We recently had a chat with Tearfund friend and former staff member Susy Lee, who is author of a new book ‘Raising Kids Who Care: Practical conversations for exploring stuff that matters, together.’
Tell us a bit about you and your family. How did you get interested in this topic and what has it meant to you and your life?
Having my kids grow up as part of a church community was amazing to me. They have much better social skills and a more developed sense of purpose than what I grew up with!
I went back to work when my boys went to school, looking after Children’s and Family Ministry for the Baptist Churches of NSW. My family travelled around the state with me on weekends and participated in my presentations.
When I worked for Tearfund my sons were teenagers and I included them in my work. They came to conferences and simulation games and to Parliament House with the (Micah Australia event) Voices for Justice. They are now both passionate contributors to caring for people and creation.
This issue has been on your heart for a long time. How has the book evolved?
It started with a clear understanding that parents are the primary disciplers of their children – family ministry is crucial.
Then, a number of years ago, I organised a Tearfund National Conference with a focus on consumerism and I ran a workshop called ‘Raising Kids Who Care’. I discovered there were many parents like me who were concerned about the influence of our wealthy, consumerist culture on their kids.
After that, rather than just running simulation games for adults or youth groups, I started running them for families. They worked so well! I grew to love the interaction I could provide for parents to engage in meaningful conversations with their kids about issues of poverty and injustice. Parents were amazed by the wisdom and generosity of their kids, and that inspired them to do things together.
Lately I’ve had a heart for families outside the church that need a little taste of Kingdom living and what that might look like in their family.
When is the best time to start having conversations with kids about things that matter? Or is it ever too late?
Creating a culture of communication in our families can start very young. I remember reading Steve Biddulph’s ‘The Secret of Happy Kids’ when my sons were toddlers and finding it so helpful to be reminded that ‘to discipline’ means ‘to teach’.
It’s hard to get teenagers to talk if they haven’t grown up with a safe environment for asking hard questions. Certainly, the family I grew up in had no culture of discussing things that mattered. That’s why I think starting early works best.
Primary school years are perfect because our kids are developing their own moral foundations and are willing to engage with us. But I also know teenagers particularly want to talk about meaningful things and all it takes to start is our willingness to listen to them.
How do you make the link between faith in Jesus and caring for others with kids in a way that resonates with them?
I find Jesus and his description of the Kingdom of God inspiring. Kids have a natural sense of justice, and sometimes have little power, so they can relate to Jesus calling for care for the poor and marginalised – and the little children! Our kids want to be part of something big and exciting, and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven is pretty exciting work.
But that’s also a long-game question. Building empathy starts by empathising with a toddler’s cries, by listening to a child’s daily dramas, by explaining events in a way they can understand and respond to. By understanding that there are stages of faith and allowing children to discover for themselves, and act upon the things they care about so that belief and behaviour combine is important.
Our kids want to be part of something big and exciting, and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven is pretty exciting work.
What have your own kids taught you about caring for others and our world?
My son told me recently that the reason he only has cold showers is that he wants to be able to tell his grandchildren that he did everything he could to prevent climate change. Both my sons have chosen to study for careers that will care for creation.
They’ve taught me most when they’ve gone above and beyond my suggestions or actions. (I have hot showers!) When they've reached out to the new kid at school, taken me for nature walks or earned a reputation as 'Jesus-like' I realise how I really have raised kids who care.
What are some practical ways for parents to connect their kids with justice and caring for others.
· Tearfund’s Useful Gift Catalogue is perfect – very concrete. Let your kids be involved in choosing and even fundraising for the gifts. Let them be part of the family decision-making process about how much and what to support.
· Take them with you when you drop a casserole to someone who needs it.
· Ask them how they’d like to help and find a way to help them achieve that.
· Take them to (Micah Australia’s) Voices for Justice or other events that allow kids to participate – and request more of these!
· Run a Tearfund Simulation game for families to spark conversations.
· Check out your carbon footprint as a household at https://www.footprintcalculator.org/ and decide what you might do differently. Be prepared for their wild ideas though!
If parents could do one thing to raise kids who care, what would it be?
Role modelling is the most powerful parenting process, so be a parent who cares – for your kids and for others, for your community and for the world. Let your kids see this and be part of it. (Also, you can buy my book!)
What are some ideas for conversations parents can have, and where or how can you have these conversations?
· Conflict resolution is a very important but underrated skill, but the foundation of that is listening – so start with that.
· Talking about the influence of technology in our culture (and lounge rooms) is crucial.
· Conversations that broach values and resilience and purpose will help kids find direction.
· And, talking with kids about issues in the world and finding ways for them to respond will be the difference between growing up depressed and distracted or with the worldview that ‘I can do something about that!'
There are 40 school weeks – so in my book I’ve resourced 40 ideas for a year of guided conversations at the dinner table, on a car trip, while walking or on holidays.