Category Archives: Parenting (General)

Left Wing Radicals and Real Life

Reading Alexei Sayle’s Stalin Ate My Homework was an interesting experience for me. Reading it was fun but a little unsettling in places, finishing left me with a bit of an OMG have I been an awful parent moment.

To put this in context I better start by summarising the book which outlines Sayle’s childhood. Alexei’s parents were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and left wing political activists in Liverpool. There were various things which Sayle was and wasn’t allowed as a result of his parents ideological beliefs. He went on exotic family holidays to Eastern Bloc countries and lived a bohemian lifestyle in working class Anfield.

There is a strange analysis of the politics and the reality of his own erratic behaviour, as well as his mothers but within it is a clear love and respect for his parents.

He describes how as he grew up and got involved in revolutionary politics within the late 1960’s there came a point where he had to deal with the feelings of dissonance which were emerging. Those were the most unsettling bits for me. In the book he says, “My only real problem with being a Marxist-Leninist was that I didn’t believe a word of it, or rather I totally believed it and totally didn’t believe in it, all at the same time. The trouble with any kind of fundamentalist organisation is that it cannot be big on subtlety or nuance…..Unfortunately your mind will not allow you to get away with the kind of split-brain thinking I tried to stick to. Psychological tensions rise to the surface and tend to find outlet in erratic behaviour.” (P232)

I would remove the word fundamentalist and perhaps replace it with ideological and then say this sums up exactly why many of us have had a problem with church over the years and sometimes/often still do.

As I say my own reaction to the book was also to smile in places. I wasn’t bought up in a communist household, but my father was, what Sayle describes in his left wing classification system, ‘a fellow revolutionary’. So I understood something of what he was talking about on a level which was slightly more than just this is well written and funny. It also gave me some good memories.

My dad didn’t ban things like Sayle’s parents did, mine being an anarchist who believed that we should be allowed to choose but he did give us political lectures to help us make good choices. For example because my friends were I took the 11+ and got offered an assisted place at the local private Girls School. My dad took me off and gave me a talk on how it was entirely up to me and if I insisted on going they would somehow make it work but I did have to take into account my class history and the fight for free education in this country, realising that I would be betraying my class if I did go. It was enough to put me off going to a school which would have been wrong for me for a range of reasons.

Then there was the time when my mum was in hospital with my younger brother, who was having an operation to correct his cleft lip and palate, and so unable to physically stop us. I was interested in CND and so against my mums wishes dad took me and my friend off to Molesworth to protest against the stationing of nuclear weapons there one Easter. When I went back to school our Geography teacher asked us to write about something we’d done in the holidays. We then looked at how much of the class had done what – there was only one of us in the category of ‘political demonstration’.

Then there was the “OMG have I been an awful parent?” moment. Reading through I was aware that whilst I am not a communist and did not go on exotic holidays as a left-wing Christian I did subject Third Party to a “different” childhood. I knew and have always acknowledged it wasn’t average but have always looked on it as having taken her on a series of adventures she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

On the political side there were the various demonstrations she was taken on. There was time we dressed up as dinosaurs and stood outside the council offices to protest at cuts to the museum service, then there were the anti-fees actions she went on as a toddler (I remember vividly the day after one national demo when she marched out of church and into Sunday School singing education is a right not a privilege). Peace wise there were the anti-war demo’s, (not sure what her school friend I was looking after the evening war broke out made of being dragged on the local action in Canterbury). Then there was this trip to Aldermaston which I guess a teenage Third Party saw very differently to me. And so I could go on.

Perhaps two of the maddest adventures of all involved Surfing as well as myself around the time of Make Poverty History. There was our London all nighter at Wake Up to Trade Justice  which didn’t go quite to plan when we didn’t get into Methodist Central Hall because it was full and ended up spending the night with another friend and three kids on the green outside (see this post). Then was the big demo in Edinburgh when we did the night coach up and back, going on the demo and listening to Gordon Brown at a Christian Aid rally in between (one post on it all here). Photo at the bottom, which I notice also has next years vice-president of the Methodist Conference smiling away in the background, was taken that day, when I thought it was a great idea to rush over with Third Party and get her photo taken with the chancellor (as he was then) – just as a bit of a memento of the day.

