Monday, March 17, 2014

Doing It All "Wrong", But Still Getting It Right

My daughter is 2 years and 4 months old, and she has discovered something she considers to be a breakthrough in modern intelligence... Here is this slice of genius, are you ready for it?

Everyone was first a baby, and then they grow up.

This is mind-blowing information to my toddler, and she finds it necessary to now go up to every person she knows (or doesn't know) and say "Baby grow up!"  And she's right every time.  Perhaps she likes that part even more than the knowledge itself, is that she has yet to find someone that this truth doesn't apply to.

Since it is Spring Break, we were able to do our Saturday morning ritual on a Monday.  Emersyn comes into our room around 7a.m. and gets in our bed and under the covers.  We play "night-night", and basically we all just lay there while Emersyn wiggles and rolls and bounces while showering us with hugs and kisses and cuddles.

And all of a sudden, she stopped and pointed to herself and said, "Baby grow up".  She then continued to point to me and repeated this profound statement, and then again to her daddy.  And each time we affirm that she's right.

But hearing this statement "Baby grow up" over and over the past few weeks has started me thinking through how all these babies are actually "raised".  Even that word, "raised", gives a visual of older people lifting up a younger child into an older child and then into an adult.

As a parent of only one young child, I consider myself still a beginner.  Sure, I don't stress over things I used to when Emersyn was first born.  I have realized, though, in these short 2 and almost a half years that parenting is the epitome of two incredibly huge ideas crossing paths every moment of every day - God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.  These seem like two things that have nothing to do with each other, but in parenting these things must coexist and even work together... and be smothered in God's grace.

Grace is goodness being given that is not deserved, and I am learning that a lot of parenting is a lot of work from me and my husband but infinitely more grace from the Lord.  Sure, we have read books and listened to parenting sermons, talks, podcasts, etc.  We have read scripture and tried to apply its truths to create our style of parenting.

But there comes a point in every parent's life that they must admit that no matter how hard they try to watch their motives, tone, words, and actions around, in front of, or with their children... basically every parent is going to screw up their children in some way.  When flawed beings raise moldable younger beings, it is inevitable that the children will get the same flaws or opposite flaws as a response.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't try as parents to raise our children correctly, whatever we feel convicted as "correctly" to mean, but we are fools if we think there is a way to raise children perfectly.  We are delusional if we think that if we follow a certain method of speaking, eating, disciplining, teaching, rewarding, sleeping, being affectionate, affirming, that we will avoid all things harmful, negative, or devastating to our children.  I can't guarantee that if I say all the right things in the right tone to my daughter that she will grow up to be confident, secure, and wise.  I can't guarantee that if I spank my daughter, or if I don't, that she will or won't grow up to respect authority.  Sure, statistically doing certain things in raising children makes getting positive results more likely and pitfalls less likely.

But ultimately, I can't ever get rid of my own sin, my child's sin, or her ability to make decisions that I can't control in any way.  These 3 factors make child-rearing quite unpredictable.

And if that is true, then it's opposite must be as well.  Parents who do things " wrong" are not guaranteed to have screw-ups for children in adulthood.  Again, this is no license for parents to take a lifelong vacation from their responsibilities, but I think with all the books and theories out there today, we aren't giving God's grace and sovereignty its proper credit in how our children end up.

I feel an easy example is my own up-bringing.  Before I begin, let me explain that in no way was I ever abused or neglected in any way.  My mom will be the first person to say, and I have heard her say this many times, that it is by God's grace that her kids turned out halfway decent.  So, as I go into detail, please know that in no way am I saying I regret the way I was raised.  I can thankfully and honestly say that I hold no resentments toward my parents for anything they did or did not do in their parenting, AND I have a very close relationship with my parents.  And I always have.  While my mother would say that it is ONLY by God's grace, I would say it is also due greatly to just who my parents are.  They are strong and loving.  They are constant and generous.  They are just and thoughtful.  And I love them - strengths and weaknesses altogether.

And when I point out something "wrong" they did in raising me, I'm not sure what they did was actually wrong at all, but there are definitely volumes out there on bookshelves of bookstores, conference table displays, and home libraries all over the United States - in Christian and non-Christian homes - that would say these methods are wrong.  I'm sure some would even go so far as to say that I was abused or neglected, which would make me want to laugh.  Some people take their parenting to a whole new level of legalism and paranoia these days that I just can't understand at all, and I don't want to.  But as I point out the things my parents did "wrong", please understand that I am only pointing it out in contrast to what the modern world would say is "right" parenting.  My personal belief is that my parents did the best they could with what they knew and believed at that time, and I feel I turned out relatively well as what we hope for our children goes.  Not that I'm bragging, but for Christian parents' hopes for their children, most have come true in my life without much difficulty.  And I'm not saying that because I am so great, because I'm not, but the successes I have had in my life are completely owed to my parents' guidance and God's grace on my life!

If I were the author of some very popular books, even in Christian circles today, I would have this following critique of my parents:

1)  My mother had me by C-section.  In a hospital.  With pain meds.  That alone in today's world would make her the black sheep in a mother's group.  Guess I'd have to join her, since that is how I had my baby as well.  But the poor woman was 3 weeks past her due date, and she had been in labor with me for quite a while.  One doctor kept me in while another performed an emergency c-section.  This woman should never be judged but thanked a million times over!  Thank you, Mama, for choosing life for me, carrying me much longer than was necessary, and for making it through an extremely difficult delivery to raise me!

2)  My mother was not a stay-at-home mom.  I didn't even know those existed, except perhaps in 2 families I knew moms that worked part-time or cleaned people's houses.  Everyone else I knew grew up in a home where both parents worked, and I don't ever remember any of us saying that we thought our parents spent too much time at work.  Even though my mom worked, we still ate most of our meals at home that had been prepared and cooked at home.  We spent a lot of time playing and working together as a family.  We went on vacations together often.  We had traditions.  We spent a lot of time together, and I don't remember even feeling like my parents were too busy for me.  I can remember my parents being at most of my school functions, extracurricular activities, and special events too.

3)  My mother did not breastfeed me.  I know, shocking!  She did try, but it didn't go well.  I was fed formula throughout my first year of life.  And all of my life, I have been very healthy.  I was a gymnast, a softball player, a track runner, and a cheerleader.  I am also smart enough to have finished high school, taking Trigonometry, AP Physics, and Chemistry.  I also tested into Advanced Comp in college, and graduated college with a 3.85 GPA.  I'm not trying to brag, I am just merely pointing out that formula in no way inhibited my ability to learn.  I have also been very close to my mother throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  I don't feel like my bond with her suffered because I didn't spend meals at her breast for the first year of my development.

4)  My parents spanked me.  In fact, I think I got my last swats at age 16.  They didn't do time outs or talks or a reward chart.  If I misbehaved, I got swatted.  Sometimes I got swatted with a paddle.  Mom or Dad would say to go to their room and sit on their bed.  They'd go get the paddle.  They'd ask if we knew why we were getting paddled.  After clarifying why, we were then told to bend over the bed, and we got swats.  If we didn't bend over, the number of swats were increased.  And they hurt.  I won't lie.  Of course they hurt!  That is definitely part of the point of swats.  But within 10 minutes my butt wasn't hurting, and we all moved on with life.  And it was a happy life, believe me!  I have never felt like I needed counseling because of these spankings I received.

It would be one thing if my parents only swatted me for doing wrong, but never praised me when I did right.  I was told that I was smart.  I was congratulated when I did well.  I was rewarded for good grades.  They also told me they loved me often, even during disciplining me.  They played with me too.  I might have obeyed them out of fear sometimes, because I knew consequences were always involved.  But I also wanted to please them, because I love them.  I still do.  I have always wanted to show my parents my new classroom, new house, new car, my Teacher-of-the-Year award, or even this blog.  I want them to be proud of me, because they are my heroes.  Yes, heroes that paddled my butt whenever I screwed up.  Because they are good people, I wanted to be like them.

My mother even used spanking in her potty-training method.  I had been showing interest in using the toilet, so she woke me up one day when I was 15 months old and said, "You're a big girl now.  We wear big girl panties, and we don't go potty in our panties."  If I went to the bathroom on the toilet, I got a treat.  If I went in my panties, I got a spanking (with her hand).  I was potty-trained in a couple of days with no relapses.  By today's standards that would be a very wrong method, but I have absolutely no memory of it.  And I am pretty sure I have no emotional, self-esteem, or physical issues due to this "wrong" way of potty-training.

