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would you rather raise happy kids or whole kids? {sacred parenting series, part 2}

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the mommyhood memos: would you rather raise happy kids or whole kids? {sacred parenting series, part 2}

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

would you rather raise happy kids or whole kids? {sacred parenting series, part 2}

“If we protect our children from all risk, challenge, and possible rejection, they likely will become developmentally stunted and will therefore remain immature. Out of love for our children, we must become strong enough spiritually to watch them hurt, to see them become disappointed, to hear their cries. Otherwise, we risk raising safe and compliant kids with an empty core. In this area our own immaturity and spiritual weakness can handicap our children.” –Gary L. Thomas (Sacred Parenting)

What a confronting statement. I don’t want to see my child hurt… ever.

I hesitate to even write about this subject because as such a new parent, I have not had to walk my child through any kind of deep pain or heartache or difficulty. I have no authority to write on that level.

And yet I realize that even through I’m at the beginning of this journey of parenthood—and I have lots of time to work some of this stuff out in my own heart and head—I know that it’s now that I must solidify my values and (with my husband) set the foundations we want to build our family on.

So this is why I’m going there… to that place where the confronting questions are asked.

Mama doesn’t want to see her baby cry.

Let me say it again: I don’t ever want to see my child hurt.

In fact, I even hate seeing and hearing my baby cry (which in my adult mind almost always translates to the indication of pain).

Of course I realize that as all babies do, Levi has lots of different types of cries: hunger, tiredness, boredom, frustration, etc. But hands-down the hardest type of cry to hear is the cry of discomfort or pain. Whether it be the pain of teething, immunizations, or a nasty bump on the head… my little mama’s heart gets a squeeze when my boy cries in pain.

As much as I hate the sound of crying, since my child is still just a baby, I expect him to cry... often. I understand that a baby who doesn’t cry would be a baby to be concerned about. A normal, healthy baby will cry several times a day – as a form of communication, to express physical and emotional needs, or just to let off steam. (And when he does I’ll be the first one to want and try to comfort him. He needs this and so do I.)

It's natural for parents to desire to intervene and stop pain in its tracks.

I understand that sometimes my baby will cry and there’s not much I can do about it other than do my best to soothe him… But what about when he’s a little older?

What about when he’s a toddler and he’s crying because a friend won’t share a toy? Or what about when he’s a preschooler and he cries when dropped off at school? Or what about when he’s twelve and he isn’t drafted to the sports team he hoped for? Or when he’s fifteen and the girl he likes chooses someone else to go to the school dance with?

What then?

As a parent, I can’t imagine anything more difficult than seeing my child in pain. And these examples are just “little” things… I don’t even want to contemplate pain on a larger scale right now. (I’m just not there yet and my little first-time-mama’s heart might explode.)

But would I take a toy off another toddler just to see my own stop crying? Or would I forgo dropping him off at school because it makes him cry? Or would I try and bully the coach to make him accept my son on the team? Or would I attempt to bribe and persuade the girl to choose my son instead?

Of course not.

Happiness doesn’t always equal fulfillment or wholeness.

I want my child to be happy, no doubt. But more than that, I want him to eventually find fulfillment in life on a much deeper level than happiness on its own can afford. Because after all, happiness is often fleeting – coming and going as fast as circumstances change. But fulfillment comes through growing into a whole person.

As an adult, I can look back at some of the most formative events in my life… and often they sprung out of a place of pain or difficulty or struggle. Those formative events have shaped me into the woman I am today, and though I am by no means perfect, I am not broken either. I am healed and I am whole... and a much better person because of it. (And for the record, I'm generally very happy too - by no means am I saying happiness and wholeness are mutually exclusive.)

We must think through our good intentions.

So if struggle and difficulty and pain can be beneficial... would I advocate trying to manufacture those things in order to “teach a lesson about life" to a child? Not a chance! The world will do that for them just fine. There will never be a shortage of less-than-happy circumstances to deal with in life, and as much as possible I want to be responsible to be a source of happiness for others, especially my kids. But I also don't think it's wise to avoid them at all costs either.

If my main objective in parenting is to make sure that my child is always happy (a seemingly noble endeavor), then I run the risk of sheltering and spoiling my child, and under-preparing them for the future. It could start with little things like always giving them a “treat” when they want it, or spending a fortune on every “must have” toy… But where then do we cross the line into catering to a child’s every whim even when it could end up damaging our kids on the long haul? And is it possible for our good intentions to actually stunt their growth and maturity?

Doing what’s right can sometimes even cause unhappiness.

As parents we know that a small child needs to be buckled into his car seat in order to be safe and protected. But sometimes that one simple act can illicit an abundance of tears and a monumental struggle for the “poor child” being forced into shoulder straps… making for one incredibly unhappy child! If I was to constantly choose my child’s immediate happiness as my first priority, I would forgo the car seat, the struggle, the tears, and his perceived pain. (Oh, the trauma of being strapped in!) I would also let him eat whatever he wanted and have every toy in sight…

But as the mom, I must be more responsible than that! I know that his tears and temporary unhappiness are worth the long-term reward of knowing that he is much more safe and protected within that little seat. That makes seeing him unhappy a little more bearable, even despite my low tolerance for his tears and crying. (Oh, how the crying wears me down emotionally!)

Just because it pains me as a mom to see my child in distress, it does not mean that I should spare my child difficulties in order to avoid feeling pain myself.

It’s easy to think that I will do the right thing in the car seat scenario with my baby, but what about when he gets older and starts making more and more decisions on his own?