To be fair I did often try and make national demo’s a bit more fun for her by taking a detour into Hamley’s or Hard Rock Cafe or some such other capitalist enclave to try and turn it into a bit of a treat.

The discussions on what and didn’t come into our house and what she was/wasn’t allowed to do normally just involved ethical shopping and buying fair trade. However, there was I remember a big thing when she was about 13 because her friends were all getting playboy merchandise and I said no, probably giving her a feminist lecture in the process.

Then there were the holidays she went on with me. Apart from the time I got a tax rebate and took her to Disneyland Paris, these were trips to Christian conferences or music festivals (or in the case of Greenbelt a hybrid of the two). There were also for a few years our annual trips to the Isle of Wight for the Wib/Ship meet.

To put this in context for those not familiar. Spring Harvest, (which was what we did when she was really little), involved a trip to a Butlins in Skeggie or Minehead (or in one case somewhere in Wales) where she was taken off for children’s activities for part of the day. As with Detling which she went to through her junior school years there were ‘family celebrations’ which would involve lots of action songs in the early evening. Then she would be left in the chalet/ tent area with somebody, (most of the time not me), in the evening whilst the main adult celebration was taking place. The thing was we always went in assorted groups and so the adults would take turns in doing the childcare.

As she got older and we went on the wib/ship meets and to Greenbelt she would invariably end up camping / staying on a boat with mums friends off the internet.

The music festivals were different, that’s when she got to spend time with grandad and her uncles too. This always had the aspect of being ‘grandad’s work’ though.

As I say until I read Sayle’s book I don’t think I realised how different the childhood I had given Third Party might be. I knew that the other people, with money, took their families on other ‘normal’ holidays as well as off to these festivals and conferences but we didn’t have the resources, and to be fair I’m not sure what I would have done as a single mum on one of these ‘normal’ holidays where things to do weren’t included and set out for you. Reading Stalin Ate My Homework enabled me to see it all was different, not wrong….but different.

Me and Third Party with Gordon Brown

Well Proud

TOH became Dr. TOH yesterday, and I am well proud of her for this achievement, particularly knowing everything else that journey has involved.

I am also well proud of Third Party. She just has a couple of more GCSE papers left, but has approached these exams with real maturity and courage. Regular readers and those who know us in real life will be aware of  “the issues” she has faced regarding school and life generally over recent months but she has overcome these in a quite amazing way. I am so, so proud of my daughter and the young woman she has become at the moment. Don’t get me wrong she is still as feisty and awkward at ever at times and has all the hormonal charge of someone her age, but overall she’s doing good.

Apologies if this has turned into one of those gushing blogs whilst others don’t have great lives. If it’s any consolation I had an interview yesterday which I managed to mess up so life continues to be the “human mix”.

Child of Our Time

Watched Child of Our Time last night and realised why the research I’m doing actually matters. This 20 year longitudinal study of 25 children in the UK who were born in the year 2000 was doing personality testing and generally catching up with them at the age of 10. It emerged at this point that nearly half the parents had split up and that the a large number of the kids were becoming part of step families. This was said to reflect the national statistics. Being part of a “single parent family” is obviously a transitionary stage that they will go through on the way to entering step families and some will remain in.

I found it interesting watching the programme with Third Party and seeing her reactions to some of the stuff. First off she was shocked at the statistics and then when she saw a child whose parents had split up at roughly the same age as hers had crying as  they  discussed the emotions attached Third Party hardened. They then looked at the possible effects on the childs personality and I was told not to laugh too loudly as some aspects of  Third Party’s personality were pretty accurately described. Interestingly these aspects were ones which showed whilst she may take longer to find a relationship she is more likely to make it work.

