Trading Cultural Norms for Heavenly Patterns
By LESLIE LUDY
When I was in sixth grade, I attended a large, cutting-edge public school. One of the required classes that year was called “Preparing for the Teen Years” and included lessons on self-esteem, sexuality, and social issues. Up until then, it hadn’t really occurred to me that I was coming to an age where rebelling against my parents was normal and expected. But my teacher informed me confidently that bucking against my parents’ rules and beliefs was an ordinary and healthy part of growing up. I heard so much convincing evidence to support the fact that becoming a teenager meant rebellion, self-absorption, and bad attitudes that I begin to believe the only way I could be normal was to jump on the bandwagon, whether I wanted to or not. I had always had a close and loving relationship with my parents. But after sixth grade, I found myself pulling away from them. After all, I didn’t want to be the only thirteen-year-old in my school who still respected her parent’s ideals and standards.
Going to youth group at church further promoted my rebellious streak. I remember my youth pastor telling us, “You are at an age when your parents don’t really understand you. They have no clue what you are going through. That’s what I’m here for! I’m young, and I know what you face every day at school. So come to me with your problems and I’ll be here for you.”
Somehow the world convinced me that the only way to be happy and well-adjusted was to live according to cultural norms. It became a self-fulfilling prophesy—everyone told me that I was headed into the “terrible teens” and because I believed those lies, my teen years really did become terrible.
Looking back, I realize that my miserable early teen years weren’t a result of me turning a certain age or because of the hormonal changes going on in my body. Rather, my teen years were rocky because I accepted the lies of the culture and chosen to align my life with cultural norms.
This isn’t just a pitfall of modern teens. As Christian mothers raising our children in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation” (see Philippians 2:15), we must be watchful about falling into the trap of accepting cultural norms for our family. How many times have other people tried to predict our children’s future by saying things like, “Uh oh — your child is headed into the terrible twos! Get ready for disaster!” or “Oh, your kids are so little and sweet right now — enjoy it while it lasts because once they become teenagers they will want nothing to do with you!”
Whenever I hear someone “prophesy” this kind of doom and gloom over the direction of my kids’ lives, even if they are just joking, I inwardly resist their words. The Bible does not say that all two-year-olds will be terrible and that we may as well get ready for misery and disaster. The Bible does not say that it is normal and expected for teenagers to hate or disregard their parents. In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that if we train up our children in the way they should go, that they will not depart from it when they are older. (See Proverbs 22:6.) Psalm 144 paints a beautiful picture of young people who grow up to bring joy and honor to their families: “Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace” (NASB), and Psalm 128 proclaims: “Your children [shall be] like olive plants all around your table.” Proverbs 31 promises that a virtuous woman will see her children “rise up and call her blessed.” These life-giving statements of God’s pattern for family are the opposite of this world’s dismal predictions about how our kids will turn out.
When we surrender our lives and our families to the Author of love, order, beauty, and honor, and live according to His pattern, we can have completely different expectations for our children’s lives and futures. God doesn’t plan dismal or disastrous things for our children’s lives. He has amazing plans for those who yield to Him: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).
This is not to say that we should expect our children to be picture-perfect or that we’ll never go through bumpy stretches in the child-raising years. Scripture makes it clear that we as parents have a commission from God to train, discipline, disciple, and lead our children toward the path of righteousness, which means they must be taught and trained in what is right. It doesn’t happen automatically; it is a process. We must invest truth and life into them, and they must choose light instead of darkness — and none of that happens overnight. However, one of the biggest mistakes that we can make as parents is to exchange God’s expectations for the world’s. Sometimes it happens so subtly that we don’t even realize we are doing it.
