Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part II)

Two weeks ago, I covered the first three things I’ve found helpful in large family homeschooling, and today I’m covering the last four. 🙂

Identify who needs the most help, and schedule it.

Along with independence and check-ins, sometimes students just need direct teaching.  Especially first-graders and below.  Or in later grades, they may need help with particular subjects, or help to get started for the day with particular subjects.  I make a list of “with Mommy” needs, and then I make a block schedule so that those “with Mommy” times don’t overlap.  I don’t plan to teach the first grader how to read as I simultaneously make sure the fourth grader is understanding her grammar lesson!  It’s important to plan ahead on this, so that we don’t end up, indeed, in the middle of phonics, and an older student is unable to move forward because they need my assistance.

I think of our schedule blocks in one of three distinct ways: either totally independent, semi-independent, or with Mommy.  I match up the “totally independent” times with a single “with Mommy” time, but it’s usually okay to have many of them working semi-independently at the same time, so I schedule those together.  For example, math.  Even first graders can “independently” work through math problems, and even twelfth graders are sometimes going to need some pointers.  So we all do math at the same time, and I bounce around from one to the next as they need me.  I’m there.

The key thing is to use your time carefully, and plan ahead.

Do things together.

Every day, we have a “circle time” (or some families call it “morning time”), which seems to work best for us perched in the middle of the morning—so it’s kind of a break—and we do some subjects together, or partly together.  We work on a hymn.  We do exercise.  We read the Bible.  And then the lower grammar stage kids and I do history together, while the upper grammar kid reads her version (a more advanced version, but the same historical topic) nearby.  They also do science in large groups, and sometimes literature can branch across multiple grades.  Basically, if something can be combined, and then worked at slightly different levels / with slightly different expectations, then that’s a big time-saver.  If all of my school-age kids were doing completely difference science, history, phys ed, and so on… it would be chaotic.  It’s a lot easier to have a unified subject and then do different testing options, different essay assignments, etc. per grade level.

Notably, this has limits.  It doesn’t work for all subjects—grammar, math, spelling, etc.—just the more subjective ones, and even those, it will probably reach a limit of usefulness around high school.  But for the younger grades, it’s a good way to save energy, keep our focus, and build sibling relationships while we’re at it.  Also—this is how homeschooling groupwork is possible!  Working in groups is a great feature of traditional schooling, and in homeschooling, it’s further enhanced by being able to reach across grade levels.  It also provides opportunities for those top tiers on Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning, as older students can begin to think about how to explain and formulate things to younger students, or even invent fun projects to help the younger ones understand better—a process which fosters their own understanding in a very natural way.

Farm things out.

Homeschoolers are often quick to encourage one another that if you can’t teach a subject (like high school math or science), find someone who can.  And a huge proportion of homeschoolers do that.  But it has a special benefit to large families—it frees up our time!  For the past couple of years, my kids have been doing a science class through videoconferencing.  I’m perfectly capable of teaching elementary science, but… it was hard to find the time to teach the lesson, much less do the experiments and lapbooks, etc.  Now they have a videoconference session every week with a real teacher who actually walks them through the experiments and expounds on the lesson.  They have a quiz at the end of the week that requires them to have read and understood not only the chapter, but also the “classroom” lesson on the subject.  They know how to do the experiments from her demonstration well enough that they can do it without my help!  It’s awesome.

There are also in-person classes—piano lessons being the only one our kids currently do outside the house—but there are also much less interactive but equally useful ways to “farm things out”: DVD lessons, websites, apps, etc.  I was writing spelling words on our board for about twenty minutes a day before I realized… man, I bet someone videotaped this.  And, sure enough, the company had a DVD!  Twenty minutes saved—and that was just one student.  Now three of them are doing the same kind of spelling, so I’m saving an hour a day by using the DVD.  Flashcards are another good example of something that took so much teacher time and is done just as well, or better, by using a website.  Preschool is something that is not necessarily accomplished in a busy large family house, but… there are whole DVDs of preschool programs!  Our fifth child dutifully did about two hours of “preschool” via a sort of one-way videoconferencing type of thing every single day through 150 lessons.  We also “farm out” typing, and sometimes phonics reinforcement (Reading Eggs and Headsprout).

I do find kids don’t learn as well remotely as they do in-person, so I try to keep it fairly limited to either things that are super interactive (videoconferencing) or strictly drillwork (typing, math facts, spelling), and I try to follow-up regularly and make sure what I think is happening is actually happening, and useful.

Pick curricula carefully.

There have been many times when I have looked at a curriculum and thought, wow, that looks great, but will absolutely not work for us!  Some of the things I started out with–A Beka K5, Teacher-Led, for an example—are just far too teacher-intensive and time-consuming to be tenable now that I have older students.  I find something that has worksheets for review rather than oral drills for review works better, simply because it allows me to move on to another student.  Much homeschool curriculum is written with the expectation that you’re going to have hours to work one-on-one with your student.  And in large families, of course, we simply don’t.

So sometimes classroom material works better, especially classroom material that was designed for a one-room schoolhouse.  In addition to, you know, actually old curriculum like McGuffey and Webster, there are many Amish and Mennonite schools that actually still operate that way and produce curriculum that is designed for brief teacher explanations followed by independent student work for reinforcement and expansion.  These pretty much universally work well for us, although they are not always necessarily what we want—the math, for example, starts to turn into consumer math rather than college-bound math once you get into high school.  Still, many of the subjects are very useful.

