A little boy, about 7, dashes out of his house, spaghetti sauce smeared across his chin and totally ignoring the exasperated pleas of his mother to let her wipe his face. He’s finished with his Cavatelli and meatballs, the only meal he’s been remotely willing to eat for a year, and now it’s time to play. There will be no stopping him. She resigns herself to a sigh and a smile, and watches him dart down the street after the neighbor boy. There’s always bath time. Tomorrow, she will let him eat the same cereal he’s eaten for years on end, and she will never give him a curfew. He does all kind of crazy things, and she scolds him, but doesn’t take it personally. That’s just who he is.
That little boy grew up without many rules, and a lot of sighs of resignation from his parents. Scold him, maybe, but he was who he was. Nobody can change that. He became a man with an unshakable sense of self, immense passion, business drive, and confidence. He wouldn’t let anyone take advantage of him, but neither would he take advantage of anyone else. He carried a deep sense of goodness, and an obligation to integrity. He may not have seen perfection from his parents for they made many mistakes and poor decisions, but he saw commitment and huge hearts, and that was enough. Although he was given freedom to eat only one cereal, or one type of pasta for years on end, a diet many parents would fear would unhealthily spoil him for life, he now eats a self-chosen vegan diet, full of fresh organic fruits and vegetables and whole grains. He is a loving, good and intentional daddy to two kids, and a husband who loves his wife, and has stayed true and steady even through the fury and chaos he encountered from her in these early years of their marriage.
I am that wife, of course. And I, too, eat a self-chosen vegan diet, however I do so with a more antagonistic relationship to food. As I heal, I learn to love my body and feed it accordingly. But there have been many years of punishing it, and eating like a swinging pendulum, starving here and bingeing there. I have a deep sense of integrity, and enormous sensitivity. I am learning to direct that into compassion for myself and for the world. It is intense and fierce and beautiful….and stained with much pain.
I grew up trying desperately not to feel so much like an outsider, trying to disappear as much as possible and not make waves. I held true to some counter-cultural commitments like virginity and being drug and alcohol free, but literally drowned in guilt and confusion and fear about them. I am only now getting to know myself, as I have intentionally buried her for 27 years, trying not to be bossy, and avoid criticism which felt unbearable.
I did a stellar job of becoming the spitting image of anyone I dated, absorbing their passions as my own, from garage bands and funk and alternative rock to Baptist piety and deer hunting. (The only one of those things which holds any bearing on my true self is perhaps a slight affinity for the Chili Peppers:))
But then I met Kevin. That little boy who ate only Cavatelli with meatballs for a year. And do you know, the first time I met him, I clearly remember the distinct impression that there was no way a guy like him would ever like me. His easy confidence contrasted too sharply with my internal non-identity.
As it turned out, I had recently stumbled upon another shard of my true self- a passion for poverty alleviation and homelessness- and was loosely heading up a weekly outreach to the local homeless men and women. It too, was wrought with my insecurities and lack of self-awareness, but the truth of my heart burned through and was making something REAL happen there. Kevin jumped in to the outreach with us, and somehow had the vision to fall in love with me. 😉
During our year of dating, it was obvious that “this one was different.”
I felt something growing inside me that felt powerful, exciting, passionate. It made sense. I know now that it was ME.
There was something about Kevin that simply did not allow me to be a chameleon. Sure, I did learn things from him, and adopt certain preferences, trying to be likable and not make waves or open myself to criticism. But I could not disappear as I had done so many times before. His truth would not stand for it. He was here for a real woman, and he could smell crap a mile away.
I was growing, but there were still years ahead of us where I would stay stuck in trying to disappear, and then blame him and my world for not meeting my needs. I would seek to use my relationships as escapes from my self. I would look to him to tell me who I was, and then affirm it.
I do, often, wonder exactly how he decided to marry me in that condition. And I can say, honestly, that he has had zero tolerance for it.
But he stayed. And he simply refused to accept anything other than my growth. Despite my ferocious attempts to destroy it at times, that “me” that was growing inside me has continued to blossom, and introduce herself.
Hey, Shannon. Here you are. Aren’t you amazing?
And now that we’ve met, I’ve decided to love her passionately. And as I do, I heal. I don’t need anybody to tell me who I am, or affirm me nearly as often. In fact, most of the rhetoric I’ve learned for handling marriage conflict has become sort of obsolete. Sure, communication help is always a good thing. But so much of what’s out there seems more and more like sugar-coated ways to keep asking for somebody else to tell you you’re okay. For somebody else’s love to keep you afloat. And that’s never, ever going to work. It’s literally like asking somebody to keep you sick. And most of us have made agreements to keep helping each other be sick.
