Jen Wilkin, author and director of adult classes for The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, spoke at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2017 National Conference in Nashville, Tenn., in a plenary session titled “How to Raise an Alien Child.” She sat for an interview with the Biblical Recorder to discuss the topic in detail.
ERLC photo by Kelly Hunter
Jen Wilkin, author and director of adult classes for The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, shares about handling alien children.
Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Q: What do you mean by alien?
A: The scriptures talk about how we are to live as aliens and strangers. There’s nothing about the way that Jesus describes the Christian life that would make us think a person who follows His instructions would not stand out in a crowd. If you really did what Jesus says in the “Sermon on the Mount,” you would not look like many people that you know.
When we think about our children, there is a very strong impulse for us to think about our experiences in middle school and remember feelings of wanting to fit in, and then superimpose our own fears onto our children. We then say, “How can I help this child feel like they belong, and be a part of everything that everyone else is doing?” The Christian life is not that. It is a series of decisions that make you feel increasingly at odds with this world and long for the next world. I believe there are implications for our parenting in that.
Q: Are you suggesting Christian children should be socially awkward?
A: Actually, no. I think we should be delightful people and fully orbed in our thinking, but we’re going to make different choices with our time. We’re going to make different choices about the way we spend our money – with entertainment. We’re going to make different choices than the people around us, even if it draws scrutiny.
I had a moment with my daughter when she was in middle school, where she came home sad about not having the newest whatever that people were wearing; everybody had this particular phone, and she didn’t have any phone – all those typical feelings that kids come home with. It was a moment where I felt so much clarity, and I said, “Hey, that feeling that you’re feeling, that’s your friend, not your enemy. That feeling of ‘I don’t quite fit’ – you need to get used to that because that’s actually what Dad and I want to grow in you, not something we want to diminish.”
Q: Which is more difficult: to raise alien toddlers or teenagers? How does age factor into this conversation?
A: It is all hard. It’s all hard, but it’s the best work. The Lord says we should raise our children in the fear and admonition of Him. The commands of God are difficult, but they are not burdensome to the believer. So, regardless of what stage of parenting we’re in, we can acknowledge that it’s hard, but the second you move to burdensome, it means parenting is impinging on my ability to be comfortable.
I try to urge parents to look at the effort it requires, whether you are dealing with a 2-year-old or a 16-year-old, and say, “Hey, this is the job, and it’s a good job, and the Lord has placed me here to do it,” instead of, “Oh man, when is this kid going to hit the next stage so I don’t have to do this anymore?”
Q: What, in your experience, are the areas of life in which parents feel the most pressure to help their children fit in?
A: Definitely activities. I’m in an affluent suburb, so if your child is not involved in three or four different things, exploring all the potential options for them to be a professional this or expert that, you’re failing as a parent. That’s where I feel a lot of this ends up pointing to – it’s not that the child is feeling a sense of not fitting in. The parents themselves want to fit into their peer group with the choices that they make for their children.
Q: Does technology present a unique problem for children today that it hasn’t in years past?
A: Absolutely. Technology definitely presents new challenges in terms of how we manage our children’s exposure to X, Y or Z, or how we manage the time they’re devoting to looking at a screen, which is a huge thing. But it’s not inherently bad, if you can train your children into a philosophy of technology that it is a useful thing, instead of a recreational thing, or a thing that they do in secret or individually.
One of the things we’ve really tried to work on with our kids is a shared value around technology. So, rather than me sitting over here watching YouTube videos all day long, it’s all of us watching something together – not just enjoying the entertainment, but enjoying each other’s enjoyment of the entertainment.
There are some basic principles, that when you combine them with something like technology, you can actually turn it into a positive thing.
Q: Is all this talk about alien children really about how to be an alien parent? Can you talk about the struggles of parents wanting to fit in by enabling their children to find social acceptance?
A: Well, that’s the punchline of the talk. The only reliable way to raise an alien child is to be an alien parent. You yourself must strive to love and serve God with everything you have. More important than right relationship with your child is right relationship with your heavenly Father – that is your only hope of right relationship with your child.
Before your child ever learns to read a Bible, they will read you.
Any parent can point a child toward conformity and comfort; you must point them to Christ, who was Himself the most alien and strange of all. The alien family is not concerned with the fear of what other parents think. They are concerned with the fear of the Lord.
Alien parents trade the fear of man for the life-giving fear of the Lord, because life is too short to spend fearing the wrong things in the wrong ways.
As Christian parents, the most hopeful thing we can do is lift up our own eyes and train the eyes of our children to behold our Savior, alien and strange. He is coming on the clouds, and when He comes, may He find the family of God – your family and my family – desperately hoping and yearning to look like Him.
Q: What is in the background of this topic for you? Is there anything left out of the talk that you would like to tell parents?
A: Parents today are terrified. They have convinced themselves – because there are a lot of voices clamoring to convince them – that they’re raising children during the hardest time there has ever been to raise children and the challenges they’re facing are insurmountable.
I draw a lot of comfort from 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man.” I used to always read that as God saying, “Get over yourself.” But it’s actually this really assuring thing, that the God who dealt with the temptations of people 3,000 years ago can deal with these temptations.
Although the mechanism for giving in to those temptations may have changed, the problem is still the temptation and the command to flee from temptation itself has not changed. The Person who helps us to do so will never change. We can rely on Him.
These are not insurmountable challenges. They’re big and a lot of them are new, so we’re learning how to face them, but I encourage parents to not let your primary motivator for parenting choices be fear.
Watch Wilkin’s talk at the 2017 ERLC National Conference: