Teacher and education consultant Susy Lee had a couple of surprises in writing and self-publishing Raising Kids Who Care, which has just been honoured with a place on the shortlist of the Sparklit Australian Christian Book of the Year.
It’s a guide to help our children become active contributors to the world rather than passive observers. But Susy discovered that kids can also teach their parents how to resist toxic cultural influences and be more compassionate and generous in our busy, complex world.
The second surprise was that while Susy designed her book for people outside the church, it is churches that have shown the most interest because they can see that it is a great outreach opportunity.
“I’ve written the book to the me I would’ve been if I hadn’t become a Christian, if I hadn’t raised my kids in a beautiful local church community, if I hadn’t worked for aid and development organisations, if I hadn’t worked in Christian ministry,” Susy tells Eternity via Zoom while holidaying in Sabah with her husband, Brian, and 25-year-old son Josh.
“I vividly feel that the church is really good with families, but there are many families outside the church who could really benefit from what we have to share. The church is known for so many stupid, terrible things. And isn’t this something we should be shouting from the rooftops?
“Here we are – we now are participating in the kingdom of God. I think we have a responsibility now to be showing the world what the kingdom of God looks like. And for me, the generational change that I’ve brought about in my family is an example of what difference the kingdom of God makes.”
“It’s not very PC to talk about the effect that divorce has on kids … but it affects the kids forever – and that really motivated me to make a difference.”
Growing up in a broken and then blended family left Susy with many scars. She went to five primary schools and discovered that a family could be hard, mysterious, and often lacking important information about life.
“The family that I grew up in was disillusioned by religion. My dad was part of the Closed Brethren and they kicked him out when he started asking questions. So he was a bit horrified when I became Christian. But there was so much struggle just to survive and that experience made him an alcoholic. And then, the marriage broke down,” she says.
“It’s not very PC to talk about the effect that divorce has on kids. The parents carry on and are happy, but it affects the kids forever – and that really motivated me to make a difference. But what I also noticed was that being in the same local church for over 30 years now, we are immersed with this bunch of people who are also interested in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God means having good relationships and caring about other people and standing up for the poor and being generous; being passionate and not being consumed by consumerism and being aware of the effect of our culture on us. And I tried to be really intentional about those things with my kids and church helped me to do that. But I really feel for families like mine, that I grew up in, who don’t know how to do that.
“And now I watch in our culture how everybody’s so incredibly busy. Parents are so busy, it’s as much as you can do to just keep going day to day, let alone having those important conversations that matter. So the book distils the last 20 or 30 years of my life, really. And what I think is all you really need to do is have the conversation that helps your kids be prepared for what the world is like.”
“I really feel for families like mine, that I grew up, who in don’t know how to do that.”
A former teacher, who has studied psychology and theology, along with peace and conflict studies, then worked as children’s ministry consultant with the Baptist Association of NSW, in education for Tear and Baptist World Aid, Susy has always brought children and families into everything she has done.
She was alerted to the toxic influence of consumerism while working for Tear Australia, where the goal was to convince Christians to be generous to the poor. But she then realised that if Australians became so generous that every person in the world lived like a middle-class Australian, we would need three to five planets.
“So we not only can help the poor, we, the rich, need to decide ‘I have enough,’ that I don’t need to be consuming so much stuff, that I’m destroying the planet and destroying myself psychologically as well,” she explains.
“So I got really absorbed in how do we help our kids to be aware of this massive consumer engine? You know, the most highly paid psychologists in the world are paid by advertising industries and are aiming them directly at kids. How do we help our kids to fight against that? If I want them to grow up to be content and gentle and passionate, all you have to do is just make them aware of it. ‘Hey, can you look at these ads? You know what they’re trying to do?’ Just have a conversation – it’s that simple.”
“Just have a conversation – it’s that simple.”
Another cultural threat that needs to be addressed is the overuse of technology and how it leads to kids having problems with their bodies through sitting too much with their devices.
“But all you need to do is have a conversation about that with your kids,” she says, likening it to the situation at the start of the school year where teachers have a conversation with the class about the class rules and let the kids decide on the consequences of breaking them.
“And then teacher’s job is easy because you made that choice … And I just think if parents were a bit more supported in knowing just how to have these conversations, that would be great for the world as well.”
Susy became a Christian through meeting her husband, Brian, “a nice boy who was really lovely except for this weird thing. But he went to church. I spent a year arguing and eventually gave in.”
“My intelligence has always been very important to me. I wasn’t a fast runner and I wasn’t pretty, but I could do well at school. And so a lot of my self-worth was founded in my intelligence and it seemed to me that it was ridiculous to believe in a God.
“I had the baggage from my dad’s family as well, and, you know, someone rising from the dead. So I read apologetics and was confronted with the overwhelming amount of historical data that exists. I was also overwhelmed by the lovely Christians that I met. I think they were showing this loving closeness of a relationship that I’d been craving all my life. And it felt like coming home when I started going to church.”
“If parents were a bit more supported in knowing just how to have these conversations, that would be great for the world as well.”
Raising Kids Who Care offers 40 conversations divided into four big areas of life – relationships, culture, inner selves and the world – with 10 conversations for each area.
“What I was aiming for at the beginning was how do we get kids and families to be more compassionate and generous because I work for aid and development organisations.
“But I had to work backwards because none of that works if your basic relationships are not good. So listening skills, conflict resolution skills. I feel like there are so many life skills that we don’t get taught that we pick up through osmosis at church because we care about these things,” she says.
“The first big area is relationships within the family and then being a good friend. If we really want our kids to be happy, then we need to set them up for good relationships.”
The second area is being aware of the pressures from our culture and deciding which ones to limit, or reject or accept.
“And I haven’t just written this book for parents to be teaching their kids. I honestly believe that kids are going be teaching their parents in some regard in this. I ran a lot of workshops for families in my various jobs. And I think we think of our kids as little babies, but that they’re actually a couple of developmental steps ahead of us usually,” she remarks.
“And so I’m trying to facilitate conversations that will help parents be blown away with how amazing their kids are and how much actually they already know.”
“If we really want our kids to be happy, then we need to set them up for good relationships.”
The third area, inner selves, looks at the old-fashioned virtue of character development.
“No matter what you believe, we are all spiritual beings. Character development has gone out in the last generation or two. It used to be that that’s your job in life is to grow your character. But now we don’t talk so much about wisdom and generosity and compassion and purpose in life. And so I have a bunch of conversations about that.
“And then the fourth area is World views. For example, let’s talk about poverty. Let’s talk about climate change and let’s talk about how we figure out, as a family, what issues we care about and what we can do about them. There’s one conversation in there about how to visit your local politician.”
“We don’t talk so much about wisdom and generosity and compassion and purpose in life. And so I have a bunch of conversations about that.”
Each conversation is structured as if you’re going on a trip and you need to decide what to pack to prepare for this conversation.
“So you can come to them fresh, you don’t have to do any research. I’ve done the research for you. I’ve given you the things to stimulate the conversation. I’ve given you the questions. and I’ve given you some suggestions for how to have the conversation,” she says.
“I really honestly believe in how amazing kids are. And the hardest thing I’m finding is getting people to actually do the conversations. But when they do, they love it … friends of mine with adult kids have had conversations with their kids that they’ve never had before and are being amazed by it, so that’s pretty cool.”