Saturday, November 3, 2012

Image-Bearers (Part 1)

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There is a parenting myth that I am repeatedly tempted to believe.  Everyone knows it's a myth (don't they???), and yet, it gets a lot of press and air time.

Here it is:

Good parents raise well-behaved, kind, compassionate, empathetic kids.
Bad parents raise rambunctious, anti-social, uncaring, impulsive kids.

Recently I read a very sweet story that I loved about a little girl who showed kindness to another little child in her moment of need.  The writer concluded that the kind little girl must have had a great mom who taught her to be kind.

Every time I read something like that, I wilt a little inside.  I wish that weren't the case, but it's true.

It's just that subtle messages like this show up frequently, represented as "proud mom moments", but perpetuating the converse argument of the myth I stated earlier:

Well-behaved, kind, compassionate, empathetic kids must have good parents.
Rambunctious, anti-social, uncaring, impulsive kids must have bad parents.

I have a number of issues with this myth.  One is that it does a disservice to children who grow in grace and character in spite of parents who for whatever reason are ill-equipped for their role, and whose attempts to fulfill it might be widely considered inadequate--perhaps even abusive.  A second is that it does a disservice to parents who expend untold energy, effort and love raising children who, for any number of reasons, are not inclined to submit to instruction and carefully laid boundaries.  Somewhere in the balance, the notion of personal responsibility is lost.  Parents are responsible for their own behaviors and attitudes--the teaching, training, and nurturing of their children--and children are responsible for theirs.  If kids are kind-hearted and winsome, good for them!  If they struggle, they need support, and sometimes intervention, but they need to own the struggle.

There is another, perhaps more subtle issue with this myth:

We tend to have biases about what constitutes a "good kid".  Who doesn't love a charming, sweet, affectionate, personable, tenderhearted, smart kid?  We can fall into the trap of blurring the lines between what is personality and what is character.  If I like her personality, she is virtuous.  If I dislike his personality, he has poor character (perhaps, a "sin problem"?).

In my former life (pre-kids, not a previous incarnation), I was a teacher.  I taught many sets of siblings through the years.  It was the best gift a future mom could ever receive.  It always intrigued me that kids who came from the same exact two parents and home could be so different.  It was obvious to me that they each came with their own package.

Their own unique, God-given design.  Beautiful.  Born to bear His image.

God's nature has an inexhaustible number of facets.  May I be so bold as to say we like some of them better than others?  I know I do.  Sometimes his patience is maddening, for just one example.  He is not in a hurry, and seems to move slowest in my most urgent situations.

He created each of us with a different combination of traits, each reflecting something of himself.  May I also be so bold as to say that we each tend to value some of them more than others?  I know I am more drawn to people who approach the world much as I do.

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My children happen to have two parents with a lot of stubborn, competitive determination. We care about the little details, the nuances, the subtleties.  It's served us well.  I dare say it's served others well much of the time.  Except when we're driving them crazy.

Lee is the engineer.  He is so good at it.  He will analyze your problem to death and give you feedback with far more minute details than you ever wanted, but when you are done, you will have an awesome solution to your problem.  That is his way of caring about you, and no one cares more genuinely than my husband.  When you hear all of the details, they might not ooze caring to a more sensitive and less analytic type of person, but that is EXACTLY what they are.

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I can totally appreciate my husband. I have the analytic gene too.  You probably knew that, right? I pulled the original version of this post because I was afraid it lacked theological integrity.  True story.  It took me several months to find the time to scrutinize it and make sure it is what I wanted it to say.  Lee says to me with a knowing and appreciative smile, "Your biggest fault is that you care too much."

So my kids have a double dose of a lot of this stuff that makes them a little intense, quite spirited, determined, and competitive, and in my experience, absolutely delightful.  Which is great because God knew we would be a good match for each other.

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On any given day, my child might be the one to extend herself to your child in her moment of need.

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Or, she might be focused on something (or someone) else completely and not even notice yours is in the room.

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He might appreciate yours in a way that no one else ever has, because cool is nowhere on his radar.  

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But if your child is initiating a friendly interaction with him that he perceives as a competitive opportunity, he is going to play to win.  Guaranteed.  And if your kid is the good, kind, thoughtful and empathetic type, he or she come away confused at best.  Hurt at worst.

According to the myth, you would be entitled to consider me a greater or a lesser mom based on what my kids did that day.

Here is the truth:

"God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27

God made all of us in his own image, to reflect his glory.  In the same breath in which we learn this, we also learn that he created us different from one another.  Can you be more different than male and female?  How about introvert and extrovert? Leader and follower? Big-picture person and detail person?

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men."  1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

The truth is that God creates and delights in and uses all kinds of people.  Some are more people-pleasing than others.  Some are more God-pleasing than others.  Parents can absolutely nurture social skills, as well as the inclination to please God.  Maturity makes a big difference.  But in the end, we are all different, and in some ways, we are all the same.  We all need grace.  And wonderful news:  We have it!  God is at work.  And when you see him working in one of my kids?  I promise you, I don't deserve the credit.  He does.

More on the parenting part of this the next time.  But for now?  I pray that God will help me stop perpetuating the myth.  It's critical that we pray for and support one another in the tough enough job of parenting--and of growing up--whether it seems to be going well or not.  We haven't seen the end of the story.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wisdom, Tracy! As the mother of 3 whom many consider "perfect", Skip and I always say they turned out like they have DESPITE what we did and BECAUSE of their commitment to Christ...
Cathy B

Janean said...

This is made all the more complicated when parenting a special needs child (autism in my case, as you know). My child seems like a typical kid at first, but when the behavior shows up, people just assume I'm a rotten Mom and have no idea that there are deeper issues at work. The looks (and comments at times) I get could kill. And they do kill (my heart) sometimes. We all just need to show each other a little more grace. Love this series - keep it coming. :)

Tracy P. said...

YES, Janean! Whenever I think about this topic, I think of you and other friends in similar circumstances who absolutely run circles around me in the parenting department. It is so tempting to parent with the goal of pleasing people, but it is NOT what God asks of us. More on that is coming.

Deanna said...

Very heartfelt amazing thoughts here, Tracy. I can tell much thought and preparation went into this post. Lovely and beautiful...thank you.

Life with Kaishon said...

This was so good. Don't you think we kind of have to do the very best we can, because heaven only knows how many mistakes I make daily, and then hope for the best. Hope that they have seen all the good and all the Christ like qualities and they will want that in their own lives? That is what I hope!

Crazy Sister said...

Thank you for sending me this link! Your words are a breath of fresh air in my week. Suddenly my kids seem awesome again...