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Building the Christian Family You Never Had

224 pages WaterBrook Press 1400070317

About the Author
Mary E. DeMuth is the author of Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God. Her writing also has appeared in numerous publications, including Marriage Partnership, Discipleship Journal, Dallas Theological Seminary’s Kindred Spirit, and the Dallas-area Star Community Newspapers. A graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, Mary is a workshop speaker for Hearts at Home. She lives with her church-planter husband and their three children in Le Rouret, France.
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Prepare Your Kids for the Big, Bad World

By Mary E. DeMuth

CBN.comThe most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them. —FRANK A. CLARK

I spoke with my friend Colleen last night. Her daughter is a sophomore in high school, something I can barely wrap my mind around. “When we hit the junior-high years,” Colleen said, “life sped by. I can’t believe my daughter’s going to be a junior!” We spoke about what it would be like to have an empty nest, to not see our children every day. Later I wondered what it would feel like to launch my children into the big, bad world.

It’s a process we parents hold in tension—nurturing our children in babyhood so they can grow up and be emancipated in young adulthood. We move from utter protection to complete relinquishing. H. Norman Wright cautions us along the journey:

Children pushed out of the home too soon can crash in flames. But if we hold onto them too tightly, they usually end up with an unhealthy adult dependence which hinders both personal and relational maturity.1

As pioneer parents, we tend to err on the side of protection. We want so much to do this parenting thing “right” that we hold on to our children for dear life. The good news is that we can go with our children into adulthood—not physically but through our legacy, our influence. They will carry bits and pieces of us with them for the rest of their lives.

As Patrick and I discussed what we would like to leave our children with when they—gasp!—leave home, we discovered ten things:

1. God is for you. The world can be a scary place, full of people who are against us. An important truth to hold on to is that God is for our children. He, the Creator of the mountains and the sky, watches out for our children. The apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Later, he clarified that nothing—not the present nor the future—can separate our children from the love of Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:38-39). As we parent our children, our underlying message should be that of grace—that God will carry them through any difficulty, that even when they walk through a Job-like week, God is still near. No difficulty can separate them from his love.

2. Life is not fair. It’s a beautiful truth that God is for us, but it must be piggybacked upon a sadder truth: Life is not fair. I hear, “But that’s not faaaaiiiir!” every day from my progeny, who love to place themselves as smallish judges of fairness. Even God in his dealings with humanity is not “fair” as we define the term. He allows the violent criminal who experiences a deathbed conversion the same amazing beauty of heaven as a soul who walked humbly with God for a lifetime. Throughout Psalms we hear the lament of David. Essentially he said, “Why do the bad guys get all the breaks? I’m doing my best to obey you, Lord, and things are falling apart. It’s not faaaaiiiir!”

In this world, Jesus said, we’ll have stress and worry and pain. He comforted his disciples by saying, “Take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB). Still, it’s difficult when bad people get ahead and good people encounter severe trials. It messes with our sense of fairness. The only way to reconcile the issue of fairness in our children’s lives is to continually point them toward heaven. At the end of the ages, all wrongs will be set right. God, the perfect Judge, will lay everything bare. Every secret act of love we performed will receive the applause of the Scarred One. And every evil will be recompensed.

Included in our teaching about heaven should be the awesome recognition that we all deserve God’s severe and merciless judgment. But because of Jesus’ crucifixion, sinners can be made clean. That is not fair; and it’s a good thing for us that God’s sense of justice differs from our own.

Beyond teaching our children to think in terms of heaven, it is not wise to always be fair with them. If being fair is our goal as parents, then we aren’t preparing them for the real world.

3. Handling money well is important. The statistics on consumer debt are staggering. Divorcing couples commonly mention finances as a major cause of the dissolution of their marriages. If we do not prepare our children to handle money well—and with a biblical perspective—we have not prepared them for the future. Because of the homes pioneer parents grew up in, we may not have been taught the biblical worldview regarding money and possessions. But for the sake of our children and their future, it’s essential that we learn godly money management.

Patrick and I would not be debt free and living overseas as missionaries had it not been for two men who taught us biblical foundations for handling money: Randy Alcorn and the late Larry Burkett—both of whom have written tremendously helpful books. Larry Burkett taught us the importance of budgeting. Even our son, Aidan, when he had a windfall of money, told me, “Mommy, I’m going to get a piece of paper and write down my expenses so I know where my money goes.” He’s becoming a budgeter!

Burkett also taught us to make giving to God our first financial priority. In turn, we’ve taught our children the importance of tithing and giving. Every time our children get their allowance, they automatically set aside funds to give back to God.

Randy Alcorn taught us about having an eternal perspective in our daily lives. He opened our eyes to heaven and how we should give and live in light of eternity. Through his books, he taught us the importance of contentment. We try to model contentment with our children, delaying purchases, learning to repair what we have rather than replace it with something new. Our children don’t always get what they want. Sometimes they have to work hard for things to understand the value of money.

Money encompasses so much of a young adult’s life. Before we release one of our children from the nest, we need to teach them these lessons:

• God owns it all, so hold things and money loosely. They don’t really belong to you.

