Posts tagged God

Parenting 101

I’ve decided that my New Years resolution this year is to figure out my kid. I’m a little slow on the draw, I know, seeing as he’s seven years old, but this boy really should have come with an instruction manual.

When Teddy was first born I was a freshly minted PSYC 1F90 graduate. That’s right, I had a full 8 months of introductory psychology under my belt folks, and I knew how to raise a child. I come from a long line of people who see the world in black and white, and so I foresaw no problems in the child-rearing department. According to my upbringing, you brought a child in line early and he stayed there until he moved out. According to my psychology textbook, you rewarded a child for good behaviour and discouraged bad behaviour by frowning, and you could save yourself the hassle of punishment altogether. I was confident that by combining these two silver bullets I would be large and in charge of the most well-behaved, well-adjusted children on the block.

Since then we’ve moved to a new block, so maybe that’s the problem. Whatever it is, I am as large and in charge of my well-adjusted children as Italy’s Prime Ministers have been of their feisty fellow parliamentarians. What I didn’t take into account when we welcomed the child that would make us the perfect parents, was that God has a never-ending arsenal of tricks up his sleeve in order to keep us dependent on Him for things, including parenting wisdom.

I should make it clear that there are many things parents can do to influence their children’s behaviour. I am a firm believer that consistent expectations and follow-through are extremely effective when raising a well-behaved child. My struggles are not with any of those things. It’s those behaviours that I cannot control with discipline that have had me on my knees on a daily basis. Here are a few examples:

  • A 3-year-old who will not say “I’m sorry” or “Thank You” even though you have pulled out every available weapon in your parenting arsenal, including taking away the Christmas present he won’t say thank you for. This particular battle lasted over 24 hours.
  • That same 3-year-old who consistently refuses to pose for family pictures for no apparent reason, even under threat. This battle has lasted for years.
  • A 4-year-old who will not allow the dentist to look into his mouth, no matter what fun tactics the dental assistant employs.
  • That same 4-year-old who shuns the singing of “Happy Birthday” as though it violates some non-negotiables of his personal credo.
  • A 5-year-old with persistent, relentless fears of objects that should not induce fears: exercise equipment in the corner, a shower head, a lamp. Trust me, we tried all the advice, including prayer!
  • A 6-year-old who cannot focus on a simple task like brushing his teeth without being reminded at least 4 times and possibly even punished for good measure.
  • A 7-year-old who spends his days whipping his brothers into an active frenzy by consistently leading them in activities like tag, playing ball, jumping, tackling, drumming, tickling, dancing, and anything else that makes noise or creates havoc.

 There was a time when I would have had solutions to these problems, but that was before I met our precious first-born. I also would not have believed that a child as young as age 2 could be a leader of men, or that a 4-year-old could spend a full 20-minute car ride counting to 1,000. I would have freaked out had you told me that my 5-year-old would remove the bread that he thought was done baking out of the oven, loaf by loaf, so that “Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t have to do it.” I would have been delighted to hear that my 6-year-old would take the initiative to clear out the dishwasher and start breakfast, and that he would answer the phone more competently than most 14-year-olds. I would have looked forward to a tidy basement, bedrooms (all of them), bathroom, and living room, courtesy of a sudden bright idea that told my 7-year-old to motivate his brothers to “surprise Mommy” with this special treat. I would have been extremely proud to hear of his helpfulness in the classroom, or that he sticks up for other kids when they are being bullied on the playground. And when someone tells me that my son is “gifted” and may deal with certain “overexcitables” and “sensory processing” issues (is hyper-sensitive to different stimuli, leading to heightened emotional responses and distractibility), I would be initially surprised, but not really.

If nothing else, our daily parenting struggles with a child who just does not fit the mould have made me far more gracious about other people’s struggles with their kids. I realize that not every problem goes away as a result of positive reinforcement or even consistent discipline. I see parents with kids who have chosen the wrong path, and instead of attempting to lay blame for the things they neglected or were guilty of, I allow for the fact that I do not know their child and am in no position to judge. God has made our little people extremely complex, and who am I to try to simplify things?

On second thought, maybe I should tweak my resolution. Maybe figuring out my kid is an exercise in futility. Maybe a dose of patience and a lot more prayer will be the silver bullets that make 2012 a better parenting year than the previous seven!

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Mommy, Why Did God Create Mosquitos?

Yerba mate growing in the wild.

Image via Wikipedia

“Mommy, why did God create mosquitos?”

 Now there’s a question to give you pause. While we’re asking tough questions, I’d like to know why God created snakes or giant hogweed. (Aren’t snakes the ones that caused all the trouble in the first place?) My answer to the mosquito conundrum, after some initial head-scratching, was “honey, I don’t honestly know. Probably to be food for bats.” That’s a safe one. The food chain explains all sorts of natural evils.

Apparently things weren’t always like this, because if you believe the creation account, there didn’t seem to be any animosity between the snake and Eve. Let’s just say if that slimy creature had talked to me, I’d have clobbered it on the head first and asked questions later. That’s what I was taught as a child growing up in Paraguay, South America, a place where everything is either venomous, prickly, or both. When God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden at the dawn of time saying, “cursed is the ground because of you…both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you,”[1] He was talking about Paraguay.

