Imagine for a moment that your child arrived with instructions. Now, are you finished laughing? J Babies don’t come with an owner’s manual as most of you know quite well, since I doubt you’d be reading here if you weren’t a parent! Oh, I know plenty of people- old men particularly- have written volumes on infant care. Why is it that Old men write books about mothering? I find it astonishing that they think they could know anything about what it’s like to carry, birth, nourish and love a tiny, shiny-new human being! (but don’t get carried away, greenegem- there’s plenty of time to talk about birth…another day) Lacking any concrete individual assembly instructions, we turn to whoever sounds like they know the most. So how does a Christian Mom know whose advice to follow? Where do we find the tools and techniques for raising kids? Well, I found that God had been filling my parenting toolbox before I ever knew I would need one.
First of all, I’d like to state for the record that I do NOT believe for one second that a baby can manipulate anyone. This is a theme you see in so many books- especially Christian books about child-rearing. That concept is usually married in with the idea that a baby’s will is dangerous, and offers a threat to parental authority. But in order to have a will you first have to have a self- and studies have demonstrated that babies do not think of themselves as separate from Momma for almost 10 months. When you think about it, a newborn comes into your life and takes over. As women, we are changed forever the second we discover we have conceived. I would be surprised to find a momma who does not feel at least a little roped-in at that point. When, Lord-willing- we give birth, the change is magnified. Think back on the day you gave birth. Think back on the day your foster or adopted child became a part of your family. Everything changes. Forever.
What do we do in response? We try to get things back under control. (I am smiling and shaking my head while I write this…remembering my own attempts to find ‘normal’ again!) Much later, I am going to make a case for parental control being a myth. Control in itself is a myth actually. We never really have control over anything- humans are not that powerful. We can only have control over small, weak things, and I do not want my kids to grow up to be small and weak. My goal for my children since I was a teenager has been to raise them to be Whole, in other words- emotionally healthy and complete individuals. I don’t know where that goal came from. I knew I did not feel whole, I knew my parents weren’t whole, and they knew it too. I only knew the barest facts about mental health, but I knew that I wanted my children to have a confidence that lay deep in themselves, a self-worth that no one could ever take away.
Fast forward to my child development classes. I learned I was pregnant shortly after they began, and I was working for a child care center- with infants and toddlers. This was NOT my first experience with babes and kids; I’d been caring for babies in my church’s nursery since I was 13. I had been teaching kids’ Sunday School since I was 16. I LOVED them. I loved the way they thought, and the way they saw the world. I loved teaching them. But what I began to learn in that class made me angry at first. We started with excellent information on physical and neurological development of infants. Our teacher told us that getting angry about the information meant we were actually thinking about the material, and trying to fit it in with what we knew. And boy was she right! I had a lot of instincts about babies and I found to my surprise that there was scientific evidence to back these instincts up! Then I had to examine my beliefs about disobedience…because we started studying classroom discipline. We had to write essays…and as I love to write (I know…I know!) I applied myself with enthusiasm. I realized that I needed to take some time and really think about what I was learning. I have those essays still, and they’ve been so helpful! There’s nothing like having a written record of the conclusions you’ve drawn along the way!
We also chose Bradley Childbirth classes for our birth preparation. Whoa! We visited the same themes I had visited in my child development course! Paradigm shift, anyone? *teehee* I saw the babies in my care in a new light. The things they did suddenly made sense! I marveled at how complete and yet unfinished these tiny people were. Totally dependent on us for their care- trusting us, their caregivers, their surrogate parents, each day because they had no choice. You see, trust is necessary for a baby. They NEED to know that there will be food when they need food, that there will be warmth when they are cold, that there will be arms to hold them when they are lonely (and yes, babies can get lonely), and that when they need to know they are wanted in this world- someone will talk to them and play with them. Legitimate needs, all. Babies don’t grow if they aren’t spoken (or signed) to, did you know that? If a babe has everything they need, warmth, food, clean diapers, shiny things to look at, other babies, but no one talks to or engages them face to face, they stop gaining weight. They eventually die. Babies need someone to trust. Why? Because that’s the way their Creator made them.
Starting out as a parent I had; quite a bit of experience with babies and young children, current and detailed developmental information, the ability to bond with my baby, and the head on my shoulders. I had some good tools. I hadn’t the first clue how to use them, unfortunately. God wasn’t finished filling my toolbox, however. Soon after Maximus was born I began to meet new friends; and of course the topic most days was…kids! J I probably met every momma in my state who’d been spanked as a child and sworn not to spank their own kids! They were sticking to their guns, too! I met some of the most genuine, caring, and phenomenal women I have ever met in my life. They knew after a while that I was spanking Maximus, but they remained my friends. What a testament to God’s Grace! These women, many of whom were not believers, showed me grace and unconditional love that many Christian mommas had not shown. It was their consistency that kept me listening, and they are a blessing to me still.
Now I’ll pick up where I left off last time…The day I stopped spanking. I had no other choice at that point than to re-evaluate my expectations. What was obedience? Were the things I wanted from my son really necessary? Were they realistic? Could a child his age actually do the things I expected? I went back to my developmental information to refresh my memory. Painfully, I drew up a different list of what was important; I made new goals. I threw out the old expectations, and that was no less painful- partially because I had never bothered to define my expectations before this. I had been parenting thoughtlessly, blindly, and without consideration. These tiny boys were real persons, and they deserved the same love and grace that every adult deserves. I had the tools, I had the resolve, but I lacked one thing- a clear picture of what it looked like to parent with the authority I believed the Bible demands of parents AND with the mercy and kindness Christ had shown to me. If I, as a redeemed child of God, was to show Christ’s love to all people, that group of ‘people’ MUST include children. How does that work? I recalled that one of those Mommas God sent me had mentioned an online group of Christian mommas that did not use punishment in any form as discipline. I was already a member of a large online crunchy parenting forum, so I took a deep breath and googled Gentle Christian Mothers. 🙂 continued…