Should Christian Parents Adopt This Dutch Mindset?

There is a school of thought amongst Christians in the United States that Europe is a godless wasteland from which we have nothing to learn. Yet my mission work with refugees has taken me throughout Western Europe over the last eighteen months and I have found it to be much more open to Christianity than most of us believe. Not only that, I think Christian parents can actually learn something important from some European parents – especially Dutch parents – that can strengthen the faith foundation of their children and make them more resilient.

Fair warning. Some of you may be triggered by this post. It is brutally honest and counter cultural. The intent is not to offend anyone, but to encourage you to make the choices that are best for your children emotionally and more importantly, spiritually. These suggestions aren’t physically possible for a few of you, but I would argue they are more possible than most of you will believe. It will require you to make hard, life changing and lifestyle changing choices. Choices that may make even your Christian friends wonder why you are making such radical changes.

The question is – how passionate are you about your children spending eternity in Heaven? Passionate enough to honestly sacrifice anything necessary to give them a strong enough faith foundation that they actually have a fighting chance of remaining faithful, productive Christians as adults? You may be strongly tempted to reject these suggestions as too difficult or unproven. Yet millions of secular Dutch families have made these same sacrifices and believe it has benefitted their children’s well being. While I do not agree with many of the moral tenets taught by secular Dutch parents to their children, I do believe those habits I am about to share would benefit children raised in any family – but particularly Christian families.

So what are these controversial parenting moves by the Dutch? They make spending time with their children a top priority. They spend as much family time together as possible listening to their children, talking about their beliefs (secular though many of them may be) and doing things together as a family. They use this time to mold their children and move them towards independence – not by ignoring them, but by gradually increasing the boundaries and encouraging them to grow in age appropriate ways.

How do they manage this? By making some radical choices! Almost half of the Dutch workforce works part time and 70% of the women do so. Often these part time jobs are arranged so at least one parent is home with the children when they are home. Fathers are not exempt from meaningful engagement with their children. Even those with full time jobs are expected to focus fully on their children for a minimum of one full day a week.

In addition, children are not in tons of scheduled activities. They are definitely “old school” with children playing with friends outside until a mandatory family dinner every night at five or six. Oh, and did I mention family breakfast is a mandatory sit down affair, too? The food doesn’t have to be fancy and often isn’t – especially by our standards, but they are sitting down together twice a day talking (no devices). Parents who work in the afternoons all leave their jobs in time to be home for dinner – even if they do more work online later. They are so strict about having dinner together at home, that guests are not invited. Instead, they have them for coffee or appetizers earlier and then send them to their own homes for dinner.

Yes, I understand that as a welfare state, there are some economic realities involved including incredibly high taxes and government supplements. But this is not about politics. Most of the Dutch homes I have seen are modest. The average person rides a bike, walks or takes mass transit. Few, if any, organized activities means no expenses in those areas. They are known for being frugal in dress, food and other expenses. You can, if not exactly, closely adapt your lifestyle to match theirs.

This won’t be easy for most of you. You may need to downsize houses, cars and those extras. Your kids will have to drop a lot of activities (which colleges give little weight to anyway). You may get passed over for promotions (Although, interestingly, the Dutch have found their productivity numbers are still high. When they are at work, they don’t waste time like many workers here.) You will be different from most likely every family you know. But I believe the benefits to your children far outweigh any sacrifices you may make.

Your children need you to be present and engaged with them. Not micro managing them, but teaching and coaching them how to be the people God created them to be. Preparing them to do war with Satan. Helping them reach their full God given potential and growing to become faithful, active, productive Christians. If Christian parents parent the way their secular peers parent in the United States, their children won’t grow up to be any more faithful than their children – or marginally so at best.

Once again, this is not to shame or offend you. There are, however, certain parenting realities. Children who are resilient have strong relationships with nurturing, engaged parents. Children who grow up to be faithful to God have usually had parents who spend as much time as humanly possible teaching their kids about God and coaching them to be who God wants them to be. You and your children cannot be separated for the majority of every day, afternoon, evening and weekend and have stellar results. It would be like wanting to have an athletic physique, but not making the time to work out for long periods of time every day.

If you don’t want to fully adopt the wisdom of this aspect of Dutch parenting, I strongly suggest you make as many changes as you can to move in that direction. Your children – and their faith – will benefit.

6 Ways Walks Can Make Christian Parenting Easier

Have you ever thought about how many times the Bible mentions that someone was walking? Granted, there weren’t a lot of other options unless you owned a donkey or a camel, but was it really necessary to tell us certain people were walking? Maybe not in some cases, but Jesus had a lot of important conversations as he was walking with people. He knew that there is something about walking that seems to lower defenses and encourages more open conversation.