In short, the main thing to watch out for is that some curricula that is written expressly for homeschoolers incorporates a lot of teacher time because it anticipates one-on-one interaction continually.  So it is something I have learned to watch out for right at the beginning—a curriculum may be fantastic and get excellent reviews, and yet be simply beyond our grasp.

Now, though, a caveat: some teacher-intense curriculum is worth it.  I tried doing The Logic of English a couple of years ago, decided it was waaaaaay too teacher intense, and set it aside.  But I came back to it, eventually, because my more independent-working curriculum was just simply not working with my son, and I was spending more time trying to get him to be independent than I would have if I had just stuck with the teacher-intense curriculum!  It’s also possible to modify curricula so that they are more independent.  So, I really don’t mean that this is a “rule” so much as something to be aware of—whenever I sit down to evaluate a new curriculum (or even to consider how an old one is working for us), I take careful note of how much time it will demand from me and how it will fit into our schedule and schooling method.


Value: wisdom.

Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part I)

This year feels different than ever before.  I have finally realized: I am not limitless! 😉

I am a second-generation homeschooler—and an only child.  My mom was an amazing teacher and it seemed like we did everything.

Life as a larger family has meant my kids have many advantages in the form of their built-in siblings that I didn’t have as a kid.  They learn many things.  They can do group work, and big projects.  Sometimes they learn something better by explaining it to a younger sibling.  Sometimes they can learn by each others’ insights.  Many, many advantages.

And yet: I am a teacher of many, our own little one-room-schoolhouse environment, while my own student experience was with a 1:1 teacher-student ratio.  I cannot teach the way my mother taught.

Here are the first two of six guiding points that I continually come back to as I homeschool our kiddos (currently 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, and preschool).

Foster independence.

Homeschooling preschool through first grade takes a lot of teacher time.  There’s no way around it!  Kids can’t read directions until they can… you know, read.  But as a mommy when I have seven kids nine-and-under wandering around, I can’t take two hours for each kid one-on-one to do their school.  Not if I still want to sleep, or to feed anybody dinner!  So, from the very beginning, this is a major priority: work towards independent learning.  Initially, this is impossible.  With some kids, it remains impossible for longer than others!  But it is something I consciously have in the back of my mind at all times, and I try to encourage them to try to do it yourself before asking me for help.  If they ask me for help—“did you read the lesson?” “did you read the directions?” “did you try to do it?”  Important questions!  I also give them rewards and incentives.  And also, “I will gladly help you, but I want you to try  it by yourself first.  I want to see you try.”  Magic words.

There is, however, an important balance here: I have to be available for questions, and make it crystal clear to them that I am available for questions.  Otherwise, you end up with empty workbooks and, “but, Mommy, I didn’t understand and you were busy!”  Ask me how I know! 😉

Independent learning is a great skill to have, so I have no regrets trying to impart it to our children… but there’s a balance.  It does take attention to see how children are reacting to independence.  How responsible are they with their work?  With remembering to ask questions when they need to?  Do they need pushed toward more independence, or do they need reminded to stay in close?  Most importantly, how does the child deal relationally with independence?  We have some children who really benefit from quality time—whose learning ability absolutely skyrockets when they are sitting next to us one-on-one.  It’s important to notice that and be intentional about that quality time to make sure it still happens.

It’s also good to consider the best way to implement a specific curriculum for independence.  Sometimes all the instructions are right there in the lesson for the pupil to read, and they really only need help if they don’t understand something (more on this in part 2!)… other times they might need some real, dedicated instruction before setting out on their own part of the learning quest.

Plan check-ins.

When you’ve got kids learning independently, there is one area that is bound to turn into trouble: they can get off-track, and you can miss it.  Sometimes kids won’t tell you they don’t understand, and plow ahead anyway.  Sometimes they think they understand, so they go on.  Sometimes they’re doing fantastic, but would still benefit from you noticing it and encouraging them!

So it is necessary to check in.  Every subject, every kid.  Regularly.  What it looks like may be wildly different from one kid to the next: with our oldest (who excels at independence and enjoys it), I mostly only check her output, that is to say, I read the papers she writes, and for many of her subjects, I make sure she does the quizzes/tests and I check them, myself.  I mostly don’t check her daily work.  She is motivated and capable and, importantly, she usually does actually come to me and ask questions if she isn’t sure she’s understanding something correctly.  So it’s rare that she gets off-track.  With her younger siblings, depending on the subject and the kid, I may check the quizzes (most of our subjects have a quiz every week or so), or I may actually check every single day’s work so I can provide more immediate feedback.  Worst-case scenario, they get to sit next to me at the school table and I keep a sneaky eye on them through the entire subject (or even the entire school day).

It varies.  But regular check-ins are essential.  Think about how often each child needs a check-in, and on what subjects, and actually write it on your calendar, unless you’re relying on a periodic check like quizzes.  Not only do regular check-ins prevent your school year from getting seriously off-track, but they teach accountability: your child knows they are going to be called to account for what they have done.  This also teaches them responsibility and honesty—sometimes the hard way!  If I find out someone has been shirking their work, and not for a good reason, they make it up… specifically, they make it up at a time that they would have otherwise been free… on the weekend, in the evenings, etc.  I try to be kind about it (no missing exciting outings or guests) but also insistent enough that it is a drag that they don’t want to repeat again.  Or I’ll remove other privileges (like computer time) until they get their work caught back up to where it should have been.