• God is faithful and will provide for your needs.

• You can learn the secret of contentment.

• Someday you will give an account of your life, including how you spent the money God entrusted to you. Live in such a way that you will hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).

• Set aside the first portion of your income for God. Be willing to give, even when it means you’ll have to do without some things.

• Budgeting is your best friend.

• Financial decisions made in haste will haunt you later. And remember: There is no such thing as “get rich quick.”

• Honesty and integrity in your work are always preferable to cheating or lying to advance.

• Put aside savings for emergencies.

• Learning to trust God in finances takes a lifetime.

• You will balance a checkbook before you leave this house!

• Borrowing money makes you a slave to the lender. Avoid it, if possible.

4. We will love you no matter what. A parent’s love is not dependent upon the child’s actions. It may be excruciating to watch adult children make horrendous choices. Even so, welcome them home with open arms. While they are still sheltered under our roofs, it is imperative that we model Jesus’ love—that whatever sin or failure may befall them, we still love them.

Keep in mind, though, that sometimes love is tough, as James Dobson says. Our loving may seem completely unloving to our children. A child who continually borrows money and then squanders it might yell, “You don’t love me” when you cut him or her off financially. Yet, because you love your child, you will strive to teach him or her the necessary lesson of discipline. As our children grow, we must model this Godlike love—a love that disciplines in order to build godly character and welcomes the repentant son or daughter back with open arms.

5. Your choices mean something. Before they leave home, our children must know that their futures ride upon choices—critical decisions often made the first few years after leaving home. To prepare them now for the future, we must structure our homes in such a way that our children’s choices mean something. The parenting strategy called Love and Logic is based upon the biblical truth that choices carry consequences. If a child forgets his lunch, the parent’s responsibility—if she wants to see her child making wise choices—is to empathize but not bail her child out. Even now we can allow our children real-life consequences. As Jim Fay, founder of the Love and Logic Institute, says over and over in his talks, it costs our children far less to experience consequences when they are young and the stakes are lower than when they are older and their choices could lead to pregnancy, drug abuse, or death. Allowing for consequences when our children are young is one of the best gifts we can give them.

What are some tenets we want our children to know as they make adult choices?

Truth telling is paramount. Even now, we should foster a love of truth telling in our children. If your child lies to you, make sure it brings a more serious consequence than if he or she had confessed the “crime.” Lying and covering up take incredible amounts of energy, not to mention the distance it creates between our children and God.

Moral purity is absolutely essential. Our entire beings belong to God, including our bodies. Because he sees us as precious, we ought to treat our bodies similarly (see 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). It is essential that we teach our children not merely what to avoid, but we also need to teach them their great value—that the Holy Spirit resides within them (if they know Christ). If children can internalize this truth, they will be more apt to make better choices when it comes to purity versus sexual sin, because obedience springs from the inside out.

God’s forgiveness is free, but it is not cheap. God is for our children, but his forgiveness came at an alarming price: the life of his Son. Helping our children understand the significance of the cross will help them make better choices—out of love for Jesus—in adulthood.

The best reference point is the Bible. Throughout our parenting, we should be placing God’s Word in the hearts of our children so that when they are older, they will recall key verses at key junctures. A friend of mine remembers the relentlessness of her mother in infusing Scripture into her life. “It often annoyed me, but the temporary annoyance was worth the effort on her part. She saturated us with Scripture. Mom would use sticky notes and index cards slipped into my books as ‘bookmarks.’ Her ‘bookmark’ method reminds me of how she used to slip green beans into our pizza.”

6. It may hurt, but we will give you flight. The best gift we can give our children is the gift of letting go—to let them take flight, to let them learn dependence on God and interdependence on others. Watching our children struggle as adults can be excruciating, but we must let go.

The story has been told of a man who watched a moth try to break free from its cocoon. Moved with compassion for the moth, the man helped it along by tearing away the cocoon, eliminating the moth’s struggle. The moth crawled out of the cocoon, wings crumpled and useless. Eventually, the moth died because its wings weren’t strong enough. The struggle was necessary for the moth’s wings to develop correctly. The author writes, “My misplaced tenderness had proved to be [the moth’s] ruin. The moth suffered an aborted life, crawling painfully through its brief existence instead of flying through the air on rainbow wings.”2

Part of parenting our children well is knowing when our tenderness will lead to their ruin. Our children must be allowed the grace to free themselves from the cocoon of childhood, or they will never fly. They need to struggle to survive. We must not rescue our children by interfering with the lessons God wants to teach them.

In the early 1800s, Ann Hasseltine’s father had to allow for her struggle. Her fiancé, Adoniram Judson, asked for Ann’s hand in marriage before they were to embark on missionary service to India. I wonder how I’d respond if I heard these words from one of my daughter’s suitors:

I have not to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls, for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?3

We have to love our children enough to let them experience life’s twins: joy and bitterness. If our children lay down their lives for Jesus Christ here on earth, we will spend an eternity enjoying them in heaven. This world is just a hiccup, a blip on the heart monitor of life. Someday, by God’s grace, we’ll dance with our children in the Celestial City.

