|It Is Written speaker/director Shawn Boonstra and his wife, Jean, talk with Adventist Review features editor Sandra Blackmer about the challenges and joys of parenting in today’s technological age.
BLACKMER: It Is Written (IIW) has been focusing recently on parenting. You both have hosted a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day program, you’ve coauthored a book titled First Aid Parenting, and IIW has launched an online Bible study series for children titled My Place With Jesus. Why are you spotlighting this topic right now?
Shawn: We have a burden for families, particularly those with young children, and we ourselves are trying to wade through the process of raising our own children. Our two girls are quite young—8 and 6 years old—and we’re facing a whole different world from the one we were raised in. I also know we’re not the only ones struggling for answers.
Jean: Sometimes parents feel like they’re muddling along in this job of parenting and learning as they go, so Shawn and I thought it would be helpful to provide them with a little biblical encouragement.
Many parents say time management is one of their greatest frustrations. What is your answer to parents who ask, “How can I do it all—raise the children, look after the home, pursue a career—and remain sane?”
Jean: The first thing is to let go of the idea that you really can do it all. If your life seems to be always out of balance, you need to look at your priorities and take a realistic approach. For example, if a parent has a work deadline that’s looming and they’re not ready for it, it’s realistic to let themselves have some leeway in other areas of their life. Let the housework go; pick up dinner from a local restaurant—that kind of thing. Then when that deadline passes, hopefully their life will get back in balance again.
I think there’s a lot of pressure on women particularly, and we’ve put much of it on ourselves. We need to let go
of those expectations of ourselves, as well as the guilt that comes with giving time to ourselves. We have to take time for ourselves to nourish ourselves spiritually so we can better care for our families.
Shawn: Nobody carried a bigger load than Jesus did.
Just imagine what was going through the mind of the Son
of God when the salvation of the whole world was on His shoulders. How did He find balance? Jesus frequently took time out to pray. And He didn’t get to everybody and everything. What He did was train 12 men to follow in His footsteps so that the work would be duplicated. Jesus had to manage His time too, and He didn’t say “Yes” to everything.
Is there a “blueprint” for parenting? Is it possible for parents to “get it right”?
Shawn: Absolutely, yes. Does that mean we can be flawless? No. I already look back and shudder at some of the decisions I’ve made with my kids.
God intended for the parenting process to be a mirror of His relationship with us. We’re supposed to be learning from that relationship with God, which can provide a blueprint for our relationship with our children. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to make mistakes. We’re definitely going to make mistakes. But there is a blueprint and a good chance for success because God asks us to raise our children in a godly way, and He never asks us to do something that can’t be successful.
We live in a world increasingly filled with many forms of technology—movie DVDs, the Internet, violent video games, suggestive advertising. How can parents allow their children to live in the real world and yet protect them from corrupting and harmful influences?
Jean: I believe the key is to remember that parents do have the right to control what their children watch on TV or view on the computer, and to limit how much time they spend with those things. Parents need to realize it’s OK for them to set limits and boundaries. Children can’t set those boundaries for themselves. And even though the comfort levels are different in every family, there really is no excuse for parents to allow completely inappropriate programming into their homes. Those types of limits should be standard.
Shawn: You don’t want to say “No” all the time, so try to fill your children’s lives with positive things. Technology can actually help you do that. You can disconnect satellite television, for example, and stock a DVD library with programs that are positive and exciting. That way kids can go to school and say, “I saw a program on TV too.” With technology you have the option to provide really strong, positive reinforcement for your kids and let them live a normal childhood.
What role, if any, do other church members have in helping young parents raise their children?
Shawn: Parental roles are being challenged today. Even traditional families are being challenged in the media and the public at large. Fathers are being portrayed as bumbling fools on television and in popular entertainment. So when you raise a family in the context of a church family, you now have a structure outside your own family, something larger than your own family, something to reinforce the family roles of father, mother, and children.
Your children are blessed to be raised in a two-parent family; many others are part of single-parent families. Do you have any advice for single parents?
Shawn: It’s pretty hard to step into that role, not having been a single parent. But I think Jean feels that a little bit because I’m on the road about 200 days a year, and she’s often left alone to deal with the issues of parenting.
Jean: I don’t carry the full burden as a single parent does, but there are definite challenges for a single parent or a parent who is alone while the other one is away for work. First of all you have to carry the discipline on your own. I have Shawn as a backup. He’s usually available by phone. But the single parent carries those burdens alone. I pray for people
in those circumstances because that would be a very difficult road to walk.
For myself, I’ve made a conscious choice to surround myself with people who are positive, uplifting, and understanding of the fact that I am alone—people who understand why Shawn is gone and not those who make me feel sorry for myself. I’ve also made a decision to be positive with the girls. I don’t make negative statements such as, “Oh, I wish your father were here” or “I wish he weren’t gone so much.” I may think those things, but I don’t say them. As a result, even though the girls miss their daddy, they have a good acceptance and understanding of why he’s gone.
