Ruining our kids

I was already in an irritable mood after seeing Christianity Today refer to Rachel Held Evans as having a “meltdown” because she pointed out the flaw with The Nines conference’s lack of women.  It didn’t help that this awful post on parenting turned up in my newsfeed–more than once, I might add, and not because anyone was being critical.  Nope, everyone seemed to love it.

I can’t speak for other parents, but I’m very tired of people who think that yesteryear’s parenting was so much better than today’s.  It’s like all the other times people talk about wanting to return to “the good old days.”  While there may be some good things we’d like to keep–or reclaim–there’s also a whole lot of terrible things that, unfortunately, cannot be separated from the things we like.  (And there are relationships between them that we’d prefer not to see, as is the case with “1950s values” and racism.)

In this particular post, I was most disturbed by the way that she emphasized the result of what she sees as bad parenting (coddling, apparently) without mentioning a single word about the consequences of other parenting flaws.  For example, she’s concerned that her boys won’t be able to play shoot-the-bad-guys at school, but seems unconcerned that parents might not be adequately teaching their children who is or isn’t “bad.”

There were some specific things that bothered me about what she had to say: boys will be boys (what about girls who like that kind of play?  or boys who don’t?); bullies perpetrate physical violence but claims of emotional bullying are more or less just whining; people become suicidal as a result of a single nasty remark; and college students and new graduates are going home crying over every failure and quitting (as though this didn’t already happen with people born into extreme privilege).

Believe it or not, I don’t care what you let your kids do.  Buy them toy guns?  Whatever.  Don’t buy them?  Whatever.  The reason is that it’s not in the purchase or non-purchase of a particular toy that learning non-violence happens.  Kids are not better off because they are allowed  to play cops and robbers or because they are forbidden from playing.  Ms. Metz has it wrong–boys don’t somehow magically grow up better because they were allowed to play certain types of playground games.  Not only that, boys do not grow into better men because they played those games.  That’s part of a particular view of masculinity that says there are certain Normal Things Boys Do, and anyone outside that must either have freak parents who regulate their play or else there’s something unmanly about them.  Weirdly, she seems to be blaming parents for the lack of gun play at school, when it is, in fact, the rules of the school restricting play.  She’s conflating parenting with public education and really seems hung up on this gun thing throughout.

As for bullying, I’m super happy for Ms. Metz that she got over whatever things were said to her.  Perhaps she’s just very confident in herself.  I think it’s far more likely that she simply never experienced the kind of emotional, verbal, and sexualized bullying some of us did.  Maybe she doesn’t know what it’s like to go to school and wonder how many hurtful things will be said to you that day or whether the boy who sits behind you is going to grab your ass yet again while the teacher looks the other way.  She might not understand how it feels to walk into a room to a class full of kids calling you an elephant and making “boom” noises at you while you walk, every day.  She probably doesn’t know what it’s like to spend three years trying to find a lunch table where the other kids won’t slowly slide over while you’re eating until you end up on the floor, followed by laughter and fake apologies.  I’m just guessing here, though.

I suppose because Ms. Metz doesn’t understand that kind of harassment, she’s more likely to also misunderstand being suicidal.  I do not know any person who has felt suicidal or attempted suicide or has succeeded who did it simply because some random girl called her a bitch one day.  If a single episode of name-calling sends one to such a dark place, then it wasn’t just because of the mean word–that was just the proverbial straw.  I find Ms. Metz’s words hateful, hurtful, and inappropriate.  They lack any sort of empathy.  I have no idea where she got her information that this is all it takes to make teenage girls commit suicide, either–apparently, she also doesn’t read all the way through stories about bullying and suicide enough to get the whole picture.

On the other hand, college students with helicopter parents are a real issue, so I’ll give Ms. Metz credit for spotting that one.  The way she presents it, though, makes it sound like she’s saying this is happening in dire proportions compared to the number of students enrolled in college.  She’s making blanket statements about “today’s parenting” being responsible for this.  Oh, really?  Because that wasn’t happening before.  Spoiled, bratty kids going to college is totally a new thing, right?

My biggest problem with this post is that it’s so vague.  She never actually says what she thinks is the bad parenting responsible for selfish, needy kids.  She hints that it has to do with “catering” to them, but what does that even mean?  How, exactly, is it “catering” to kids to have a philosophy of not buying toy guns or allowing shooting play?  And how are her kids better off for being allowed to do those things?  In what way does stopping verbal bullying prevent people from being emotionally healthy?  She gets at it a little with her comment about not giving in to them unless they use manners.  But if what she meant is that kids have no manners, why didn’t she just write a post about that?  She says her boys will be emotionally hurt but that she’ll cushion it as much as a mother can.  Isn’t that catering to them?  How will they learn to deal with things if she’s “cushioning” them?