I agree with those who say we should work to strengthen family life and make it work. However, at the same time the figures are such that we cannot and must not ignore the fact the typical family structure for many has changed. Reconciliation may not mean, as perhaps it has in the past, trying to get couples back together – because by the time the church comes into contact with them it may be far too late. Rather, the church may have to widen this and in our current society being called to be “peace makers” may actually mean trying to reconcile the different parts of families in order to make this new type of family structure work for our children. This could mean rather than just treating these things as a non-category acknowledging them more and so, where appropriate, people wanting a Christian marriage or bringing their children for baptism have the issues around the combination of parents/ grandparents (and relationships between them) discussed. This may help bring healing to the people concerned aswell as giving them a chance to discuss practical concerns this mixture of relationships may raise for them. This isn’t something I’ve explored in the research, rather something that sparked off in my mind following seeing last nights programme.

Cyber Mummy?

Apparently there is now a breed of blogging parent known as the cyber mummy. I know this because The Times’ Alpha Mummy told me! Cyber Mummy is obviously slightly better off than me and has a bit more business acumen, they have organised a conference at £80 a head (and that’s with the early booking discount). What is interesting is that they will be discussing the ethical issues around blogging, an area which I think is hugely interesting and needs exploring more.

Me I don’t claim to be a cyber mummy, but I do put occassional posts up on parenting, (or my version of it). Here are my top 3 attempts at being a cyber mum:

1) Family Worship: Talking God and Sex

2) Family Time

3) Welcome to the Summer

The Parenting Book

The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee comes from a couple, (pictured on the back), who according to the blurb are on the staff of HTB. It’s published by Alpha International and runs to 534 pages. However, don’t let any of that put you off. This book has far more to commend it than to condemn it. ParentingBook_FrontCover

The format of the book is mixed, it contains some straight forward, sensible advice; some quotes from parents and children; some quite amusing cartoons by Charlie Mackesy and a generous helping of advice from other people’s parenting books. At times, near the beginning of the book, this mixed approach felt like it was leading to sensory overload but by the second section I’d gotten used to it.

The book is culturally specific and has to be understood within the context in which it was constructed. By that I mean you have to get that this is an educated, upper middle class, professional couple from West London writing a book about parenting in the UK in the early 21st century. Thus, the book is v. PC for the most part seeking to be awfully inclusive, (regularly inserting illustrations from single parent families for example). However, it is a very middle class book. There is quite a bit of talk of AS/ A Levels, saving for gap years and so forth but no mention of voccational qualifications or kids managing their EMA to just get by. To be honest it was all v. yummy mummy in places, (this profile I found of the Lees may explain why). Yet and here’s the thing they were being careful to try and not fall into this trap and were clearly aiming to make it an inclusive book.

The positive side of the book and what I loved about it, and why I think books by English Christians read better on practical issues than American ones is there was a complete lack of BS going on. It talked about real family issues and said it like it is. This means there is an acknowledgement that your teenagers will want to drink underage, will try to obtain fake ID, may get pregnant as a result of a drunken one night stand, will be offered drugs and so forth. Section 4 on making good choices was particularly good. One thing that did get me a bit, and I understand on why it was how it was related to a section within the sex and sexuality part. They, briefly, touched upon same sex attraction. Now within this they were stuck in a position of wanting to be realistic but also coming from a particular part of the church. Thus they didn’t want to condemn but neither did they want to approve. The result was two rather unsatisfactory paragraphs which included the advice not to leave them alone with people a couple of years older who may feel the same way. The message, whilst in someways sensible, was not given in regard to heterosexual relationships. The message coming through was that gay people a couple of years older may be predatory or may manage to pursuade your teenager, who will obviously just be confused, that they really are gay. All that said I know exactly why those two paragraphs were as they were, and actually applaud the authors for putting them in at all.

At the end of the book the PC attitude also slipped away as they go onto the transmission of faith and ideas. It got explicitly Christian. This was no bad thing on one level; building a childs spiritual life is important. However, it would have been more in keeping with the spirit of the book, and it’s attempts to be for a wider market than just Christians if they had been a tad more multi-faith in their approach. They had touched on Judaism earlier in the book, but there was no mention of Islam or any other faiths.

Not all chapters will be of equal use to all parents. It is definately a dip in and out at regular intervals type book, to be kept on the shelf to be consulted when required. Different bits of the book will be more useful at differnet times, according to the age of your children and issues being faced.

