Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Person, Not a Project

As we stood talking about our children and the ins-and-outs of parenting, fellow church member, Weisan Hui, made a profound statement: "We have to remember to view each one as a person, not a project."

How can that be profound?  I mean, c'mon!  Could there be any more self-evident statement? And yet, it cut me to the quick.  A project.  Unfortunately, that all too accurately characterizes much of my approach to parenting my boys when they were little.  I must say, in my own defense, that their individuality, their personalities and their creation as Imagers of God, did not ENTIRELY escape me...and were even important to me on some level.  

But truth be told, the majority of my decisions were less about relationship and more about accomplishing something.  Afterall, I am a task-oriented person.  Show me what the outcome needs to be and I will dedicate myself to working intensely to bring it about!  How bad can that be when the things I hoped to accomplish as a mom were Good Things?!  I wanted my boys to love God, to serve His people, to be a blessing to others, to be hard workers, and to be lights in the community.  Those are noble goals and righteous desires, right?

But underneath all of my efforts to train them in these ways, was a desire to successfully conquer this project of parenting and produce a satisfactory product...i.e. a particular kind of child/person. 

It is really difficult for me to confess that reality, because I was very unaware at the time that I was approaching parenting more as a project than a relationship.  In my head and heart, what I truly desired was for my children to love God and love their neighbors, and I would have denied that they were a project for me.  But looking back on my actions and reactions - i.e. my emotions and behavior - I must admit they reveal that I wanted to bring those things about in a prescribed manner which was more about a measurable outcome than personal relationship.  I recognize this now because I can see that when my approach didn't produce the RESULTS I wanted, I was frustrated, confused and discouraged.

I can only thank God that He uses even our most distorted efforts, and that He also sees fit to withhold the desired outcomes along the way, forcing us to face the flaws and sins that have motivated us.

I encourage you to take some time and think about how you might parent differently if your primary desire were to understand your child and his unique make-up as an Imager of God, rather than to fit him into a mold.

I feel like I have to make a qualification here!  I am not trying to say that all methodologies are bunk, or that requiring your child to do things that may not "fit" his personality is wrong.  I am mostly talking about examining the driving forces behind the ways we parent. 

We need to ask ourselves:

Am I doing this solely to make my life easier and fit the pattern I want it to fit? 

Am I doing this in order to present a model family so that others judge me as a good and successful parent?

Am I doing this because it is what others expect?

Am I doing this to gain leverage over my life and children and future?
(Btw, there is SOME merit in each of those approaches!  Sometimes it is necessary for the efficient function of the home and for the parents' sanity, to require things that simplify the parents' lives!  It can be helpful to ascertain what others think of our parenting...we can often gain wisdom from their objective perspective!  Sometimes doing what others expect, can be an act of sacrificial love that benefits and encourages them!  Etc.)

The overall question is, when I require obedience from my children in particular incidents and in particular ways, WHY am I doing it?  Am I parenting as a task that must produce a certain kind of child? I doing this for the nurture of this child and his relationship to God, to others, to me and to the rest of the world?  Am I seeking to know, understand, shape, guide and guard a unique individual with unique gifts, unique perspectives on life, unique needs and desires, so that he becomes all that God intended him to be? 

I know one thing.  Throughout the years, God has moved me toward relationship and away from the project mentality, but He has largely done it through frustrating my efforts and disappointing my expectations!  When my children fail to conform to my prescribed plan for them, I am forced to step back and examine myself and my boys, and then I begin to grasp the necessity of knowing them and parenting each according to his bent.

One final thought: This conversation with Weisan took place over a year ago, but his statement has continued to work on me.  We are all prone to forget how powerful our words are, and how profoundly we can impact one another when we take the time to engage one another even in brief and simple conversations!

Y'all have a good day now.


Susan said...

This is a great post. I tend to treat my children like projects as well. I don't like being treated like someone's project ....why would I treat my children that way.
Sometimes I think I even treat myself this way! I'm glad God made us for relationship with Him and we aren't His "grand project."

Susan said...

Also, I like your ending reminder that our words do impact others!

Lori Shaffer said...

Susan, as I was writing this, I wondered how very difficult it must be to parent LOTS of children with a view to relationship! It requires so much more of us than a project approach! God bless you as you continue to love and nurture all of yours!

Mrs. Woodward said... very true.

Lori Shaffer said...

Mrs. Woodward?? :-)

Thanks for stopping by!

Nelson said...

I love this! So much truth here.

s g said...

Thank you for this post. I often find that I am bent on controlling instead of showing Jesus.

~Susan G.

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