us in the way we feel about our own child. Through one of the most universal human experiences, parent after parent is taught the lessons of love and life. And all is grace." - Jim Wallis, following the birth of his son, Luke

How Not to Raise a Daughter

The author's daughter. Photo by Brandon Hook

The author's daughter. Photo by Brandon Hook

I became a mom for the first time in November. Insert here all of the cliché observances about life-changing experiences and never knowing love before and having a better understanding of God and whatnot. Of course, they’re all true, but so are most clichés.

There are also things no one tells you, instead using above clichés to paper over the less desirable realities of parenthood. No one told me about that feeling — the feeling that the word “overwhelming” doesn’t even begin to describe. No one told me that feeling that makes you weep inconsolably and go off the rails at the thought of leaving the house is actually what it means to love your child. That size of love is truly overwhelming.

While I was pregnant, I tried really hard to avoid all of the parenting books — how to raise well-behaved children, the countless “methods” for getting your child to sleep, how to master breastfeeding (“the most natural thing in the world!” ugh, wrong) — in favor of being a “go-with-the-flow” type parent. In fact, the only book I really read and still lives in a stack by my nightstand is The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year.

And being the future mother of a girl, I had grand ideas about “protecting” her from human-made gender norms. I ordered the “Forget Princess; Call Me President” onesie. I shunned head-to-toe pink (for about a week). I created a collage wall in her nursery of black-and-white photos of all of the badass women in her family she has to look up to.

And then this week I caught myself doing something that has the potential to harm my daughter more than being drenched in pink and purple for the next 18 years ever could.

Grace at Home: Thoughts on Christian Parenting from the ‘Village Priest’

Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /Shutterstock.com

Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Joy Carroll Wallis' chapter of the book Faith Forward: A Dialogue on Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity.

“Offering your child to God is a way of offering yourself to God again, and it felt that way to me. For the religious and not, there is a powerful spirituality in the birth of a child. Already, we’re learning a little about the unconditional love of God for us in the way we feel about our own child. Through one of the most universal human experiences, parent after parent is taught the lessons of love and life. And all is grace.” Jim Wallis, following the birth of his son, Luke

Jim and I grew up in Christian families, which brought with it both advantages and disadvantages. My father was a clergyman in the Church of England in the inner city of South London. Jim’s parents were the founders and leaders of a Plymouth Brethren congregation in Detroit. We both rebelled and returned and our stories are well documented in the books we have written.

One of the best gifts that we experienced as the children of Christian leaders was that of an open home. Exposure to family, and friends from many different cultures and walks of life helped shape us. But, more importantly, it allowed us to grow up participating in the ministry of hospitality – and that has stuck. The Wallis home is known to be an “open house.” Our guest room belongs to many people: from a professor teaching a course in town, to a church leader participating in a fellowship program or conference; from a patient recovering from major surgery or illness, to a summer intern visiting from a far-flung part of the world. To add to this, the basement and boys’ rooms are often filled with teenagers or most of a baseball team, and our dining table is full to capacity on a regular basis.

One day when just the members of our family were sitting down to eat dinner, Jim asked who would like to say grace. Jack, who was about four at the time, looked around and said, “But we don’t have enough people!”

The Elf on the Shelf Can Stay

Ladybugbkt/Flickr/Creative Commons

This elf keeps an eye out from a wine glass. Ladybugbkt/Flickr/Creative Commons

It’s taken me a few years, but I’ve decided to relax about him. I refuse to beat myself up over his presence anymore. He’s okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong — he’s annoying and I have concerns. And I know that many of my fellow parents will disagree, and that’s okay. This makes me cringe, but that little Elf on the Shelf can stay.

After some debate, my wife bought the Elf on the Shelf in 2010. If you aren’t familiar with the Elf on the Shelf myth, it goes something like this: Apparently Santa is incapable of knowing if children have been bad or good on his own, so Dec. 1 to Dec. 24 that Jolly Old Elf sends his little elves to houses to spy on boys and girls. Their job is to check to see if children are being naughty or nice. So, each morning before anyone is awake, our Elf flies in from the North Pole and hides in a different spot in our house. When our children wake up — noticeably earlier in December than any other month — they look for him. Yup, it’s hide-and-seek every morning with the Elf. Then, the National Security Agency Elf spies on our children throughout the day. When our children fall asleep at night, the Elf flies back to the North Pole to provide Santa with a report on how our children have behaved. Then the Elf promptly flies back to our house, hides in a new place, and the morning hide and seek ritual begins again.

Truth be told, my children love it. They. Love. It. They can’t wait to wake up in the morning and search for that little Elf. 

Raising Children to Be Global Citizens

Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences, and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given. For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or, other possession that could be associated with “success.” As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series. It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.

And then we had kids …

10 Decisions You Can Make to Change the World

Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

After traveling the country this spring — while keeping an eye on Washington, D.C. — I am more convinced than ever that our personal decisions, choices, and commitments will change the world more than our politics. The message in the Epilogue to On God’s Side says this as well as I could do again. It’s short and very practical. Here it is:

The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make. The “commons” — those places where we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space — will never be better than the quality of human life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.

Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.

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