In terms of use by churches, and small groups as a resource at the moment the book is out, but the parenting courses the Lees run at HTB haven’t been produced as a purchable resource, with DVD’s, etc. As such my advice would be to use this book to form a reading group amongst parents. There are 5 sections in the book and so you could easily split it into 5 sessions, although equally the individual chapters would lend themselves to a 21 week course. Personally I would advise 10 sessions, splitting each section into two, to allow enough discussion on various topics. This would also, for a weekly group, allow it to comfortably run over one term, (looking at terms as old style terms).

This You Tube clip, advertising a conference they were doing in Malysia, explains that the parenting course may well be out soon and also outlines the marriage and marriage preperation courses which they do which are already available.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQT7MZT0xD8[/youtube]

*Note again these are the reflections of the parent on the book rather than the academic who was reading it from a different perspective*

Changing Families – Part 1

The debate on the changing nature of family and the effects of this upon society is news this week. The Family and Parenting Institute are having their conference this week and Dr. Katherine Rake has been making the headlines with her remarks. Her speech was based around the forthcoming publication of Family Trends British Families Since the 1950’s Family_Trends_cover_final

The newspapers have covered this in the following ways:
The Daily Telegraph had a front page article claiming that the “Nuclear Family is broken”.
The Guardian took a different slant, proclaiming “Working fathers must learn to juggle time for their families”.
The Daily Mail highlights the political aspect involved here with the following headline, “Now it’s war: David Cameron in savage attack on Labour’s ‘pathological’ refusal to accept marriage IS key to happy families”. In this article which follows on from their veiled attack on Dr. Rake yesterday in this profile of her.

At this point I don’t want to get into the political fighting on tax breaks for married people, (I am actually in favour of the return of the married mans tax allowance which this is actually all about). What I do want to do is highlight why these issues are important for us to engage in intelligently as Christians and the complexity of it.

My starting point on this is the report. Even if you / your church doesn’t buy the whole report I would urge you to get hold of a copy. My reasoning for the importance of this investment is that it will help your strategic planning for the coming years. To engage with society as it is, realistically, the church needs to understand that society and base their knowledge on factual information. This book will have the data in to do this. Secondly, Rake is basically a futureologist, in the same way as Mustard Seed man Tom Sine. That is she looks at the patterns of what has been happening, in this case over a 50 year period and is making reasoned predictions about what will happen in the next decade or so. In terms of missiology these types of people are vital. They are not mindless mystic megs, they are people who have painstakingly analysed the data and trends of the immeadiate past to see what they logically tell us is likely to happen. If as a church we want to be visionary rather than reactionary we need to engage with these people and their predictions for the way society is likely to go.

In terms of Christian approaches to family life nobody is disputing that marriage is a good thing. In fact the majority of the population appear to believe marriage is a good thing. However, and here’s the rub, we don’t do marriage very well in our society. Whether we like it or not both inside and outside of the church divorce is an ever present reality. A Barna Group survey within the US in 2001 showed that born again Christians are just as likely to divorce as other people. With the rise in co-habitation amongst non-Christians it is actually quite possible that we will reach a situation in the not too distant future where Christians will have higher levels of divorce than the general population precisely because they are getting married, (i.e. statistics for divorce cannot include the figures for co-habiting couples who split up so whilst Christian partnerships may actually be more likely to last(?) they will not appear to if one looks soley at statistics).

Rake sums up the key changes that have occurred in family life as follows:
” Over the past 10 years, the very ways that families can be started has changed:

By the beginning of this year almost 33,956 civil partnerships had been contracted since their introduction at the end of 2005.
Assisted reproduction counts for the conception of about 10,000 children a year or about 1 per cent of children born in the UK.
Family structure has changed with
Fewer people are getting married: marriage rates are at a historic low only 270,000 were married last year compared to 480,285 at the peak in the 1972.
Cohabitation is set to rise. By 2021, 22 per cent of couples are likely to be co-habiting while in 1996 that figure was only 12 per cent.
But marriage is still the most common form of partnership for men and women 52 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women were married in 2006
The contours of our population have changed also:
One in five children now belong to an ethnic minority and that number is expected to rise, with mixed heritage families meaning some ethnic groups ceasing to exist as we currently imagine them
The number of over sixty fives overtook the number of under sixteens in 2007
Not surprisingly, what childhood means has also shifted:
71 per cent of adults reported playing the street of area near their home everyday when they were children, compared to 21 per cent of children today
All these trends make family life complex. Families are pulling society in multiple directions between work and home life, singleness and cohabitation and marriage; between growing older and forming families across our many cultural divides.”

