Are You an “Over-Protective” Mom?

I hear this from concerned, young moms all the time: “My friends tell me I’m an over-protective Mom.” I suspect your friends are wrong. What you are is a Mom — period. You should not be penalized or chastised for simply doing your job to the best of your ability. Neither should you lower your standards to match those of your acquaintances who may have chosen to offer their children on the sacrificial altar of peer pressure.

How many people would consider the following to be over-protective?

  • Mom wants to have a say in what her child is taught.
  • Mom wants to have a say in when he is taught it.
  • Mom wants to have a say in what friends her child associates with.
  • Mom wants to have a say in when he associates with them.
  • Mom wants to have a say in what type of food her child eats.
  • Mom wants her child to avoid substances that will cause him to suffer allergic reactions.
  • Mom wants her child to be safe from harmful substances.
  • Mom wants her child to be safe from harmful influences.
  • Mom wants her child to be safe from harmful situations.
  • Mom wants her child’s needs to be met in a reasonable manner and time period.
  • Mom wants her child to know unrestrained love.

Just in case you are not sure how to answer the above question, let me broaden the subject a little bit. Suppose that instead of talking about an ordinary Mom, we are discussing the owner of a business:

  • The employer insists that his staff members learn to do their projects to his standards.
  • The employer insists that his staff members complete their projects according to his schedule.
  • The employer insists on hiring only staff members who exhibit a work ethic similar to his own.
  • The employer insists on establishing safety regulations and further insists that all employees follow those regulations.
  • The employer insists on approving the production materials that are used.
  • The employer insists on exercising his right to reward superior performance.

Essentially, a Mom performs all the same general functions that a business owner does, but the businessman is usually praised by his peers for his efforts to achieve excellence in productivity. The Mom is, unfortunately, scolded by her peers as being over-protective.

  • Where the employer may be seen as caring and compassionate, Mom is considered “smothering.”
  • Where an employer may be considered efficient, Mom is called “dictatorial.”
  • When an employer chooses high standards to produce an excellent product, a Mom, doing exactly the same thing for the same reasons, is often regarded as “too picky” and “a perfectionist.”

Moms, take a good, long, serious look at your principles and your standards and your reasons for choosing them. If those standards and principles were applied in a business setting, would they be praised by your customers and envied by your competitors? If your methods would be lauded for their excellence by the business world, then you can tell your critics to go find someone else to harass, because you will no longer be listening to them. (Then walk away with your fingers in your ears to prove that they have lost their audience.)

As just another Mom myself, I understand that caring Moms are not trying to control their universe; they are simply trying to do what is best for their children’s well-being. No sane mother wants to see her child kept isolated on a silken pillow as an object of adoration. On the contrary, mothers have hopes and dreams and aspirations for whatever level of success each child will attain, and every sane mother knows that this success cannot be achieved without hard work. Hard work means struggles, and those struggles come from encountering difficulties. Therefore, mothers actually want their children to confront and overcome certain difficulties, since that means that they are on the road to success.

Our job as Moms means that we act as road maps, traffic cops, crossing guards, and travel guides to help our children learn where to go, how to go, when it will be safe to go there, and how to get around once they arrive. Anyone who sees that as being “over-protective” is in the same category as those who feel automotive seat belts, traffic lights, and speed limits are “restrictive” infringements on their self-expression.

A caring Mom keeps her children from being side-tracked away from the truly important issues. A diligent Mom keeps her children moving in the proper direction and at a pace appropriate to the circumstances. A conscientious Mom is not being over-protective: she is doing her job and doing it well. Go, then, and do your job as a Mom, raising your children to the best of your ability. You have my approval.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy Standing Up Against “The Lie”.