Like the post about how “marriage isn’t for you,” this just smacks of self-righteousness.  The big FAIL for me is that she never once suggests that the best way to help our kids grow up to be responsible, respectful people is to teach them how to treat others.  I didn’t see even one reference to, say, the Golden Rule.  I saw nothing in there about teaching our kids about kind words, respecting personal boundaries, or helping people who need it.  There wasn’t a single word about making things right when we’ve hurt other people.

Ms. Metz claims that she “respects” others’ right to parent how they see fit.  I’m not that nice.  I think if you’re abusing your child, you are a sorry excuse for a parent, and I do not respect your “right” to harm your child.  Beyond that, I’m just not that concerned with what you do.  As for me, I’m going to worry less about whether I’m “overprotective” and more about whether I’m teaching my kids that all people have value.  That strikes me as far more important than whatever vague badness Ms. Metz is suggesting I avoid.


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!

Disciplining the Disciples

Church discipline has been a big topic in the last week or so, at least in the blog circles I read.  I thought it was time I pitched my own tent on the battlefield.

I won’t mention any names this time (even though we all know which church sparked the conversation).  I will say that I was appalled at the disciplinary contract.  I wasn’t bothered by the idea of signing a contract.  On the contrary, I think that can be a good thing, when it’s mutually agreed on (rather than forced) and has specific goals in mind.  While I understand that there is nothing in the Bible about that type of contract, there is precedent.  People made covenants with one another all the time, agreements which were typically mutually beneficial.

I’m also not against asking someone to leave who is consistently dragging down the church, blocking its mission, or who is predatory in word and deed.  It’s not about simply banishing “unrepentant” people, it’s about what it’s doing to the health of the church.  In my experience, it’s rarely necessary to bar someone from the church.  People who refuse to acknowledge their problems typically don’t stay after they’ve been confronted.  It’s the ones who insist on taking others down with them who create the most drama.

There is nothing wrong with using the Bible to understand spiritual discipline.  But when it’s misused, there’s trouble.  We are fortunate that the Bible tells us that we can lovingly correct someone who has done wrong.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t spell out the specifics for each circumstance.  We have to do that part on our own.  I agree that Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 are good places to start for a healthy overall approach to dealing with sin within the church.  All they do, however, is give a framework.  How we carry it out is up to us, and we need to be sure that what we’re doing has the purpose of healing, not shaming.

The problem I had with the contract that’s been circulated on the ‘net was its excessive demands, nebulous action points, and lack of time frame or end goals.  The terms and conditions were confusing at best.  There was far too much potential for the contract to become weaponized.  As far as I could tell, without any real, measurable goals, the process could have been dragged out indefinitely by the elders.  If their stated result was to restore the individual to full spiritual health, that was probably not the best way to handle it.

I look at spiritual restoration as being similar to physical rehabilitation.  (Before anyone gets all twisted up about whether or not that’s “Biblical,” it’s no more or less “Biblical” than the contract in question.)  When a person has been injured or ill, there are always specific goals in mind.  Sure, the end point may be for the person to return to work or independent living, but that’s too broad a goal at the start.  That’s a great thing to aim for after smaller steps have been taken.  The goals are manageable, have a specific time frame, and never have in mind the idea of reminding the person of what they can’t yet do.  I believe spiritual healing when sin has been uncovered (in whatever way) can follow the same pattern.

When we find ourselves needing to discipline those under our spiritual direction (and this applies to people in lay ministry, not just pastors and elders), there are key parts of the process:

1. Does the person understand and believe that he or she has done something wrong?  If so, then discipline can begin.  If not, then there are further actions as described in Matthew 18.  I do think we’re misinterpreting the Scripture if we think it means to shun someone.  Revoking member privileges and not allowing the person to continue to serve can happen first.

2. Is this a pattern you’ve seen before in this person?  We do need to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Unless it’s something illegal, there is no reason to assume it’s a pattern unless it’s happened before on your watch.  This was one of my problems with the contract I mentioned.  There was an underlying assumption that the person had habitually engaged in the same sin.  That’s a thinly veiled attempt at shaming.  Unless the person says it’s a habit, or unless there is a history of discipline over the same issue, assume nothing.  It doesn’t foster healthy reconciliation.