Over the next few days I intend to unpack what I think these changes in family might mean for us as Christians and as a church. As usual many of my ideas will have been influenced by others and where I know who has influenced the thinking I will reference, but most of this is likely to come out as unreferenced thoughts throwing together a range of stuff I have both heard and thought about personally.

For those who are interested in looking at the future and what some of the “intelligensia” think are the main challenges for society the Big Ideas, “Question Time, What Next?” is worth taking an hour out to watch on You Tube. Susan Neiman talks particularly intelligently about the relationship between secular and religious society.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zr0f8EXXro[/youtube]

Families at Their Best

The academic researcher, (“TAR”) spent a large chunck of yesterday objectively listening to 4 Willow Creek CD’s giving advice on how to be a Christian parent; Families at Their Best. The parent was also listening, ready to reflect on the content once “TAR” had retired for the evening. Whilst any reference “TAR” might make to this stuff will go into a relevant chapter which nobody aside from her supervisor will read the parent has decided to share some her more subjective views in a blog post.

4 CD’s for £16 meant I thought I’d ordered a parenting course from Willow Creek Association UK and Ireland. In reality I had found I had ordered a sermon series…..I felt a little ripped of, but hey ho I should have read the blurb better and “TAR” found it useful anyway. I reckoned that the format meant you couldn’t use this material in a parenting group, but you could use it well in a small group setting. Somebody would have needed to listened to it in advance and produced accompanying worksheets, but it would work. I thought back to housegroups and womens bible studies I had been part of in the dim and distant past and thought yep…..this would have been a good series over a half term linked into an indepth study of Deutoronomy 6, which was central to both this series and the Visionary Parenting course.

For anybody who happens to live outside of the evangelical bubble Willow Creek is a mega church in the US and their senior pastor is a bloke called Bill Hybels. He was the person preaching 3 out of the 4 sessions.
Bill Hybels

The material covered by him was:
About Families – after reeling out some statistics, you know the sort that you say that’s awful about, he started on about the need to aim to make your family an excellent family. This session was talking about something called covenant theology which “TAR” will investigate but made me bristle. For me covenant theology is the reason why, I think, that Hagar and Ishmael – the most useful story in the bible for single parents – gets ignored and marginalised. Anyway, that’s another rant, back to the material. It also concentrated on outlining the responsibility of families for religious transmission aswell as the role youth ministries play in supporting.

This CD made me feel good. I have outlined previously on the blog how I somewhat awkwardly try to pass my faith on to Third Party and have always made sure I have encouraged her into taking full advantage of youth ministries in the churches we have been in. I was, in my own Nick Hornby style way, on the A and B plan he talked about.

The second CD was about how values are formed, framed and followed within families. This got you to evaluate your family, (or if you were single without children listening the family you were bought up in), in ten areas. The purpose was for you to see what you need to work on more. I liked the fact that within this the gritty and messy side of life was not ignored. Overall I saw I was not an awful parent. Yup, I scored abit low on some points but also scored quite high on others. It gave me some indications of the bits of parenting I need to give a bit more attention to. Would have been useful if the tools he kept talking about had been included in with the CD series.

The forth CD in the series and the third done by Hybels was about “Thriving Families”. This session had Hybels and two youth workers discussing 4 dramas and common siuations which arise between parents and children. This CD so showed why the series really needed to be on DVD rather than CD….still the English can’t be choosers. One illustration given in this CD did naff me off a little. In the only explicit reference I think Hybels made to single parents it was through a story about a kid who was having sex at home and when challenged came back with, “but dad’s a hypocrite he brings women back”. This, I think, was an unfortunate illustration as it yet again bought into the stereotype single parents are promiscuous. If it had been balanced out by a positive portrayal or comment on single parents anywhere in his three talks it might have been a little less unfortunate. Nobody is asking for him to abandon preaching the truth; that a married family is Gods ideal and generally better than single parents. I would ask him though to appreciate that many committed Christians and secular people are single parents who are trying to do their best with integrity, often as a result of the sins of others.

