One of the most difficult things a parent has to do is to guide their children through the minefields of life, helping them claim good values, and the skills to succeed in life. One area of potential difficulty is in regards to friends. When our kids were young we lived in a neighborhood without many children. There was only one home nearby that had two girls near the age of my daughter. I would say that they were living in near poverty. As a pastor, I try to treat everyone equally, and not discriminate against people, but I was concerned about this home. The kids had a single mom, and there was a continuous changing of the men who would stay in this house. We didn’t really want our kids to spend time there, but preventing that seemed like casting a judgment upon them. We preferred the two girls to spend time at our home, where we could supervise them more closely, and hopefully, demonstrate what a stable home and marriage looked like.
In one episode our daughter came home and talked about some dirty magazines she had seen at her friends home. This kind of confirmed our worries about the environment there. My wife and I were more determined to channel our daughter away from that home, but to encourage her friends to come to our house. Eventually, we moved to another town and things worked out better.
Another move brought us to Monett. We look back at this move and believe it was an answer to prayer for our daughter, and our son. Our daughter fell in with a group of high achieving girls, who were active in school activities, and made excellent grades. Her own grades rose, and she expanded her activities to include cheerleading, drama, and speech and debate. Most of her friends came from solid families that wanted their daughters to excel and succeed. Our son became friends with kids who he still remains connected to twenty years later. As parents we were very relieved to know the crowd our kids were with was a positive one. My wife and I brought together all of the parents of our sons friends to help supervise our children and to make sure they were where they were supposed to be. This let the kids know that the community was involved in their raising. That may be an advantage of living in a small town.
Sometimes we sacrifice things in our lives to help raise our children. I was offered a move to a much larger church, with a much larger salary, that was about 225 miles away. If I accepted the offer, my daughter would change high schools in her senior year. From my own experience I knew how difficult that can be. So we turned down the offer and stayed until both my kids graduated from high school before accepting another move. We felt it was important for them to graduate with their best friends.
Parenting is challenging! Sometimes we will face awkward experiences that can be filled with real drama, but when you choose to have children, that comes with the territory. Good parents will be deeply involved in their children’s lives. Good parents will set boundaries and enforce them. We can’t make friends for our children, but we can create opportunities to make friends.
When I was 16 my family moved from California to Kirkwood, Missouri. My father insisted that I attend our church’s youth fellowship group that met on Sunday evening. I really resisted this, fearing it would be awkward for me. My father prevailed, and I went. My fears were relieved, and the kids were most friendly, and became my best friends in my last two years of high school. My father made the right decision regarding my participation in the youth group. That’s an example of helping our kids make good friends!
We wanted our kids to know that it was always okay for them to bring their friends to our home. We enjoyed getting to know the friends of our son and daughter. My advice for parents of young children is be involved. Know what’s going on. Talk to your kids about things they’re concerned with. Be wary of potential problems, and steer your kids in the right direction. If you love them and do your best, most likely they will turn out to be responsible people!
Mark Mildren, retired Methodist minister, is the father of two and grandfather of three. He serves as the faith-community liaison for Good Dads and can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.