Saturday, 18 June 2011
"I’m not going to force my values--my religious views and thinking onto my children. I’m going to let them come of age and decide for themselves." This kind of thinking is not uncommon. Actually, I’ve heard sentiments like this expressed I think for as long as I can remember. However, in recent years, such an approach to child rearing seems to have become more and more prevalent and perhaps embraced by a larger proportion of young parents.
I know that such thinking at the outset may seem quite benign and without consequence. And often such a philosophy is embraced not because of blithe or witless curiosities. No, frequently parents who have reached such a perspective, have come to it through their own hard experiences and agonizing struggles. To understand this, all one needs to do is hear some of these good people recount their own horror stories as children growing up in environments that were extremely unhealthy. Their upbringing included dwelling in homes with parents who may very well have been overbearing and emotionally abusive, who used extreme measures in trying to insure that their children would not venture beyond particular perimeters and norms that they considered dangerous. The experiences that these people endured were ordeals that had a profound effect upon who they would later become and how they processed (or were unable to process) life. They were traumatized and scarred by their own history and therefore have no desire to inflict those same wounds on their offspring. And so it seems in order to avoid this, they have felt compelled to relinquish an important parental responsibility.
Children early on need structure with a sense of consistent parameters. The security that children need for healthy development is cultivated by a persistent training spiced with love. They need to understand what is expected of them, know what is and is not ‘OK’ within the home environment and clearly comprehend what is both safe and dangerous: It is not safe to stick fingers or sharp metal objects into electrical outlets. It is not safe to touch hot objects like stoves or curling irons. It is not safe to play in or cross the street unattended. It is not safe to play with plastic bags, etc. etc. Above everything else, one should never put beans in one’s ears! And even though they might be branded as harsh or ‘unloving’, it is the conscientious parents who make sure that these and other potentially life threatening circumstances are avoided, even if they have to exercise extreme measures to accomplish this training (a swat on the rear or physical restraint may be imperative). In extreme cases, parents who fail or refuse to insure a safe and healthy environment for their children risk being charged with negligence and losing custody of their children.
It is in helping children to absorb the essential nature of relationship that is the vital element for understanding what life is about. Yes, they need a good sense for how the physical world around them works and how to effectively sustain their bodies in that environment--there is a limit to the things that one can and cannot do for life to continue in a healthy manner. But the concept of relationship must never be strictly confined to the realm of physics.
Emotional, mental, social and spiritual values have a critical place of training for a well rounded understanding of life. To ignore the vital relationship of these other qualities to life in the early development of children is to effectively impede their growth toward maturity and effective living. My wife, Debbie is assigned to work as a teacher’s aide with children who have never been taught how to learn--to absorb the essential connection of relationship to all areas of life (perhaps the reason being that their own parents also were never instilled with the need to learn these things). These children have been deprived of emotional, mental, social and spiritual connections--sometimes even the basic physical needs are absent. And these children are ill prepared to learn--they don’t know how to learn, don’t want to learn and express unbelievable disrespect and total ineptitude in knowing how to interact in a healthy manner with classmates or staff. The failure of parents to instill such values into these children because their parents botched the job with them is as irresponsible and negligent as failing to provide the basic physical needs of their children. And they may eventually find that they have done as much harm to their offspring even as they try to avoid the damage that was done to them. To some extent, it has been a sad and at times discouraging experience for my wife to witness this continuing cycle of neglect and ignorance in the children she finds herself working with each day.
As the people of Israel prepared to enter the land of Canaan, their leader Joshua, gave them some last minute instructions that were to be vital to them;
"Listen obediently, Israel. Do what you’re told so that you’ll have a good life, a life of abundance and bounty, just as God promised, in a land abounding in milk and honey. [Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your "God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength(NIV)].
Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates" (Deuteronomy 6:3-9 [MSG]).
Unless we understand how Israel came out of Egypt to be at the border of Canaan, we will miss just how vitally important this instruction from Yahweh God was. The phrase "inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates" calls to mind how the Lord struck dead the firstborn children of the Egyptians but ‘passed over’ the homes of the Israelites that had blood smeared on the doorposts and lintels of their homes thus sparing all the children within (see Exodus 12:1-28). The instructions Joshua gave Israel for training themselves and their children were vitally important for life! In fact, they were indeed a matter of life and death. This guidance could not and should not wait till their children were ‘of age’. Training for life was to begin post haste and was to continue in a consistent and persistent manner throughout their lives.
Debbie and I have not insisted that our three children blindly accept and follow our particular understanding of life, but we have instilled within each of them a sense that there is much more involved in life than what can be heard, touched and seen. There are many realities beyond our senses and understanding having a profound impact upon us that need to be explored and learned. As parents, we have given them a thirst for learning and have encouraged them to reach beyond themselves that they might better understand those realities. We have freely shared our values and the conviction concerning a higher power beyond ourselves--we believe in God. Though we have cultivated this conviction in our children, we have not resolutely demanded that they accept these things as truth. They have, and Debbie and I feel they are the better for it. Our son and daughters are people of integrity who have learned to love deeply with a sense of responsibility to themselves and others. They have a strong work ethic, a compassion for others and a tremendous sense of justice and fair play. They are good citizens in their communities. And I am convinced that these strong character traits are derived directly from an early understanding of who they are before their God.
"Point your kids in the right direction-- when they're old they won't be lost" Proverbs 22:6 [MSG].
How have you or do you plan to raise your children when it comes to beliefs? Will you push them in a certain direction, or will you leave it open for them to decide? Which way were you brought up, and how did it affect your life?