by Erin Harris Posted Mar 10, 2020
Everything I ever needed to know about parenting, I could have learned from college kids.
For the past six years, our family has had the privilege of getting to be a part of the ministry of Pine Cove. Because of that ministry, we frequently get to be around college kids who love Jesus. I cannot begin to tell you all the ways this has blessed our socks off. Believe it or not, I’ve also learned a lot about parenting from these twenty-somethings. Here are just a few things I’ve taken away from watching them in action:
There are many ways to reach the heart of your child, but fun is one of the quickest. Nicknames, dance parties, wacky games, and laughter don’t have to just be for camp. Be willing to think outside the box sometimes to make memories—and for goodness’ sake, smile!
Boundaries bring security. There are expectations of behavior, discipline, and a schedule that includes set mealtimes, mandatory rest periods, and lights out. My kids will tell you that they make their beds more often, take more regular showers, and get their medicine more consistently at camp than they do at home. The counselors will tell you that even the kids that resist FOB (“Flat on Back” rest time) the first couple days will start to look forward to it towards the end of the week. Structure—and naps—are good things.
Natural consequences teach lessons so much better than parental systems. If a child is told not to run recklessly around camp but does it anyway, they will soon find out why they were told not to. Said child now has a bruised head and ego, and no parental lecture is needed. So parents, whenever possible, let’s let the trees do the teaching.
Contrary to popular belief, camp is not an eight-to-one camper-to-counselor ratio. Between the counselors, work crew, wranglers, musicians, directors, media staffers, etc. that work together to make camp run, it’s more like a two-to-one or three-to-one ratio. Why should parenting be any different? We’re not alone in raising our kids. There are teachers, counselors, coaches, neighbors, grandparents, and youth pastors we can enlist and encourage as part of our village. Ask for help when you need it, and be thankful for the help in whatever form it comes.
One weekend several years ago, we went to a family conference at Pine Cove. One night we were eating dinner and our youngest son, who was four at the time, slowly disappeared from the table as we were enjoying conversation with some other families. Next thing we know, we hear some commotion on the other side of the cafeteria. We look over to see our son in the food line, hovering over the churros pan, using his bare hands to SHOVEL the cinnamon sugar from the bottom of the pan directly into his mouth. Instead of being chastised, he was being CHEERED ON by the college staff and several other adults as they saw the fun he was having. Parents, sometimes we need to lighten up and let our kids live a little—and maybe also live a little ourselves.
One of our favorite things about Pine Cove is that at the end of every week, they present our kids with a CQ certificate. CQ stands for “Character Qualities.” The counselors take the time to point out specific strengths or virtues they have seen as they’ve gotten to know their campers. They individually and publicly praise each child for who they are in Christ.
I think as parents, we unfortunately spend way too much time doing the opposite. We see all our child’s weaknesses and challenges, so we tend to focus more on what they need to work on instead of what they’re doing right. We wish they were less chatty, but God may want them even more engaging. We criticize their impatience even though God made them eager. We complain about their hyperactivity when God celebrates their energy. So parents, let us remind ourselves that we will produce what we PRAISE.
The very first orientation we attended at Pine Cove, the chief ministry officer said something to the summer staff that I will never forget. He said, “This summer, we are intentionally going to give you more than you can handle. You are going to be stretched beyond your own ability, and we do that on purpose. We do that so that you will learn to rely on God.”
I feel like parents need to be given this same speech at their baby showers. This idea of being in over our heads is so counterintuitive to us that we don’t even know what to do with it. We are very much fans of our own comfort. These college kids not only KNOW but INVITE this discomfort into their lives so that they can lean into Jesus. And not once have I heard any of them say that God didn’t show up. Or that God didn’t provide what they needed. Or that He didn’t come to the rescue. This same God that shows up at summer camp wants to show up in my home. Maybe He’s just waiting for me to quit trying to do it on my own and ask.
College kids are like Energizer bunnies. They just keep going. At Pine Cove, the college staff jump at the beginning of the week to greet campers driving into camp and jump at the end of the week to say goodbye. We have taken our kids to both ends of the summer, and Week 11 they almost seem to be jumping higher and longer than they were Week 1. It’s not that they’re not exhausted, but they also have an understanding that their time is short, and the mission of the Gospel is urgent. They know they can keep going because it won’t be too much longer.
Parents: it’s not any different for us. In light of eternity, this season of parenting is so short. We CAN keep going because He will give us the strength to keep going. We MUST keep going because before we know it, they’ll be gone. So, in the grace of God, we keep on parenting them, keep on loving them, keep on stewarding them well because our time is short, and our mission is urgent.