Leila Miller, co-author of the new book Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues, discusses her new book and how to help today’s parents shepherd children in age-appropriate ways around 10 of the biggest moral challenges facing kids in our current culture.
Thank you for joining us for Family Policy Matters. Parents these days are facing an increasing number of challenging hot button issues they feel they must address with their children if they are to be truly responsible parents. And it seems these conversations are having to take place at younger and younger ages. Oftentimes, well-meaning parents feel completely overwhelmed and ill-equipped to help their children not only understand the truth about moral issues, but ultimately to embrace this truth for themselves. And even parents who are committed to having these conversations sometimes fear that they are risking the innocence of their children, which is the exactly the thing they are trying to protect. It’s certainly no surprise that parenting can be really difficult!
Leila Miller, a mother of eight, a grandmother, and a blogger has set out to provide a resource to help today’s parents shepherd children in age-appropriate ways around ten of the biggest moral challenges facing kids in our current culture. These include contraception, abortion, sexual activity outside of marriage, divorce, modesty, pornography, and transgenderism. Leila teamed up with apologist Trent Horn to write a new book, Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues, and we look forward to discussing this with her today in a G-rated format. Leila Miller, welcome back to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show again.
LEILA MILLER: Glad to be here!
JOHN RUSTIN: Leila, I think we have all encountered people who subscribe to the belief that parents should not “indoctrinate” their children in religious or moral matters, but you argue that it is impossible to not indoctrinate children if they are being effective parents. Talk about that a little bit.
LEILA MILLER: It’s kind of ironic when people say that because the word indoctrinate simply means to teach and I think we would agree both secular people and people of all faiths that we do teach our children. That is in fact one of our roles as parents. So the question isn’t whether or not we will indoctrinate “teach” our children, but with what values will we indoctrinate them? So, what is it that we’re going to teach them? So a very secular, “progressive” parent might indoctrinate his or her child on how to be compassionate or how to be equal or how to accept certain, even immoral, ways of looking at family and marriage and they indoctrinate. They teach their children that way. So that’s really all we’re talking about is we’re going to indoctrinate, we’re going to teach our children. It’s just, what are those values and virtues that we are going to teach.
JOHN RUSTIN: What are the primary differences between being a permissive parent versus an authoritarian parent versus an authoritative parent? I know you argue the authoritative parent really is the best approach.
LEILA MILLER: Yes. So I have 8 children from the ages of 27 down to age 8 and so for about 27 years now, I’ve been doing parenting. And what I and my husband had found has been the most effective approach is not the permissive parenting, which of course can be really disasterous and that’s sort of: I’m going to be the cool mom and I’m going to just be friends with my kid all the time and I don’t ever want them to think I’m mean… And then you let the child pretty much run the show. So, that’s not a good idea of course as most of us understand. And then, there’s the authoritarian parent, which is more of the parent who would parents out of just kind of laying down the rules. You don’t really explain.
It’s just because we believe it. And then you almost use a fear-based discipline where you just want the child to obey you and if they have to fear you, so be it. And then there’s a middle ground, which we kind of think is the better way, which is what we call the authoritative or what I call the friendly parent and that is that you’re always the parent first, but you can also be friendly. You can be someone who has a really good relationship with your child, your child knows that you’re accessible, that you love that child, but that you’re always going to set up those boundaries that are healthy for the child as well. So that’s the friendly parent model, which we think is a really the best approach.
JOHN RUSTIN: Some of the topics you discuss in your book, Made This Way, are difficult sometimes even for adults to understand and discuss. How can parents educate themselves on these topics in preparation for having conversations about sensitive matters with their children?
LEILA MILLER: It’s difficult because even the parents—and again I’m a generation X parent—but then the next level down. None of us really got—at least I didn’t, you know, growing up in church—I didn’t get a lot of good teaching, a lot of good formation in my own faith. And so we’re kind of thrown to the wolves now where the culture is changing so quickly that even parents don’t know how to explain or even understand for themselves what is going on with all these strange moral issues that keep coming up, especially surrounding human sexuality and marriage. And so, part of what we did with the book is to give, on each of those ten subjects, these difficult moral issues that we talk about—We start out by giving the reasonable understanding and teaching the Christian and natural law teaching for each one of those moral issues. And it helps the parents understand the issue so that they can educate themselves before then they go to their children and try to teach those to them. So we made sure that first educate the parents very simply and very easy ways in a natural law kind of… using reason and putting this all together. How God made us and how, you know, if we use something according to its nature, then things tend to flourish. And if we use things against their nature, things tend to go bad. And so, we go through each of the topics first, educating the parents, and then they can go into dialogue with their kids about these subjects.
JOHN RUSTIN: Speaking of dialogue with their children, I know that one aspect of Made This Way is that within each chapter you provide specific developmentally and age appropriate scripts that parents can use to help jumpstart discussions with their children, even if those children are of different ages. So how can parents balance protecting their children’s innocence with providing honest and meaningful answers on these sensitive topics?
LEILA MILLER: Rule number one is always to respect that latency period of the younger children. And the latency period is simply that age of innocence between about age four or five through puberty. And so at this time, you never want to disturb a child’s innocence with unwelcome or on unneeded illicit information on human sexuality. And of course, the culture sometimes forces our hand these days on that unfortunately, but as far as we can, we try to keep them protected from those kinds of discussions. And then the teaching at that age would be more of an indirect teaching. You know, they would understand that, oh, mommy and daddy are having a new baby and isn’t that beautiful and this is what marriage is for. And indirectly, they are starting to see how God’s plan is laid out. But you wouldn’t if they brought you something maybe that they heard out there, even on a TV show, unfortunately these days you wouldn’t go further with them than what they bring to you. They might ask about a certain term or certain something that came up. You might just say: Oh, where did you hear about that? You kind of buy a little time and make sure you know what they’re talking about before you anticipate that it’s more than it really was. And then, you just gently finess the situation that way and never give them more information than you need to or that they bring to you. So, each case is going to be a little bit different, but all with the aim of protecting that innocence at those ages. And then once they get to be teens, you can obviously go into things a little more deeply in and explain things more clearly.