Importantly, regular check-ins also help make sure I am aware of how they are doing.  What is their learning style? How are they coping with this new curriculum?  What is not working?  How can we fix problems and make everything run more smoothly?  It’s a chance to sit back, give them my full attention, and see what I might need to be doing differently.

Coming in Part II…

In two weeks, Lord willing, I’ll be coming back to this subject to add four more things that I’ve found crucial to large-family homeschooling… including thoughts on choosing curriculum, knowing our kids, spending quality family time together… and other things.

Mothering, Old Wisdom, Studying God, Time Management

Too exhausted to read the Bible (or pray)…

Julie / February 22, 2018

Written October 2017.

Most kind and loving people have admirably low expectations for mothers of young children.  People constantly reassure me that my failures are okay, whether it’s that I forgot to bring something, do something, answer an email quickly, or even if it’s something more important: “Nobody can be perfectly patient all the time.”  “I didn’t read the Bible for years when we had littles.”  “They won’t remember the bad times.”  “The important thing is that you’re trying.”  “God knows what we need even when we’re too tired to pray.”

Even great pastors like D.A. Carson and Martyn Lloyd-Jones are hasty to reassure us of the legitimacy of our struggle, the impossibility of being a mother of young children and a devotee of Scripture at the same time.

There is much kindness in such reassurance.  I have no doubt that it is well-meant.

But while pithy reassurances are comforting, they aren’t necessarily biblical or helpful. My heart is bleak; I am not strong enough to stop burying myself in the Word of God.  And letting go of my desperate hunger for it is not what Scripture teaches us to do.

God didn’t tell David to stop writing psalms while he was on the run for his life.  Job, in the midst of his incomparable affliction, tells us (23:12) that “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”  The prophets were persecuted, starved, locked up, and dumped into muddy wells, yet God continued to call them to very active servanthood.  In Scripture, we see so many situations that were so much worse, so much more time-consuming, so much more emotionally demanding than motherhood, and yet there was no message to those people saying “okay, maybe you’d better cut back on the morning prayer time.”


In fact, one of the most stunning examples of hardship in Scripture I can think of—Jesus in the desert—is also one of the clearest.  When Satan attempts to get Jesus distracted by His physical needs, Jesus answers him very clearly, pointing out that hunger isn’t satisfied by “bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Though His hunger was physical (v. 3) and acute, His most necessary food is spiritual!

This is us, too.  When we are exhausted from a lack of sleep, we need “rest for our souls” (Matthew 11:29).  When we “eat the bread of anxious toil,” we need the blessing of the sleep God alone provides (Psalm 127:2) to ease that anxiety.  When we are struggling with impatience from relentless toddlers, what we need is not a momentary break, but the fruit of the Spirit which is patience (Galatians 5:22).  When we are sad and downcast, we need the joy of the word of God to lift us up (Psalm 119:2).

Our physical and emotional challenges require spiritual solutions.

J.C. Ryle, in his little pamphlet about the importance of Bible-reading, specifically addresses those who struggle to find the resources to read the Bible, and his words are convicting and ring true:

You are the man that is likely to “get little comfort from the Bible in time of need.” Trials come at various times. Affliction is a searching wind, which strips the leaves off the trees, and exposes the birds’ nests. Now I fear that your stores of Bible consolations may one day run very low. I fear lest you should find yourself at last on very short allowance, and come into the harbor weak, worn and thin.

You are the man that is likely “never to be established in the truth.” I will not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, and the like. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. Like the Benjamites, he can “sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16). He can quote Scripture easily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to be able to fight a good fight with him. Your armor does not fit well. Your sword sits loosely in your hand.

You are the man that is likely to “make mistakes in life.” I will not wonder if I am told that you have erred about your own marriage—erred about your children’s education of spiritual things—erred about the conduct of your household—erred about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, and reefs, and sand bars. You are not sufficiently familiar either with the search lights or your charts.

You are the man that is likely to “be carried away by some deceptive false teacher for a time.” It will not surprise me if those clever, eloquent men, who can “make the lie appear to be the truth,” is leading you into many foolish notions. You are out of balance. No wonder if you are tossed to and from, like a cork on the waves.

All these are uncomfortable things. I want every reader of this paper to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you this day. Do not merely read your Bible “a little,” but read it a great deal. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Do not be a mere babe in spiritual knowledge. Seek to become “well instructed in the kingdom of heaven,” and to be continually adding new things to old. A religion of feeling is an uncertain thing. It is like the tide, sometimes high, and sometimes low. It is like the moon, sometimes bright, and sometimes dim. A religion of deep Bible knowledge, is a firm and lasting possession. It enables a man not merely to say, “I feel hope in Christ,” but “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12).

I have seen this in my own life over and over again.  I have seven children, and, oh, they are small.  They are relentless.  If you are a mommy of small or needy children, you know what I mean.  I understand why wise men like Lloyd-Jones and Carson think we mommies don’t have the time to read Scripture.

But what happens when I stop?

