Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My First "Ask Jamie Jo"

My very first “Ask Jamie Jo” assignment, and I am stumped.

The general idea, of course, is that you will be able to ask your questions anonymously, and then I will post them on the forum, and people who are experienced can share their answers. Until forums become a reality, however, you are stuck with just my simple answers here on the blog.

Can I just post the question and then say “I don’t know” and then leave it to y’all to rescue me in the comment section? Nah, I will be brave and attempt a meager reply. But I trust you to help me out.

Here is the first question:

We are relatively new parents and are discovering that the parenting style in our country is very different from ours - to the point that we think it is destructive to children and families. How do we practice incarnational ministry (becoming part of the culture as much as we can) while at the same time choosing to go completely counter-culture in the way we raise our children? -- Flummoxed on the Field

Isn’t that a great question? What would you say to her, those who have been in her dilemma? Honestly this never affected me because I was fortunate to live and work in a place where my parenting style was not counter to the cultural norms. Being a stay-at-home mom for all these years was very much like the mothers in the neighborhood, except for the home schooling part.

As for practicing “incarnational” ministry, wow. What a great question.

My first response would be that it is more important to be like Jesus in everything you say and do. Whether you are like the culture you are embracing, or whether people around you understand your decisions regarding child rearing, your primary objective needs to remain obedience to God and faithfulness to His Word.

If your life exhibits love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, you will be an inspiration to those around you, even if they think you are off your rocker the way you raise your children.

Trying to fit in sounds like a noble idea especially when you use the term “incarnational” but my advice is to be very careful that you stay close to the Lord and listen to the Holy Spirit. He will never lead you to do something destructive to your family or that would hinder the gospel message.

Now it’s your turn. Please expand upon my overly simplistic response.

IRL* Feeling a bit like a contestant on “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” (see sidebar) where the answer isn’t necessarily yes. Can I copy someone’s answer after the fact?


  1. When I first moved out to our new country, I also thought that they are doing parenting "all wrong". I just did not understand how they would let their children run wild, how they would give them treats or hugs to make them stop crying, how they would not follow through on any order. Small children were totally undiciplined. I just did not get it!

    My attempts to discipline my children were met with horror from the people around me. "Why would you spank a child so young?!" "He's small and so sweet, don't be so harsh!" "He doesn't understand what you say, here sweetie, have a candy to make you happy."

    It was extremely frustrating. Every time I turned around, my attempts at parenting were undermined either blatantly in front of me or behind my back.

    I was sure that they knew nothing about parenting.

    Then, to make a bad situation worse, they would say these thing to my kids that floored me. "You are so nice. I like you so much better than your brother!" and turning to the other boy, "You are not a nice boy. This one is my favorite, and not you!" My heart would hurt at some of the comments made to my children.

    My kids are older now, not toddlers, and I am a little wiser. I've learned some things.

    I've learned that while this country produces totally undisciplined toddlers and small children, somehow they manage to pull it together and have those same children very obedient and disciplined by the time they hit 11-12. Once I realized that, I became less judgmental and began to watch to see how this miracle happened. In fact, their well disciplined early teens put mine to shame at times!

    I read somewhere something that helped me see and understand better what I was working with. To put it simply, it said that our culture raises a child with a V style parenting. We exert an enormous amount of control and training from the get go, and as they grow, we loosen that control and the child should be trained to obey and to do well.

    Other cultures do an upside-down V style. They have almost no control on the children while they are young. Then as the child grows, the whole society begins to exert pressure on the child and they are disciplined by the society as a whole - what expectations and all are norm for the society.

    It helped me to understand what model they worked with, to realize that we both end up with a similar product, and to understand how they saw my parenting style. It helped me to be able to explain myself to parents and to respect them instead of judging.

    With that understanding, I could have honest and respectful talks with fellow parents - especially when we began to live some of them when they had to leave and live in a third culture. All of a sudden, they were parenting without the influence of society around them - they needed to know what was missing and then be mentally prepared to compensate.

  2. I don't agree with all their style of parenting, but understanding how it works helps. It is primarily a shame based parenting. There is little emphasis placed on a child doing right or wrong, but on a child not bring shame to the family. So, as the children grow, they begin to train them in shame. Thus the comments about being a favorite or being loved or not loved. They were not teaching a child right and wrong, but how to be accepted in the community - very based on behavior.

    It meant that I needed to focus even more with my children on assuring them of our unconditional love. It also meant that as they got older, I needed to explain why people said those things. Kids are smart and they can understand that "auntie" says that just to get you to obey. She thinks that you will obey to get her love, but I want you to obey because you love God and know that He loves you. You also know that nothing you can do will ever change how much we love you.

    A funny incident happened once when my child was posed a question, as was so common. "Who do you love more, Ben or Karl?" The little three year old looked at the questioner and said, "I love Berl!". He just mixed the two names and was adamant about that - he was not going to be forced to chose. The asker laughed and said he has a future in diplomatic relations!

    I also learned that what I thought was acceptable parenting, people around me thought was harsh and cruel. I actually would flick my two year old's hand and expect him to obey. People were horrified! I had to learn to discipline in a softer tone, to do much of it in private as they got older, and to chose my battles. But I also saw, behind my back, that my "family" was amazed at my parenting. "She can actually put him down and tell him to sleep and he does!" "Look, you can tell him not to touch, and he won't".

