Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thoughts on parenting

Recently, I’ve been arduously thinking about a topic brought up on a blog. The discussion began with how to inculcate a teachable spirit in our children. It lead to questions on how to help our children become independent, thinking adults, strong when it comes to negative peer pressure, yet humble and teachable at the same time. To what extent are we to “impose” upon the will of our children? We do not want to make them “weak” individuals. I’ve spent hours contemplating these and related issues. It is crucial to how I daily go about parenting. I will venture to throw out some thoughts here, but I welcome comments to help me refine my understanding. I may be overlooking some major things, generalizing to a fault, possibly not even accurately communicating what I’m trying to communicate.

On a side note, Curt and I are in the process of parenting two girls, ages 11 and 13, and we are simply doing the best we know how with our present understanding. As we go through this process, we’re watching, studying, praying and seeking wise counsel. We are well aware that this is a task we cannot do on our own. So, anything I say is tempered by my recognition that I may not have it all right at the moment, but believe you me, I am trying with all my being to do this job the best I can. I hope I do not sound trite or like I have it all figured out. That is not my perspective. I may, at the moment, be gung-ho, convinced that my present understanding is accurate. Because, unless I am convinced that I’ve got a handle on something, I can’t go full-force to follow through with that understanding. But, I’ve always got an eye and an ear open, watching for new information on the subject, studying the product: the attitudes, apparent values, habits and the like. In that process, I'm working to compensate for past lack of understanding. When I face an issue, a question or a problem, my personality is to research, discuss, come to the best solution I can presently come to, and go, go, go! I’m a want-to-fix-it-now kind of mom, but I’ve had to learn that many things take time and are a process. I was discussing some of these issues last night with my dear Daddy. He said (and I think it’s true) “At the bottom of it, parents have got to be honest.” In our discussion, I was using the word justice, and realized that pure-hearted honesty before God, ourselves, and others will produce justice in our interactions with our children. One last thought, I’ve realized that so much of what we write and say is based on innumerable layers of worldview or perspective, personally defined terms (which the reader may or may not understand as we do). I don’t want to ever take for granted what any of my fellow-bloggers say, as though I have a “peg” on where they are just by the few (or many in my case) words they enter into this blog world.

All that aside, in our family devotional time we have been reading Richard Shelley Taylor’s The Disciplined Life. Wow, what a little gem! I highly recommend it! Taylor’s book has a chapter that addresses the importance of “imposing” upon the will of our children. In chapter 5, he addresses “The Case for Imposed Discipline.” He says that the lack of imposed discipline does not produce a strong independent individual (my paraphrase). I quote, “…humoring the child who has a ‘will of his own’ does not result in a strong will of the right sort. Allowing a child to do as he desires, to cry over nothing, to eat what he wants, to throw on the floor what displeases ‘His Majesty,’ to go into a tantrum when obstructed, to slap at Mother and kick at Father, while everyone chuckles, thinking that he is delightfully cute, will strengthen not only his self-will but his selfishness and his self-indulgence. This will bring his so-called strong will into bondage to his appetites. He is being conditioned to want what he wants when he wants it, without any capacity for deferment or denial. The resulting character will be not really strong at all but pathetically weak.” He continues with such awesome truth, “An unyielded will can never be strong in the best sense. It may be strong to defy, to destroy, to lash out at whatever stands in its way. But it is not strong to adjust to life’s realities, to create beauty out of ugliness, to achieve over obstacles, to control self when frustrated, to work patiently and perseveringly in the face of difficulties. Firm discipline will not destroy a child’s capacity to have a ‘will of his own,’ when he grows up and knows how to use it. We can conquer a child’s will without breaking his spirit. The sober truth is, as many brokenhearted parents have discovered too late, that humored and coddled children do not love their parents more, but less. Their self-love is fed until it chokes out every noble impulse. The young person who already has built-in habits of regularity and obedience certainly has a head start for effective and efficient living.”

I believe it is vitally important for us to help our children understand the condition of the human heart, of their heart. Taylor addresses this issue. When children are born “there is already a twist toward self-centeredness and lawlessness which will not right itself under the benign rays of Christian environment, but will feed on kindness, turn liberty into license, and grow alarmingly with the years, if not rigorously curbed by firm rule from the cradle onwards. Such curbing, while not able to extirpate the twist, will at least bring it clearly to light; it will also make adjustments to the restraints of an adult society much easier to say nothing of the greater ease in submitting to the rule of God, at first partially, and then with that full submission which enable God to correct the nature at its base.”

It seems that it is extremely easy for parents to forget the eternal. There is something about having a baby that can turn our spiritual understanding off. We suddenly become engrossed in the “now” seeing only the adorable little miniature me; we can get side-tracked (from the moment we first touch that warm little living being) by the instant almost-magical emergence of this baby’s unique personality and of their absolute dependence upon us; we become preoccupied with meeting every need of this tiny person. Our "spiritual" brains practically turn off seeing only the world of the “now”, the flesh, as Paul puts it. I have found that I have to remind myself, I have to ever keep aware, I have a dying soul in my hands; I have a living individual in my charge who will go “his own way” until I convince him, with God’s help, that he needs me and God. I have more access and ability to disciple this soul than any other soul in the world. All of this must be done in the context of loving, trusting relationship. It is never done out of self-serving control for the sake of personal power or gain. That is not training them “in the way they should go.”

It seems to me that a lot of what we produce in our children depends on how carefully we disciple or discipline them. If we hope for them to develop a teachable spirit, we have to develop a relationship where they feel we are trustworthy. We must be just. Children seem to have an innate ability to detect injustice. In order to be just, we have to have a heart filled with agape love. We have to be willing to give up ourselves for the benefit of our children, not for their whims and wants, but for their eternal good.

I know that at least for me, I do not want to get to the end of parenting and have regrets that I did not do the very best I knew. I’ve never pursued anything with more diligence because I just believe that nothing is more important. Yes, I know, every human being has freedom to choose, so we cannot be assured that our child will choose to build on the foundation we strive to lay. We can only do our best to lay that foundation, “teach them as we rise up, as we walk, as we lie down…” and then pray and hope that “…we have truly trained them in “the way”, so that “when they are old they will not depart from it.”

I’ve spent far too much time on this, but it helps me even if it helps no one else.
Lord, help me put into practice what I do presently understand.

In case you’re interested in The Disciplined Life, here is the URL at Amazon. It has greatly inspired me in a multitude of areas. It is not, by any means, just addressing parenting issues.