The well dries up.  See, when I do find time to be in the Word every day, there’s this fresh ever-bubbling source of spiritual nourishment that is continually applicable and new.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; God still uses it.  He promises in Isaiah 55:10-11 that His word is like rain:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Even when I’m doing a lousy job of reading—when the words begin to blur together because I’m so tired, when my brain is so fried that I would have zero insights to offer to a group study, when I’m distracted by screaming toddlers—still God’s word does not return to Him empty.

Truly, it is amazing.  As I write this, I am exhausted.  Baby seven was born three days ago after a difficult and long build-up to final labor—which was itself a very rough time—and our days since then have been consumed with more medical appointments and stresses, and I am at the point where I can barely remember what day it is.  I’m a wreck.  But I have been able to read the Bible passage that is programmed to arrive in my email inbox every day, and spend a little bit of time praying (albeit fairly incoherently!), and in return, there have been many—three or four—incidents every single week of the past month when something I have read right now has been immediately applicable to my life.  Either it has served to encourage me, or been relevant to a spiritual conversation I’ve been having with someone else, or it has provided a great example of a principle I’m trying to illustrate to my children… in short, even my very bad Bible comprehension right now is bearing a lot of fruit, and it has been a powerful testimony and encouragement to me of the inherent usefulness of reading Scripture.

Even in the midst of my exhaustion and physical struggles, the time and energy that I invest in the Word are amply repaid, over and over again.  And not just in little soundbytes of encouragement here and there.  So often God enables my feeble mind to snag on some item in the text that I hadn’t noticed before, and make tiny little gains in spiritual knowledge and understanding.  Scripture feeds me in the now, when I desperately need it, and it builds up spiritual food-stores that God will continue to use and grow for His glory in the future, too.  Though I feel like I have the I.Q. of a turnip and struggle to comprehend some of the Bible’s longer sentences, time in God’s word and time in prayer bear fruit.

But if I don’t find that time?  If I decide I’m too tired, or that it can’t possibly be worth the effort to even try?  Nothing happens.  There are no fresh spiritual insights floating into my brain, no recent flash of biblical wisdom to share with those around me, no encouragement waiting to shore up my soul.  There’s no growth.  The things of godliness are not lurking in my mind ready to help me deny sin and pursue righteousness; they’re buried deep in somewhere that I’ve been “too tired” to think about recently.  I may still retain the head knowledge that being impatient with my children is wrong, but it’s been a while since I’ve been reminded of the consequences of that kind of sinfulness.  God’s justice and fearsomeness are not freshly impressed on my mind.  The well—the very well which gives us life and leads us to holiness—is running dry.  The Christian cannot live like this.  The Christian Mommy cannot live like this.

The times when we don’t have the energy or motivation to spend time in God’s Word is the time we most need to do so anyway.  The person who is too parched with thirst to drag themselves to the stream is the person who most needs a drink; the person fainting with hunger who can’t contemplate the effort of cooking a meal is the person who most needs nourishment.

So, when you are too exhausted to read the Bible, read it anyway.  It will give you life.  Find a way, find a time, because God’s word is more essential than food, and times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord.  He is the answer to our exhaustion and inability, and He is faithful!

Discipline, Mothering

The Sanctification of (Little) Sinners

Julie / February 15, 2018

Sanctification—the way God works to resolve sin in the life of the believer—is evident in Scripture.  Similarly, so is the utter pervasiveness of sin in the life of a nonbeliever.

But, for some reason, when we talk about childrearing—about discipline, about “good parenting,” and “good kids”—our theology often gets a little wobbly.

Per my parents’ stories, I was a well-disciplined, obedient child, and I fully expected that our children would immediately be equally so.  I remember confidently telling a friend when I was a teenager, “well, my children are not going to smear poop on their crib!”  And she—she with little siblings while I had none—laughed at me.  She knew what was to come!

Reality was not what I had expected.

Then there was this little ball of fire that called itself daughter the first.

She didn’t smear any poop, but she stomped her feet, threw herself on the floor in mad fits, repeatedly did things I had sternly told her not to do, wouldn’t sleep by herself at night, and screamed at me when I tried to get through to her, “I WANT TO BE BAD!!!”

It was awful.  We were doing everything we knew how to do in order to get her to be good, and yet… she was rotten!  And I could just feel the judgment in the eyes of everyone with angelic children, or I certainly did a good job of imagining it.  Surely, we weren’t being consistent enough.  We weren’t being severe enough.  She was ruling the roost, etc.  I felt both the heavy weight of others’ eyes, and of my own feelings of failure at parenting.

We kept trying.  We kept pushing the Gospel at her.  We kept praying.  We kept parenting.

One day, God worked.  One day, she suddenly caught interest in pleasing Jesus, and following Him, and the child has never looked back.  She still needed parents, but the change in her little heart was stark and immediate.  Discipline changed from something she hated to something she reluctantly admitted was well-deserved and even helpful to her.  Heart-to-heart conversations changed from laughably useless to very productive, often utterly effective.  And even now—the little girl is a young lady of nine—she still struggles with misbehavior, but, oh, she struggles.  She participates.  She wants to improve herself; she no longer merely gives in with reluctance to our demands.  She initiates her own self-improvement, even.

But the worst was yet to come.