7. God made you the way you are for a reason. The psalmist said that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). God has made each human beautifully unique, with differing talents, callings, and hopes. I marveled when our second daughter, Julia, came along. She had blond hair instead of Sophie’s brown, she thrived in social situations where Sophie was more contemplative, and she encouraged with her voice while Sophie encouraged through her pen. We are all unique, even within our families.

We are instructed to “train a child in the way he [or she] should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). That means we become astute observers of our children, always taking special note of God’s gifting. We are to cheer on our children toward the way they were meant to go. Already I see my children heading in different directions. Sophie, articulate and artistic, may just be president someday. Aidan, the engineer, architect, and math lover, will likely design a space station on Mars. Julia, well, she’ll no doubt use her gift of gab and encouragement to become a teacher or a mommy.

Besides steering our children toward the path God lays for them, we must also infuse a deep sense of joy about who they are physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Particularly with girls, a healthy body image is the key to surviving adolescence with purity intact. If we can hoe a path in our children’s lives by offering encouragement that God has created each of them beautiful and unique, their lives will bear much fruit.

8. God’s call is radical. Jesus called the disciples to leave everything and follow him. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give the money to the poor. At the cross, Jesus beckoned us to come and die—to our agendas, our desires, our dreams. Before our children leave our homes, they must understand that the call of Jesus is costly. And it has eternal ramifications. As my family has ventured onto the mission field, it’s been difficult to watch my children, particularly my eldest, struggle with the calling on their lives—a calling that uproots them from everything familiar, away from every friendship, away from a wonderful church and a relatively easy life. When Sophie turned eleven, I wrote her a letter to share the truth that the call of God is radical and eternal:

On this, your eleventh birthday, I want to encourage you to walk in King David’s shoes. He wanted to erect an altar to the Lord and worship him. He approached a man about some land. He wanted to buy it to make the altar there, but the man, Araunah, said that David could have the land for free. David responded this way: “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24, NASB).

Sophie, this year as we move away from everything comfortable, you have the unique opportunity to offer something to God that costs you everything. Sacrifice is hard. David could easily have taken the land for free and then offered his sacrifices to God, but then they wouldn’t be difficult.

Sometimes God asks us to do hard things for the sake of his Kingdom. You now have a choice—to understand that life is a series of humbling circumstances. We may not always love where God takes us, and we may not like it or understand his ways, but eventually, I pray you’ll understand what a privilege it is he’s given you to offer your whole self to him, no matter how hard it is or at what cost.4

Following Christ is costly. As parents we must first model our own receptivity to his call to the nth degree. As our children see us drop our nets and follow Jesus, they’ll understand, in a pragmatic way, what it means to live radically for him.

9. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Life is not all about us. It’s about the eternal Kingdom of God—advancing it, embracing it, sharing it with others. It is my hope that our children will intrinsically understand this because of the choices Patrick and I have made, or perhaps, more fitting, by the mistakes we’ve made. Life is not about acquiring things or using others for our benefit. It’s not best lived in selfishness. True life is lived in light of eternity. Author Randy Alcorn often shares this truth: “All of us are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place.”5 If our affections bend toward Jesus and his home in heaven, our lives will spill into others’ lives, advancing the expanding Kingdom of heaven. As we rejoice in the trials God places in our paths and look forward to eternity, our children will catch that same spirit of giving up earthly things for the sake of gaining eternal rewards.

10. We are all pioneers—leaving is inevitable. This week I discovered a word that came from one of those word-a-day e-mail lists: momism. Someone coined it in the mid-nineteenth century. It means “to have an excessive attachment to one’s mother.” Conversely, it means “excessive mothering or overprotection.” Many of our families suffer from parentism. Either our children are too attached to us as they leave (maybe!) the home, or we are guilty of overprotection.

We are all pioneers, though, and we must venture beyond what is comfortable. Life is more adventurous when we view it for what it is: uncharted territory. We are walking a new path with our children, deviating from the path we ourselves walked as children. Our children grow up to become pioneer adults, able to speak to a generation we’ll not be able to reach. They are the arrows we shoot into an unknown future. But first, we must pull the arrows out of our quivers, stretch our bowstrings taut, and release our children into the wind.

God has entrusted our children to us. We are stewards of them from infancy to adulthood, from dating to marriage, from dabbling in hobbies to establishing a career. Life rushes by far too quickly. But lessons our children learn in childhood will—we pray—become the foundation for their adulthood as they make their way in this big, bad world.

Excerpted from Building the Christian Family You Never Had by Mary E. DeMuth, copyright 2006. Published by WaterBrook Press. Used with permission.


1. H. Norman Wright, Family Is Still a Great Idea (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1992), 243.

2. Quoted in L.B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 24.

3. Adoniram Judson, quoted in "Devoted for Life: The Life and Death of Adoniram Judson," Precept Ministries International,

4. Letter to Sophie, December 24, 2003. See Mary DeMuth, Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2005), 103-4.

5. Randy Alcorn, quoted in "Christian Book Distributors Interview with Randy Alcorn," Eternal Perspective Ministries,



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