On Parenting

I’ve had brewing some thoughts on parenting for some time now. There seems to be a modern pseudo-religion cropping up around the sacredness of motherhood, and the importance of doing things naturally. Now, in principle, we don’t disagree with some of the notions that are going around. Certainly being a mother, “giving” life, nurturing a tiny, totally dependent being, and raising children in a good home is a monumental and wonderful task. In our home, we considering “being mom” to be a calling from God, and have structured our lives to give priority to that task. And certainly there’s wisdom in traditional values, and using healthy, natural products free of chemicals where ever possible. Absolutely, we believe that we should provide for our children the best we are able.

However, I’d like to throw a dash of reality into this debate:

1) Babies poop and puke. Yes, this is natural. No, its not beautiful. Poo is gross — even if it comes out of your little angel’s bum. Cloth diapers or manufactured diapers is not a religious decision: they are tools for preventing poo from getting everywhere. That is all.

2) Breastmilk has great, proven and suggested benefits for children, but this is not a spiritual factor, its a practical one. We liked that we didn’t have to pay for formula, and Nicole enjoyed the bonding time with her children. She did not enjoy having sharp little baby teeth biting her nipples. By the time there were teeth coming in, it was high time to ween the kids. And we still cuddled them while holding a bottle until they were so big that their little legs had to drape over the arms of the chair. They weren’t emotionally scarred by the bottle, and more importantly, Nicole didn’t have to be physically scarred by their teeth.

3) “Crying it out” or “Ferberizing” a baby has Biblical logic behind it. Children, although they may be cute and cuddly and fun, are still born with a sin nature. They come out of the womb selfish. Of course we would go to our children if they were crying in fear or pain or hunger — not only could Nicole differentiate their cries instinctually, but I could too, within a couple months of bringing them home. We would never leave Ben or Abi in their crib if they were scared, or had wiggled themselves into a corner and were freaking out cause they couldn’t get out. But you’d better believe we trained the selfish, “I want attention because I’m mad at you for putting me to bed” cry out of them right quick.
Both our kids slept through the night, in their own room, before they were 3 months old. And they slept peacefully, and woke happily — and they only had to cry themselves to sleep a couple times before they learned that the universe didn’t revolve around their demands.

Yup, that’s the point I’m making. Just because you knock boots with your spouse and squeeze a life form out of your hoo-haw (with or without pharmaceutical assistance, also not a spiritual decision), that does not make you mother earth, nor your child the center of the universe. That was not God’s intention. His intention is to create people who give glory to Him.

We don’t pretend to be the best parents in the world, but we have two well-adjusted toddlers who are enjoyable, obedient, affectionate and independent. They have learned, and will continue to learn, the appropriate autonomy for their age. As babies, it was appropriate for them to learn to how to sleep on their own — this is an essential life skill, and has great benefits for the quality of parenting they get. There was no emotional damage to them being sleep trained, and in fact, I would argue that there was huge emotional benefit.

Bed time, wake-up time, nap time, and meal times provide the structure for our children’s day. We can do any activity we want with them, as long as we return to the safety of their routine. It is that very safety that gives them the confidence to try new things. It is that very routine that allows them to participate in an adult world — and to enjoy it. And it is that routine which allows Nicole and I to continue to pursue the other responsibilities and tasks God places before us. Yes, parenting is one of the most important tasks of our lives — but its not the only one.

(We went to Asia this summer to explore missions, and because our kid’s routine was consistent in our absence, and because we left them with people who could love them, while still guiding and disciplining them, we were able to leave our 2 and 3 year old behind for two weeks without any damage to their psyche. The things we can teach our kids as a result of our obedience there FAR outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding a 2 year old!)

I read a study once that measured the emotional health of a child by observing their behaviour in relation to their mother. When brought to a new play area, a healthy child will leave mom to explore confidently. If they fall down, or get scared, they would return to mom for a confidence boost, and then go back to exploration — the assurance that mom is available is enough to convince them that its OK to try again. Routine is similar. It provides a home base for their day, so that they can explore new things and new activities with the assurance that they can return to what they know as normal afterward.

Its for that reason that as soon as possible we began training our babies out of their mostly nocturnal in-the-womb day, into a predictable, daylight day, including a bed time, that save for abnormal circumstances, was set it stone — regardless of their sin-natured opinion of it. The result was that we very quickly established a healthy routine that allowed us to begin “exploring” the world with them.

The bottom line is that homes should not be child centered. They should be God centered. We love our children, and pour unconditional affection, love and loving correction and guidance into their lives. But even as tiny little people, they are their own people — they are not a function of us, and we are not a function of them. Our role is to raise them, not commune with them. Our responsibility is to teach them about the world, their place within it, and their Creator God who made them for a purpose. We protect them, but we do not live for them. Nor they for us.