Before he was even one, the differences were obvious: he was a climber, always on the move, and always eating things he shouldn’t.  I had previously scoffed at various childproofing implements; suddenly, we were not only using them, but we were using them, he was circumventing them, and ending up in the ER for his trouble!  I remember thinking clearly at that age that he was incredibly dexterous at getting to things and incredibly stupid at what he chose to get to.  He ate rocks, stink bugs, vitamins, and a whole bottle of Tylenol, all in the space of about six months.  (To this day, zero of our other children have done any of those things.  Or even managed to get into any of those things in the first place, since we are vaguely sensible people who don’t leave them in reach of toddlers.  This is the kid who figured out how to undo every childproofing method in existence.)

We prayed.  We despaired.  We prayed more.  He did more than get into things; he was an endless fountain of foolishness, bad decisions, energy, and rebellion.

I’ve often remarked that I am so glad he wasn’t our first child, because at least we had seen our children grow and had the Gospel take root—we had hope.  And not merely the theological abstract of hope, but real experience.  I remember thinking that this boy had so much enthusiasm and personality and such a strong, clear speaking voice that God could use him like another Spurgeon—another little boy whose rebellion against God was complete in his early years.

In the meantime, though, we had a dark year.  It’s all kind of a blur.  We kept parenting hard and praying hard and nothing seemed to matter.  Finally, one day, I was sitting on the couch with him rehearsing the Gospel, and at last, he didn’t tell me he didn’t care and run away.  Finally, finally, he showed a glimmer of fear of God, and he wanted to pray and beg God to help him learn to be good.

I was so skeptical!  I remember feeling the war within me between exhilaration—could this be it?—and disbelief—of course not.  I very hesitantly told Seth of the exchange, and we waited to see how it would bear out.

He wasn’t an overnight miracle of behavior as his biggest sister had been.  Not at all.  He is still a very, very energetic boy with great tendencies to not think his actions through before he dashes off with them.  Like his big siblings, he still has real sin issues in himself, and he still requires a ton of parenting, and many days, it feels like we are accomplishing nothing at all.

But he is sorry.  He’ll do something really foolish, and when we talk to him about it later, he quirks his mouth up halfway and says ruefully, “I wasn’t thinking with my head.  I know, I gotta think with my head.”  After a particularly bad day, he’ll ask me, “Mommy, why isn’t God helping me be more gooder faster?”  Other days—like today—he’ll realize that it has been an awfully long time since he was in trouble, and point out the fact proudly.  He is slowly becoming vaguely reliable and more trustworthy.  He’s very kind, personable, and good at sharing.

Sometimes I think he tries harder than any of his siblings—because he has to.  His fight for holiness is one of the hardest.

The fight for holiness: the need of redemption.

”Your children have souls, and they must be born of God as well as of you, or they perish. And know also, that unless you be very circumspect in your behavior to and before them, they may perish through you: the thoughts of which should provoke you, both to instruct, and also to correct them.”

John Bunyan

This is what I have learned from watching them—all of them: first, children are born sinners.  David says in Psalm 51:5, “I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.”  Ephesians 2:3 is picturesque: “We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts.”  That is where children live: in the flesh, doing whatever their flesh is inclined naturally to do.  And they all have their own unique inclinations: utter lack of emotional control, pride, dishonesty, foolishness, fussiness, stubbornness… their individual bent may vary, but the sinfulness stays the same.

As parents, that’s what we are dealing with, and, who can change a sinner’s heart? The Holy Spirit alone.  “The mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so” (Romans 8:7).  There is no sanctification without repentance, and no repentance without the Spirit’s working.  “No one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father,” Jesus taught in John 6:65.  As parents, all we can force our children to is outward conformity.  For inward change, the Spirit has to work, and our duty is to pray and preach the Gospel to them, because faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

All of our children have borne testimony to the Scriptural truth that foolish people hate discipline (Proverbs 13:1, Proverbs 12:1, Job 5:17). “Grief” from criticism leads to repentance in the godly, but death in the ungodly (2 Corinthians 7:8-11), and we have seen in their lives that change that happens when they turn to Christ and desire to follow Him—they become partners with us in pursuit of their holiness, rather than active saboteurs!  That moment when they come to repentance and God replaces their heart of stone with a heart of flesh completely revolutionizes the parenting process.


“For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,” Paul writes in Romans 6:6.  This is the ultimate hope for parents as they train up their Christian children, and for those children themselves as they seek sanctification and maturity: they are no longer slaves of sin.  The dominion of sin has been broken!

The fight for holiness: the blessing of sanctification.

Do not others expect from children more perfect conduct than they themselves exhibit? If a gracious child should lose his temper, or act wrongly in some trifling thing through forgetfulness, straightway he is condemned as a little hypocrite by those who are long way from being perfect themselves. Jesus says, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.” Take heed that ye say not an unkind word against your younger brethren in Christ, your little sisters in the Lord. Jesus sets such great store by His dear lambs, that He carries them in His bosom; and I charge you who follow your Lord in all things to show a like tenderness to the little ones of the Divine family.

Charles Spurgeon

The most shocking revelation of parenting, to me, has been to realize my own wickedness.  It is so easy for me to be distraught over their behavior, their failure to achieve perfection, even though I am just as bad myself, and I have had many more years to learn better!  It is often helpful for me to take a step back from the immediacy of their sin and realize that just like their momma, God is sanctifying them.  And just like their momma, sometimes it takes a long, long, long time and tiny baby steps of improvement for those old sins to die.  (And even then, there are always more that need rooted out!)