From the Mailbox: Pregnant & Homeschooling

This is part of a series of articles based on actual questions I have received and my replies to them. Real names will not be used, and I will address my responses to a generic “Mom”; if you are a homeschooling Dad, the advice can usually be applied to you as well. The wording will be altered from the original letters (and often composed from parts of multiple letters) and personal details will be omitted or disguised in order to protect the privacy of the writers while still maintaining the spirit of the question. If you have a specific homeschooling question that you would like me to address, please write to me at If part of your letter is used in an article, your identity will be concealed.

Dear Carolyn,
I am trying to homeschool my children and keep track of the toddler, but my current pregnancy has upset our whole routine. How in the world will I keep up with homeschooling while caring for a new baby??? I find my strength is diminishing as the size of my tummy increases. I do not have the energy to do all of the household chores that I usually do, and my children are not very helpful in picking up the slack. Some days, I have hit my emotional limit and become a screaming maniac toward my poor children. Again, I am really worried about how I will ever be able to manage homeschooling and housekeeping when the newborn arrives. Any advice?

I will not pretend that anyone can wave a magic wand and solve all of your problems with one quick *POOF*, but I can offer some encouragement and maybe a few helpful hints and shortcuts.

Do not try to look too far into your future — do not consider the entire school year, do not consider this entire semester or even one month at a time. Right now, with Baby on the way, you need to deal with one day at a time. Once Baby arrives, you may need to shorten that to even just an hour at a time or 30 minutes at a time. I am serious. Dealing with shorter blocks of time will keep you from becoming completely overwhelmed. Take life in small bites — it is easier to digest that way.

Everyone can learn to do their part in helping out — as long as you give them responsibilities and the expectation that they can accomplish those tasks. Do not try to do everything yourself — not even everything that you have always done up to this point. As Baby’s arrival nears, your physical abilities will become more limited and your attention will be required in more places than before. Explain to your children that they have now matured to the position where they can assume new challenges and new responsibilities — even the toddler can learn to help out with folding washcloths or dusting the furniture legs that you can no longer bend over far enough to reach.

There is no crime in being pregnant! Your children know that you are pregnant, but they also need to learn that being an adult does not exempt a person from feeling tired, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed (and that goes at least double for being a pregnant adult). Both boys and girls need to learn that pregnancy brings hormonal shifts: as potential fathers and mothers, they need to know what to expect, so do not try to mask all of your symptoms, putting on a happy face and unintentionally giving them the wrong impression. You do, however, want to show them that adults can and will admit their own shortcomings and apologize when necessary. A heart-felt apology can soothe the most hurt feelings, and the hugs that accompany an apology bring tremendous healing.

Although I did not go through a pregnancy during our homeschooling years (so you are free to ignore my advice if you wish), I did have many incidents from other outside factors that stressed me enough that it overflowed into our “classroom.” I learned (eventually) to recognize the source of the irritation, and I learned (eventually) not to blame my students for things they had not caused. I also learned (eventually) that humbling myself before my children, apologizing, and asking them to pray for Mommy to be able to handle things better worked wonders. We became closer, more forgiving, and more patient and tolerant through each trial. At one point, a foot problem limited me to do no standing or walking for several days, so my children came up with the solution of seating Mommy in a wheeled office chair and pushing the chair (with me in it) from room to room. The resulting giggles from all of us brought more healing than just the physical “rest” could have.

Let your physical limitations be known — to yourself as much as to the rest of your family. Then sit down, put your feet up, and enjoy being hugely pregnant for a few more weeks. Accept the offers from friends to bring in a meal or stop by to vacuum the floors for you. Call your church or a close friend and ask for help if no one has realized that you need some help now, before Baby is born. Let each older child take a turn at entertaining and caring for the toddler for a little while each day, giving them an opportunity for bonding and giving you a short break and a time to focus your attention on the other children. Realize that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be a nutritious supper. Realize that it will not matter if the kitchen counters do not sparkle or if the sink has a few dirty dishes in it. The “homeschool cops” will not come to your door and haul you away merely for letting your family eat from paper plates or scaling back the lessons to just reading and math for a while.