    I just had to learn to communicate why I do things without judgement, with respect for their method, and with an explanation of why we do things differently. I also had to learn how their system works and be ready to counter that shame-based message as my kids grew.

    I am a better parent for it and I've had some interesting conversations about parenting with some in this new culture, too.

  3. Sorry for the long answer...

    Another thing I learned from learning their parenting style was how better to reach women around me. If I talked about right and wrong, they would give me blank looks. But if I talked about shame - that was their whole system! Then I hit nerves. I learned to base much of my sharing the good news with them in those terms... we carry shame before God. He wanted to fix that. God loves you unconditionally. He loves you even when you do wrong. Wrong doesn't need to be hidden in hopes that no one will know. You can actually be honest with God... because He loves you even while He knows.

    So my advice would be to learn the culture around you. do not be so quick to judge without understanding. Discipline and train your children, but show respect to those who train theirs differently and do not give advice on parenting unless it is asked. People are watching you. If you can figure out their system, you will have a better understanding as to how they were raised and how they think and react. That knowledge will be valuable to you. They also will not share that knowledge with you if they think you look down on their parenting.

    I've also come to the conclusion that I do not need to step in and correct their attempts to train my kids. If they give my toddler candy when he throws a fit - he will survive. We will talk about it later, and discipline will come. He will grow up and learn to obey still.

  4. I can relate to all three of the above comments. People in my Middle Eastern country have little control over their toddlers, and use abusive words and yelling when they loose their patience. They lie: "the doctor is going to give you a shot if you don't behave."

    It is true that many local teenagers are extremely respectful and polite, much more so than many teenage MK's. But behind closed doors they can treat their parents terribly!

    I found it helpful to take a relaxed attitude, not feeling I had to "correct" what I perceived to be their lack of wisdom in disciplining their kids. At the same time I tried to be consistent and use Biblical discipline for my kids. Sometimes it was a great opportunity to share my faith when people asked why I did things. As the years have passed, and people see how my kids are turning out, they often ask me for advice.

    I also insisted that local kids stick to my norms in my home. As in "we don't jump on the couch and swing on the curtains here. You'll have to get down." I found their mothers were never insulted, most often they were relieved to see someone else take control. They would tell their kids, "Look, Betsy teyze means business! You'd better do what she says!"

  5. Okay, so now that I give this more thought, I guess I did go through this initially. A toothless woman once gave my baby a piece of chocolate to make him happy. I started to explain that sweets weren't good for his developing teeth, but then decided that wouldn't be very diplomatic.

    Also people here in fact do use shame based parenting and doctors threaten to give a shot to a child who is crying and yeah, all of the above. Doh. I was right to choose "copy" as my cheat for this question.

    One thing I will add is that I think I was a lot easier on my younger children after living in this culture longer. I saw that those whose little ones were unruly turned out to be responsible adults the same as mine who were diligently "trained from babyhood." That helped me relax more in my old age, not just in the way I perceive others' child rearing, but in the way I raised my own.

    THANK YOU for your wonderful answers. I can't wait to see the combined wisdom the forums will provide.

  6. And yes to enforcing your own rules in your own house, even with other people's kids. Thank you, Betsy (Olive Tree) for that reminder. That saves sanity and helps the furniture last longer.

    Consistency is vital, too, as you pointed out.

    Anonymous said, "Don't be quick to judge without understanding...." Yes!

    Also yes to using a milder tone of voice when correcting our kids. I'd add be discrete when you can.

    I keep rereading these responses and finding nuggets of wisdom, but I will refrain from commenting on every last bit.

  7. Great post! I am now in the middle of training a toddler. At the time of his birth I lived with my in-laws who are Hispanic and had a very hard time. They would give me advice that was reasonable but then do the opposite with my little one or criticize me when I did something. Example: They would say don´t let him eat all the time only at mealtimes but then feed him almost every waking moment and if I said anything it would be an argument. He was also trained not to sit still in church but to go to who ever and wherever he wants and if I would take him out to discipline,nurse or because he was being very fussy then I was told not to that kids belong in the church and that it is much more important for me to hear the message than attend to my baby and that grandma would watch him which meant let him do what ever and eat whatever, etc. This was very hard and I did see it in the culture. I was shocked at the problems with the teens and even in Christian families. It made me really question about the early training and really seek God. We decided that we needed to leave the house asap. Because of this in my almost 3 year old I think we are having some big problems with obedience, rebellion to where he will not do anything even sit still on my lap for a minute. I am now trying to be more consistent and am learning to try to not fear what others think or say but to seek God in this and follow his word. I think some things we need to let go but other things must be done discretely and consistently. This in my first baby though and I am still learning so much and pray daily for wisdom.

  8. Hang in there, Anonymous. The eldest child in any family is the guinea pig. We all learn with the first. Trust me they do survive, by the grace of God. Ooh, those wiggly toddler years were tough. Yes again to discretion and consistency and obeying God. He knows your situation better than anyone.

  9. nice post ^_^, nice to know u friend


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