I gripped her hand in mine, adrenaline surging, eyes unblinking, reluctant to look at the bloody mess that likely lay within.
“Never!” I exclaimed with more force than I expected. The fear was shoving words out. “Never grab at the food Mama is slicing!”
Yanking my hand open, my pupils fixated on her thumb. I scanned it for flaps of flesh. Nothing. Masking my relief, I looked up at her eyes that were as wide as mine.
“You could have gotten a big ouchie! We could be on the way to the hospital right now!”
At this point, my young daughter was shutting down - she had heard enough and was starting to deflect the attention. I wrapped her in my arms and told her that I loved her and was looking out for her safety. After we thanked God for protecting her, I sent her off to play so I could decompress.
“Be in the world, but not of the world.” The old churchianity phrase floated through my mind. An imperfect summary of Romans 12:2, it was supposed to be shorthand for living God’s way even as we’re immersed in humanity. Today, though, I saw it from the vantage point of a mom and it blew some doors off my mind barn. If that's a thing. Because I'm saying it is.
Okay, so we as parents are given the responsibility to raise kids into adults. This means teaching them decision-making, responsibility, love, manners, and other traits that will do them well in both relationships and society.
But how often have we lost track of this goal and instead tried to keep those in our care away from lessons? Instead of allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions, we prevent them from making the decisions in the first place. By doing so, we deprive them of a chance to mature in their problem-solving; we teach them to rely on us, to simply follow directives, so that their confidence in their internal compass diminishes or completely deteriorates.
Funny enough, this is all in the name of keeping them safe and happy, and we pat ourselves on the backs for being good parents. Granted, in some cases we should. Giving a child the opportunity to play in the street so he learns what it feels like to be hit by a truck is sheer idiocy.
But there are so many other developmentally appropriate ways they can experience consequences that shape their ability to choose for themselves, such as telling them they can't have the car because they didn't bring it home on time last night or letting them bonk themselves on the head with a TV remote when they reach up to a tabletop they can’t see. (Probably not in that order, because that would indicate a problematic developmental arc.)
As they begin to grasp and appreciate cause and effect, they can start to make better choices and maybe trust us when we tell them something isn’t good for them.
And that is what God did for us.
He didn’t keep us out of the world so that we could be protected from it, but rather put us in the world so we could have on-the-job training on how to make good decisions, as well as learn over time that He has our best in mind.
Here's where I'm about to get controversial: I want my kids to doubt. I want them to ask questions and explore outside their homegrown beliefs. I want them to compare and test and do all that stuff that helps them either see that it's for them or that they can't agree with it. Because if I'm going to believe in something and endorse it, I need to have faith that it can stand up to testing. Blocking those opportunities for challenge will only indicate that I don't think it can endure them.
I've known a lot of people whose parents kept them from firsthand learning experiences in the name of "protecting their family". For whatever reason - often out of good intentions or their own history of bad decisions - these parents did everything they could to curb the resources available, the friends their kids hung out with, the worldview to which they were exposed.
It may have seemed wise at the time, but, anecdotally, few of those offspring have gone on to truly own their faith. Most, it seems, rejected it outright, while others remained steadfast in those original convictions. Regarding the latter, they may adhere to their family traditions, the culture and flavor of the belief system, but they don't seem to dance with the abandon and sit in the mystery as do those who have taken time to investigate and question and know it intimately. Many bristle at confrontation and fear the prospect of doubt, which can, ironically, bring a new level of love when embraced.
Having recently watched the documentary series on A&E, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, I think all us viewers can agree on the damage that limited and slanted information can do to a religion's adherents. Plus, it almost guarantees some kind of unspooling when the protected person becomes aware that an entirely different world exists out there. If nothing else, that show made me think, "I want my kids to know why people agree and disagree with our faith."
Do not misunderstand me: Critical thinking is crucial. We must teach how to evaluate, not just how to confront. And we can't simply send our kids out tabula rasa, without any template from which to make their comparisons. The truth is, though, we literally cannot, because we have helped them form a template, consciously or not, and they're going to make the comparisons. What we need to do is help them understand how we were intentional in arriving at the decisions and values we claim, why we believe what we believe, the difference it makes in our lives and the world, and what the endgame is. And then we need to release them, always maintaining a loving and open relationship with them regardless of where they end up in their personal theology. Who knows? They may one day help to shape ours.
If you've read enough Bible or sat in a church pew for a while, you've probably stumbled upon a reliable parenting favorite, Proverbs 22:6 (NASB): Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. I used to question this verse, because I saw so few kids following it as it's laid out. But in the context of what I'm describing, it begins to make sense.
- If you train a kid to obey blindly, they will do so, and it may not be you whom they're obeying.
- If you train a kid to make careful and informed decisions, they will do so, and they may not be the conclusions you came to.
- If you train a kid to love, to care for others and show respect to all people, they will listen and learn and be really terrific friends with whom you can converse, regardless of your differences.
For me, I went on my faith journey and came to a fuller love of Jesus. I didn't come back to faith; I came to a new one. Others departed entirely, some are in transit, and some never left the station. My goal is to launch my kids, as well as anyone I mentor, disciple, or lead in any way, so they can adventure with a solid mind and humble heart, and then dance with their answer, whatever it is. And I never want to fear that journey, so please hold me to this prayer when my babies hit their teens.
I’m not saying I should have let Moxie get her finger sliced; I’m saying I intend to continue letting her in the kitchen - with some extra monitoring, of course. It may be hard, but it’s a lot better option than tossing her into the world at age 18 only knowing how to meekly follow rules. I want her to have the experience of being in this world - the kitchen, the living room, the restroom with all its toothpaste-paint potential - and choosing for herself while I can still shape some of the consequences and outcomes, while answering her questions and helping her to learn how to ask them.
My loving Daddy does it for me, and I’ll do it for her.