The third CD in the pack was a talk by a bloke called Dr. Richard Allen Farmer. Now Dr. Farmer was not the sort of bloke you would expect on this type of series….for a start he was black. Now I don’t know about you but whilst I know places like Willow Creek must have mixed congregations generally they come across as predominantly white places in my mind. I’m not sure if I am too far wrong, actually, in the picture I have in my minds eye as this guy basically gave a sermon on the importance of anti-racism and an appreciation of the importance of multi-culturalism in our families.

He gave one of the best talks I have heard in a long time. He was talking about how we are affluent because of the choices we have. Because we have affluence we also have influence. This gives us responsibilities and we have to base our lifestyle choices on using our affluence and influence appropriately. Finally this calls for confluence that is a coming together of our words and our deeds to form a bigger way of living. This means that we don’t just talk about the need for multi-culturalism and celebrating living we actually have to live these values out in our lives. We have to learn to listen to things and cultures we perhaps don’t like the sound of and respect and value them as something different rather than wrong. He used the example of being taken to an opera and being told you don’t have to like it but you do have to listen to it. That was a bit of a challenge for me, as someone who says classical and opera do my head in. Interestingly, in referring to his past, he made the only positive reference to single parenting within the series.

Anyway would I recommend this as a resource? Yes, for CD 3 alone I think. It was culturally specific in some ways, but with the rise of the BNP in this country I actually think there is more of a call for what was being taught in that area. As I said earlier I think it would make a good small group resource and would certainly be something to stimulate both reflection and discussion amongst group members. It would proabably work best in a group containing people aged about 30-55, who still had children living at home or at uni.

Family Worship; Talking God and Sex

Before anybody starts running off to social services and the police I better explain I couldn’t think of a title for this post which didn’t sound dodgy. It’s a post with some ideas for engaging in family worship at home and talking about God and sex, to your kids….there is no sex involved in family worship. Phew….that should have gotten rid of the perverts and the child protection types on with the post.

Last month I wrote a bit about being a Christian mum and earlier this week I gave some insight into a parenting course I have been going through, mainly as part of my research, called Visionary Parenting. Within it there is a section on engaging in family worship with your kids and how difficult this is and ways to do it, central theme being “get creative”.

As I went through this section and thought over the last decade with Third Party I realised I have done some stuff right and thought I’d share some of the stuff that we have done in our home over the years.

1) Veggie Tales. Third Party got bought up with Veggie Tales videos, (yes, when she was little it was videos). We used to watch them together and chat through the stories and very cheesy moral bits at the end sometimes when she was much younger. Sometimes we would pray too. She would also watch them on her own sometimes, and learn to sing the songs, just like with her other videos.

2) Family night. When Third Party was in junior school and into year 7/8ish we did family night once a week. This would involve a secualr DVD and some snack food and generally chilling out. It would also involve a short time, though, of getting a candle out and a book, often my Daily Celtic Prayer from the Northumbria Community and doing some praying and learning about a saint, modern or ancient. We’d quite often tie this in with something topical or something she’d been doing at school.

3) You Tube/ Beer and Hymns are things which Third Party goes on regularly amid the rest of her surfing. About once a month or so we will have a chill out time where we will go through some worship stuff, including some beer and hymns footage, and also talk about some kind of spiritual issue or reminice about some festival or whatever and the spiritual seeds sown. She does not like to pray with me now, but that is fine….I don’t push it. I regard the chatting about faith related stuff and sharing in some hymns and worship songs as family worship….we do it knowing God is in our flat the whole time and that the songs are bringing praises and stuff to God, rather than just singing.