Responsible, older children can be given the privilege of checking their own work for some subjects. The math books we used had an answer key that could show my students whether or not they had arrived at the correct answer. A separate solutions manual guided them step-by-step through the solving process when they were truly stumped. When consulted honestly (after completing the work, not before), answer keys and solution guides can teach as much as the lesson itself does. Those same older students can also serve as teaching assistants with their younger siblings, helping the youngsters scan their work for glaring errors before submitting it to Mom’s checking pencil. Every step a student takes toward checking his own work takes him that much closer to being an independent learner, something that will be very valuable when he makes the jump from homeschooled student to college student.

Once Baby has arrived, your strength will begin to return, but you can continue to give your children more responsibilities in the daily upkeep of your home. After all, it is their home, too, and lessons in cooking, cleaning, laundry, and home maintenance would be referred to as an Independent Living class by most public school programs. Enduring a pregnancy while homeschooling will be a learning and growing process for all of you, and one that will reap tremendous benefits. Do not underestimate the lessons that your children will learn through it.

For more encouragement, see these additional articles:
Do the Best Job You Can, and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest
Your Children Will Not Always Be Like This
Using Your Household Staff
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Teach Your Students to Teach Themselves
Teaching with Preschoolers Around… and Under… and on Top… and Beside
Guilt-Free Lesson Plans and Scheduling
People LIVE in This House
What Is Your “Best”?
Biblical Model of Discipleship
Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions

From the Mailbox: Disrespectful Kids

This is part of a series of articles based on actual questions I have received and my replies to them. Real names will not be used, and I will address my responses to a generic “Mom”; if you are a homeschooling Dad, the advice can usually be applied to you as well. The wording will be altered from the original letters (and often assembled from multiple letters) and personal details will be omitted or disguised in order to protect the privacy of the writers while still maintaining the spirit of the question. If you have a specific homeschooling question that you would like me to address, please write to me at If part of your letter is used in an article, your identity will be concealed.

Dear Carolyn,
I am trying to homeschool my children, but they do not respect me. They refuse to learn from me, simply because I am Mom. The teens do not set a good example for the younger ones. The teens stay up much too late, then need to sleep all day. We are struggling to get by on a single income and live in very cramped quarters. My husband works hard and comes home too tired to be able to help me with anything. I feel like I am doing everything by myself. Why am I doing this?

Dear Mom,
I am so glad that you have written to me. I am sure you have thought about giving up at this point, but instead you have reached out for one more thread of hope. I have that lifeline for you.

I will not pretend that I can offer a magic potion to make everything wonderful by this time tomorrow morning. The job ahead of you will be difficult, but it will be worth every drop of sweat and every tear you shed. I will list below several of my previous articles that will give you more insight into how to handle your situation. The order in which you read them and/or implement them is up to you, but I give the list as your homework. Some of the articles will address issues with your children, but others will address issues with you and your parenting role. The good news is that you can change your own attitude fairly easily.

Is this your first year of homeschooling? If so, the first year is always the toughest, no matter who you are. Do not become discouraged just because things are difficult during the first year — homeschooling becomes easier with each passing year as all family members learn the ropes and get accustomed to a new way of doing things. Students get used to having Mom for their teacher, and Mom learns the best ways to relate to each of her own children. It does not happen overnight, but perseverance will pay off.

I recommend spending time with your students, discussing and planning together for changes to your schedule for lessons plans and household chores. Shift your presentation of lessons to fit your children’s interests and help them get more excited about what they are learning. See Topical Index: Learning Styles for more help in this area.

