Last week I wrote about capturing the heart of your child. That post was followed by a parents night at our church, so I decided to build off it as teaching material for the evening. In doing so I realized that there is a vital component of capturing the heart of your child that I hadn’t included; namely your heart. The heart of a parent is a complex web of dark fear and brilliant hope, of tremendous self-sacrifice and the pain of “lost” hobbies, friends and past-times. We fear our child won’t be picked for the team and then build these wildly unrealistic fantasies of their abilities. We all have moments, even in the dark of night and the suffering through the loss of sleep that we just know that snuggling that sick baby is worth it all, but then our “unfettered” friends go camping and there isn’t a chance on God’s green earth that we would take our toddler tenting and we miss those weekends away (not to mention being able to read more than 0.78 of a page without interruption… in the bath.)
But all the sacrifice aside, there is one thing that I know kills the heart of a parent faster than finger prints get on a clean window; something I call the comparison game. (Ok that looks lamer in writing than I was expecting.) Ah the comparison game. You know, where you are hanging out with your mother-peers (mother-of-all-peers?) and suddenly the conversation goes to something like “Oh my little Winifred is in the ‘such and such’ percentile for the intellectual capacity of an 11 month old.” First of all, speaking as a dad, I don’t care about percentiles… at least not until my kid can hold a bat. But moms care. Don’t get me wrong, dads do care as well, just about other things. Things like my kids capacity for food! Now that’s something to brag about. And then we also care about more important things, like my child’s ability to stick up for himself on the playground.
It is not the caring that is the problem, it is the way we measure. We tend to use the VERY objective measurement of other human beings (not objective by the way, in case you missed that). And there are several deadly places that we fall into this trap. Let me outline just a few areas where families are meant to look different.
- Our kids. Did you know that your kids are supposed to be different? They are supposed to look different, act different, love different, play different and on and on. Your kids are unique! There isn’t another kid like your kid anywhere on the earth; that’s a remarkable thought. That means that although there is a general sense in which kids are similar (they love to be loved, they love to play and have fun) there are a multitude of ways in which they are different. For goodness sake, once you have more than one, you may find that they are really different even as siblings! But this is important! The language your child speaks is different from the language of another child. Some kids like to be alone and others like company. You need to let your kids be who they are and not expect them to be your best-friend’s kid.
- Discipline should also look different. Every few years the next big trend in parenting hits. (Think Supernanny of a few years ago.) Should we do time-outs, time-ins? Should kids be forced to finish their meals or will that lead to obesity? What is more important, nurture or structure? Well given the fact that we have recognized that different families have different kids, we should all just close our traps when we are tempted to be the “expert” on discipline. What you are potentially an expert in is actually disciplining your kids, not my kids. My kids won’t respond like your kids do. If you are struggling with discipline it is certainly wise to seek out those parents who turned out decent kids, but you know what you’ll usually find? That they experimented until they found the technique that accomplished what they needed for each of their kids.
- Next your family’s calling is different from my family’s calling. (Did you know that God even has a calling for your family? Well He does.) Just because we are called to give up our Christmas gifts doesn’t mean that is an expectation of all families. I happen to love Christmas gifts, so I am pretty sure God is not asking that of MY family! (I love all gifts actually.) Some families are missionary families others are not. Some families home school, other families do not… should not. Don’t assume that just because God is asking your friends to do something with their family that you should just do it too.
- Finally, you are allowed to go on different vacations than your friends. This may sound trivial but it isn’t. I once had someone look at me with clear disdain and said that his family would never go to Disney World. It’s TOO materialistic, TOO expensive, TOO superficial. They were hikers who went out into nature. Well good for you! I happen to LOVE Disney World and will go as many times as the good Lord allows! I like the creativity of the place, it actually stirs something in my spirit. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Grace Fast, our Pastor of Prayer and Prophesy once told our staff that pride was comparing yourself to anyone but Jesus. The same goes for your family. You may wonder how that is possible given that Jesus was a man (also God), and that He didn’t have any children. This is how it works: When you start to do something (parent, vacation, discipline, extra-curricular stuff) because some other family or parent did, and not because Jesus asked you to, you are falling into pride. Our unique families can only accomplish their unique mission if we are submitted to Jesus and seeking His will! This is a weight off! It’s a weight off because it means you can just stop, relax and enjoy your kids for who they are, not for who some other kids are. But on the other hand, it’s a weight ON because it means we need to pursue Jesus not just for our own lives, but for the lives of our kids. We actually need to pray and listen to what God is asking us to lead our families into, looking neither to the right or the left as we do what our King is asking of us!
What is God asking of your family?