5)  My parents did not dress me in special attire for every holiday.  And most of my Easter and Christmas outfits were hand-me-downs.  My hair was not braided in a special way with a handmade bow from Etsy or a boutique.  The sheets on my mattress didn't always match the decor in my room.   My parents did not share pictures of me with their friends at least once a day.  My childhood was a lot less about me than my daughter's is about her... and I admire the kind of simplicity my parents had in how they taught me my place in this world.  I knew there was more to life than me - my life, my wishes, my feelings.  My parents' lives didn't revolve around me.

6)  My parents sent me to public school.  Yep, Kindergarten through 12th grade, I attended a public school.  And there were kids of every kind.  I never once prayed while in school or had the Bible taught to me by a school employee.  I was taught BOTH Creationism and Evolutionary theory in my high school science classes.  I heard cuss words and sexual innuendos long before I understood them.

But there was a couple who were local missionaries.  They taught Bible classes at school, and if parents gave students permission to go, they could.  I attended these classes and learned a lot about God and the Bible before my parents ever took me to church - at a public school.

I also received an excellent education, and I can say that college was quite easy for me because my school prepared their students so well.  I also had many Christian teachers that I knew I could go to to ask for guidance, prayer, etc.  I had many wonderful teachers that came to extracurricular activites while I was in school, and even attended my wedding when I was 26-years-old.

I was able to help lead devotions and Bible studies through our Fellowship of Christian Athletes in high school.  I learned a lot about being a witness for Christ.  I also saw several people learn and trust in the Lord though our group's study times.  I heard several teachers as guest speakers give their testimonies.  At "See You At the Pole", half of our school staff would come and pray with students.

7)  My parents let me eat fast food - even McDonald's!  Oh no!  The horror!  I even ate... McNuggets!  That is all I have ever had at McDonald's, with their french fries of course.  And as a young child, I mostly just licked ketchup off a french fry until it got soggy.  Then I'd throw it to the side and get a fresh fry to aide me in my ketchup consumption.  My mother and father didn't even lose sleep because I didn't eat broccoli.  In fact, my mother has never cooked me a vegetable that wasn't a green bean, carrot, corn, or potato.

And if I didn't eat, I got a spanking.

8)  My parents fought in front of me.  And before they were both believers, I'd say they fought a lot.  But I have also seen them hold hands in the car, heard them tell each other they love each other every day, and I have seen them kiss in front of me too.  Never once did I feel like their marriage had ruined marriage for me.  Never have I felt that their difficulty to understand each other and find common ground meant that relationships are doomed to fail.  I have seen them on the brink of divorce.  But I have also seen them fall in love again.  I have seen how God grows people toward each other.  I have heard them make each other laugh.  I have seen notes they leave for each other or acts of kindness they do for one another.  And in many ways, I am much like my mother... and I married someone a lot like my father.  Why would I have done that if I thought these people who fought in front of me were miserable failures.  Obviously, I don't!

9)  My parents did not lead me spiritually for a long time.  That was because for quite a while, they were not believers, themselves.  And then when they were, they were brand new believers.  They didn't know how to lead a family devotion.  They prayed with us before meals and bedtime.  They gave us godly counsel when we were going through something... but most of our spiritual upbringing was done by the church.  My youth pastors taught me how to read my Bible, what to look for in a spouse, and doctrinal truths.  But my parents did pray for me.  They prayed for my safety, making godly decisions, my friends, my future spouse, and they still do pray for me.  Again, they didn't lose sleep at night because they weren't discipling us around the dinner table or in living room prayer and discussions of scripture.  But somehow both my sister and I are believers, are married to men who feel called to be pastors/ministers, and we want to raise our children in the Word of God on a daily basis.  Sure, all of that could be because God in His grace and mercy gave my sister and I both hearts that fell in love with Him... but I have a feeling that God was answering the many prayers spoken by my parents throughout our years.