As for the sleep schedules, are the older children staying up late because that is when Dad is home? Or are they just being undisciplined and defiant? There is no “rule” that homeschool classes must begin at 8am and be finished by noon. Adapt your lesson schedule to fit your family’s lifestyle: if Dad works a late shift and sleeps later in the mornings, you may be able to allow the children to sleep in and keep the household quieter for Dad’s sleeping habits. (I have included a link below that covers ways in which Dads can be involved with homeschooling without teaching formal lessons.) We knew one homeschooling family where the father worked a job that alternated shifts each week (week 1, days: week 2, evenings; week 3, nights; week 4, days; etc.). The Mom and children shifted their lesson times and sleep times as needed so that Dad and the children would always have opportunities to be together. It was difficult, but the relationship of father and children was more important to them than others’ opinions were, and they slept late or rose early to be able to have family times together.

Mom, this is a battle worth fighting, but the enemy is not your children. The enemy you are fighting is anything and everything that keeps your family from drawing closer together. Seeing that perspective can help you identify trouble spots more easily. Browse through the Titles Index and read anything else that catches your eye and scan through the topics covered in the Topical Index. You may especially benefit from the comfort offered in the Encouragement for Parents section.

And now, your homework assignment:
Respect Must Be Earned
Second-hand Attitudes
Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School
Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling after Leaving Public School
Parent Is a Verb
If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind
Limiting “Worldly” Vocabulary
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Siblings as Best Friends
Involving Dads in Homeschooling
Who Wrote This “Rule Book” and Why Do I Think I Have to Follow It?
Homeschooling Is Hard Work
Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup
Redeeming a Disaster Day
We’re Not Raising Children — We’re Raising Adults

We’re Not Raising Children — We’re Raising Adults

Do you set out to make bread dough or to make bread? Do you set out to make cake batter or to make a cake? Following this line of thinking, are you raising children, or are you raising adults?

We read The Chronicles of Narnia, not C.S. Lewis’ first drafts of his stories. When I accidentally attached the collar backwards to a blouse I was making, I did not wear it that way: I fixed the collar first. The time I burned the cookies we were making for Christmas gifts, we did not give those away to our friends and neighbors: we baked new ones. What I have before me is not necessarily what my desired end product will be. I am not raising children; I am taking the children that I have, and training them to be adults.

Children should grow up to be adults. I am sickened every time I see adults acting as immature, juvenile, undisciplined adolescents with poor manners and a lack of even basic social graces, making it seem that some people intend to live in a junior high locker room forever. Adults should never forget how to be child-like, but they should never hold onto childishness. It is delightful to embrace the innocence and wonder of childhood, but it is equally important to abandon the self-centeredness and learn to put the needs of others before your own desires. Childhood should enjoy carefree playtime, but we must mix in age-appropriate responsibilities to teach our children what they will need to know for their future roles in life: independent living skills, dedication to a job or career, home and car maintenance, how to be an effective spouse, how to be an effective parent, and how to teach their own children.

As adults, we need to consider ourselves to be the visual aids that children will observe and seek to imitate. Adults are role models to all around them, whether we like it or not. We are being watched by our own children, by others’ children, and by other adults as well. Consider your own behavior and whether you want to see it mirrored back to you by those youngsters who are using you as a pattern for life. Also, consider what behavior you approve of in others, even by your silence. Will you be comfortable hearing a child say, “But he did it (or said it), and people thought it was funny! Why can’t I do it?”

Children will not be children forever. Children should not be children forever. Each of us needs to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, but no one can tackle that all at once. I tried to view my children as “future adults” as much as possible and teach them, step by step, the things they would need to know and do as adults — from performing household chores to being financially responsible, from making wise decisions to being trustworthy and dependable. We are not just raising children — we are raising adults.

The Forgotten Role Model: Spouse

I have been noticing some differences lately between single adults and married adults, specifically in the way both types of people think and make decisions. I must admit that, at first, I had thought of the single adults I know as just being a little “quirky” in their thinking processes, and then I realized why they seem to do things differently than I or other married people do: an entirely different decision-making process is needed for couples than is used by single adults.

