I don’t know about you, but a looming lockdown in June didn’t have the same effect on me as it did in 2020. In fact, I had secretly hoped that I would get another shot at ‘learning from home’. Now you might think I’m crazy or that I’m painting a glossy, unrealistic picture of what life in lockdown is really like. However, I’ve had some time to develop my thinking since 2020 and I’m more convinced than ever that God is blessing our families with a uniquely beautiful opportunity to deepen our relationships with him and one another.
I’m the first to admit that the challenges of 2020 didn’t bring out the best in me as a mother, nor were the days filled with fun and frivolity and laughter. There was tension, miscommunication, technology overload and exhaustion. There were raised voices, furrowed brows, groans and cries of desperation.
But there were moments of joy too—simple moments that bonded us a little closer together. There were times when we noticed something in God’s creation and had time to wonder at it. There were occasions when our children had time and scope to ask questions about God and his word without the pressure of the next task shutting it down. We had time to do a chore together and then enjoy the reward of collective effort.
These times of enforced togetherness for households are precious opportunities. In a culture that encourages parents to outsource everything from learning how to cook to learning how to cartwheel, it is little wonder we have felt overwhelmed by the task of becoming ‘teacher’ and ‘parent’ and for some of us ‘worker’ all at the same time. Yet just because our culture outsources teaching and training to the ‘experts’, it does not diminish the role of parents in the lives of our children. In 2021, I can now see three distinct opportunities for parents.
1. The opportunity to remember our calling
When our eldest child was preparing to begin school, the parents were reminded of their role by the principal: ‘You are your child’s first and most important teacher!’ Friends, this is true! The Bible goes further still. Not only are we called to teach them how to talk and read and tie their shoelaces, but we are clearly called to teach and model the gospel daily.
Even though our children may normally be taught by others at school (or day care), we are still their most influential teachers and role-models. God has entrusted us with the responsibility of leading and pointing our kids to him, teaching them who he is and what he has done. We are called to this role from the minute our children are born or come into our care, not just when they are required to stay home from school due to a pandemic.
It’s a good time to ask ourselves: have we been outsourcing too much of this role to others? Dear parents, let’s remember God’s word to his people:
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:7–9)
Parents are called to teach God’s commands to their children, when we leave the house and when we are sitting at home (for weeks on end!). Importantly, this starts with having God’s law upon our hearts. Good teachers know the gospel and live it out in their lives first before they teach it to others.
We need to be looking for ‘teachable moments’ throughout the day to point our kids to God. When our children argue and fight, we can remind them that God calls us to love, serve and forgive one another, just as he has done for us. When our children are fearful or worried, we can comfort them with God’s promises and pray with them. When we come together to eat a meal, we can ask our children from whose hand it has come and then stop to thank him for it.
2. The opportunity to re-establish our family’s spiritual disciplines
Most of us would agree that we have the primary responsibility for discipling our children. And yet sometimes, we end up leaving it all to our church.
I know in our family, we find going to church easy to prioritise, but we have at times neglected our personal Bible reading and studying God’s word together as a family. In our kids’ little years, and even now as two of them are at school, our personal Bible reading has almost always been out of sight of our children.
Since lockdown last year, I’ve become more and more convinced that my children witnessing me regularly reading God’s word and praying is one of the most powerful ways to disciple them and encourage them in their own spiritual disciplines as they grow up.
So we have taken the opportunity to place God’s word and prayer as our first priority for the day in lockdown. No school work, chores or play are done until we stop to read God’s word. Everyone gathers and grabs an age-appropriate Bible to read from and we sing a song together or pray about what we learned to finish. Even our two-year-old copies his older brother and sister by flipping through his toddler Bible!
What better way could we refocus our family’s priorities than to begin each day with his words in our minds and hearts? Yes, things will have to pivot again when school resumes, but we will have used this flexible time wisely to fix our eyes on Jesus.
3. The opportunity to keep formal education in perspective
You might feel that the previous two opportunities—embracing our teaching role as parents and recharging our family discipleship—are more like heavy weights around your neck. Just another ‘task’ for you to try to squeeze into an already overloaded day’s routine.
But let me suggest that at the moment we have more flexibility than we normally do with regards to how we spend our time, including our children’s schooling. Even teachers understand that there is no way that the same degree of content and assessment can continue under the current circumstances. Every child, no matter what school they attend, will miss out on some aspect of their schooling in this time. It’s an impossible expectation that home education will replace school education seamlessly.
But is that such a disaster? Learning happens every day regardless of whether my children are at school or not. Every time my children help me with a chore, when they have to negotiate roles in a game; when they choose to read a book, help a sibling, bounce a ball—learning is happening. School teachers are even recognising the value of this—one of my son’s tasks this week on Google classroom was to set the table!
So why not choose, as Christian parents, to focus our time and energy on these everyday tasks with our children, even at the expense of some of the academic tasks? Time spent building skills for a godly, gospel-driven life is still valuable ‘home learning’! Let’s hear the wise words of Ecclesiastes:
Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say 'I find no pleasure in them' …
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 12b–13)
If I choose to fear God and spend this time teaching my children to keep his commandments over and above their schoolwork, will I regret it? Or will I have chosen what is better for eternity?
Gemma Bartlett is married to Matt and they have three children. Together they have a passion for intergenerational ministry. Gemma works part-time as the Mothers’ Minister at Jamberoo Anglican Church, south of Wollongong.
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