JOHN RUSTIN: Give us an example of the difference in how you would address the topic of, say, modesty, for example, with a younger child compared to a teenager.
LEILA MILLER: So something like modesty, you know, from the beginning, children are very trusting of their parents. That’s how God made them. So they trust that when you’re going shopping, when the kids are little in elementary school, there’s not resistance in those younger years. When they’re five, six, seven, eight. They’re not going to resist when you try to find a cute outfit maybe for your daughter, but that is modest. They’re going to trust you and go: Oh yeah, that’s really cute. But if you kind of build that up from a young age and say, if they say bring you something and say, look mom, I want to buy this, and it might be a little too much exposure. You could just say gently: Oh, that’s really cute. What a cute pattern, but you know what? We want to make sure we keep that part private so let’s look at this and we can redirect. And so they kind of just get that in their head that: Oh okay, we can to buy cute clothes, but there are certain things that we need to remember, and I trust my mom. And then you won’t have those fights as you get into the teen years because you’ve already shown them. We’re not against you looking cute. You know, we’re not against you looking attractive, but we use the word private. For example, I would say— you can use medical terms for in any of the body parts, but we also like to really call them private parts only to show the child: Hey, you know, there’s some things that really are very private to us and that’s a good thing and so you kind of put that spin on it. You let them know that from early on. Then when they get into the teen years, you can talk more about why is it important to keep certain parts private. It’s not because we’re ashamed of the body that God gave us, but it’s because it’s a reverential way. God wants us to be holy and godly and we don’t want to show private things that should be kept private because we are cultivating virtue. Virtue is a good thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s designed to protect what should be protected. We only reveal things when it’s the right time to reveal things. And so we can talk to our boys and girls about the differences between boys and girls and how they perceive each other and that can kind of come in later as they are teenagers. But when they’re little, it’s more like, anyone with the boys when they’re little, It’s more like the potty talk or modesty of speech also, but to remind them that modesty is a virtue. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s actually one of the virtues, so it’s a very good thing that God gave us.
JOHN RUSTIN: How can parents really cultivate an atmosphere that encourages open communication with their kids?
LEILA MILLER: A few times this has happened over the course—My first five kids are adults now and the first three are married. I have some grandkids too… So over the course of these years, I’ve had plenty of teenagers and sometimes they’ll come to me with kind of shocking questions, things that they have heard and I always say, the most important thing is not to react with some kind of shocked, strange face where you suddenly make a sour face or you run out of the room like: I can’t talk about this! I always keep a very calm face. If I have to act, I act. I keep my countenance is very calm and I look them straight in the eye and I give them the right answer and I put it in the context of God’s designed for love and why this is best for us and why His design works the best of all. And, and we put it into context, but we never ever…. My husband and I, we’ve never wanted our children to be afraid to approach us on even the difficult issues because if they can’t approach us and they feel uncomfortable or they feel like there’ll be shamed or judged or whatever, they won’t come to us anymore. They’ll go to their peers or to the Internet. And that’s definitely not what we want. So, it’s actually been shocking a few times where someone would come up with a term and they say: What does this mean? Mom will tell me more about this? And I want to die inside, perhaps, but they just want an answer to what they’re hearing, and so that’s our job. That’s our job. We’re responsible for forming these children. So, don’t freak out, be calm and answer their questions and they will trust you the next time to come back to you again.
JOHN RUSTIN: You also say that it’s important for parents to provide well-reasoned and logical arguments that are based not only in scriptural answers the Bible, but also in natural law. Talk about that just a little bit as we conclude our conversation.
LEILA MILLER: Natural Law, which is something that Martin Luther King in his letter from the Birmingham jail talked about, why he opposed certain unjust laws. It’s something that Abraham Lincoln talked about, something we always used to teach, which is what is the nature of a thing? How did God make human beings and what ought we do? Not just what can we do, but what ought we do. And we can figure this out using reason. And the reason that’s important is because the culture that your child is going to encounter, it doesn’t really care much anymore about if your child can say: Oh, this is what scripture says, or this is what the church teaches,… because they will be mocked and laughed at by people who have no grounding in such things. So, to be able to have those conversations and defend their faith—you know, give a reason for the hope that is within you—you have to be able to speak to people through natural law arguments, which is logic, reason. How can we ascertain the moral law with reason alone? And like St. Paul said, you know, the pagans can understand things that are written on their hearts. That’s the approach we need to go back to. So if they’re grounded in something that even the secular world can understand, without use of scripture, which they might just immediately, uh, you know, poo poo. So it’s important.
JOHN RUSTIN: Your book, Made This Way: How To Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues, is just chock full of not only great advice but foundation in natural law, and also in biblical principles. So, where can our listeners go, Leila, to get a copy of your new book?
LEILA MILLER: It’s published by Catholic Answers and if you go to shop.Catholic.com, you can get copies there and some of them are in bulk where you can get them as low as $5 a copy. A lot of moms’ groups and church groups are using them to discuss together. And also it’s available on Amazon and hopefully at your local a Christian bookstores too.
JOHN RUSTIN: And with that, Leila Miller, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters and for helping parents across our nation tackle some of these challenging issues in a loving and responsible way with their kids.
– END –