Single adults do not have anyone else to be accountable to. Single adults do not have a spouse for a sounding board or to take into consideration before any major decisions are made. Married adults automatically have another person for those purposes, but that does not mean that all married adults automatically give consideration to their spouses when making decisions. Having or being a spouse requires that decisions should be made with concern for your mate’s needs and desires. Married adults who make decisions as though they are still autonomous singles are destined to become single again. Sadly, their marriages will fail or at least will not be as successful and satisfying as will the marriage of two people who are both dedicated to fulfilling the needs and desires of their mates.

A sad fact of the world we live in today is that more and more children are being raised in single-parent households. Regardless of the reasons behind this phenomenon, the parents must fill in the gaps that these children experience. A single parent is doing double-duty, serving as both father and mother in many situations, even sometimes when custody of the children is a shared arrangement. My heart aches for the single moms and single dads who are doing their best to raise their children alone, and the homeschooling single parents are simply working miracles, in my estimation. However, while they are providing the household income and nurturing their children, there is an unfortunate side effect that they cannot effectively cover on their own. Their children do not see that parent modeling the role of spouse. Children commonly see their parents as a mother or a father, but not as a wife or a husband. The relationship of parent to child is usually restricted to the Mom or Dad role. The single parent is forced to make the major decisions alone. While advice may be sought from friends, co-workers, or grandparents, the decision ultimately rests only on the shoulders of that single adult.

Occasionally, an opportunity arises with my own children when I can give them a glimpse into what it means to me to be a wife, rather than always representing a mother. I point out the same things for my husband, how he is not just a father, his role is also much more complex. When we have major decisions to make, we discuss them together, but not always in front of our children. Therefore, it is important to give the children a synopsis of our decision-making processes so that they can realize how both husband and wife can influence the outcome. While the choices faced by single adults usually come down to a simple yes or no option, the conclusions reached by couples almost invariably contain some level of compromise on behalf of both parties. An adult who is completely unwilling to compromise for joint decisions is thinking with a single-adult’s mindset.

In our family, “checking in” has become routine now, but it stems from a very serious traffic accident that occurred only weeks into our marriage. That first time that my husband did not arrive home from work in a timely manner led to our habit of always letting the other know where you are and when you are leaving. Recently my husband had an after-hours reward party with some of his co-workers. He called me even before committing to attending, just to make sure I had not planned an early dinner. I encouraged him to go have fun at the celebration because he had earned it as much as any member of his designing team, but I understood and appreciated why he checked in first. Some people may not have felt obliged to notify their spouses, but in our family, the courtesy is commonplace. The single adult has no need to check with anyone before making decisions; the single parent may only need to notify a baby-sitter in case of a delayed arrival.

An acquaintance of ours has recently built a new house and purchased all new furnishings for it, replacing everything that was lost in a major house fire. This acquaintance is currently single and has proven it with every decision and every purchase. Every construction detail and every appliance was chosen without regard for any other person. If this homeowner had been married, many of these choices may have had different outcomes. As I toured this new home, I saw many things that I would have preferred to have another way. I could see many decisions that my husband and I would have discussed and done differently, had it been our home, but for this homeowner, discussions and compromises were not Standard Operating Procedure.

The single parent who is blessed with another chance at marriage will once again have the opportunity to provide the role model of spouse to the children, but while still single, it is an extremely difficult pattern to portray. This is where the rest of us can help. I have frequently found myself in the position of being the only married parent that some of my children’s friends know personally. In those cases, I carefully watch how I live out that role, so that I can be an effective role model to them for what I feel a spouse should be. When an appropriate opportunity arises, I speak up and share my opinion of how situations are handled differently by a wife than by a mom, or by a husband than by a dad.

Television programs are often, unfortunately, the most listened to voices and most watched role models in the lives of our youngsters today. I doubt that a suitable role model for a spouse could be found anywhere on television. The characters portrayed do not usually submit to a Biblical system of authority, but are usually involved in comic role reversals, continual insults and criticism, and deceitful plots against each other. Men are seldom seen as strong heads of their households; more often, they are depicted as beer-drinking buffoons, interested only in sports, and who depend upon their wives to keep the children in line and the household running efficiently. Television programming is rarely considered to be purely fictional entertainment; instead, it has gone so far now as to redefine “reality” for us.

