Saturday, January 29, 2011

Helping Our Children Grow Trust

I had a thought this week about parenting. Why do we say, “We want our kids to be able to tell us anything,” but when they mess up we are quick to point it out and teach them a lesson or redirect them? If we don't learn to let our kids mess up and not say anything at all or if we don’t learn to love them in the middle of the mess ups and laugh a little for them than they are not going to tell us about more serious mess ups when they really need our support and direction. In fact, the more a child receives a punishment or correction every time a parent is pained by what they do the more that child will act out and be distant from their parent when they grow up. We say things like “Jesus death covers all our sin. Past, present and future.” However, we don’t act like that. Our obsessive focus on what our children do wrong or what they need to do right demonstrate that we don’t act like Jesus is raising our children. Your kids’ mess ups are covered and there is Someone who is guiding, holding and caring for them that isn’t always pointing out what they do wrong. My definition of discipline is this: Discipline is not hurting your child after they have done something wrong. It is guiding them away from self-reliance towards trust in someone bigger. That trust begins with trusting their parents and then later the Lord. If your main goal of discipline is punishment your child will not trust you the way they need to.
To me our parenting focus got off track when we misapplied the meaning of rod and discipline in a verse like this: Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24) To many people the rod only symbolized corporeal punishment and therefore we came to equate the word rod with the word spanking. The rod was a symbol of leadership and care. The shepherd used the rod to guide the sheep, protect the sheep, and lead the sheep to water and green pastures. The rod was also used to swat the sheep on their behind but that was not its main use or only focus. The only use of the rod was not corporeal punishment. If your only focus of discipline is swatting your child or applying pain to their life as a means to teach them and guiding, protecting and nurturing isn’t part of what you do well as a parent than they won’t trust you and become children that are responsive to the Lord. In fact, some of the most meaningful moments of your parenting will be when you think your child needs pain to straighten them out and you give them grace. Again, the rod was a symbol that the shepherd was the care-taker of the sheep. Because of what discipline has come to mean (punishment) we are better off using words like guidance or training to describe what the rod means. Our fear pushes us toward a more rigid definition of discipline. When we are scared about where our kids are headed it is easy to resort to the thought that more pain will straighten them out. That is a lie. A parent, of course, needs to be free to use pain in the course of their parenting but that is not to be the focus of what you do to raise them.
I want our children to trust us and come to us when they are in trouble and really need help. We begin to point them in that direction when we are free to correct them or apply grace depending on what will be most beneficial in the moment. If there are meaningful times where we can let their sin go and meet them with kindness in their fear, discouragement or shame there is a good chance they will trust us with their messes when it’s more important. (This is for another time but we also want them to have other people to go to when they mess up. A parent can’t be everything….)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Loving & Forgiving Yourself

I have found through the years that we often make comments like, "I have to forgive myself,” or "If I don't learn to love myself than I can't love others." Such comments seem to underscore the need for us to treat ourselves in a certain way that will foster change in our behavior. Thus, we make ourselves central to the process of change. If we can somehow keep telling ourselves we are loveable enough or forgivable enough than we will behave or feel better. Such a belief makes us the savior and redeemer. We actually don't have the capability to love ourselves enough or the authority to forgive ourselves. What is better is to keep growing the humility to accept God's (and other's) forgiveness even if we think we don't deserve it (we don't it’s a gift). In addition, we have to grow in accepting God's (and other's) love even though that tends to offend our desire for control and our pride that tells us that we can be our own savior. Truth be told the vulnerability of accepting help from outside ourselves makes us kinder and humbler people than thinking we can (and should) somehow be the one who brings change in our life. Such a truth kind of ruins other popular sayings like, "I can't change or control anyone all I can do is change or control myself." We can't change or control ourselves either. At the end of the day vulnerability defines our condition. As we accept our vulnerability and the love and forgiveness of God that can be the conduit of change in our life than we move in much better directions. In addition, learning to accept God's kindness helps us to accept ourselves. Self acceptance, or becoming comfortable in our own shoes, is a much better idea than learning to love or forgive ourselves. Growing self acceptance through relationship with the Lord is a much healthier and life-giving path than learning to love or forgive ourselves in our own strength. The path of self-reliance always leads to rigidity, a lack of love and self-righteousness whether or not it is recognizable as we walk down that path.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Interdependence and Maturity

I just finished reading the book I Don’t Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression by Terrence Real. Many of his thoughts were helpful and worth reflecting on but I want to focus on something he said about maturity and connection. In detailing the way men develop depression he does a good job showing how boys are not encouraged to grow relationally and how this causes them to separate from parts of themselves that would ward off depression. One aspect he underscores is how boys are encouraged to disconnect from their families. He says, traditionally oriented therapists may actively discourage family therapy, citing the need for the boy to have “a place of his own,” in which to “work out separation.” But the true meaning of psychological “separation” is maturity, and we humans stand a better chance of maturing when we do not disconnect from one another. But what maturity truly requires is the replacement of childish forms of closeness with more adult forms of closeness, not with dislocation. As boys turn into young men, closeness not just to the mother but to both parents – indeed dependent closeness to anyone – is equated with childishness. Growing up becomes synonymous with moving out. Maturity and connection are set up as choices that exclude one another. (pg. 143)

What a painful reminder that in our culture dependent closeness to anyone – is equated with childishness. How often as parents and friends do we discourage, react against or demean dependent closeness? I realize that there is danger in being overly dependent. There are times and seasons where we are alone and have to learn how to navigate such periods with resiliency. Standing alone is part of growing to maturity. As a parent I want to help my girls be able to stay buoyant in difficulty and become spiritually mature. Like Terrance Real I believe this maturity is facilitated, not only by standing alone, but by being able to appropriately (and vulnerably) depend on others. Obviously, Christian theology underscores this. We are to depend on the Lord and His church. For the first half of my life, I foolishly worked hard to become a good independent person but later as I really began to grow in the Lord I realized what a backwards approach that was if I really wanted to mature as a Christian. It feels good (it feeds our flesh) to stand on our own and awkward to learn how to depend on others. Generally, I watch others struggle with both, wisely choosing to stand alone or wisely asking for help and/or depending on others. However, out of the two I would say the majority of people find it harder to vulnerably trust others. Therefore, I really appreciated the reminder that we often demean interdependence and I often play right into this. Dependent closeness is equated with childishness and this type of ‘childishness’ is to be encouraged. If I remember correctly Jesus encouraged us to change and become little children if we really wanted to participate in His Kingdom (Matthew 18:3).