Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Point of Parenting

What is the point of parenting?  What is our goal?  Is it to have well behaved kids?  Is it to have kids we are proud of?  Is it so that we can live through them?  Are they the point?  Are they supposed to be the center of our lives?  

Here is what three books on my desk say:

Tim Kimmel says in his book Grace-Based Parenting that we are to equip our children well so that they can move into adulthood as vital members of the human race...(he) didn't say "as vital members of the Christian community." We need to have kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments...and...not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings.  Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ's love inside these desperate surroundings." p. 9

Here's another author's way of putting what the goal of parenting is:  to raise great kids.  A great kid is "someone who loves God, who obeys God, and who glorifies God in what he does." (p.138)  That quote is from Be the Parent by Kendra Smiley and John Smiley

And one last thought to throw in the mix: "...on your way to win-win solutions that will make you and your child happier.  And when daily life flows more smoothly, it will be much easier for you and your child to see the beauty in each other.  In the end, isn't that the aim of all parents? --to love our children for who they are, and to develop relationships with them that are warm, supportive, and mutually beneficial."  p. 288 in Child Sense by Priscilla J. Dunstan

The first two are obviously Christian books and the last isn't. The last is written by the gal who wrote Baby Sense and identified five cries that children make.  Child Sense is a continuation of that book and is about identifying the primary sense (of the 5 senses) that dominate your child's view of the world.  There are two key things I noticed in that last quote.  The first is the idea that happiness is the point--the point is to see beauty in your child.  The second is that parenting is a mutually beneficial endeavor.   Ms. Dunstan essentially took God out of the picture.  In her book, parenting is about your child.  You as the parent are supposed to adjust your parenting to meet their needs of who they are so that they will be happier and more secure.  Ideally, you might think this isn't all bad.  Maybe not.  But, the examples in the book are essentially about convincing the child that they are in control and making decisions--not you.  The problem with that is that the child is the child, not the parent.  

A friend of mine asked me about this book two weeks ago and so I checked it out of the library and began to flip through it.  The reason people pick up this book, I believe, is because they want to be better parents.  They want to love their children better and they want to love them for who they are, not who they might want to try and make them to be.  Those are all good things.  But, I believe this book has the wrong answers.  

Is it fair of me to say something is wrong?  In this case, I think so because God isn't a part of the picture.  When we feel we can save ourselves, something is very wrong.  

Let me contrast Child Sense with what the Smileys share in Be the Parent
"The vision we had for each of our sons was to help them "sing the song God put inside of them."  That was the way we worded it.  We did not set out to help them sing "our song" or the song we determined they must sing. "Train a child in the way he should go." Proverbs 22:6 ...If our Creator can make each snowflake an original, I'm certain that creating every human being to be unique is in he realm of His ability." p. 26

I haven't read of that scripture being interpreted that way before, but in Jeremiah 29:11, we read "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to  prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
God is very much a part of the picture.  The Smileys believe parents should encourage children to be who God has created them to be, but they don't encourage parents to cater to their children or convince children to make the choices you want them to by persuading them they are in control.

On p. 30, they go on to say you "need to be proactive and have a plan to help your child develop into a responsible adult with well-placed priorities" and help them learn to "sing his song".  This is done by being a role model to them, being present, being an encourager, disciplining them in love, allowing failure and success, and praying for them.

When I started reading Child Sense, I got very upset and it grieved me deeply.  The ideas in this book sound good.  They sound like good things.  Who wouldn't want their child to be happier and feel secure?  But, we need to be careful about the answers that we turn to.  I think we also need to be careful about parenting approaches that put children in control or convince them that they are.  

I have just started Be the Parent by the Smileys, but I truly liked how they articulated what the goal of being a parent is.  In the first chapter, they encourage parents to take a five day fast from everything in the car.  No cell phones, movies, radio, reading, or anything else.  The goal is for parents to talk to their children and spend that time asking about who they are.  I spend all day with my children and I know that I still need that challenge.  

I was pretty good the first week about the computer three weeks ago.  I only got on twice a day and fasted on Sunday.  I have continued to fast on Sundays, but have been getting on a bit more during the day.  I have realized how much information I rely on from the internet.  I need to get away from that as much as I can.  Another thing I do is listen to the news in the morning.  I'm going to take the Smileys challenge, but I'm going to apply it to the radio in our home.  I am going to plan on listening to the news before the kids wake and while I cook dinner and then turn it off the rest of the day.  

I think the goal of knowing our children better and loving them better is a good one--but the vision and heart behind the goal is just as important if not more important.

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