Proverbs 13:24 tells us “the one who loves [his son] disciplines him diligently,” and Hebrews 12 helpfully compares parental discipline to God’s discipline: “He does it so we can share His holiness… it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  As God disciplines us, so we discipline our children—we teach them, give them guidance, helpful nudges, consequences, and so on.  We try to facilitate their holiness.  We teach them the Scripture, we train them diligently, and we try to be good models.  But ultimately, sanctification is God’s work, and it is their own calling as believers to purify themselves from what is dishonorable (2 TImothy 2:21), to run from sin and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).

It is a joy to watch children struggle to better themselves, and a greater joy still to see God reward that struggle.  When they realize that the sin that so easily entangled them has, with time, become less likely to catch them up—they are delighted and so are we!  I like few things better than hearing our famously-struggling son say with a sense of wonder before he goes to sleep, “Mommy, God is really helping me be good at ________ now!”  It fills my heart to hear his earnest praise of God, as well as to realize that, yes, indeed, the child is improving.  And that the child wants to improve.  And that he knows God is the one who enables him to do so.

As parents, in obedience to God, we can live the truth of Proverbs 22:15: “Foolishness is tangled up in the heart of a youth; the rod of discipline will drive it away from him.”  We see firsthand how immensely, hopelessly foolish and depraved little children can be.  And we can see how discipline brings outward conformity, but to the Spirit-filled child, it brings much more than that—it brings life, peace, righteousness.  Proverbs 29:15 says that “the rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15, ESV).  Those are two separate words—rod and reproof—and as parents, we have both duties: to discipline and rule, and also to verbally teach and correct.  And, by God’s grace, our duties bring wisdom to our children as the Spirit applies His truths to their little hearts.  The promise of God that He has given us a Spirit of love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7) is for believing children, as well, and, He is conforming them to the image of the Son as surely as He is conforming us (Romans 8:29).  We merely teach them that as they “live by the Spirit… keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).  God is the one who “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  Sanctification comes from Him.

“God knows the reality of our children’s hearts, sanctification, and diligence, while others know only the image. We want our children to be thought of as clean-cut and on the straight and narrow–which is rather a different thing from holiness, righteousness, godliness, and bearing much of the Fruit of the Spirit.”
Denise Sproul

Mothering, Musings

Don’t sow thorns in your child’s heart.

Julie / September 10, 2016

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

The temptations which ensnare little minds are subtle.  Toys seem so innocent.  Fieldtrips seem so educational.  Activities and lessons seem so helpful.

Fellow moms, we are called to do more than just avoid leading our children into sinful pursuits—we’re called to avoid leading our children into any pursuits, any passions, that aren’t in pursuit of God.

Think of what motivates your child.  What do they really enjoy?  What is their room filled with?  What puts a smile on their face?  What makes them throw a temper tantrum if you take it away?

In our house, multiple children love Minecraft.  It’s a very innocent, educational kind of game, and at first, I was like, yeah, go play.  But then it slowly became clear that it was—for our kids—too much of a struggle of addiction.  They were mean to their siblings, squabbling over whose turn it was on the tablet, neglecting their responsibilities, and gradually turning into negative, whiny little people.  We uninstalled Minecraft.

Another child loves to read.  And I love that characteristic of her.  It can be a very godly pastime.  But other times, the book gets its teeth in her and she starts whining about when she has to stop for a moment, or she starts obsessively talking about the plot to random people instead of engaging in more profitable conversation—it becomes a sinful distraction.  As much as it irks me to do so, sometimes we make her put away the books for a while and regain her focus on the outside world.

Ask hard questions.

There aren’t easy answers to the question of when a worldly thing has a hold on our children’s hearts. We can’t keep them away from the world. But we can think about what things motivate and excite them, and consider those things in light of these questions.

  • Is it a thing of earth or a thing of heaven?  We are commanded in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Sometimes we have to deal with things of earth, but our minds should be occupied elsewhere—with heavenly things.  This, again, is true even for children.  Obsession with an earthly thing, theme, activity, etc., is incompatible with a mind on heavenly things.  Titus 2:12 commands us to “renounce worldly passions.” 1  John cautions us, “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world… is not from the Father.”  Friends, the things of the world—ALL the things of the world—are wrong to love.  Dangerous to love.
  • Is it self-indulgent?  Self-indulgence is perhaps not one of the greatest sins that leaps to our modern minds, but 1 Timothy 5:6 says the self-indulgent person “is dead even while she lives.”  Dead.  Indulging ourselves is a sin, whether we be adults or children.
  • Is it something that makes the world seem like a friend?  Does it make a sinful lifestyle seem normal, appealing, or “safe”?  Does it make those whose lives are not dedicated to glorifying God seem like friends?  They aren’t.  James 4:4 reminds us that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.”
  • Is it pleasing the flesh?  1 John cautions again against three specific things: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions.  Paul also talks about this tension in Romans between the things our flesh desires and the things of the Spirit within us.  Things that are just “fun” and pleasing to our human self are fleshly, not godly.  Colossians 3:5 says, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you.”  We have to teach our children also to put these things to death.
  • Is it part of our duties as soldiers in Christ?  2 Timothy 2:4 reminds us that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  Matthew 24:42 commands us to “keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come,” and 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  Moms, the devil is trying to devour our children.  Neither of us has any time to do anything apart from glorify God.  This soldiering business is full-time.  We don’t go off and engage in civilian pursuits, much less get caught up in them.
  • Is it teaching them to love man’s glory?  Jesus cautioned against people who “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).  Is the activity teaching them to earn man’s praise?  Is it teaching them to value a thing because other men praise it?  Does it teach them that only God’s opinion matters?

