I will never say…like my mother did

How many times have I said, “I will never say…like my mother did” or “I will never do…the same way my parents did”?  I’m sure there are countless things about the generations before us that we swore we’d never do.  And yet as we mature, experience life and wisdom begins to invade the deeper recesses of our minds we find ourselves unable to say anything other than that which we’ve heard ringing in our own ears.

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Life is a journey!  I think we’ve all heard “life” made reference to in a number of metaphors or similes.  However, I think it’s safe to propose that we could insert any number of other words in place of “life”.  Marriage, a career, and yes, PARENTING!

The word “journey” (as stated in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary), is actually defined as “the travel or passage from one place to another”.  It doesn’t really include a description of how that journey takes place, i.e.. easily, with much difficulty, quickly, slowly, etc.  Just a basic knowledge that one will get from point A to point B as a result.

I’ve managed to ramble sufficiently so I’ll come to the the subject of my ponderings of late!  A struggle I seem to have a hard time letting go of…what makes a good parent, who is actually responsible to judge who good kids are, why are some parents so obsessed with how screwed up other people’s kids are, is there a right and a wrong way to parent and quite specifically what is God calling me to in my own personal journey as a parent.

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Just saying that word gives most of us that are parents a slight shudder. Well, those of us that are just entering that phase anyway…if you’re a seasoned parent, past the pre-teen stage perhaps you sigh with relief knowing you don’t have to repeat those years.

Honestly these were the years I was most looking forward to…getting to see my child being shaped into the person they will spend their life being! It sounds silly, I realize, but in all truthfulness that period of time holds some of the best memories I have of my growing up years and I long to provide that same type of experience for my children.

What I couldn’t have possibly accounted for is the change that our world has experienced and the impact it would have on my own child-rearing years. Namely the explosion of connectedness. I’m very slowly reading a book I picked up at the local bookstore a few weeks ago…”Tough Guys and Drama Queens”. The first chapter is dedicated to addressing what is so different in the culture today than in the early 20th century. One fact stood out to me beyond all other…

     “In the 1930s, written information doubled every thirty years. In the 1970s and 1980s, that amount
    of information doubled every eleven years. Today, codified information doubles every eleven hours.
    That means that you can end your workday being half as wise as you were when you woke up that
    morning.”

That’s insane, and in some ways makes our children smarter than us because they, more often than not, know how to access that information far quicker than the average parent.

How scary is that to have to navigate as a parent already feeling slightly inadequate. My mom has often said that she doesn’t envy our generation, having to raise children in the fast-pace, connected world that we live in.

In truth I feel even more honoured in a way, that I was entrusted with the four children I have during this period in history. Does it raise the standard in terms of being more involved as a parent? Absolutely! Recently James attended a seminar hosted by an RCMP officer that specializes in social media, the internet and youth. Although my husband is quite savvy when it comes to such things I suggested he go instead of myself as he would be more likely to understand half the jargon AND when it comes to implementing techniques in relation to the “inter-web” and other connected devices he would probably be better at it. He came home, first and foremost, with a deeper sense of assurance that we were actually doing a pretty good job introducing our children to these different ways of connecting with the world BUT also a greater sense of urgency to openly communicate with our children what they already knew, not because we’d shared it, but because they’d encountered it at school, with their friends, stumbled across it, etc. Also a pressing desire to engage in constant discussion in regards to how to navigate these waters cautiously and together.

One of the things I have valued as a parent is openness. It means addressing the issue even if it’s uncomfortable. It gives kids the opportunity to ask the questions of me, as a parent, rather than their friends who don’t have all the information or maybe none yet. An example of my most recent experience was the first discussion I had with Sam regarding certain aspects of sexuality. While we hadn’t purposely avoided it, in all honesty, it just hadn’t entered our realm of discussion. Having the opportunity to sit down and talk with him had been on my mind and he hadn’t asked any questions yet so I felt the need to broach the subject with him. At first it was awkward, I wasn’t sure where to start, he wasn’t really excited to share what he already knew, but once we began the discussion it led to some great dialogue and I felt better that he knew I was approachable even with topics he wasn’t quite sure about. It wasn’t a long, drawn out discussion but I think he walked away with some things to think about.

Being willing to be open doesn’t just involve discussions related to sexuality…it has to overflow into every aspect of life related to your child’s growing experiences. For us open discussion has been key in helping us delay the introduction of a cellphones or any other personal device of that sort. It hasn’t been because we wanted to isolate or shelter them but discussing with them our reasoning, our desire to see them become more responsible, to understand the reasons for having said devices and how they will be used in our home has allowed us the luxury of introducing in the timing we feel appropriate for our children rather than what their peers deem appropriate. It isn’t always easy and sometimes we’ve been perceived as the bad guys but in the end it hasn’t been a battle.
I think one of the main lessons I’m learning during this stage is that the more open, up front and honest you are with your pre-teen/teenager, the more likely you will be to have the privilege of walking with them through the tumultuous years that have the greatest impact on shaping their character and values for the rest of their life.