Nobody else needs to love you to make you okay.We talk about needing God’s love, and trying to “make” that enough. That’s actually just turning God into an imaginary “other person” and then trying to feel better because at least HE says you’re okay. At least HE affirms you and values you.
But that’s not going to work either. God does love you. God IS love. It’s just a fact, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are still going to have to stop trying to disappear.
You are still going to have to heal, and stop blaming anyone else, and say hello to yourself, and love her.
You are okay.
And what you are looking for is your freedom. Your truth. Your own heart full of love.
So what I’m saying is….We’ve been getting it all wrong.
We keep peddling the lie that we have to build a fortress of “NO’s” around our kids to keep them from growing up into immature, selfish, demanding, entitled brats. That criticism and constant correction will keep them on the straight and narrow. That they depend on us appropriately fearing their inherent beastliness and beating it out of them in order to grow in to good people.
But let me be clear- That IS a lie.
There are, in fact, very few things that a child will not grow out of on their own, if given the space and freedom to do so.
They are good. And there is, in fact, only one good way to help them hold on to goodness, and that is to BE good in front of them.
(And don’t send me comments about “original sin” or our “sin nature”, because I, too have read the Bible, and it is both foolish and impossible to take away only the conclusion that we are now, because of Adam and Eve, solidly bad people who have no ounce of goodness in us apart from Jesus. Look around at the planet, and know that that is false. And look back at the Bible, and know that that is false. We have both. We are capable of both good and evil, and that is true from even before “the Fall” as the Fall itself makes evident. We can choose. But we are made in God’s image, which means that our inherent nature is LOVE ITSELF. But that’s another post altogether.)
So we’ve got to stop zeroing in on all the immaturities. They ARE immature. They’re children.
We’ve got to stop parenting from fear, correcting every little thing and making sure they mind their manners and don’t be selfish and hold in their big feelings and never embarrass us in public.
Because you know what? My parents, (who would and have admitted this themselves) made a valiant and fearful effort to do exactly that. And although it’s probably likely I didn’t embarrass them in public terribly often, I am now still a big person dealing with massive selfishness and a huge temper (plus I don’t always write my thank you notes). And, although I am walking in more and more authenticity, I am now a big person still terribly afraid of doing anything that might embarrass them.
So, if nothing else, we know that controlling, criticism, and constant fear-based correction is NOT what gets rid of selfishness, big tempers, or ensures well-mannered adults.
And, although life is big melting pot of influences and experiences, we can also deduce that “giving in” to picky eaters and letting your kids run wild and messy through the neighborhood does NOT automatically lead to adults who cannot make healthy choices or take care of themselves.
In fact, it’s highly possible that this “giving in” actually makes a loud statement to our children that “your preferences matter. Who YOU are matters. And liking something different from me is not going to make me love you less.”
But this is the opposite of what society keeps believing and telling us. WHY?
Why do we keep telling each other to “control your children” or to use violence and bullying to teach them….not to be a violent bully?
Even the experts are telling us, more and more loudly, that this is NOT GOING TO WORK.
So let’s just stop it, okay?
Let’s just support each other in healing, authenticity, loving our own selves so that we can RELAX a little bit.
So we can allow our children to learn and grow, and trust their maturation process a little bit.
So we can stop seeing them as extensions of ourselves and doing harm to their preciousness by doing everything in our power to stop behavior that reflects badly on us. They are not us. And they are CHILDREN, for crying out loud. And who cares what strangers think of you? Who cares what your friends think even, of your parenting? They can do whatever they want with their own children. Meanwhile, YOU JUST WORRY ABOUT LETTING YOUR KIDS GROW UP FREE.
Free from debilitating shame and self-doubt.
Free from chronic criticism of others and a culture of blame.
Free to discover and know and celebrate their unique selves, for only they can bring to this earth the gifts of who they are.
And they must be allowed to do this immaturely at first. For we are the ones who can crush them most. We are the ones they believe. We are the ones they will trust if we tell them with our lives that appearance is more important than passion.
They will believe us if we tell them they are unacceptable. And they will learn to hide. And the world will be wounded and deprived, a gash cut deep from the place where our child was born to stand.
In closing, I will leave you with a beautiful word that a friend of mine passed on to me from her mentor.
“I believe this is the most important advice i can give you for when you have kids. Remember that every behavior and pattern they go through is a season. Don’t let yourself believe in any season that you are dealing with a fully formed person. If you do, you will get them stuck in that place. Let them fully experience it each time, and it will pass.” -Susan Penny Brown