My son, beware…

Ecclesiastes is a great book about what pursuing worldliness looks like, and coming up empty.  Solomon concludes with this absolutely fantastic piece of advice:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 ESV)

We need to catch that little phrase in the middle: beware of anything beyond these (the words of the one Shepherd).  There are too many books, too much study—if they aren’t from the Shepherd, they’re worthless.  Don’t study them.  Solomon makes it even punchier, “for God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).  We are going to be held to account for every single thing we do.  Every single minute.  And our children are going to be held to account for every single minute of how they spend their time.

Beware of the fun tablet games.  Beware of the good books.  Beware of the family-friendly television shows.  Beware of the ballet classes.  Beware of the Disney princesses.  Beware of the parties, the playgroups, the plays and performances.  Beware of the exciting vacations, the beach trips, the talking toys, the stuffed animals, the books, the favorite Netflix show, the beloved aunt.  Does it teach your child to love God?  Or does it teach them to love the world?  We have to keep coming back to this—about everything. Why are we doing this?  Why does my child think we’re doing this?  Why does my child enjoy it?  Is the enjoyment because the activity is heavenly, or fleshly?

I was reading a book a few weeks ago and it was talking about how to teach children to talk effectively and powerfully.  And one of the major points it made is to teach children to turn their conversations, their stories, their answers toward the subject of God.  To teach them to share freely and enthusiastically about what God has been teaching them, how He’s leading them, blessing them, whatever.  To teach them to actively be on the lookout for opportunities to bring this into every conversation they have.  That struck me really hard.  Even in our conversations around the dinner table—or when an inquiring relative asks them about their schoolwork—they can be either earthly-minded, or they can be heavenly-minded.  Worldliness has inundated even our conversations, and I want to take it back!  I don’t want my children to bounce into the room eager to tell me about their new toy or how much fun they had at such-and-such an activity, or how they are just dying to go to the thing that all their friends are doing.  I want to see their eyes light up over God, and His things alone.  I want Him to have a grip on their hearts, and everything else—I want to see that they know it’s all worthless and fading away.  My heart aches in fear for their souls when I see them excited about worldly things.

Why does it matter?

This may seem legalistic to you.  “Innocence of childhood” and “time to be a kid” and all that.  But, please, consider the parable of the sower.  You know the story, man goes out, sows some seed, some of it takes root, some of it grows, some of it withers… the seed is the Word, and our children’s hearts is the land.  Look at this part:

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Matthew 13:22

Moms, this is terrifying.  We can preach the Gospel day in and day out to our children, we can live perfect examples before them, and yet—we can let in the thorns.  “The cares of the world.”  Moms, Jesus says this chokes the word.  You can sow the truth till the cows come home, but if the thorns of the world are growing in your little one’s heart—how much worse if you’re the one encouraging the love of a non-heavenly thing—then all the truth-speaking and Gospel-preaching in the world are going to prove unfruitful.

It’s so subtle, so innocent-seeming… and so utterly lethal.  Worldliness undermines our family worship, our Bible studies, our pleading with them over Scripture—it undermines everything.

Don’t let your children love the world and its pleasures and things.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
Luke 21:34


Old Wisdom, Recommendations

A Charge to Parents from 1671

I found this little book called “A Token for Children” referenced in Elizabeth Gill’s obituary penned by her father, John Gill.  It was apparently one of her favorite books alongside The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book is itself worth reading, but I wanted to share the introduction in particular. I couldn’t find a clean copy online.  I’ve added some linebreaks and modernized the punctuation just slightly.

~ * ~

To all Parents, School-Masters, and School-Mistresses, or any that are concerned in the EDUCATION of Children.

Dear Friends, I Have often thought that Christ speaks to you, as Pharaoh’s daughter did to Moses’s mother, “Take this child, and nurse it for me.” Consider what a precious jewel is committed to your charge, what an advantage you have to shew your love to Christ, to stock the next generation with noble plants, and what a joyful Account you may make, if you be faithful: Remember, souls, Christ and grace cannot be overvalued.

I confess you have some disadvantages, but let that only excite your diligence; the salvation of souls, the commendation of your master, the greatness of your reward and everlasting glory, will pay for all. Remember the devil is at work hard, wicked ones are industrious, and a corrupt nature is a rugged, knotty piece to hew: But be not discouraged: I am almost as much afraid of your laziness and unfaithfulness, as any thing. Do but go to work in good earnest, and who knows but that rough stone may prove a pillar in the temple of God?