The importance of taking time to be together as a couple, aside from time spent as a family (with the children), is well documented and well publicized. What I am emphasizing is the importance of demonstrating that spousal role to my children throughout the daily routine, not limited to special events and date nights. As I go through my days, whenever an opportunity presents itself, I will point out to my daughter, my son, and now their significant-others the things that I feel are important for me as a wife and the things that are important for my spouse as a husband. As a wife, I respect my husband’s opinion, knowing that he often has greater insight than I do into certain facets of life. As a wife, I try to keep our home as a place of solace and respite from the industrial world where my husband spends his days. As a husband, he looks after the safety of his family, ensuring that we have reliable vehicles to drive and maintaining our home as a secure and cozy shelter. As a husband, he provides for our financial security through a good job and working additional hours to earn extra money when unexpected needs arise. Major decisions are discussed together, with input from our children when the outcome will affect the entire family, but the children need to see that those decisions are made as a team, since we are not independent individuals. The role of spouse means that I am a member of a slightly larger but more important group, the couple, and that I should not neglect my responsibilities to that group. I must repeat this–having a spouse requires that decisions should be made with concern for your spouse’s needs and desires. Married adults who make decisions without regard for their spouse’s welfare or opinion are at a very great risk of becoming single again.

As we strive to train up our children in the ways we feel are best, we should try to include all of the roles they will possibly fulfill in life. I am seeing more children growing up with a view of themselves as future parents, but I seldom hear them speaking of themselves as future spouses or expressing concern over what their future spouse might think of a given situation. It would be sad, indeed, to prepare our children to be parents without preparing them to be spouses at the same time.

Second-Hand Attitudes

I refer to a “second-hand attitude” as a mind-set that is not a part of your core family philosophy. It is an attitude that is held by another party outside of your immediate family and that has been subconsciously adopted by a member of your family who does not actually hold to those beliefs himself. It is not your attitude; it is someone else’s attitude, but you are wearing it. Second-hand attitudes can come from a wide variety of sources and show up in an equally wide variety of ways.

“When you put your hat on, the attitude just takes over, and you can’t stop it,” the older woman responded to a her adult daughter, who was concerned as to why her normally mild-mannered, very polite mother had suddenly become an obnoxiously loud, rude customer. The mother and her group of friends regularly don their unique wardrobe for social outings, but their uniform of choice has had a rather anti-social effect. Sales associates would often prefer to run and hide, rather than deal with these customers, and other shoppers can be seen giving them a wide berth, getting out of their way. This is not a scene from the Jim Carrey movie, The Mask, where an ancient tribal facemask holds mystical powers and transforms any wearer into an alter ego. This is real life. It causes me to wonder just how well the same argument of “I can’t help it” would have worked for the daughter, had she used that excuse when she was a misbehaving child. I am guessing it would not have worked well at all, so why does Mom think it is a valid excuse for herself now? The rudeness is simply a second-hand attitude that Mom picked up from her friends, but she is attributing it to an inanimate object from her closet.

My young daughter used to spend occasional nights at Grandma’s house, which were followed by extensive shopping excursions the next morning. They would make the rounds of dollar stores and half-price stores, prowling through the low-priced trinkets, and my daughter would usually come home lugging a bag of treasures that Grandma had purchased for her. The most serious item she brought home, however, was a change in attitude. Suddenly, in place of the kind, gentle, and helpful member of our family, there was a dramatic, selfish, commanding, and demanding Princess. Her every whim had been catered to and every desire had been fulfilled, to the point where she believed that she was entitled to that excessive amount of attention and expected that service to continue at home as well. Sorry. That ain’t happenin’ here. Grandma’s attempts at bonding resulting instead in a second-hand attitude.