Some crying and some bruises along the way proves that they are learning to overcome their little challenges, and teaches them how to deal with adversity as they continue to grow. Don’t believe me? Read Proverbs…

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10 thoughts on “On Parenting

  1. I really enjoyed reading this 🙂 And I’m anticipating you will receive some crazy wrath from those that sit on the other side of this fence!
    Jon and I are HUGE into not allowing our house to be a child run household. Yes, our children are very important to us and we take our role in raising them serious – but my relationship with God comes first – then my relationship with my spouse. Because one day my children WILL LEAVE home! And if they have run our household what will we be left with as we sit and stare at the stranger across the dinner table. I struggle greatly with spending time with people who allow their lives to be child run – just as I’m positive those people struggle a great deal with how we parent in our home. As long as we are seeking to honor God and provide a healthy home for our children to grow up in – we are off to a good start 🙂
    Kids in a healthy home shouldn’t feel that crying in their bed is leaving them abandoned – to try and say it’s not biblical to allow them to cry is stretching the scripture just a wee bit don’t ya think. God never leaves us but he also doesn’t scoop down and rescue us every time things don’t go our way.
    Okay – that’s my rambles – not nearly as well worded as yours 🙂 Thanks for the fun post and brace yourself man – there will be some upset mamas coming after you or just blocking your blog forever 🙂

  2. Congrats Jon and Nic. You guys get it! And there’s a little poem by Martin Baxbaum that will determine your “success” at child rearing in the future. It goes:

    “You can use most any measure when you’re speaking of success.
    You can measure it in a fancy home, expensive car or dress.
    But the measure of your real success is one you cannot spend-
    It’s the way your child describes you when talking to a friend.”

  3. Note to Marti. Martin Bauxbam may have some wisdom here (although when I was a kid my tastes ran more to his distant cousin, Norman Greenbaum), but I have to disagree with you just a bit. What your child may or may not say about you is not the measure you are looking for.

    Children may still be working out the ramifications of their own childhood. They can looking to identify with someone they perceive as more powerful, or they may be looking to establish their own identity by rejecting what they consider undue influence. Essentially it is still too early to say, and can easily be faked. It is, after all, just words.

    I would say the true measure of how good a job you have done and how well accepted your teaching and guidance has been is how your own children raise their children. That kind of evidence can’t be faked.

  4. Dad – guess the few times I’ve overheard my own sons talk to their friends, it’s been good stuff (and no, they didn’t know I was there). My sons and I have always (well, almost always) had a great relationship and I hope they can pass that on to their children when that time comes. I Definitely agree with your last paragraph.

  5. Well written Jon. I’m not a writer but if I could would express the same sentiments. It hits very close to home and I totally agree. The other thing is that with structure and schedule especially for toddlers there is security and more freedom for the parents. You don’t have to be stressed out about naptime and bedtime because you’ve trained them to be predictable. Anyways ….I really like Danielle’s reply above as well. Thanks for the thoughts I always enjoy them.

  6. Marti, I don’t think you have to be there or not there for your kids to be influenced by your presence. I know I am still working out things with my Dad, who passed away fifteen years ago. What I was trying to say was that as we mature, we see what our parents did in a different light. We can’t know what it felt like for them until we get to where they were.

    Of course I would like my kids to like me. You know what it is like once you have brought them into the world. You would literally lay down and die for them if that was necessary. But you also know that if you loved what is best for them as well, that there are going to be times that you have do things for and to them things that they are not going to like at the time, and in fact may deeply resent.

    You also know that if you are going to be a man that respects the things of God above the things of this world, that there will be times that you have to put God before your children, and depending on their needs at that point in their lives, they may not like or agree with that either.

    To always by your children’s hero, or your children’s friend, means that you have probably compromised on both of those things in your life. In order to remain popular with your children, you have in fact been willing to do things that in the long run will not be good for them or their view of the importance of God to living a life that is meaningful.

    I am using “you” as a generic pronoun here. I don’t mean you personally, and I am certainly not judging you or anyone else that has undertaken the difficult task of being a godly father in an essentially godless culture. I am just reflecting on my own journey now that I am a grandfather.

    Given our own limitations, our own sin nature and our propensity to make mistakes in such an important area, I’ve always thought it wise to pray that God would bring others alongside my children who can provide other perspectives and help them see the larger picture. You are apparently filling that role, at least in part, in Jon’s life, and I praise and thank God for you.

  7. Oh, but it IS so much more than having your kids “like” you. As a parent, you (the generic “you”) are not meant to be their friend, but it does help if they actually like spending time with you. They are meant to have their OWN friends, and mom (dad too) is meant to be there to guide them, teach them and of course discipline them. I’ve found that over the years, with good leadership (and not just from parents, but also parents of friends, other adult leaders, etc) that relatively little actual “discipline” is needed. As parents, we shouldn’t be afraid to be “backup” for the kids also. So many times, they WANT to be held back from some of their friends’ peer pressures, and actually like it when they can say “mom won’t let me”. And they know that I will back them up on it. Kids are SOOO fantastic and I know that Jon and Nic have 2 great ones. And great kids come from great parents.

  8. Thank you. Sorry about the gender confusion. Marti is one of those names, you know (that’s my excuse and I am sticking with it). You are right about kids needing, and sometimes even wanting to be held back.

    Pam and I used to play ‘good cop, bad cop’ with our kids sometimes to try and figure out which way the kids needed us to go on a particular decision. After feeling it out for a while in discussion with the kids, either the ‘good cop’ or the ‘bad cop’ would win the ‘argument’ depending on what our kids needed at the time.

    Pam was pretty good about taking on the ‘bad cop’ role every once in a while to give me a break, although I always felt it was more my responsibilty as the Dad to play the heavy. Gender expectations y’know.

  9. I like the “good cop, bad cop” idea. I’ll have to remember that when the grandkids start appearing.
    And don’t worry about the “Marti” thing. I used to really enjoy it when I’d actually start talking with someone on the phone. The dramatic pause on their end was great!

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