Saturday, June 9, 2012

The 10 Commandments for Parents: Thou Shalt Not Kill

No Guns
Image credit: Mykl Roventine on Flickr
Well, this one sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Agreeing that parents should not kill their children is pretty universal.  The challenge is to look a little deeper and determine how this applies to people who are far more than their physical bodies.

What is it that really makes you *you*?  When do you feel most alive?  When I look at my four children, each of them have traits that are unique.  Ariana is a dreamer, Joel a teacher and strategizer, Elena always seeks to help someone else, Amaya loves to get us giggling along with her.  They are each their own person, born with a God-given spirit and personality.  And I will admit, there are times when I have to guard against killing them.

Not the exasperated-end-of-my-rope-and-they-just-made-a-huge-mess-thing that is meant as a joke (although, yes, of course I have been there many times--it is just that my mom did such a strong job of teaching us to never use hate, kill or stupid in reference to another person that those words don't even come up in my thoughts.  Except sometimes stupid, when it seems especially accurate, but never about my kids, who are of course brilliant.  Anyway, I digress.)

I think that there are two ways of killing kids that we must watch out for: killing their individuality (they are not meant to be the same people we are, or the same as anyone else) and poisoning their souls with shame.

I am obsessed with love reading.  As a child, I memorized the ingredient lists on shampoo bottles because I couldn't even go the length of time in a shower without reading something, anything!  Even as an adult, reading is as much a part of who I am as eating.  My oldest daughter also learned to read easily and enjoys it.  My son hates it.  He won't do it at all unless he has external incentives.  Yet he is able to spot obscure and complicated patterns, adores any math game and excels at spatial reasoning.  He is not me, and that is OK. 

Sure, reading is important and I want him to have the tools he needs to be successful.  But I have to acknowledge to myself that if he never fantasizes about being locked into Barnes and Noble for hours at a time, that is OK, too.  I don't want to try to squeeze him into my mold.

That is an easy example, but so often adults are conditioned to ignore individuality of temperament, personality, ability and any other trait in a child.  "Don't be so shy!" "You don't really mean that."  "Why can't you be more like your sister?  She never/always..."  We take things like a child's energy level, need for solitude/interaction, interests and pressure them to conform to what is most convenient for us, trying to rub off God's fingerprints on them and instead shine them up to reflect best on us.

This goes hand in hand with shaming our children.  Whenever we try to control someone through shame, we are aligning ourselves with the Accuser.  Parents do it because it works.  And perhaps because that is what was done to them.  The cost is never worth it, though.  Have you ever felt your own soul shrivel under someone else's disapproval or dislike?

People talk about breaking a child's will or spirit.  Somehow, an abundance of life is uncomfortable for many of us.  We squirm at too much enthusiasm, too much love, too much noise, too much exuberance, too much grief, too much feeling, too much daydreaming, too much laughter, too much color--too much life.   It feels safer to have things tightly under our decorous control, even if that means killing just a tiny bit to get it.

Can you ever recall sharing a dream or excitement with someone, only to have them crush you with mockery or "cold, hard facts"?  Do you ever remember trying to change part of yourself to attain approval?  The casual callousness behind so many of those seemingly small interactions can be a deadly thing.  I want our home to be a safe place to imagine and dream, to make mistakes, to be goofy, to be silly, to be exactly who we are and have that welcomed and celebrated.

Finally, the way that we present God to our children affects their spiritual lives. Do they associate God with love and security?  Or with fear and shame?  We made a choice when our children were babies that we would not leave them alone in the church nursery if they cried.  A lot of people thought that we were being ridiculously indulgent, but we didn't want their associations of church to be abandonment and fear.  We don't tell them that "You will make Jesus sad if you do that," even when we explain why something is wrong, because toddlers don't need the weight of responsibility for the moods of the Almighty.   We tell them about grace and acceptance, His overwhelming love for all His creation, and how much He desires them.

All of us take daily safeguards to protect our children's bodies: we feed them healthy foods, try to avoid toxic chemicals, stay up to date on the latest in car seat safety, and so much more.  All these things are important.  But let us not overlook the importance of emotional and spiritual safety for our children.  We need to protect their souls, and safeguard all that makes them unique.  Let us do all in our power to keep their joy and confidence, tenderness and excitement, dreams and individuality alive and thriving!