Monday, December 03, 2018

Should I stay or should I go?

When is it better to encourage children to keep going with something hard, as opposed to allowing them to withdraw from the fray?

Parenting in the early years involves making these choices for someone else. "He doesn't want to do swimming / football / beavers / the party. And a) he's free to decide or b) it'll be better for him in the long run if he does."

While responsibility for others clarifies the sensation of struggle in these decisions, it is a struggle we fight always, long and hard, on our own behalf.

Rowan Williams dedicates a chapter of Silence and Honeycakes (about the early Christian desert fathers and mothers) to 'fleeing'. And another to 'staying'. Hermits 'flee' the world and it might be seen as escapism. But Williams talks about the courage and determination it takes to face up to one's terrifying self largely in isolation, without distracting stimulation to sweeten reality.

'Staying' is also part of the deal: a hermit (or monk, nun etc) is committed to one, usually small, place forever or at least the long-term; to living alongside a small set of people, however irritating; to completing the same, simple tasks day after day, without hope of 'success' (or even progress).

This might seem safe and dull. But it can take courage, determination and discipline to stick at something in this way.

I once wondered if people fell into two 'types'. I might have put myself in the 'flee' category. Or, more favourably, described myself as an independent adventurer.

I am learning to see a bit more nuance, more depth. When I'm doing something, be it a relationship, a conversation, a task, I tend to compulsively stick at it until it (or I) is finished. This is my Stay self. It can be very good. But since few things in life really can be 'finished' and some completions leave a bitter taste in the mouth, what better permission to let go of these duties than a brave new world of 'fleedom'  - new job, break-up, new city, etc? Armed with this self-understanding, I'd like to think I'm a bit better at making those choices.

There is no blanket rule of right or wrong in these choices. But getting to know ourselves really well (which in itself is a kind of dogged insistence on staying put) helps us see what's really going on behind our decision making.

And, I expect, a similarly tenacious insistence on paying attention to our children can help parents guide them towards good choices, too.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Gifted children

Sometime between the ages of 10 and 20 (scientifially proven, yep), people lose their ability to receive gifts.

I notice this most starkly in the run-up to Christmas, when the intensity of present-exchange highlights the problem. I could rant ad infinitum right here.... but I can be a bit annyoing when I do that. So, limiting myself to one observation: what is this insistence on everyone in a gift-giving network spending the same amount of cash?! We may as well adorn a turkey with a wreath of tenners and eat one each.

Young children are natural born warning signs for gift-giving gone wrong. They don't play the game with self-absorbed benefactors claiming to 'make sacrifices' for them while actually wanting something in return. They don't sweat about paying us back in kind. And they are visibly wrung out by excess and consumerism.

But they absorb generosity and love unashamedly. They barely even say thanks. What rotters!

Grace is a mysterious thing. Accepting it is all about letting go of the idea that you have the potential to become more deserving of gifts. Again, children show us how to do this: they soak up greedily as much love and attention as we can give them, without for one second thinking they deserve it or that they need to repay it.

I have sat in a lot of churches that tell me I can never be more or less deserving of God's love: that it is a gift. That the sun shines on good and evil alike. And then tell me, in almost the same breath, that my life is only acceptable if I embrace a particular lifestyle; a particular penchant for religious activity; a particular set of beliefs.

Four decades into my life, I am still realising the extent to which I need to ignore this nonsense. No wonder Jesus wanted to hang out with the kids.......

Monday, September 17, 2018

Raising Cain?

Did you hear the one about Mary and Joseph's parenting methods?

Me neither. Funny that.

I mean, if you'd raised someone considered by millions to be the Son of God, wouldn't you expect there to follow efforts to produce a 'how to' guide in your honour? But no. Not much at all, as far as I can decipher.

Alice Miller is also surprised. An influential psychoanalyst and philospher, she describes a society obsessed with original sin and the Eden story, criticising its impact on young lives. She wonders why Christians ponder so long on the character of an inscrutable heavenly father, who places a forbidden tree and a deceitful serpent in his paradise garden, but fail to examine the character of Joseph and the specifics of Jesus' human upbringing.

We can't glean much. But there are hints about Jesus' childhood. Mary considered her son a gift from God and prioritised him from the moment of conception. The child's wellbeing was paramount, with both parents making big life changes in order to accommodate and protect him. As he got older, he had the confidence to disobey and argue his case, without any apparent fear of punishment. As he reached adulthood, his mother accepted his authority, advising friends to go to him with the problems they first brought her way. He turned out pretty well. And the bond between mother and son remained deep and strong: even in the midst of torture, Jesus felt compelled to take care of his mother.

In my experience, the advice circulating on being a good 'Christian' parent doesn't touch on the kinds of things we observe in Jesus' parents.

I wonder, with a few suspicions, why on earth not? But perhaps that is for another post......