Joshua is our first child. When he came along everything was new. Joyce and I were like a dry and thirsty land sucking up all the parenting advice we could get.
Some unsolicited advisors said, “Children are master manipulators. So when he cries, and you go to him, you teach him that by crying he can control mommy and daddy. So don’t kowtow to his whims.” This general advice was usually suffixed by something like, “Let him cry himself out.”
The first time we put Joshua alone in his bedroom, he cried so hard that his breathing rasped as he struggled to draw breath into his lungs. As we stood on the other side of the closed door, Joyce’s eyes conveyed my thoughts. “What are we supposed to do?”
Individualism in the Cradle
We live in a society that is largely individualistic. This means that we value the notion of self. We raise our children within our culture to live as individuals and stand on their own two feet. We begin placing these values in them at an early age. As soon as we can we put them in their own bedrooms. We are proud when they get a small job and earn some extra pocket-money. We expect them to leave the house when they go to college or get a job and fend for themselves. The goal of our actions is to make our children fully functioning individuals who depend upon themselves.
The song Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin springs to mind. It tells the story of a father and son’s relationship, from the son’s birth to the father’s old age. Here are the lyrics. I have taken out the chorus.
My child arrived just the other day He came to the world in the usual way But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay He learned to walk while I was away And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew He'd say, I'm gonna be like you, dad You know I'm gonna be like you My son turned ten just the other day He said, thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play Can you teach me to throw, I said, not today I got a lot to do, he said, that's okay And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed Said, I'm gonna be like him, yeah You know I'm gonna be like him Well, he came from college just the other day So much like a man I just had to say Son, I'm proud of you Can you sit for a while? He shook his head, and he said with a smile What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys See you later Can I have them please? I've long since retired and my son's moved away I called him up just the other day I said, I'd like to see you if you don't mind He said, I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu But it's sure nice talking to you, dad It's been sure nice talking to you And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me He'd grown up just like me My boy was just like me"
One thing we see from this song is that the son turned into the father. Similarly, our children turn into the people we teach them to be, which is often a duplication of ourselves. Therefore, with such a strong emphasis on individualism and independence, it is no surprise that our children no longer need their parents when they grow up because that was the goal to start with.
This individualistic mentality is where the advice of our well-meaning advisors was coming from. Individualism itself is not the issue, although we have a lot to learn from more collective cultures. The issue is that we strive to teach our children individualistic values long before they have the cognitive and emotional ability to recognize themselves as individuals. All they know is that they are an extension of mommy and daddy, but especially mommy. So when we put them in a room away from us, the concept is so foreign to them that it is as if a part of their existence is taken away. Their undeveloped mind simply cannot fathom what is happening.
Individualism in the Church
Every church does their children’s work differently. However, it is not unusual to see children left crying in the crèche while mommy and daddy go away to enjoy the service. Admittedly, I have done this myself. I remember someone telling me, “It’s okay, they have to learn to fend for themselves among other kids. It’s needful for when they go to school.”
You have probably heard something similar too. And like society’s robots that we are, we deafen our ears, harden our conscience, and walk away from their cries into the worship service. In the church service, preachers tell us that God is a loving Father in whose arms we take shelter. They tell us that God loves us and will do anything for us. They tell us that God’s heart moves on our behalf when he hears our cries. The preacher tells us these things, but it escapes our mind that we have just done exactly the opposite with our children.
The Father’s Love
When I think about the way we raise our children in relation to God’s love for us I cannot help but thank him. I thank him that he does not leave us in a room alone at night to cry ourselves to sleep. I thank him that he does not dump us in a room full of strangers and say, “It’s for the best I need time alone for worship.” Moreover, I thank him that although we may view our children as people who we have to teach independence to, God never treats us in such a way. God never teaches us to fend for ourselves, nor will he let us.
Our Heavenly Father
As Joyce and I stood at the bedroom door listening to Joshua’s howls. The picture that moved my heart was not that of my dear child crying for his parents. In my mind, I saw a lonely, cold, dark empty room, where a man lay sobbing. Between his sobs, the man called out to his heavenly Father who stood at the other side of the closed door.
When the heavenly Father heard the man’s sobs, he did not remain standing there and say, “It’s for your own good. You’ll cry yourself to sleep.” Instead, the heavenly Father opened the door, picked up the upset figure in his loving arms and said, “I will neither leave you nor forsake you.”
This is a picture of our heavenly Father. Like our heavenly Father, Joyce and I opened the door, picked our son up, and comforted him.
My New Rule of Parenting
I think we in our Western culture need to give ourselves a shake and think about how we treat our children. What values are we instilling in them? How are we demonstrating the Father’s love to them? My point is this: are you demonstrating the same love towards your children that your heavenly Father demonstrates towards you, or are you instilling values in them that are opposite to the values God is instilling in you?
My new rule of parenting is this: do I parent my children the same way I expect my heavenly Father to parent me?