During their high school years, my son and some other boys became good friends with a twenty-something single man at church. The young man felt he was mentoring the boys, but the results were so objectionable on our end that we had to curtail our son’s involvement in the relationship. He would come back from group activities with the guys wearing a very irresponsible attitude and stating that it should be acceptable for him to stay out until the wee hours of the morning just because his older friend was along, even though he himself was not yet even old enough to drive. Aside from the premature independence issues, “accidents” and “incidents” seemed to follow this group wherever they went, and the young “mentor” showed himself to be more of a ringleader in mischief than a role model for mature behavior. Again, sorry. That ain’t happenin’ here. Suffice it to say that a mid-teens boy should not take on the mind-set of a post-college man, and since the troublesome attitude enveloped someone too large for me to pick up and place in his bed for a nap, stronger measures were required. When he could not shake off the second-hand attitude, we removed him from the group.

In each of these cases, a second-hand attitude was inflicted by others, then adopted and brought home by an unwitting recipient. The infectious attitude was not previously held by the recipient, nor was it accepted by the recipient’s family, but there it was nonetheless. Second-hand attitudes do not have to stick. I usually had to explain in matter-of-fact terms exactly what I found undesirable about the attitudes that had come home with my children, but once they understood what to watch out for, they could more easily spot problematic attitudes in their friends. Their motivation for careful attitude analysis was the guarantee that the relationship would be terminated if the attitudes continued to come home. If the friendship itself was beneficial, it could be allowed to continue — but the poison attitude had to be eliminated.

A common childhood ploy is to say, “But Amanda’s Mom doesn’t care that she acts this way,” or “Joey talks like this all the time.” My response to that is, “Joey and Amanda should be very glad that they are not my children. If they were my children, they would not be allowed to act like that.” That reaction helped my children immeasurably to see that other families may have different values from ours, but it is our values that rule in our household. While it is rarely possible to discipline someone else’s child, I have gone so far as to look an offending child (who was not my offspring) straight in the eye and say with a firm smile and without flinching, “You are so lucky that I am not your mother.” My meaning was seldom lost; they nearly always stopped the unwanted behavior or dropped the selfish attitude and behaved in a more civilized manner. They already knew how far over the line of acceptability they were, but they needed a reminder that someone else was watching.

A positive viewpoint is a wonderful thing to bring home. An encouraging outlook cheers everyone. Conversely, an attitude that produces negative changes in behavior has a nasty effect on everyone who even comes near. I have learned the hard way that I cannot allow these unwanted attitudes to infect my family. I have no problem restricting associations that prove harmful to members of my family. I might decide to skip activities, stop arranging play dates, or just say, “If you continue to bring home _____’s attitude, you will no longer be allowed to go see him/her.” The friendships were not more important than the relationships within our family.

By homeschooling, our children’s friendships are naturally more limited than those of their public schooled counterparts. If my children were only going to have one or two good friends, I wanted those relationships to be worthwhile. Another mom I knew from a very remote area would travel any distance to allow her teen to interact with any other teens, even those of questionable character. I disagreed; I was willing to “go the distance” for a positive, worthwhile experience, but not just because a child demanded to go. Perhaps I have the mercenary tendencies of “what’s in it for me,” but I believe there should be some benefit to my child to make the relationship valid. My child may merely gain experience as a mentor or role model by befriending someone less outgoing than himself, but that in itself is a healthy, positive thing. Picking up harmful second-hand attitudes from those friendships is neither healthy nor positive.

Parents, you have permission to control who your children’s friends are. If your children are old enough or stubborn enough to react negatively to your decision to end their friendship with an unfavorable character, let me assure you that God is just as concerned for your child’s welfare as you are. I have seen many cases where parents prayed for a friendship to dissolve, leaving their child unaffected, and watched exactly that take place. Usually, the offending “friend” became disinterested in continuing the relationship and moved on. At other times, the child’s eyes were suddenly opened to how he was being misused in the relationship, and he broke it off himself.