4) Eastenders and Cosmo. This is where the sex starts to come in. We chat about the story lines, articles and help pages and discuss what the Christian way of seeing this stuff is and how it influences the choices we make. Sometimes, we get the bible out and see what the scriptures say on this stuff or sometimes we just talk about the biblical principles underlying it. Example this months Cosmo has an article on having sex in different rooms of the house and some ideas about household appliances, which as Third Party said, were just kinky. Besides giving us another chance to have the “sex within a committed, loving, monogomous relationship” and “don’t do it until you’re older” chat this article gave us the chance to discuss some important issues about power in relationships and what was healthy sex. We were able to move on from the “don’t do it until you are in the sort of relationship God would approve of” stage to the sex is good, but it needs to be equal…the bible teaches mutual respect and talks of a submission in relationships which is not sexually based and kinky but rather of one which is about service and giving out of love in a relationship. Note sometimes with my it’s healthy to talk about sex attitude I apparently go too far, but the point is the sex and relationships talk doesn’t get removed from the God talk it all comes in together in our house. My aim is to make conversations about God and about issues like sexuality as normal as anything else within the home. I don’t want Third Party to grow up embarassed talking about either.

5) The prayer wall. The Visionary Parenting course suggests you have a worship room. Well, in our flat that is not entirely practical. Family worship, such as it is, takes place in the living room. In some ways this is good because it again sends the message worship is another part of everyday life. Yes we may take time out, to honour God specifically, but it is part of our whole life. Anyway, what our flat does have in the kitchen is the prayer wall. This is a space on the wall which is round a corner in the kitchen, out of general view unless you are in the kitchen. It has a mix of prayers, postcards, flyers and liturgy which get added to. It provides space for me, and Third Party if she wants to just stand whilst the kettle is boiling or whatever and take time out to pray. It also has resources there, when all other prayer seems too hard, to go through. It reminds us of marginalised groups, campaigns, and hard issues to do intercessionary prayer for aswell as giving some comforting stuff. As I say I mainly put the prayer wall up for me to use. However, I have realised it has the additional benefit of being a resource for Third Party aswell and shows her prayer is part of the “everyday” in our house. It is a way of modelling without doing the stuff which would make her cringe. It is also something she can contribute to if she chooses.

So there you have it, not all the answers, but some ideas. I am not the “ideal Christian parent” we all know that and I don’t have the “perfect Christian kid” but I do have a fifteen year old who chooses to go to church and has a living faith….so perhaps some of the above does help your child develop their own faith.

Bullying

Third Party was not at all suprised when I showed her this BBC article which gives survey results claiming nearly half of all 14 year olds and many 15 year olds were bullied. Infact her cynical reply was “and most of the others are the ones doing the bullying”. She then added, “but it goes down when it gets to exams and people stop being bothered with it”. This was, I think, probably a very telling statement about some of her recent school difficulties.

What I found interesting was the article basically told me what my experience in FE meant I already knew, bright kids who are bullied get lower GCSE grades than expected in a large part due to non-attendance issues and a lack of self-confidence. I have lost count of the number of times when in a safer environment, away from those who had tormented them, young people have found confidence late in the first year or into the second year of their A Level studies and blossomed, showing their full potential. I have also seen the destructive influence, though, of when bullying and particularly cyber-bulling has continued into post-compulsory environments and the issues have needed to be dealt with. I have to say, though, in my experience – particularly within the A Level environment it is the former which is more often the case. It is also, sometimes, why alot of FE A level students are actually 17-19 year olds rather than 16-18 year olds. The bullying, in a number of cases, either leads to the need for a year out of education to get their head together, a year to resit their GCSE’s or they attempt to go to school for A Levels, find they can’t cope still being with the bullies and so again underachieve at AS and then come into a college for a second chance. It is one of the reasons why the value added scores of the academic sections of colleges are particularly high when compared to other centres.

The fact the figure is so high worries me though. I know what I am going through with my daughter, in a supportive school with I would venture one of the best pastoral support set ups in the country – which is again shown in their value added scores (the distance travelled by pupils comparing their level at entry SATS with the GCSE’s they leave with, together with number of pupils claiming free school meals, etc). How many young people in this country are suffering and going to underachieve without the necessary support?

In my experience many 13 year olds are bitchy, year 9 is the reason why I never want to teach in a school. Girls do have issues with friendship groups which mean that people sometimes get excluded….watch any teen movie or read any book with teenage female characters and you will know this is the case. When does this turn into bullying? What can we then do about it? What can I do as a parent? How do I support my child effectively without turning into big brother? These are questions many of us as parents and teachers have to deal with and for which I have few answers. The truth is in each situation you really have to play it by ear.