So the third myth that Fields states in her book is that “Parenting is your highest calling”!!! Who doesn’t enter parenthood thinking this is true and yet as a young mom I’ve often felt the shrivelling in my spirit as I think of what happens if I fail at this task. In reading this book I understand how as individuals, regardless of our earthly role, we are called to something much greater than this…”If I pursue God first as my highest calling and am satisfied in his love, then I am freed not to love my children less but to love them rightly.” (p. 73) WOW…a huge eye opener in understanding that and knowing how I have failed at that call more often than I’ve failed in the call of being a mother.

On page 66 she states, “our greatest and most constant temptation as parents is to unseat the Sovereign from his throne and replace him with our family”. How many times have I put my family before my faith and my personal relationship with my own Creator. Matthew 10:37 (New International Version) says this:

37″Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;

I see now how my motherly eyes have been blinded to believe that by placing more emphasis on my role as a parent rather than as a child of God, I have actually done my children a disservice. I have limited my communion with the Holy Spirit which in turn limits my ability to be the kind of parent God is capable of making me.

What I feel challenged by in this chapter is this…I must be willing to serve my husband and my children because they are who God has blessed me with but when I feel the Spirit leading in a direction somewhat contradictory to this area of service I must follow to experience the greater purpose God has for my life. By not following I miss out on the great blessing he has for me and jeopardize the greater purpose he may intend for my family!

How many times have you heard the phrase that being a mother is natural and your instinct will kick in??? I love this chapter of Fields book, “Parenting is your highest calling…”

She has so many poignant ideas that strike a chord deep in my mothering soul. In this chapter she talks about how parenting is actual quite the opposite especially if we consider our human nature. As Christians we know that we have a sinful nature that is selfish and not at all capable of constantly loving unconditionally. She starts the chapter with a moment I’ve had numerous times in my mothering years. A day starts with the intention of being loving, kind, generous and loving unconditionally but one thing leads to another…I fight with my son, I get irritated with my daughter, food gets spilled, toys are strewn everywhere and bedtime is a battle. She sums it up exactly how I feel…”By the time we were done my heart was cold. I had lost my appetite for sweet affirmations of love and I no longer felt like praying…My life with this son did not begin this way.”(p38) How many times in a day have I cried these same words.

She proceeds to explain that as we check scripture against this idea that loving is natural and instinctive we will find exactly the opposite. I love how she pulls scripture after scripture out of the old testament of God’s disappointment in his chosen people for their lack of obedience and faith. His desire to give them so much more but their lack of interest and often turning their backs on the one who loves them most. Yet he continually disciplines them and then gives them another chance. He communes with them despite his holy anger at their disobedience and wayward ways. The challenge she presents is how are we measuring this “natural” love we have for our children.

“I want to measure love not by what I receive but by the orientation of my own heart and my actions towards others.” (p. 52) If I chose to recognize that I will not naturally love my children unconditionally because I simply can’t do that on my own but to find freedom in the fact that in God’s grace he will give me what I need to love my children and long for communion with them despite the things they do.

One of the many things my mother passed on to me was a love of learning! I have not always understood her intense desire to pursue a greater degree of formal education but to be perfectly honest the desire to gain a deeper amount of knowledge is something I CAN completely understand. I have completed a university degree and although I do not have a deep yearning to go back to school for a masters or doctorate or anything of that nature, I do thoroughly enjoy the classroom setting and the interaction that leads to an “a-ha” moment. Over the last few months I’ve considered the fact that one day soon I will have to return to school in order to finish my formal education to become a teacher but in the meantime I need to find ways to occupy my more “intellectual” side that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

My thoughts were to combine that desire to learn, become better at the job I am doing now and a better parent into one effort. So on a quiet afternoon last week I headed to House of James, our local Christian bookstore, and began searching through their non-fiction section on parenting. I was looking for a particular book my good friend, Heather, suggested but came across a book entitled, “‘Parenting is your Highest Calling’ and 8 other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt” by Leslie Leyland Fields. The title immediately caught my attention and my first reaction really was more along the lines of what the heck is a book like this doing in House of James…of course parenting is one of the highest callings! But the rest of the title intrigued me and got me wondering what incites this author might have regarding parenting.

