I had a great conversation the other day with someone dear to us about the impact our communities have on who our kids become. He was arguing that the community itself plays a much greater role than the parents: something I am not sure I believe. In light of this, he was describing their struggle as a family in choosing the right place to raise their child.
My parents bought the house we grew up in largely because its location put us inside what was, at the time, “the great school district.” But the more I talk to people, the greater skepticism I hear about public schools anywhere, and those once uniform communities where those “great” schools most often were have evolved and now deal with what used to be considered only “urban” issues like gangs and weapons and drugs.
As I thought about this, and considered the increasing shift of poverty from the urban to the suburban, I wondered: where are those places that are “safe” or “good” enough? And I genuinely don’t say that to be condescending or judgmental. What I am seeing among my generation is many parents who are drawing tighter and tighter perimeters around their children. Homeschooling is a flourishing example of this (I know that people homeschool for a variety of reasons, and I respect and support my friends who make this choice). Likewise I have seen people leave churches that are not providing programming (or peers) that are suitable. And it all makes me wonder: how much can (and should) we as parents rightly control?
Two blog posts I read in the last year remind me of the different sides to this: both from Christians, one was written with a kind of “hell yeah, my job is to shelter my kids–that’s called being a parent”, while the other dealt with the more subtle enemies present in homogeneous Christian subcultures, asking the question: “is the unseen enemy not the more dangerous?” And then of course there was Al Mohler recently declaring the need for an exit strategy, period, from public schools altogether.
There are so many levels to the conversations I hear among my peers about raising children today: what choices can be made to insure desired outcomes for education, character development, ambition, spirituality and faith? While I do not advocate a “one right way” to parent and choose where to live or how to educate your kids, I feel such a heavy blanket of anxiety covering so many of my peers when it comes to making these choices. And many of these questions remain unanswered for our family as well.
There is the friend who is sending her daughter to public school and crying every day because she feels such a great a mount of guilt for not homeschooling like many of her peers are doing. Or the friends who decided to only have one child because of how great the expense will be to educate her in a rigorous, private setting. Or the friend who lives where I grew up who fears sending her son to the public schools there because she is afraid of what he will learn. And the list goes on…
So while my generation desires all of this diversity and cares deeply about justice issues, the truth remains that when it comes to our children, we want every privilege we can possibly grasp for them, and any choice against that is unbearable. Just last night I read a blog that was new to me where the author writes about the ways his privilege has come at great cost to others. He uses the image of a mountain of bones to describe the ways others have been oppressed for the sake of his elevation. He writes: “Nevertheless, Iâ€™m trying to climb down this mountain to live at the lower heights. In all things I must place my spiritual kinship above ethnic ties and racial ties and even family ties. I donâ€™t do this out of guilt, but because I honestly believe that I can experience more of the Kingdom this way, and experience more of Jesus this way.”
I think this perspective is exceptionally rare: not in the expression of that set of ideals but in the flesh of choosing the costs of living them out.
One of my kids’ favorite movies is Land Before Time. In the movie, the mommy long-neck dinosaur gives her life to protect her baby from a T-Rex. With this example, I have told Mercy and Aaron that mommies always protect their babies. It has proven useful when I set a limit or require something that is unpopular: “What do mommies have to do?” I ask. “Protect their babies!” they answer in unison, and are usually willing to comply.
And that is what I am left with in this discussion: some threats to our kids are clear. I write often enough here of those kind. Others are much less so. Self-absorption, depression, self-mutilation, rampant sexual activity, materialism: these are the blights of the privileged. And if my friend is right, then our job of discerning the greater threats will make all the difference.
I think too of that verse about losing your soul in the process of gaining everything else the world has to offer, and I think about that great school or the community that will best influence our kids and wonder sincerely how we make that call: when is it a gain and when a loss? Surrounded by competing values, which will we elevate? I think most of us think that as long as our church youth group does some nice missions work; as long as we do an international trip together as a family; as long as we are “enlightened” about issues of race and justice in our country then we are renouncing that prized spot atop all of those bones. But take away a privilege for our kids? We’ll step and scramble our way right back up all of those skulls.