When our first child, Hudson, turned two he started having symptoms of the “terrible twos” that so many people had warned me about. When he got frustrated, he would have a complete melt-down and get totally out of control. One time when Eric and I were walking through a mall with Hudson, he started fussing and crying because we wouldn’t let him have something he wanted. Eric had been carrying him, but set him down when he started fussing in order to speak firmly to him. The minute Hudson’s feet touched the ground, he took off running in a blind rage, screaming as loud as he could and running as fast as his little legs would carry him. Both of us had to sprint in order to catch up with him and by the time we reached him we were panting and out of breath. As people turned to stare at my screaming son, I was completely mortified. I envisioned all those times when I’d seen other moms in similar scenarios and thought to myself, “Why don’t they get their kid under control?”
For several weeks, this pattern continued. Eric and I did the best that we could with consistent discipline and training, but nothing really seemed to be working. It never occurred to either of us that we should be praying about Hudson’s new issues. Why? Because we assumed that it was just a normal and expected part of Hudson turning two years old. That’s what the world had convinced us of.
But one day we felt prompted to take Hudson’s behavior to God in prayer. As we laid these cares before God, we began to realize that we didn’t need to accept Hudson’s meltdowns as our new normal. As we prayed and asked God for a healthier pattern, He began to work in Hudson’s life supernaturally to help him gain greater self-control. He gave us wisdom on how to work with Hudson to prevent melt-downs before they even started. He even showed us practical things we could do in Hudson’s diet and schedule that made a huge difference in his behavior. Soon, the “terrible twos” scenarios had faded into the past, and we ended up truly loving and enjoying that season of our son’s development.
I can’t help but wonder what that year of Hudson’s life would have been like if we’d simply shrugged and said, “Oh well, I guess this just comes with the territory of having a two-year-old!” God was waiting to give us wisdom, guidance, help, and grace and lead us to victory, but we almost missed it because we had been accepting cultural norms for our son.
Throughout my motherhood journey, there are always new areas of my kids’ life and development in which God is challenging me not to accept the world’s expectations or resign myself to cultural norms. Adoption has been one of the biggest areas in which we have deliberately chosen not to settle for the world’s predictions. Before we brought our first adopted daughter home from Korea, many people told us that we could expect Harper to have difficultly bonding to our family and many other lifelong emotional problems because of her traumatic start to life. We even had people give us the name of secular psychiatrists to take her to and recommend medication that we could put her on for when she showed signs of attachment disorder — as they knew she surely would.
As first-time adoptive parents, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We didn’t want to be unrealistic about the challenges of adopting. We knew that there would likely be specific challenges to overcome. But we also knew that God was writing our adoption story supernaturally, and we felt strongly that we were not supposed to listen to the world’s doom-and-gloom predictions over our daughter’s future. So when we were told that Harper had been diagnosed with “stranger anxiety” and they were concerned about her ability to bond with us, we began to pray aggressively for God to work in her heart and life and prepare her to bond with our family. Miraculously, from the minute she came into our arms, she was happy, content, and peaceful. Never once have we had to deal with the typical “bonding issues” or emotional problems that so many people predicted we would. I believe this is due to prayer, faith, and embracing God’s expectations for Harper’s life instead of the world’s.
Our domestic adoption of Kipling was similar. It is an open adoption which means that we have a relationship with his wonderful birth mom and that she is a part of his life. People had all kinds of negative predictions about what this kind of arrangement would be like. But through prayer, faith, and letting God write the story, it has been a beautiful, positive experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
As our newly adopted children Rees and Lily have recently come into our home, we are seeing the same supernatural grace upon them because of prayer and faith. Unlike our first two adoptions, Rees and Lily are older and they actually remember their lives before coming into our family. For over two years of their lives they were raised by others and we were not around them much. But though they hardly knew us when they came home, we have already seen God knit their hearts to ours in a truly miraculous way. It is like they have always been part of our family.
This isn’t to say there won’t be challenges or bumps down the road for any of our adopted children. But time and time again in our family, we have experienced the amazing results of adopting God’s expectations and shunning cultural norms. We desire to approach each stage of our kids’ development and each new challenge with a faith-filled perspective instead of a doomsday one. And when we do, it makes a tremendous difference in how things turn out.
