Children, obey your parents in the Lord,
for this is right. “Honor your father and
mother” – which is the first commandment
with a promise – “that it may go well with
you and that you may enjoy long life on the
Fathers, do not exasperate your children;
instead, bring them up in the training and
instruction of the Lord.
The Power of a Father’s Blessing, a recent article in Christianity Today, stimulated a little research on my part. On my desk now are six or seven books on missionary care, a couple of dissertations, and four journals I have kept over the years. Some of the data is old and some very recent, but it all says the same thing: father presence and father approval, father warmth and father acceptance are important in the life of a child. Children being reared in a country other than his/her passport need caring fathers. These children are called Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Fathers are important. I often wonder if fathers are not more important to TCKs/MKs.
When parents make the decision to take their family to a foreign land to do mission work, they are also deciding that they will be raising TCKs/MKs. The missionary’s family life can facilitate ministry or his/her family life can hinder ministry. MK-CART/CORE (Missionary Kid - Consultation and Research Team/Committee on Research and Endowment), formed in 1987, has completed some important research studies: 1) Boarding School Personnel Study (BSP), 2) Adult MK Study (AMK) and 3) the Missionary Family Profile Study (MFP). Some of the results of those studies will be used in this article.
What we know from research is that father absence is not a good thing.
1. Fatherless children are five times more likely to live in poverty than children living with both parents.
2. Women reared in single-parent households engage in sexual activity outside of marriage much more often than young women reared in intact families.
3. Teen boys from one-parent families are almost twice as likely to father a child out of wedlock as teen boys reared in intact families.
4. Young males, raised without a father, are almost twice as likely to engage in criminal behavior.
5. Children reared in father-absent families have substantially higher rates of mental illness.
6. Youths attempting or completing suicide are much more likely to come from father-absent homes than youths from intact families.
Lewis, Dodd, and Tippens found that parents who spent quality time in quantity with their children reared children who were more likely to refrain from alcohol and drug abuse and to practice sexual abstinence. When children perceive that their parents really care about them and they experience the family as being close, abstinence rates are high even if both parents work. Abstinence rates are highest when the father is perceived as a caring, attentive parent (Dying to Tell, p. 81). “When parents fail to bless their children with a profound sense of worth, lasting harm, which transcends generations, can occur (Shattering the Silence, p. 27). These authors suggest that parents need to be emotionally available, approachable, and honest with their children.
It’s no different for missionary kids. MKs who score high on scales of well being have parents who
1. Involve children in making family decisions and grant children freedom
to engage in their own decision-making when it is appropriate.
2. Encourage children to explore new ideas and hold their own points of view.
3. Spend time with children and make them feel that what they do is important.
4. Create an atmosphere conducive to children’s confiding in their parents.
5. Support their children even when they make poor choices.
6. Explain the rules and consider the child’s point of view when making rules.
7. Communicate openly in the family
“For children to survive, for children to succeed, we must be present, and we must bless them. We must say good words to them. We must say good words over them. And we must say good words about them. Without affirmation, it is almost impossible to make it in this world. Each and every child deserves to hear: ‘You are my beloved son or daughter. I thank God for you. I cherish you. You are God’s remarkable creation. I will always, always love you" (The Gospel According to Generation X, p. 177).
One of the best things about mission work is the fact that families tend to spend more time with each other than church families back home do. They also tend to create a closer, more intense friendship circle with their team mates than USA church families form with other church families. Missionary children experience not only a close family relationship, but a strong sense of community and a sense of belonging to something important - something missionaries and missionary kids miss desperately when they return "home." Missionary children see their fathers as very important people doing very important work. Those children who identify with their fathers and who feel loved by them experience a positive strong sense of self.
Pollock, David C and Ruth Van Reken, The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up among Worlds. Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, 1999, p. 188.
Andrews, Leslie A., Ph.D. (Editor), The Family in Mission: Understanding and Caring for Those Who Serve. Palmer Lake, Colorado: Mission Training International, 2004.
Lewis, David K., Carley H. Dodd, and Darryl Tippens, Dying to Tell: The Hidden Meaning of Adolescent Substance Abuse. Abilene, Texas: ACU Press, 1992.
Lewis, David, Carley Dodd and Darryl Tippens, Shattering the Silence: Telling the Truth about Kids and Sexuality. Abilene, Texas: ACU Press, 1989
Andrews, p. 242.
Lewis, David K., Carley H. Dodd and Darryl L. Tippens, The Gospel According to Generation X. Abilene, Texas: ACU Press, 1995/