There is quite a bit of research on the benefits of walking. These benefits can make parenting easier and Christian parents can get a few extra benefits from those walks. Many of these benefits differ slightly when you are walking alone versus walking with your spouse or children or as a family.

  • Manages energy levels. Walking is interesting in that it can give those whose energy is lagging more energy, but also helps burn off excess energy for those that have too much. Regular walks will give any of your kids who may need it more energy. If your kids are over energized after a day at school sitting at desks, a brisk walk can help them burn off the excess energy that might otherwise get them in trouble. When energy levels are managed well, misbehavior from too much energy can decrease and you will have more energy to teach, guide and correct when necessary. Even those kids who feel too tired to do homework may find a brisk walk gives them the second wind they need.
  • Tempers emotions. A recent study found that many people suffering from depression found a marked improvement in mood when they took daily long walks. Negative emotions can work themselves out from the physical activity. These emotions may not totally disappear, but they will most likely lessen, making it easier to talk with your child about them.
  • Praying/clear thinking. Struggling with what to do about a parenting issue? I do some of my best creative thinking on long walks. The trick is to leave the music at home and focus on praying about the issue that is bothering you. This also works for your kids when they are wrestling with an issue.
  • Talking to each other. Long walks often work like magic to get even non-communicative children talking to their parents. Leave the phones and music at home. Walk in silence for a bit if necessary. Ask a simple open ended question. Leave lots of room for your kids to talk. You may just be surprised how much they will tell you when you aren’t distracted.
  • Pointing out God. The Bible tells us Creation points us to God. Taking walks with your kids, spouse or even by yourself can remind you God is at work in the world today. When walking with your kids, point out things that make you think about God. Closely examine lease, rocks, insects and other things God made to get a close up look at the intricacy of God’s Creation (take along a magnifying class and binoculars to see things better).

Long walks won’t make every aspect of Christian parenting easier, but they can definitely help. Start making room on your daily calendar for a walk.

Are Your Conversations With Other Adults Hurting Your Children?

We need to bring back some old adages you don’t hear much any more. One I always thought was a little strange was, “Little pitchers have big ears”. I have to admit, I am still not sure what jugs with big handles have to do with the topic of eavesdropping children, but the adage should be repeated often to parents and other adults. Not following this wisdom (from a man named John Heywood in 1546) leads to more brokenness in children than most adults understand.

Many adults believe that conversations with other adults in front of small children are not understood by little ones. Other adults think that if they can’t physically see a child, then the child can’t hear them. Or that if children are engaged in an activity, they aren’t aware of what is being said. Most adults seem to have the mistaken belief that children will understand their sarcastic comments as humor or that the adults were just upset and venting their feelings rather than actually believing what they are saying to their peers. Or more commonly these days, they believe social media posts about their frustrations in parenting will never be seen by their children.

The truth is that little pitchers do indeed have big ears. They are very much aware of many of the negative things you say and write about them. If they don’t have access to some of that information now, they will seek it out or stumble upon it when they are a little older. Those words said in an attempt to update friends and relatives, to get advice from other parents or as an attempt at being funny can negatively impact your children’s self image and undermine your relationship with them. Sadly, for some children, those comments can also begin destroying their faith in God.

Most of the time you will never know this has happened. They won’t usually come to you and complain that you were talking about them in negative ways to your friends. They just hurt emotionally. If it happens often enough, those hurts will start collecting and grow into emotional scars that may impact them for the rest of their lives. (At times, one particularly hurtful comment can have the same impact.) No matter how pure your motives may have been or whether or not they understood the conversation or its context correctly, damage has been done. Damage you can’t repair, because you don’t even realize it is there.

This doesn’t mean you can’t vent in healthy ways to friends or family or get their parenting advice. In fact, you need to do those things to be the best Christian parent possible. The key is choosing the times and places these conversations occur. If you are about to say anything about your children that may sound to them as critical or may make them think that you somehow don’t love them, please be 100% sure they will not hear you or read what you have written or posted now, or in the future. (Note: If you are remembering past negative social media posts, take some time to delete them.)

If you realize they may have heard you or they confront you, apologize. Empathize with them by imaging how you would feel if you heard someone important to you talking about you negatively. Make amends if it is possible. Regularly say positive things about your children to other adults when you know they can hear you. Put affirming love notes on their pillow or in their lunch box. You love and adore your children – even when they frustrate or upset you. Just make sure they know it, too.