Visionary Parenting – A Review

Visionary ParentingAt the moment as part of my research I am looking at some parenting course type materials, (yes the irony). This gives me a dual role; researcher and parent. To be honest going through some of the material, particularly with Third Party in ultimate Kevin mood during part of it, has made me see the value of my “sanity fieldwork diary”. The “sanity fieldwork diary” being the seperate fieldwork journal I was told to keep, for my eyes only, which I record and reflect on my feelings during the fieldwork in. I find it fairly easy to detach myself and be “the academic” whilst I’m working now and handle the dual role of researcher and worshipper during services, but some of the material I’m working with now needs looking at on two levels, the academic and the personal.
It is in this second role, the parent, that I am reviewing Visionary Parenting by Dr. Rob Rienow today. The academic comments may be quite different, but I wanted to share my view of this material as a parent.
The book can be used either discreetly or in conjunction with a DVD based parenting course, which is available from the Visionary Parenting website.

The theme is parenting but the key within this is the generational transmission of faith. This generational transmission is talked about in terms of the parent/child relationship, ancestoral heritage and a vision for future generations. It refers to family as a “discipleship centre” which I found an interesting and challenging description.

Within this book there are ten chapters, corresponding to eight DVD sessions. These include chapters on biblical fatherhood and motherhood. They are clearly written from a patriarchal perspective, but one which is rooted in spiritual and scriptual understandings of positive patriarchy. By positive patriarchy, which may seem like a paradoxical and contradictory statement, I mean they recognise the differences between genders and do put forward an order where the husband is seen to be above the wife, but they also highlight mutual submission and respect. As a single parent obviously this has issues, ones which the writer recognises in a wink towards us, but never adequatley addresses. Perhaps a seperate chapter addressing the way single parents need to approach biblical parenting, rather than a couple of paragraphs acknowleging us would be useful for any future edition.

Within the text there are a variety of references to spiritual warfare and the devil, which at times left me feeling uneasy. This was particularly the case when he was talking about teenagers. A passage which both hit home and left me feeling uneasy was the following, (p48):
If satan can get a teenager to pull his heart away from his parents and, at the same time, decieve his parents into accepting that a distant relationship with their teen son is normal and appropriate, the seeds are planted for broken relationship. God’s plan for the teen years is very different from Satan’s lies and the picture the world gives us.”

I think it is a book which is useful for making you think about how you pass your faith onto your kids. It showed me where I have done some things right with Third Party aswell as where I might want to think again. It gave some ideas of stuff I might try to integrate into our family life.

However, it is also a book which should be handled with care. There is material within it which if uncritically taken at face value could lead to possible emotional abuse. This is clearly not the intention of the writers, who are obviously a very loving couple, but in the wrong hands I believe the material could lead to misuse. Aswell as the bits on gender roles and spiritual warfare I have already mentioned some of the stuff on discipline got me a tad worried aswell. “If you call your sibling a name then you get a dab of soap on your tongue” seemed to relate to the type of punishments we have moved beyond….although I fully support the if/then model of discipline. The other thing that made me going um…….related to “heart rebellion“. Sometimes I’d love Third Party to do stuff with the right attitude, but if I’m honest I’m just greatful she’ll do it atall and I’m not about to discipline for her for doing it grumpily.

With all the worrying aspects I have highlighted I think the thing is the text makes some interesting and useful points which highlight some of the problems in contemporary culture and the need for people, particularly Christians, to be counter cultural sometimes. However, in all these un-nerving bits of the book if the reader were not careful to read everything being said in the book and think about their implementation of the material it could lead to abusive interpretations.

So overall, I think it’s an interesting and at times provocative book which teaches us, effectively, how to evangelise to our children and through them to future generations. It is clearly a product of the US conservative evangelical sub-culture it was produced in and as such has elements which need to be examined and critiqued, by a careful reading of the text. I didn’t agree with it all but I do feel that it had some useful ideas to offer and has particular value in promoting the discussion of Christian parenting and how we pass our faith onto our children through our everyday life.