In the past few days our family has been catching up with my sister who once again lives in that hot, arid place we used to call home. After three years of living there, she is now sharing her adult experiences which are far different from what I remember as a child. My childhood memories are almost magical, although I do have a few bad ones: whenever it rained, the mosquitos were sure to follow, and believe me when I say that my son’s experience of mosquitos absolutely pales in comparison to the epic proportions of the swarms that would descend upon anything with blood running through its veins. (Oddly enough, this experience has had the unexpected benefit of making those of us who lived there essentially immune to the effects of mosquito bites!). Then there was the relentless heat and drought, not to mention the wicked sand storms that pounded everything and everyone first from the north and then from the south by turns, blanketing kitchen counters, tables, and beds with the dust of the earth despite tightly shuttered windows.

 Otherwise I don’t remember it being too bad. I remember care-free days romping around our yard, climbing trees, killing a baby snake (talk about a sense of accomplishment!) celebrating New Years Eve outdoors by moonlight, Santa Claus in shorts throwing candy off the back of a tractor, and sitting in a Mandarin tree eating its ripe fruits.

 In sharp contrast to my childish rose-coloured glasses, my sister now sees things through the lens of a mother. She is now the one dealing with the masses of spiders under the porch rafters, cockroaches in the kitchen, scorpions in the children’s rooms, and small frogs and bugs in the clean laundry. She’s the one who now has to care for children who fall victim to West Nile virus, or any of the myriad other diseases and parasites that thrive there. For the first two years they lived there it hardly rained; it was so dry that even the weeds died.

On the other hand, she tells of seeing the Milky Way in all its glorious splendour in that cloudless southern sky, a spectacle made possible by the sparsely lit streets of the small towns and villages. Where she lives, people and animals share in a simpler existence that includes sleep in total darkness and early mornings spent sipping Yerba Mate tea while watching a day-old foal being nuzzled by its momma. The cacophony of birds, frogs and insects that join together in the dawn chorus is almost deafening.

And so it is that in the midst of the Curse there is Grace for those who open their eyes to see it.

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of

[1] Genesis3:17 – 18


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The Fat of the Land

Thus says the Lord:

 “Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; lest when you have

 eaten your giant, saturated portions of beef and rich desserts and are over-stuffed,

and have built your 2500 sq. foot home with 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, an interlocking brick driveway and natural gas hook-up for summer barbeques,

and when your stocks grow and your investments multiply and your house appreciates and all that you have multiplies,

then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage and poverty.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14…sort of).

This is how Deuteronomy 8 sounded to me when I read it this morning. How should I describe it? Convicting? A kick in the pants? A wake-up call? Yeah, something like that.

I’m 31 years old, with a husband, 3 kids, a minivan, and a mortgage on a house in suburbia. We started out 10 years ago in a dingy apartment with Astroturf carpets, colourful neighbours, and an over-zealous heating system. Like most other people we know, we slowly “moved up” in the world. After a year or two we rented a better place, which we left once we purchased our first home. We had a baby, and other factors became important: being closer to church and family. So we sold our starter home and moved into a home in a nicer neighbourhood, close to our church and family, and of course, good schools. We now occupied a home that gave our family of 3 the unofficial minimum of 300 square feet of living space per person. We also had great neighbours, great curb-appeal, and two Toyotas in the driveway. Finally, we had arrived.

Two more kids and a few years later, there’s a problem. We’re now at only 200 square feet per person, and the Toyotas are getting old and rusty. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like “we have arrived” anymore. Common sense tells us that we need to consider another move to make room for the growing family. A 1000-square foot bungalow simply will not accommodate three boys and their parents for the next 20 years.

I have yet to meet anyone who would argue that point with me. In a society where personal comfort is one of our highest values (especially where children are concerned) it is assumed that any effort put forth to secure those comforts is justified. The thought of subjecting two or three children to sharing a bedroom for years just rubs most people the wrong way. After all, how can a child flourish if they are not given the best possible… everything?

For many of our grandparents (and perhaps even parents) going without was a fact of life. Christmas presents included hand-knit socks, oranges, and perhaps one toy. Children of long-ago could not have conceived of the gifts that have now become standard Christmas fare: video game consoles, televisions and high-priced electronic toys. The families that occupied the homes in our neighbourhood back when they were new had an average of 3 or 4 children where today’s families have one or two. Somehow, despite having to share rooms and crowd around a kitchen table, these children grew up to become hard-working, productive members of society.

I recently saw a Real Estate listing for a “family home” where we knew the owner. A business owner, he had built this 6000 square foot mansion for his family of six, not sparing any expense. It seems a looming bankruptcy had forced the sale of the ultra-luxurious house that was supposed to be the fulfillment of every desire these people could have conceived of. If I’m honest though, I suffer from the same ailment this ambitious business owner does: it’s just never enough. If money and comfort are the goal, we wander perpetually, yet never arrive.

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