Aligning Family Priorities, Goals and Activities

I would imagine if you were to ask any Christian parents what their number one goal for their children is, they would reply that they want their children to grow up to be strong Christians and to spend eternity in Heaven. (Or at least, I would hope that would be the response.) But our minister said something yesterday about Zacchaeus that got me thinking. Making money and having nice things had been important to Zacchaeus, even though it appears he considered himself religious enough to be interested in seeing Jesus. His top goal until the sycamore tree encounter had been making the large amounts of money common in his occupation.

Is our top goal really earning a lot of money and having lots of nice things? Or perhaps our most important goals have been those we have for our children – to help them get the type of job that will give them financial security and wealth? Or has some other goal actually become more important than our children’s spiritual growth and health?

It is said that one way to really understand your priorities is to see where you spend the most time and money. It makes sense. A “foodie” probably buys all of the best kitchen equipment and ingredients. He or she most likely spends a lot of time looking through cookbooks, finding the best restaurants or making their own edible creations. A “foodie’s” budget and time would be skewed towards those items and pursuits connected to food in some way.

Sit down with your kids and examine how each of you spends time and money. What “wins” out over God? Is it getting the best education? A baseball scholarship? A promotion? The perfect body, clothes, games or following? In fact, when you compare how you each spend time and money on your favorite interest(s) to how you spend time and money on God, how great is the difference? Is God a distant second, third or tenth down the line?

When God isn’t first in our lives and the lives of our family members, everything gets out of alignment. If you’ve ever driven too far on tires that were misaligned, you know it can end in disaster. When your priorities, goals and activities don’t reflect that you are putting God first, you can’t be surprised when your children push God even farther down the list in their own lives. In fact, God may become so marginalized, He is viewed as just another of dozens of equally important activities – easily substituted by one that is more entertaining or rewarding in their minds. Don’t let the spiritual lives, priorities, goals and activities of your family get out of alignment. Put God first, where He was always meant to be.

Top Tips for Correcting Parenting Mistakes

No parent is perfect. So what happens when you realize you have made a mistake in your parenting? Do you shrug it off, since children are “so resilient”? Do you assume it is too late to correct those mistakes? Are you overwhelmed with the time and effort it may take to correct your error and pray that God grants mercy to you and your children?

As much as we might want to make excuses for our mistakes, our children only benefit if we correct them. Sometimes, it is a fairly simple adjustment. In other cases, it may be extremely time consuming and even painful to get back on track. Making hard changes may feel impossible, but it isn’t. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Don’t procrastinate. Every day you continue to make the parenting error compounds the damage it may be doing to your children.
  • Pray for God’s help. You will need God’s help to endure those particularly tough changes and His forgiveness for any parenting errors that were made because of your own pride or rebellion.
  • Admit your mistake to your children. Many parents are afraid to admit mistakes, believing it will undermine the respect their children have for them. The reality is that they will respect you more for being honest and humble – even if they don’t like the change itself.
  • Give your children a real apology. Your apology should be sincere and model repentance. State your mistake, say you are sorry and list the changes you are making so the mistake will be corrected. Also share any atonement you are making to them for your mistake. Finally ask for their forgiveness. You can’t force them to actually forgive you, but modeling repentance and forgiveness for them makes it more likely they will eventually forgive you.
  • Explain the changes you are making in ways they can understand. Small children are concrete thinkers and need concrete details. It is important all of your children thoroughly understand what is changing and any new expectations of them.
  • Explain why you are making changes in ways that your children can understand. Younger children may not understand any abstract principles behind the changes, but it is still good for them to hear them. Your older children and teens may be more compliant if they thoroughly understand why the change is ultimately for their benefit.
  • Apologize for the tough transition period you are about to endure. It may take several weeks for everyone to adjust to any major changes. Empathizing with any annoyance or pain they may feel during the process can help make it a bit easier for everyone.
  • Give grace during the transition period. Old habits are difficult to change. Reminders should be given, as well as grace, until you can be sure non-compliance is about rebellion rather than forgetfulness.
  • Although it may be too late to correct your parenting mistakes for your adult children, it is never too late to apologize and encourage them to correct your mistakes with their own children. A sincere apology can go a long way towards repairing any relationship damage that may have occurred because of your mistakes. Alerting them to your mistakes can also help them break a potentially negative parenting cycle in your family.

Being humble enough to admit and correct your parenting mistakes isn’t always easy, but it is what your kids need from you….. and your future descendants as well.