If you sense the need to forsake cultural norms and adopt God’s expectations for your children, here are some ways to begin:
1. Guard Your Tongue
As a mom I have learned that my words have great power in my kids’ lives. James 3:8-10 warns us that the tongue “is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
I often hear parents “label” their children’s behavior (often right in front of them) by saying things like, “Well, he’s in the terrible two’s — what can I say?” or, “This is Susie — she’s our little rebel!” or, “Little Kyle is such a fraidy-cat — he won’t go anywhere without me.” I once visited a home in which the parents introduced their four-year-old daughter as “Jenny-the-Hurricane.” (Sure enough, she was wild and unruly most of the evening!)
When kids hear these negative words spoken over their lives (even in a light-hearted way) doesn’t it stand to reason that those labels will become part of their identity? So instead of Susie going through a short struggle with rebellion, she will likely end up accepting rebellion as normal, because her parents have labeled her as a rebel and have come to expect that behavior from her. Instead of Kyle having a short-term struggle with fear which is overcome by his parents’ love, prayer, and training, he will likely carry the “fraidy-cat” label around with him for years and assume that’s just part of who he is.
Even though our kids will likely go through seasons where they struggle more intensely with a specific behavior, we must be extremely guarded with the words that we speak to them and about them. If we attach a negative label to our kids, it’s another way of shrugging and accepting the fact that they will never change — or at least that they won’t change for a long time. Our words often become a self-fulfilling prophesy when we fall into this trap: We see a bit of evidence that our child is being rebellious, wild, fearful, shy, etc., and then we speak those words over them as if those things define who they are. Then our children keep walking in those patterns because their parents don’t expect anything different.
I have learned that even when my children are headed down the wrong path in a certain area, the worst thing I can do is to fuel the fire with my negative words and dismal expectations. It’s the difference of approaching a challenge with God’s expectations or the world’s. The world throws up its hands in defeat and puts labels on kids, expecting them to always struggle in that area. God calls us to approach the situation with prayer, faith, hope, love, and consistency, believing that as we press into Him, His purposes will be accomplished in the lives of our children.
2. Don’t Pursue ‘Normal’ for Your Kids
When Eric and I first began speaking to parents about how they could encourage their children in God’s pattern for romance and relationships, one of the statements we heard often was, “Those are interesting suggestions — but we want our kids to be normal!” Parents often balked at the idea of watching their children make “radical” decisions that would prevent them from fitting in with the rest of the world — decisions like choosing not to flirt or engage in shallow dating relationships.
In response, Eric and I candidly shared with these parents what is “normal” among today’s teens: sexual promiscuity, ungodly behavior, emotional and physical compromise, teen pregnancy and STD’s, and kids getting involved in sexual behavior at shockingly early ages. In conclusion I told them, “Believe me, if you really knew what is ‘normal’ in today’s world, you would never want ‘normal’ for your children.”
As Christian parents it should not be our goal for our children to fit into this world and be like and accepted by their secular peers. Sure, it’s important help them learn proper social behavior and teach them good “people skills.” There is no reason to have our children be “unlikeable” simply because they do not know how to act appropriately. However, when it comes to standing for truth and living a godly life, we must remember that our children will never be “normal.” In fact, we shouldn’t want them to be normal! If they truly give their lives to Jesus Christ, they will often be treated as odd or uncool because of their lifestyle and beliefs. And that is a positive thing! Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn. 15:19).
So as you dream about your children’s future, remember that they are not called to be “normal.” Rather, they are called to be set apart for Jesus Christ. When our kids give their lives to Jesus and walk in His ways, we should expect anything-but-normal fruit in their lives. Other kids may be consumed by pop-culture; other kids may rebel as teens; other kids may disregard their parents’ instructions; other kids may be ruled by selfishness — but by God’s grace, may we not expect or accept these patterns in our children’s lives. God has called them to so much more. And when we point our kids to God’s version of “normal” instead of the world’s, they can reach their full potential and change this world for Christ.