10)  Some other miscellaneous things my parents never did:  let us sleep in their bed - ever - not even when we were sick or scared, ask us our feelings on a lot of things - what they said went, give us multiple chances before disciplining us, ask us to do things - most of the time we were told what we would and would not do, ever wonder why we behaved the way we did - they weren't interested in abstract explanations, they saw right-and-wrong and expected us to behave appropriately.

Basically, if my parents were interviewed on national television today about the way they raised me, I'm sure there would be newsfeed blowups on every social site available, because so many people would have a critical opinion of what went on in my upbringing.  But as the recipient of this "raising", I believe my opinion on the matter is more important than a stranger's... I mean, in today's world, isn't it all about my experience?!  And haven't we all heard more times than we want to how you can't invalidate someone's feelings or experience?

So, here we go.  Here are my feelings and experience on being the subject of this kind of upbringing: I have felt loved and supported every day of my life.  I have been cheered on, corrected, and guided.  I have been allowed to mess-up and see where that gets me.  I have been comforted, disciplined, and forgiven.  I have been inspired.  And because of these "wrong" practices, I learned respect, how to think of others before myself, that I don't know everything, and that it isn't all about me.  These people taught me how to think, play, laugh, make decisions, work hard, manage time and money, give, share, and love.  They taught me to value God, family, friends, people, education, and contributing.

God is always sovereign.  So I have no idea how many of the things in my life are the way they are ONLY because of His infinite mercy and grace.  But I do know that in His infinite wisdom and orchestration, He blessed me with these parents who raised me.  And in my opinion, raised me well.  They aren't perfect, so of course their parenting couldn't have been perfect.  And even if it could have been, they had me as a child, and I am not perfect either.

Am I going to parent exactly how my parents have?  The answer is no.  Not because I think they were wrong, but because Kyle (my husband) and I are not my parents.  I did breastfeed my daughter, but it wasn't because I felt so neglected at not being breastfed.  I used a different method for potty-training, but it wasn't because I felt my mother was a bully for using the method she did.  Kyle and I do use spanking as one of our ways of disciplining, but we also use time out and logical consequences.  About what kind of schooling my children will receive, I honestly have no idea.  That would very much depend on where we live, what our circumstances are, and the needs of each child.  But as successful products of public schools (Kyle also attended private Christian school in his younger years), we are not against any form of education setting.  We believe parenting should accompany any kind of education, and therefore many dangers of any kind of schooling are dimmed in the light of being involved, informed, and active in our kids' education and lives.  And we would like to be intentional with our kids' spiritual growth, and being raised in church and both of us  being Christians for at least a decade, we really have no excuse not to do so.

But nothing I do that is different from my own upbringing is because I disagreed with my upbringing.  I can find lessons learned and traits solidified through these methods my parents used, and I am grateful for them.

My point is that in anything in life, especially in parenting, we should seek God's direction and will.  We should be responsible to carry out our responsibilities in obedience the best we can.  And then we have to trust the Lord with everything else.  It doesn't matter what the latest parenting book you are reading says, or even a blog!  It doesn't matter if the "seems to be the perfect mom" down the street used this certain method, and for some reason it isn't working for your family.  What does God say about it?  And really, that is the only person's feelings and opinions we should care about on the subject.  The women in our moms' group, the author of a popular book, or the opinionated woman in the checkout line at the store are getting their opportunity to be obedient with the children they have been given (or already raised).  They do not define your parenthood status.

Because if it was as easy as finding the perfect formula to raise children to turn out just as we wish, what would we even need God for in this journey?!  Why should parents be on their knees begging for help, wisdom, and grace in this process if it was all something we could put in a PowerPoint and master?!

On days when you feel like you are doing it all right, beware.  There is a point of no return where you are no longer teachable, and your entire family will suffer for it.

On days when you feel like you are doing it all wrong, be comforted.  There is a perfect Father who carries our burdens, forgives us of our sins, and holds the entire universe together.

Trust Him with your children.  Trust Him with your parenting.  Trust Him with your life.

Remember, the world thinks His ways of parenting us are wrong too.  Does that make Him wrong?  Of course not!  The Creator of the world cannot be put on trial by His creation and be found wanting.  He is the judge, and He has decided to compel us to good deeds through love and kindness.  We are the ones found wanting, and yet He chooses to still use us, mold us.  And in Him, all our wrongs find a right.

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