Parenting as My Bow Is Bent
I read a lot of parenting articles. I don’t mean to. But someone posts this, I come across that, and suddenly I feel overwhelmed at all the things I’m supposed to do or not do. Be or not be. Threats or promises like, “If you do this, your child will turn out like X” (followed by an article with the exact opposite advice).
Because I’m a rule follower and want to do things the “right” way, it can feel like I’m drowning in a sea of advice I don’t know how to take. But I’m beginning to develop my own parenting philosophy, even though my eldest is not even four: I can only be the best parent that I was made to be. I can’t be every good parent out there. In the same way, my child can only be the best child she was made to be. She can’t be like every other child out there.
The only parenting advice my father-in-law has ever given me is this: Know your child. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train your child in the way he should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” It can sound rather unyielding. But the word for “way” is the same word in Hebrew that is used to refer to how a bow is bent. The particular way a bow bends determines the direction in which an arrow is shot. So inherent in this admonition of training your child is the idea of doing it in accordance with the way she or he is individually designed.
This is definitely true of my first daughter who is talented enough to have defied most parenting methods in her first three lovely years of life. What works with some of her friends just doesn’t work with her. (And what hasn’t worked with her, does work with her sister.) So in my nurture of Alex, I keep in mind how God individually designed her to interact with the world.
I’m beginning to wonder if we should extend this idea to ourselves: Know yourself; parent as your bow is bent. There are some universal truths when it comes to parenting that the Bible has revealed to us: we should not be quick to anger, we should be kind, we should not provoke our children. But when it comes to the expression of our parenting, our individual strengths and weaknesses invariably shape it.
In The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis suggested that as we grow more and more like Christ we do not become more and more homogenous, as if all the color were slowing draining out of us. Rather, as we become more and more like Christ, we become more and more different from one another as our individuality begins to shine in the way it was designed to.
This is applicable to parenting. While we are all striving to become more like one Center – Christ – that does not mean that we will all become like one another as parents, like little Stepford Moms and Dads.
I have one friend who has a very no-nonsense personality; it is one of her strengths. This has naturally flowed into her parenting style; she takes a firm approach and advocates it to others. I have another friend who has a very empathetic personality; it is one of her strengths. This has naturally flowed into a softer parenting style, which she also advocates. This leads me to wonder, how much of our advancement of one parenting technique over another is really just our own confirmation bias, justifying the way we already are? And how much point is there in trying to convince parent A they should be like parent B, when it goes so completely against their grain?
I have several friends who are teachers and who are wonderful at teaching their children formal things like how to read and write. Their preschoolers write and read well beyond their age. I have other friends who are great at letting their children be part of a diversity of fun experiences, like camps and music classes.
I look at them and I feel like I should be like those parents who are doing good things for their kids. But at the same time I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I know that I crumple rather than thrive when trying to be like them. I also know that my child wouldn’t react to these things in the same way as some children might.
But I also know that I’m great at encouraging imagination in my daughter. I know that we are enveloping her in a world of good stories. I like practicing our creativity by making paper dresses with my daughter. Usually when I look at crafts, I get the cold sweats. But when I read an article about a woman who made paper dresses with her 4-year-old, I thought, “That looks so fun, I’d love to do that,” and so we do. But I certainly don’t expect anyone else to want to do it, or feel that they aren’t creative enough if they don’t!
I think perhaps we should stop worrying about being the parent that gives us the cold sweats and focus more on doing the types of things as a parent that get us excited. Of course, as parents, we will always have to do things we don’t love. I don’t love making lunch for my daughters every day, but I still do it. But I also am learning that I need to reach out and grab hold of those things that I love. Those are my shining moments that my daughters will remember and love. No, my daughter doesn’t yet know the alphabet, but she can write a meaningful love song. It’s who I am, and it’s who she is, and that’s OK. It’s not better or worse than how others are. It’s just us, and when I get out of the way enough to take hold of it, it’s great.
Often parenting articles act as if parents (let alone children) are tabula rasa, blank slates who can learn and use any parenting technique. But our worldview, personality and temperament make a huge impact on how we interact with our children. Rather than reading parenting article after parenting article promoting various paradigms that we need to strive for, even against our nature, we ought to keep our eyes on Jesus who will shape us to be the parent God designed us to be.