Sometimes in life you realize you’ve become something of an anomaly, and I’m finding this is just as apt to happen in the parenting world as anywhere else. Or perhaps more apt to happen. Three passing examples from the last month:
1. Friends of ours were visiting from out-of-state with their twin three-year-old boys. Conversation turned to training methods to reinforce a child’s accountability to his parents – specifically in obeying instructions. I described the success we’ve found in utilizing the outlasting strategy outlined in Elizabeth Krueger’s Raising Godly Tomatoes, role-playing actual scenes in which I’ve used this method with one child or another for them. Our friends were intrigued and inspired, whereupon one said: “Why have I never seen anything like this used before?” I could completely relate to his question. Before I started using the technique after reading the book (three years into motherhood), I’d never once seen it employed either.
2. Another friend was describing a baby shower she attended in which the expectant mother was brainstorming strategies to help her older child develop a positive early perspective on his (pending) newborn sibling. The mother had settled on preparing several gifts for the newborn to “give” to his older brother. The shower attendees praised this idea, and my friend recounted her experience of being the only woman present who wondered aloud whether such a gesture was needed; she thought not. “I just differ philosophically on how to accustom a child to the presence of a younger sibling and help shape his views of (family and) the baby ,” she said. I share my friend’s perspective – that the chance to welcome and enjoy a new life is gift enough in itself, and while tending to an older sibling’s needs and transition challenges is merited, care must also be taken that an entitlement mindset not be fostered in him.
3. Recently we were with some new friends, and upon my daughter being helped out of a swing by the other mother, I prompted her to look at the woman and thank her by name. My daughter had become distracted by the next event and thus I repeated myself, to ensure that my daughter stop what she was doing to issue the statement of thanks. The other mother (a fabulous mother, by the way) brushed it aside with a, “Don’t worry about it,” saying it wasn’t necessary. To me it was, however, so I followed through till the thanks had been issued by my daughter. The transaction made me wonder if I’m an overly proper and firm mom, kind of a stickler for the rules.
What’s my point? That I’m somehow a wiser, better, or more intentional mother than other mothers? Not at all; in fact, I’m definitely not. In each example I could cite ways the mothers I described are more thoughtful and proactive than I am. My point is simply this: I need to be prepared to be an anomaly if I’m going to mother by the convictions God’s given me. I need to be okay with doing things differently than others, and sometimes being viewed as weird, stern, or unsympathetic in the ways I interact with my kids. Sometimes this will feel uncomfortable or even lonely, and there will even be moments when I’ll wonder if I’m doing the right thing (which, happily, God can reveal as we bring it to him). Must I really be this firm with my daughter?, I wondered during my recent sneakiness-reversal efforts. It felt overbearing; I would have preferred another response and posture. Yet it was what God had revealed and directed, so I did it.
It’s important, though, to remember that there’s nothing noble or virtuous or even necessarily right in being an anomaly. Whole segments of our society think being different or going against the grain is, in itself, somehow redeeming and positive – and many of them are wrong. Even if they’re not wrong (by which I mean, seemingly in keeping with biblical teaching), they can be ‘an anomaly’ in a way that doesn’t honor God. For example, in some parenting circles where trends counter most societal norms, there can be a sense of superiority or even smugness – “The world may be doing xx but we know better and will handle this righteously – and shun and slander people who don’t.” This is the human tendency, isn’t it? Having thought things through, we then turn and judge those who have come to different conclusions. I fall into that trap myself sometimes; who doesn’t?
But such a response is both simplistic and sinful. The damage is twofold: 1) I become a proud mother and raise proud children – a family who somehow sees ourselves (whether we acknowledge it or not) as holier, more virtuous, and better loved by God than families who do things differently; and 2) my children and I both fail in our mission to be God’s light to the world… Because if we’re busy judging others and feeling superior – how can we actually see and love others with the love of Christ? We can’t. We hold ourselves at arm’s length and make ourselves irrelevant.
The point of being God’s people is to be set apart for God (however He calls us to do so) but also integrated with the world. We follow Christ with single-minded focus while simultaneously loving our neighbor as we want to be loved. Jesus was sinless and yet spent the bulk of his time with those who most desperately needed the mercy of God. As mothers, we need to keep this front and center. We are raising small children who need godly, intentional, and often counter-cultural shaping by their parents… and who also need to be able to relate to the culture they live in with humility and vision. I’m convinced that only the Holy Spirit can help us keep these two realities in appropriate balance as we parent (and the ‘balance’ probably looks different for every family). Set apart, but integrated enough to be relevant.
So my prayers in this realm are these are these:
Lord, show me how to raise my children in a way that honors You. Help me create a home where Christ is honored in thought, word, and deed – by parents and children alike. May I continue even when it’s hard, I feel uncomfortable, or others criticize me.
Lord, keep myself and my children humble in our ways and thoughts, and keep pride and judgmentalism of others far from our hearts.
Lord make us relevant to the world and its needs. Where we differ from our peers, help us all (parents and kids alike) to nevertheless feel comfortable with them, love them, and befriend them. Banish insecurity over differences; cloak us all instead with the Holy Spirit’s presence and security.