3. The consequences should fit the sin.  I don’t mean in terms of ranking sins according to how bad they are.  I mean that the consequences should not be excessive and that they should make sense.  We use this technique on our kids.  We don’t just give them a time out or extra chores for every offense.  That wouldn’t even make sense.  The consequences of sin should not be for the purpose of punishment but for correction.

4. There should be measurable goals.  What do you want to see accomplished as a result of the discipline?  The end result may be for the person to regain full membership status and the same role as before, but that’s both too far out and too unfocused.  If you have specific things in mind you want to see happen, or a level of accountability, then spell it out clearly and define the parameters.  This is the step that should not just be meted out by the elders or the leadership or whomever.  If the person under discipline is agreeing to the process, then he or she can be part of the solution.  Again, we sometimes do this with our kids.  They have ownership of their action steps and are usually more compliant.

5. There should be a clear time frame.  The other big problem I had with the contract was that there was no end point.  There was no time limit on the action steps.  They could be carried out or enforced indefinitely.  That’s not helpful because it never allows the person to achieve full spiritual health.  It can’t operate on an “I’ll know it when I see it” basis.  People get far too emotionally involved to be objective.  Again, giving someone the benefit of the doubt will help here.  If it becomes a pattern, then there is always room to revise.  There should be dates by which steps will be completed, and an evaluation of their success by all parties involved.

6. Shaming or humiliation should never be part of the process.  If your goal is restoration, then shame should not be part of the equation.  There is absolutely no Scripture that encourages making someone feel humiliated, even when there is a need to confront the person in a wider circle.  We all remember The Scarlet Letter, right?  Right.

7. When there is no chance of reconciliation, there are two options: Let them go or ask them to leave.  Sometimes, unrepentant people will leave.  I’ve seen it happen.  I have never, ever been to a church that chose to a) shun the person who left; b) ask members to refrain from friendship with the person; c) pursued them angrily, demanding that they finish what they started; or d) tell the entire membership what happened.  People who choose to leave, leave.  They may be given over to God, with the hope that they will eventually repent.  It’s different if someone refuses to be corrected and insists on staying put.  It’s healthy and appropriate to ask that person to leave, especially if he or she is creating tension.  It can be healthy to continue to work with the person, even if they don’t believe they were wrong, if that is what the leadership chooses to do.  I’ve seen that happen, and it can result in healing and deeper relationships.  (In that case, it was a matter of doctrine, and it opened up great conversation.)

In all things, the goal should be to handle things with love and not anger.  If someone in leadership cannot be objective, that person should not be responsible for discipline.  I imagine that’s part of what got in the way in the Contract from Heck.  (Of course, I think that church has other issues, but that’s another matter.)  If we stop treating people like conflicts waiting to happen and see them more as children of God, we will be able to handle sticky matters in a healthy way.

A Word from the Experts

I attended a parenting seminar today.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I mostly went so I could write about it for our church newsletter.  I’m nota perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination.  However, I do think that my husband and I get it right pretty often.

Anyway, it started off fine.  Lots of stuff defining parents, making sure that the kids are in on the house rules, talking about what respect really means.  So far, so good.  Then we entered Dangerous Waters.  The people leading the seminar started talking about the big D: Discipline.

This is something I just don’t understand about many of my Christian brothers and sisters.  Why does it seem like so many people view parenting as and “us against them” proposition?  Our kids are certainly not the enemy!  Many Christian parenting “experts” seem to employ a rather punitive style of discipline.  A classic example is the kid who crayons on the dining room wall (yes, speaking from experience here…a great story, one for another time).  Little Joey draws a picture in red crayon, he has to clean it up.  Nice and simple, right?  Not so with these James Dobson groupies (sorry to any fans of Dr. Dobson).  Not only must Joey clean up the crayon marks, but he must serve some other kind of sentence, such as jail time (time out) or community service (extra chores).  The experts have assured us that this is to make certain that our children experience pain–otherwise, they are liable to do it again.  I fail to see how inflicting pain really helps anyone learn to behave.  I think it mostly just serves to enforce to them that they shouldn’t get caught next time.

I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but whatever it was, I don’t think I experienced it.  I think I’ll stick with trusting my instincts, making some mistakes, and hoping that the kids turn out pretty much ok in the end.