In the name of the living God, as you will answer it shortly at his bar, I command you to be faithful in instructing and catechizing your young ones; if you think I am too peremptory, I pray read the command from my master himself, Deut. vi. 7. Is not the duty clear? and dare you neglect so direct a command! Are the souls of your children of no value? Are you willing that they should be brands of hell? Are you indifferent whether they be damned or saved? Shall the devil run away with them without controul? Will not you use your utmost endeavour to deliver them from the wrath to come? You see that they are not subjects uncapable of the grace of God; whatever you think of them, Christ doth not slight them; they are not too little to die, they are not too little to go to hell, they are not too little to serve their great master, too little to go to heaven; For of such is the kingdom of God; and will not a possibility of their conversion and salvation, put you upon the greatest diligence to teach them? Or are Christ and heaven, and salvation, small things with you? if they be, then indeed I have done with you: but if they be not, I beseech you lay about you with all your might; the devil knows your time is going apace, it will shortly be too late.

O therefore what you do, do quickly, and do it I say, with all your might; O pray, pray, pray, and live holily before them, and take some time daily to speak a little to your children, one by one, about their miserable condition by nature; I knew a child that was converted by this sentence, from a godly school-mistress in the country, “Every mother’s child of you are by nature children of wrath.” Put your children upon learning their catechism, and the scriptures, and getting to pray and weep by themselves after Christ: take heed of their company; take heed of pardoning a lye; take heed of letting them mis-spend the sabbath; put them, I beseech you, upon imitatating these sweet children; let them read this book over an hundred times, and observe how they are effected, and ask them what they think of those children, and whether they would not be such? and follow what you do with earnest cries to God, and be in travel to see Christ formed in their souls.

I have prayed for you, I have oft prayed for your children and I love them dearly; and I have prayed over these papers, that God would strike in with them, and make them effectual to the good of their souls. Incourage your children to read this book, and lead them to improve it. What is presented, is faithfully taken from experienced, solid christians, some of them no way related to the children, who themselves were eye and ear witnesses of God’s works of wonder; or from my own knowledge, or from reverend godly ministers, and from persons that are of unspotted reputation, for holiness, integrity, and wisdom; and several passages are taken verbatim in writing from their dying lips. I may add many other excellent examples, if I have any encouragement in this piece, which the author had done, in the Second Part. That the young generation may be far more excellent than this, is the prayer of one that dearly loves little children.


Janeway was a nonconformist preacher so popular and so hated by the Church of England that they attempted to assassinate him twice.  He and his brothers (all duly ejected from the Church of England) all died very young from tuberculosis – James at 38.  This book was read not only in the Gill family, but often by the Spurgeons as well.

Mothering, Studying God, Time Management

Always prepared to give an answer?

Julie / January 22, 2016

Today someone asked me how it is that I always seem to be so peaceful.

Someone whom I have no reason at all to believe is a Christian; someone whose relationship with me does not generally entail talking about religion or personal beliefs at all, in fact, whose relationship with me (i.e., “professional”) makes such conversation socially verboten.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her question.  I have a neat litany of excuses for my failure: the irregularity of the conversation, the exhaustion deluging my brain, my todo list burning a hole in my pocket, the rarity of my interaction with nonbelievers at all now (as a SAHM)… I was very much off-guard.  Secondly, the subtlety of the question threw me—”peaceful” didn’t immediately turn my brain to the Gospel.

I have lots of excuses.

The conversation was not a total flub, because for some odd reason, she kept pushing it and, surprisingly, turning it in ever more spiritual directions.  I felt like I’d stepped into the twilight zone and was off-balance and uncertain the entire time.  Looking back, I feel like the conversation was enough that God could use it, or that I could bring it back up again on the strength of the conversation, but I’m also really sorrowful at my own ineptitude and inattention and lack of focus.

“Always being prepared.”  I would have done better if she had asked me a direct question, like, “how do I go to heaven?” or “how does your faith help you remain calm?”  Or, “why is this theological confession better than that one?”  I could have done well with any of those questions, had my brain snapped into focus and put on the evangelism track.

But sadly, preparation doesn’t mean knowledge here.  It doesn’t mean ability to argue theological points.  Peter is talking in the context of suffering Christians in a hostile world, and what is the source of the “preparation” he names?  “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

My problem was that my brain was going a thousand places this morning, none of them focused directly on Christ.  I was totally being “a Martha.”  I’d thought plenty about theology this morning, but not much about its Author.  My fellow conversationalist actually asked me (if you’re a Yankee, you know how shocking this is) if I prayed in the mornings—and all I could think of was, well, I sure hadn’t THIS morning!  My answers were all over the place because my heart was all over the place.  God gives me peace when our son has facial palsy—a peace I have very much clung to in the past week and a half—but somehow, the lesser things, I act like I can strike out on my own.  I can bundle my kids up and out the door, carefully-organized schoolwork schedules in hand.  I can get everyone breakfast, everyone in shoes, raggle-taggle hair tamed, snacks packed… all in my own strength.

But I can’t.  This morning was absolutely shattering to my self-inflated spiritual ego.  It doesn’t matter how much Scripture I read or recite, how many theological terms I can rattle off, or how excellent of “Christian” parenting advice I can dole out when others ask me… if my very own heart is not filled up with honoring Christ, it’s all rubbish, to quote Paul.

It’s a quiet little sin to simply lose focus, to stop feeling thirsty for the refreshment of the Spirit, to stop depending on Him and glorifying His holiness and instead to fall into pride and self-focus, distraction, and worry.

Such a quiet little sin.  But such a lethal one.  I’ll never get this morning back.

(Written July 2015, forgot to post it.)