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Friday, August 10, 2012

Faith & Parenting

Thanks to Scott Hanley for his post on control and relationships.  From his thoughts, I have been thinking about parenting and relationships.  This article ensued…..
I am currently a judge for a book contest for my publisher.  They sent me two boxes of books to read, pass judgment on, and send back.  Due to my slow response, I received a heavy dose of books that fit into the “inspirational self help” category.  This includes one that is for African-American women, which I may or may not be qualified to judge, but of which I am definitely not the target audience. 
In reading all of these, several contain a faith based element to their message.  Most of the authors are advising more of some sort of faith, rather than any specific faith, and I respect that.  I have always held that any faith that encourages you to become the best, most giving version of yourself is a worthy endeavor.  It doesn’t matter to me if you are part of a traditional church, or you meditate and spiritually commune with the insects in your backyard.  If it brings you peace and inspires you to strive to be a better person, then there is value to it.  My only problem comes in when those of certain faiths feel qualified to judge those who are not part their faith.  Do they really believe in their heart that they have found the only “correct” way to worship?  But that’s for another time. 
Faith, by its very nature, is belief in something without having concrete proof of its existence.  It takes many forms.  Karma, or the belief that the universe is keeping score of your good and bad deeds, and someday will even the ledger.  I have heard the concept of “Paying it forward” or doing good deeds without payment or promise of compensation, I guess in hopes of improving your standing on some sort of cosmic scoreboard, or maybe just on Santa Clause’s list.  I have heard the saying that bad things “happen in three’s” where if two unfortunate things occur in your life, brace yourself, because there is one more in store for you.  All of these things involve some iteration of faith, that there is someone or something out there keeping track of us and our good (or bad) actions. 
For parents, we take leaps of faith all the time.  We trust the system (government) that approves the clothes, food, toys, etc. that we expose or children to, that no harm will be done to them.  If you take your child to daycare, you are putting faith in those people, often times people you do not know, that they will take care of your child.  As our children grow, we often send them to friends’ houses, having trust and faith nothing will happen to them.  This is having faith in your fellow man. 
As the parent of a teenager, I am finding there are brand new, serious issues of faith and trust that are required.  Dating for instance, requires some trust.  Is the boy picking her up trustworthy, or do I need to pull him aside and let him know I have friends who have spent time in prison?  When she tells me she is going to spend the night at somebody’s house, do I trust and verify (call the other parents), or do I trust her to tell me if the parents happen to be out of town?  At what point do I need to let go of control?  At what point do I need to let her use her judgment to know when a party gets out of hand and she needs to leave, or to be strong enough to reject her friend’s idea when it is not a good one? 
All of these questions are still somewhat easily answered, for the moment, as she cannot currently drive herself.  But in the next three or four months, this will change.  When she is going to hang out with friends for the evening, she could drive herself to any number of locations I would not approve of.  To Scott’s point, instead of my young child simply saying “NO!”, she can now reject my opinion of what she should or should not do by omission of her true destination, or leaving out that while she is going to see her friends, they are going to meet a group of boys in a setting without supervision. 
Some of this can be minimized by placing her in a positive environment, surrounded by kids who will hopefully be positive influences upon one another.  My next line of defense, sad to say, is to keep her extremely busy.  She is a cheerleader, and they have practice about 4-5 times a week.  Hopefully she is too tired to get into any trouble. 
The best my small brain can figure is as follows:  when they are young, you can control your kids.  But as they grow up and have more and more freedom, they have the power to exercise their own judgment.  Ultimately, you want them to exercise their own judgment, as otherwise you will have them living under your roof forever!  So in the all important teen years, where it is possible that their freedom outweighs their sound judgment, the best you can do is show them the path you think is best.  You show them the way to make decisions based on their (your) set of values, and to not be influenced by outside factors.  Hopefully you will show them enough where they will know the difference between a fun situation and one that could get them into trouble, or even worse. 
You do all of that and then, all you can do is have faith.  And at that point it doesn’t matter who your higher power is, all parents are the same.  We just want our children to make it home.      

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Meet Our Guest: Scott Hanley

This week, we are fortunate enough to have author Scott Hanley offer some of his thoughts on parenting.  This is part of the series of articles Scott wrote concerning the issue of "Control" when it comes to relationships and parenting.  It's good stuff, and makes me give thought to my relationship with my kids.  If you enjoy it, you can read more of Scott's work here


The Struggle For Control

 Truthfully, early childhood is similar to incarceration, because children can do little without their parents’ assistance, their direct participation, or their approval; nor do they have any significant responsibilities. They are completely dependent and can neither choose their options, nor remove themselves from their controlled environment. The older our children get, the more they strive for independence and freedom from this perceived incarceration. At about six months old, kids/children begin subtly expressing that their personal wishes don’t coincide with our own; putting us squarely in conflict practically from the get go! This is the beginning of their natural resistance to control.
The simple but social fact that our opposition to control, on a much larger scale, has generated most of the monumental changes in our world; and has been an important and critical process of progress and change. It is how we are wired. We humans seem to resist control even more than we resist change…at any age!
It is easy to create the illusion of control. When my boys were young, if I spoke in a loud, sharp voice, they would stop instantly; and for a moment, I was sure I had them! I believed I could control my kids with my voice and sheer determination, but they were really just being forced to pay attention by my strong action and louder-than-normal voice. This is not control, but rather just directs their attention to my issue. I remember the time when I tossed Ian (my older son at age 11) because of his completely unacceptable behavior. Although it was a very short toss to a comfortable landing in the couch, it seemed like I had control at the time because I held the power for a brief moment. But power is not the same as control. It was my fortunate opportunity to establish my dominant position at that time and that time only. Although it came from a place of anger and frustration and is not what I believe is good parenting, it straightened out his attitude and created a clear understanding. However, I never attempted it again.
At age 17, did you really believe that your parent had control over you? At what point do you think your parents lost control and you gained it? These are important questions to ask ourselves because they reach the root of our perceptions of control, as well as our instinct to rebel against anything that resembles it. The illusion of parental control develops during the child’s early state of dependency, but this temporary dominance will pass quickly and we probably will not become aware of its fading until it is too late to do much about it.
I remember when I first realized that my idea of control was an illusion. Ian, my first son, was just starting to talk, which was wonderful for me because I could begin to communicate with and relate to him. One of his first strongest first words was “no.” When I heard the first “no” from Ian, I was dumbstruck. I could not fathom how he could choose to use it so perfectly and be able to clearly express his choice. When he said, “No,” he was telling me that he wanted to make a different decision. Of course, he was too young to understand all the ramifications of most any decision at that age, but nonetheless, he felt compelled to decide for himself, and was already beginning to wrestle control from me, control I really didn’t have. By trying not to exert my control I was able to focus on other aspects of our expanding relationship with more joy, less tension, and depth.