The first chapter of the book is “Parenting doesn’t have to be this hard”! She talks about how we so often feel like failures, particularly moms, because parenting seems so difficult and the assumption that if it feels difficult we must be doing it wrong. The first challenge that is stewing in my brain right now is this, “pretending that parenting is easy diminishes the value of family. As truth seekers and truth speakers, we need to be honest about the cost of parenting…Yet not many of us have examined our own parenting assumptions and expectations, holding them up to the unsparing light of the Scriptures.” I thought about that for a day or two, pondering what exactly we have done as Christian parents and I know my personal response affirms her point. I have discussed, vented, prayed, and every other possible action aside from examining them next to scripture. I have held to the cultural notion that parenting should be easy IF I am doing it right.

The second challenge is even more revolutionary in my mind. I’ve always just assumed that God is a happy, loving, sacrificial parent figure and to that degree of joy, love and happiness is what I must aspire. However, Fields challenges that notion through scriptural reference…”we seldom see God as a happy, blithe parent. We see instead God hungering for more…God reveals himself as a hurting and tender Father who longs for a deeper relationship with his children…We see God allowing his heart to be broken again and again by our failures.” At first I thought really how is that possible for a perfect God to encompass those ideas. Then I began reading the passages she was using as evidence…Exodus 4:22, Malachi 1:6, Isaiah 66:13, Isaiah 65:2. I could identify with the words of truth spoken there. How many times have I already wondered, and will wonder in years to come, where is the honor I would love to see my children afford me and felt like I have held out loving arms to “obstinate” children. A perfect God has felt those things with the people He has created and still feels that in the moments I do not follow His will for my life.

I am eager to continue reading this book and find the truths God will teach me through this but I also want to be a truth seeker and speaker and recognize that this job I have for now is NOT easy. In reality it’s very difficult and comes with many sorrows, tears, anger and frustration but isn’t the truth in this particular chapter that light is always so much more comforting and appreciated when it comes at the end of dark tunnel. My comfort lies in the fact that THE LIGHT has and continues to experience my journey but illuminates the path before me so perhaps I might learn from His example.

“How do I raise wonderful children who have avoided many of the world’s temptations?” I ask myself this questions daily, knowing full well that my children never have been and never will be perfect. However, I would like to have children who are grounded, a delight to be around, role-models for their generation and those to come, truthful, godly, etc., the list could go on forever really! Most importantly I want my children to know that in a world of hurt, confusion, drugs, alcohol, sex, anger, and frustration they have a place to belong. How often do we hear kids talking about wanting to find acceptance and a place to belong and all too often finding it in places that lead to darkness, despair and depression.

Over the last few weeks I’ve felt a little of that despair myself. How can James and I possibly raise all four of our children to be wonderful, amazing people both in our eyes and God’s? This morning as I sat in on a great lesson with a very wise woman I was given a fresh perspective and lifted from some of that discouragement.

We began evaluating from a less “spiritual” perspective what the basic needs of a person are. In my undergraduate years we studied a little of these types of things. The basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing have to be met first. Then safety and security, third was belonging, and so on and so forth. One of the last human needs is love (not THE last but close to it). As a parent I’ve always tried to tell and show my children how much I love them not always grasping that the “need” for love is actually quite small in comparison to some of the more basic needs that I may have been neglecting. But as I gave this concept more thought I clearly remembered my own childhood. I never once questioned that my parents loved me despite the fact that I didn’t hear it from them daily but more importantly I ALWAYS knew that at the end of the day I BELONGED to them, in their home, in the shelter of their protection. No matter what I did or did not do I would not be forced outside of that protection.

As our “teacher” shared with us in more detail the types of people she deals with in her own profession she challenged us that the best thing we could do for our children was to help them understand that they are OURS! As a believer we cling to the truth that we belong to God and he lives in us. We are a family in Christ and nothing we say or do can get us in or out of that family. It’s a gift, freely given and a place to remain without condemnation! In Romans we find evidence of this desire as Paul writes in Romans 1:5-6 “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to BELONG to Jesus Christ.” The chosen people were the Jews but how much more meaningful would it have been to the Gentiles knowing that this gift of belonging was free to them as well!

I decided to put these ideas to the test and as I scooped my darling three year old daughter up I whispered in her ear that she was MY beautiful, child and she would always be mine! I was rewarded with the biggest grin and sweetest giggle as I buckled her into her seat. Then I turned and buckled my very affectionate five year old into his seat and whispered similar words into his ear. I was not disappointed by his response either. Both proved the point that they knew they were loved but more than anything they felt treasured and protected by my affirmation that they BELONGED to me.

In a world that offers little in the way of true belonging and real love I realized that in order to help my children become the people I know God wants them to be I must first provide for them a safe home where they can be themselves and know they are always, ALWAYS welcome and treasured. THE place where THEY belong and then train them up in the way they should go so they will not depart from it.

These precious gifts do, in fact, BELONG to me and always will!