Allowing children to mature is sometimes a sacrifice.

I’m all for creating safe environments for our children to live and grow within, but I will also need to learn how to let go and allow my children to live with some of the consequences of their choices (more and more as it is age-appropriate). The other alternative is to spend all my well-intended efforts sheltering Levi from the “big bad world” out there and then inadvertently leave him crippled in his ability to cope with real life once he is eventually out on his own.

To allow our children—my child—to experience life’s difficulties has got to be one of the greatest sacrifices as a parent, especially as those difficulties grow in nature and implication. And yet completely sheltering them would be a sacrifice made on their behalf that just doesn’t pan out in the long run.

Embracing the difficulties and helping them through it.

Instead of using my resources and energy to shield my child from the more painful aspects of life during the few years I have him in my home, I would rather be right there with him in the midst of the difficulties teaching him how to respond, how to cope, how to reach out for help, how to tap into his inner strength, how to call on God for grace, and how to persevere with hope for a better day. My job is to equip my child for life.

Offering comfort and committing do our best.

It’s early days for me, and I have a lifetime to learn this lesson. But for today I will remember that my son’s tears are ok. I will comfort as only a mother can, and I will try my best to teach him and train him in what is best for his overall wholeness and well-being.

I will remember that difficulties will come and that it’s not always in Levi’s best interest to try and deflect every single one of those for him. (And in the meantime, I hope to create many happy moments and memories for him in the midst of a very happy home.)

So, would you rather raise happy kids or whole kids? 

Perhaps that is a trick question, as I'm sure lasting happiness flows out of wholeness...

I want my child to be happy and whole as he matures into adulthood. After all, he’ll be a man for many more years than he’ll be my baby. {*sniff}

Dear mommy-friends, how do you deal with the issue of pain and difficulties when it comes to your children? For those of you who are new parents like me, is this something you’ve considered yet? For those of you who are more “seasoned” parents, what have you learned in walking through some of these issues and what advice can you give those who are just beginning?

thinking about the future,

Note: This post is the second of a series I am writing, inspired by the book Sacred Parenting by Gary L Thomas. Please let me know if you have the book and would like to follow along... I highly recommend it. (Please note that I am moving through the book at a fairly slow pace.)

Other posts in the Sacred Parenting Series:

Have you registered your blog here yet?

adriel booker | the mommyhood memos | 2010 
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At September 2, 2010 at 12:03 AM , Blogger ~Lisa~ said...

Good points. I recently had to send my son to preschool. He cried but he still enjoys it as the same time. You can't shield them from everything. And it all depends on age on how to correctly soothe them. Being a parent is hard, the hardest job ever. We have to go on instinct, knowledge and professional advice from doctors and books. Nice post Adriel!

At September 2, 2010 at 3:46 AM , Blogger Kerry McCullough said...

I was just thinking about this today! Poor Niall slammed his head into the floor board when he was trying to move from one piece of furniture to the next. I immediately thought "Ok, that's enough exploring for today." But then I realized, he needs to stumble and fall a few times before he can get it right. I can't stop him from getting hurt along the way, but I can be there for him when he needs me. I think that's the best you can do :)

At September 2, 2010 at 4:41 AM , Blogger Mandy said...

You make very good points. This post was really thought-provoking and thank you for that. I think as parents we're always faced with this question, whether we realize it or not. Often there is a fine line between making them happy and doing what is right by them and their growth.

At September 2, 2010 at 9:13 AM , Blogger TV's Take said...

This is a great thoughtful post. I dislike seeing when other kids don't share with KLV, I can't imagine parents who have to watch their kids go through worse. I'm sure there will come a day when I laugh at my only worry being whether kids are sharing with her but for now it's where we are at...

At September 4, 2010 at 10:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a mom of almost grown/grown kids, ages 17-29, happiness is superficial, being emotionally and mentally whole is definitely most important (other than spiritual). We cannot shield our kids from every pain, we just have to help them learn from the trials that come their way. We have to teach them to be smart and use wisdom in their everyday dealings.
Just my 2 cents!


At September 5, 2010 at 6:24 PM , Blogger Rachel said...

I really need to get this book! Have you read The Lazy Parent's Manifesto? Here's an interesting read:

At November 29, 2010 at 2:16 PM , Anonymous Shirley Stingle said...

I have a friend who has been very discouraged about parenthood so much so that she didnt want to have any children anymore (they only one - and she rules their world). My heart goes out to her... but one day, i went to visit her and found a book in her toilet called "How To Keep Your Child Happy". Needless to say, the book is filled with ideas on how to keep your child happy against all odds! No wonder my friend was discouraged! Well - i didn't feel i was there to "teach" or even to speak into her life at that time other than giving her another "mommy-shoulder" to cry on.. But it did make me reflect on my own "mommyhood" journey - the whole issue about "Happiness Vs Holiness". We are called to raise a holy generation. And the word "holy" is not as spiritual as we thought it is. It just plainly means "uncommon" or "set apart". A generation that is uncommon and set apart for God's purposes. At home, we use the word "thankful" more than "happy".... when receiving a gift, we often asked them since they were very young, "Are you thankful?" instead of "Are you happy?" Now that they are "abit" older (5 years old)... it is such a huge blessing when they come up to us and say - "Mama, i am so thankful for....." That doesnt mean our children are deprived or anything... it just means that even in young age they are learning that their happiness is built within and not without. And whenever we teach our children some life values - we often found them teaching us back (and more!) when they finally grasped it! Thanks Adriel for sharing :)


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