A lunchtime conversation today brought back to me the days (or should I say ‘daze’?) of our years of parenting babies and toddlers. The time does fly by in a blur, though at that time I was not aware how quickly it would do so. Even though our daughters are 4 years apart, the number of years in my adult life that I spent getting up with a hungry/sick child are very small compared to the rest of my life. We had preschoolers in our home a total of eight years. Yet the way it is described in some parenting books, you’d think I’d be doing it forever.
When I talk with parents of young children in our congregation today, I’m sure I sound like all the old farts that I heard spout off about “when my children were little.” So I really REALLY try hard not to blather on… And when I remember how little I disliked their advice (even when I asked for it) I try not to give it.
Because,parenting is, as I remarked on the way home, a function of the dynamics of every family. Even the same parents will find that their children will respond differently to life in general. Some process stress with aplomb. (I do love that word! Aplomb!!!) Some need a personal space bubble to re-order their world. Some need constant, velcro-like attachment to a trusted adult. Some like to talk through what they are thinking, wondering, needing. Others expect you to pull it out of them by osmosis. Or maybe a divining rod. But each “trio” of parents and child will be different, because the experiences, situations and personalities are all different.
Sure, there’s ground rules of what is a good idea, but even those can vary from house to house. We aren’t sticklers for the “no food in front of the TV” rule any more. Friday evenings are usually “pizza and a movie” nights. (Or during marching band season, it’s another weekend night.) We still don’t like texting at the table. We expect the girls to help now with most household chores, particularly the dishes, the laundry, trash and recycling. But those are tasks we all help pitch in and do.
One “rule” I guess we’ve stood firm on, and that is that we each need space, care and time to grow. We need to hear that we are loved, and have a place to express love back. We need to know in our deepest heart of hearts that there are people in this world who think we are the cat’s whiskers. And it starts, yes, in how we engage with one another, even in the early years of parenting.
I wish I could say I’ve got it all figured out. That would be…wrong! I’m still growing and learning how to live out my faith in the God I love and worship. And all that other “stuff” — I guess we’ll keep trying plan B, C, D, E, F… and ZZ.
My recent side-readings (devotional readings with Scripture) have been in reading Brennan Manning’s book The Furious Longing of God. Manning traces back through the writings of God’s people — not just Scripture, though the book is infused with biblical reference. He takes spiritual formation through the route to God’s heart and then to our own. He strips away the “PhD syndrome” of the over-educated or over-preached-to (my phrases, not his) to draw us back to the place of accepting, internalizing and living out God’s incomprehensible, unconditional love for us.
If we continue to picture God as a small-minded bookkeeper, a niggling customs officer rifling through our moral suitcase, as a policeman with a club who is going to bat us over the head every time we stumble and fall, or as a whimsical, capricious, and cantakerous thief who delights in raining on our parade and stealing our joy, we flatly deny what John writes in his first letter (4:16) — “God is love.” In human beings, love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.
– The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning, p. 77.
So if I can move in the direction of God’s love as I make choices and care for others, I’m thinking I’m going in the right direction. It won’t require mandates and “wise” parenting principles. Just love and common sense. But you and I both know that will never sell a book. 😛