Training ground

Isabelle et Gaston d’Orléans avec leur fils Pierre d’Alcantara
Karl Ernst Papf [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I wasn’t going to post about this.  I’m long past the stage of parenting little ones, and I had in mind to write about something else today.  I couldn’t hold back, though, especially after seeing this over at Naked Pastor.  It’s an excellent visual representation of what I think of the lousy belief that small children are sinful and manipulative.

Remember the online battle some weeks ago over teaching our children that they are “deeply broken”?  This is just a continuation of the same mentality.  It’s all part of the unhealthy teaching that we are born sinful and that there is nothing good in us apart from what God puts there when we believe.  What a disgusting view of humanity!  The worst part is that it’s not even “biblical.”

Sure, one could find some justification from a particular unnuanced reading of the New Testament.  It’s not what it says, though.  When God made people, God called us good–just like everything else God created.  The view that we are born bad and are in need of constant reminder is a gross misrepresentation of God’s view of us.

A huge part of why this angers me so much is that I have kids who don’t always behave in predictable ways.  I want to be as far from any of those teachings as possible.  Recently, I had a run-in with someone who tried to explain away my daughter’s behavior as being caused by being homeschooled–she apparently hasn’t been in enough social situations or hasn’t had to “discipline” herself to behave properly.  It was all I could do not to just let the woman have it.

It turned out that the problem was that something she was doing in a group setting at the beginning of the day was triggering her sensory issues.

I can’t imagine how it would have gone if I’d listened and decided this was a matter of needing to dig out her underlying “sin.”  Instead, I removed her from the activity in which she wasn’t participating and spent a good twenty minutes processing with her why she was struggling.  I was reminded that it’s these very situations that have pushed me to continue homeschooling her; I have no idea how she would manage all her sensory needs for a six hour day in a classroom.

Not all very young children have the same struggles as my children.  They do, however, have one thing in common:  They aren’t old enough to know how to handle situations like adults.  They may not be old enough to speak the words about their frustrations.  They certainly aren’t old enough to think through and identify what bothers them.  That’s why they need us–not to help them learn about their “sin” but to help them learn as they grow how to manage and express their feelings in healthy ways.  That means that they require the freedom to express themselves without being afraid of their own emotions or of adults’ reactions to their emotions.

Don’t misunderstand me–it’s not necessarily the method of parenting or disciplining that’s bad.  I’ve seen very loving parents do things vastly differently.  It’s the underlying motivation that isn’t right.  If you begin parenting with the basic assumption that your children were “born bad” or are “deeply broken” or have underlying “sin” causing their behavior; if you believe that babies learn to “manipulate” their parents by crying; if you think the healthiest thing you can do for your children is to break their wills or bend them to yours, then you are sorely mistaken about the aims of parenthood.

The goal of raising children isn’t to weed out all their sins so that they grow up to be mistake-free adults.  That assumes there’s such a thing as perfect people and that through parenting we can create them.  That’s a lie, and a damaging one at that.  By trying to shape children into perfect beings, we teach them that there is a state of sinlessness that they can achieve while simultaneously promoting the idea that they will never, ever reach that goal.  That’s a recipe for a lot of shame and guilt.

As I type this, my children are collecting their belongings for a trip out of town.  I know I can trust them to pack what they need not because I’ve taught them not to “sin” by disobeying my directions but because they are experienced travelers who have learned over time how to pack.  Most of the skills they have come from watching their dad and me, from talking it through, and from making their own mistakes and learning.  That doesn’t just apply to filling a suitcase; it’s in other things, too.

Do we get frustrated with them?  Of course.  I don’t always handle my anger very well, and I make all sorts of other mistakes as a parent.  I’m learning how to be a mom just like my kids are learning how to navigate their world.  What’s important is that we’re doing it together, without the layers of shame attached to their behavior.

I’m off for vacation tomorrow, and I’ll be gone for a week of unplugged bliss.  I’ll catch you all after the new school year starts!

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2 thoughts on “Training ground

    • Thanks! Urgh…I’m such a heel. I meant to reply (I try to reply to comments if I can), but I’ve been in vacation mode. Anyway, glad you liked it!

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