We also involve the whole family in his trips. For example, last year Shawn was in the Arctic, and so we went to the library and got books about the Arctic and learned about polar bears—that kind of thing. I also think of military families where the parent at home can share with the children about what the mom or dad is doing—giving them liberty and freedom.
And there is a Bible verse that I cling to—Deuteronomy 31:8. It says: “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”* So I know I’m never truly alone. Jesus is always with us.
Shawn, what responsibilities belong particularly to fathers?
Shawn: As I read through the Scriptures, I see that in a very substantial way I’m expected to set the standard for a relationship with God in our home. Although I know it is often viewed today as very traditional, I’m the priest in the home. I take that responsibility very seriously. I want my children to see that Daddy loves Jesus. I want them to see a Christian life in their father.
We’ve been told by Ellen White that the way children get to know what God is like in their early years is by studying their parents. And what a responsibility that is! My children will learn their first lessons about God through me, so I consistently ask myself, “Is my life a faithful representation of the character of God to my children?”
How can parents help children develop a saving relationship with Jesus?
Shawn: It’s easier to do this early on, because children are studying what their parents are doing. They’re in the
\formative years. If Daddy loves Jesus, then young children automatically think that’s the right thing to do. But I realize that changes later on. There comes a time when parents can’t do anything right in their children’s eyes. It’s then that you have to especially cling to the promises of God.
The Bible promises that if we “train up a child in the way he should go, . . . when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). The Bible doesn’t say that the children won’t start out in their own direction, but it says if you train them when they are young, the “programming” is in them for life. And it forms a foundation that will be with them later when they start answering life’s real questions and trying to find their own direction.
Jean: When the kids see their mom or dad sitting on the couch early in the morning reading their Bible, that speaks volumes to them. And, of course, we have worship with our children in the morning and in the evening, and we try to keep it age-appropriate and fun, not burdensome. Hopefully these are the things that stay with them.
How can busy parents carve out time for their own spiritual nurture?
Shawn: It comes down to priorities. What really counts? When it’s time to cross life’s finish line, what am I going to be glad I spent my time doing?
I’ve sat with a lot of dying people, and at that point none of them—none of them—struggles with whether they were poor or whether they were famous. But the thought that they might have wasted their time is almost unbearable to some. If you don’t build your life on something that is going to last throughout eternity, then at the end you will have nothing. Carving out that half hour or 45 minutes each day—does that matter? The answer is Yes. Nothing is more important than our relationship with God.
Jean: When I was a new young mom with a colicky baby, my devotional time was lacking. I was pulling my hair out just trying to find time to have a shower. Then another mom whose children were grown said to me, “You know, Jean, I think God winks at young mothers because He knows there just isn’t enough time.” When she said that, I felt this huge weight of guilt fall off my shoulders. I really needed to hear that. Our personal time with God is vitally important, but her advice helped me to let go of the idea of perfection. If your day is so busy that you truly can’t carve out 30 minutes, then take 10 minutes. Even 10 minutes with God are so refreshing and more important than zero minutes.
In what ways do you see your new book, First Aid Parenting,1 as being helpful to parents?
Jean: First Aid Parenting is a handbook that helps parents in an emergency, like a first aid kit does. Obviously, a first aid kit isn’t a full hospital; it provides just what you need to get through the moment. And that’s the idea behind this book. Shawn and I, of course, don’t believe we’re perfect parents, and we’re not child psychologists or teachers or physicians. We’re just two people struggling to be good parents, along with everyone else. First Aid Parenting is based
on our personal experience of surviving the emergencies of parenting, and it’s full of helpful Bible promises.
Finally, tell me about My Place With Jesus.2
Jean: This is an online series of 14 Bible studies that are fun, colorful, and interactive. The series covers all the foundational beliefs of our Adventist message. It’s age-appropriate and geared for 7- to 12-year-olds.
The main goal of My Place With Jesus is to draw kids
to Jesus, whether they’ve grown up Adventist, in another Christian faith, or in a Muslim or an atheist home. We want them to know that God loves them, that they are important to Him, and that God has a plan for their life.
Shawn: There’s a tremendous amount of inappropriate material on television and on the Internet, but we don’t want to cut our children off from TV and the Internet altogether. So why not create something positive? My Place With Jesus does that. It’s a Flash-based Bible study for children that lets them sit in front of the computer, go to the Internet, and do something completely appropriate.
We want to provide every possible opportunity for children to begin learning—early on—the beautiful biblical truths that we understand in the Adventist Church. We want to give them a fighting chance to hit adulthood knowing why we believe what we believe and why we follow Jesus the way we do.
*All Bible texts are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1First Aid Parenting can be purchased at Adventist Book Centers or through It Is Written (1-888-664-5573).