It took a few tries, but my children finally learned that they could recognize the symptoms of an unwelcome attitude and take steps not to adopt it themselves. In the case of my small daughter going to Grandma’s house, I told her before she left that I expected her to behave the same way at home after visiting Grandma that she had behaved before she went to Grandma’s. She understood that I expected her to be just as helpful and kind when she returned, even though she had not had to lift a finger to help while she was away. There were several times after that that I would notice her begin to respond one way, then catch herself, and change her reaction. Sometimes, she would change a verbal response. At other times, it was just a look on her face that betrayed the presence of The Attitude, and then The Attitude disappeared, leaving her countenance clear and free. In my son’s situation, it was beneficial for the other boys to have him present as a positive role model, but even that relationship had to be ended when it did more harm to him than it did good for them. The welfare of our own family had to take priority.

I read once that the things other people do to us are like bags of garbage they leave on our doorstep. We cannot prevent them from dropping their trash here, but we do not have to bring it inside and spread it around on the furniture. A Second-hand Attitude is nothing more than someone else’s garbage that gets dropped on our doorstep. However, we can recognize it as their trash and refuse to put it on and wear it as our own. If your children bring home an undesirable attitude, help them to recognize it, eliminate it, and take steps to avoid it in the future. If the attitude continues to prevail, do not be reluctant to break off the relationship that generated the attitude change. Second-hand attitudes are infectious, and the welfare of your family must take priority.

Limiting “Worldly” Vocabulary

It happened again. I was sitting with a group of believers, enjoying the fellowship, and it happened. Someone felt it was necessary and strangely appropriate to share a “funny story” that included vulgar language or references to vulgar topics. Uncomfortable faces dotted the circle as a few people looked at the floor, others smirked, and a few let slip some mostly stifled laughter.

I have been in many home fellowships, organized church groups, Christian conferences, and just about any other form of Christian gathering you can think of. In every setting, sooner or later, someone uses language he should not or brings up a topic that is better left untouched. I am not trying to be an extremist or self-righteous: there are a couple of carelessly used slang words that I am trying to purge from my own vocabulary. However, I am more willing to extend grace to the new believer than I am to the Christian who is “old enough to know better.” When the offending party is not a brand-new believer, but instead is a pastor, study leader, or other semi-mature believer, I cannot help but be saddened by the influence of the world on a Godly person.

I was appalled into a speechless stupor one night as two men whom I had (until this point) admired as dedicated Christians held a casual discussion on which obscenities had become mere slang terms in our culture and which ones they considered to still be true swear words. Not only did I consider this to be a completely inappropriate discussion, but it also was neither encouraging nor edifying to the other members of the Body of Christ who were present. To say I was offended by their behavior would be a gross understatement. I deeply regret being shocked beyond words — I wished that I (or anyone present) had had the fortitude to speak a word of rebuke.

As Christians, we are admonished not to conform to the world (Romans 12:2) and not to speak unwholesome words (Ephesians 4:29). Therefore, I was greatly encouraged by my own homeschool mentor who, years ago, told me that she had required her family to substitute less-offensive words for what she considered “worldly” terms: words for certain bodily functions, topics that should not be brought up in public gatherings, “mild” swear words — the things that many Christians say just because “everyone else” does.

I find this language among professing Christians to be not only offensive, but it also has the effect of bringing us down to the level of the world. We can effectively communicate without having to stoop to the level of the world — we do not have to use their vocabulary. We all should have learned by an early age that certain topics are best discussed in private or in the doctor’s office, and Jesus encouraged us to let our “yes” and “no” mean exactly that, so that we do not have to reinforce them with stronger words.

Our presence as representatives of Jesus in this world is to be as salt (either adding flavor or bringing healing) and light (vanquishing the darkness). Nowhere in scripture are we advised to lower ourselves to the standards of the world. However, we are urged to build up the Body of Christ and encourage each other in the faith (Hebrews 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). Our prudent choice of words will help.