Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Trust versus Mistrust: Kids, Moms, and Dads

Ezekiel 18:2-4

Ephesians 6:1-4

Grandma’s joke:
The 10 year old butterfly collector
Bookstore purchase: How to be a good Moth-er

When I turn to the Bible for texts focusing on parenting, I come up short, a little like the young man looking for butterfly advice in a book on being a “mother”. The list is very short, and it seems to include a number of difficulties, like the instruction to kill (by throwing stones) any children who are disrespectful or disobedient to their parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). There’s no record of that happening. Maybe the instruction was a way to say: “Solve your own household problems out of court.” Anyone here ever been disobedient or disrespectful to parents?

So much of the conversations around parenting (and to all of us who are someone’s child – the conversations around adjusting as adults to what we experienced as kids) have very few, if any, connections to Scripture.

Do you let your child cry herself to sleep, or do you pick her up when she cries? We received some very definite and authoritative advice on this question, and it didn’t work one bit. And there isn’t any advice in Scripture on this one.

We hear a lot today about age-appropriate toys, games, books, movies, and even discipline. What kind of consequence is appropriate to permit? You cross the street holding the hand of your five year old, but you give your 18 year old a license to drive a car. Somehow, in the intervening years they are supposed to acquire not just the physical and technical skills to drive a car, but the ability to anticipate what others will do on the road – including some downright crazy maneuvers – and the ability to separate risks. If we never stop hand holding, they will never learn. But the Bible gives us no concrete guidelines for age-appropriate processes. In the ancient culture of the Biblical world, adolescence didn’t even exist. You were a child or an adult; this in-between experience of adolescence is fairly new in human culture.

When it comes to child development, the Bible has one small text – the only one that I have found – that stands out. Luke 2:52: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people”.

When it comes to developmental psychology, of which I am far from an expert, I appreciate the first stage articulated by Erik Erikson, “Basic Trust versus Mistrust”. He places it in infancy, when we are figuring out whether or not we can trust our caregivers to be reliable. When dad leaves the room, has he disappeared forever? Will he ever be back? I found this really peculiar as a parent. So, I’d duck out of a room, wait for the kid to cry, step back in and the crying would stop, then I’d step out again . . . . I was just experimenting, trying to figure this thing out, not trying to give my kid a complex.

What is important, from the developmental perspective, is the development of a healthy parent-child attachment that can deal well with the anxiety of separation, that can live in hope.

While the Scripture doesn’t address many of the specific questions raised by parents today, at least not directly, it does address the parent-child attachment (which we’ll look at today) and leaving a legacy (which we’ll look at next week). On attachment, the Bible makes it clear to parents that
it is not all about me (the parent)
it is about children becoming independent actors, independently responsible
It is not all about me
Little House on the Prairie, “whose daughter is she now?”

As parents, it is too easy to fall into the trap of validating our selves as parents and as people through the success of our kids. If the kids don’t succeed, then we have failed. That’s a huge burden to put on our kids! And, it perverts God’s design for the family. As parents, it is far too easy to view our children as little “mini-me’s” and to overlook their unique identity. Our kids are part of us, and they are NOT us. Parenting children is not about giving them what we would have wanted as a kid, but about giving them what they uniquely need.

Children obey your parents in the Lord. This is about God, not about me as parent. If it was about me, then my whims and wishes would be paramount, and I would be free to provoke my children, to demand without reason. But, no, the text tells us, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4). It is not about me, but about God. And the training, discipline, discipleship, I offer is not so that my children follow in my footsteps but so that they follow Jesus.

It’s about children becoming independent actors, responsible
“The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2-4). In experience, the proverb shows its basic truth. It effectively conveys reality. Addiction, poverty, diabetes, heart disease, abuse, academic and professional success – all these things seem to run in families. But this is where the value of this proverb ends. It is not a proverb about accountability and responsibility. It is a proverb about observed reality, about tough things that run in families.

The truth about accountability and responsibility, though, is that each of us are independent actors, independent moral agents. On the day of reckoning, my children will be responsible for their choices and I will be responsible for mine. But, no matter how much I love my kids, I will not be responsible for theirs.

And again, it is not all about me.

On attachment, the Bible makes it clear to children (all of us) that
it is not all about our parents
it is about me taking responsibility for my life
It is far too easy, in adolescence particularly, to be adversarial with our parents, sometimes just because we feel like it, sometimes because our parents say or do something stupid. (As a parent, I can admit to quite a few stupid things.) When the Scripture says, “Obey your parents in the Lord,” the point is not that obedience and honor is generally due to parents because they are always honorable (we aren’t) or because they are parents and they said so (I wish!). Obedience and honor to parents is supposed to be part of our devotion to God.

Now, it is important to note that some parents are abusive. The Scripture makes very clear that abuse of children not only breaks God’s heart; it incites God’s wrath. In those cases, the parent has broken the covenant, a covenant designed to include mutual honor.

As adults, still adjusting to our childhood, whether in jest or in truth, we’ll talk about the investment we’ve made in therapy to get over, to recover from, what our parents did. Our parents do have a powerful role in making us who we are, but becoming an adult is becoming responsible for our lives, responsible for our choices. Hopefully, we can receive the best of what our parents have to offer us and leave some of the baggage of family history behind. (That’s what I’m hoping for my own kids.)

This personal responsibility is a big deal. The prophet says that we don’t have to live out the consequences of our parents’ bad choices; we don’t have to inherit addiction or abuse. That is wonderful, freeing news. But this responsibility is also a bit terrifying: “It is only the person who sins that shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

There is One who has taken accountability and responsibility for us, One who is uniquely qualified to do so, Jesus Christ the Righteous. Today, we are invited to attach ourselves to him, to put our trust in him. (Holy Communion)

No comments: