Putting Performance Ahead of the Person (Parenting Pitfall)

Lest you fall into the same errors we have as parents, let me divulge to you my latest 'aha' moment in parenting.  I call it: What You Do Matters More than Who You Are.  (Big lie, by the way).  I like to think I communicate grace, acceptance, mercy, kindness and love to my kids.  These sound like Utopian ideals - and would be easily applied if I were supplied with Utopian kid material (which, though it seems close at times, is far from the case).

It's tricky - this issue of 'what-our-kids-do'.  Because in fact, we are supposed to - commanded to - tell our kids what to do and how to behave.  This is what molding and shaping and nurturing them is kind of about: getting them to do the things that civilized society expects, to a certain degree.  How do we get the results we want without becoming a nag, nuisance, irritation, grit-under-their-skin?  When I find that answer I'll blog it, but until then, let me just stick with this one thing: putting performance above the child - his inherent worth and value.

I get that we want the best for our kids, so we want them to behave well.  We love them, so we teach them to do what is right.  The matter isn't so much that we have expectations and instructions for them - that's all well and good.  The matter (problem, parenting pitfall) is when through such instruction we communicate to our children that they as people, (with hearts, souls, feelings, ideas, value, worth, uniqueness) are only valued when they DO as we like, expect or ask of them.  When my child senses that he as a person is second to his performance, it is a BIG RED FLAG.  For me, it is a wake-up call to change course - to re-evaluate, to consider my language, interactions and expressions to my child.

So far my kids haven't been great at communicating openly how they feel about these things.  Some kids are more verbal and in-tune with their own emotions.  Since I don't have much experience with that, I think it must be ideal (grass-is-greener-syndrome) and helpful to be able to hear directly what they think and feel.  For those who are more reserved I daresay it's okay to sit them down at times and point-blank ask: "Have these recent conversations (insert a few examples here) made you feel like your worth is conditioned upon how you measure up to what we ask of you?"  I dare you: ask your child this question and see where it leads.

I struggled with this issue a lot - and still do at times in my understanding of God as my Father.  When I started to peek into theology and wonder at what God is like, I was surprised at what I discovered.  So many verses talk about God being a Rock, and about our footing being sure, and about the one who trusts in Him will not be shaken.  What, to me, is this idea of a Rock, of being secure - not shaken?  As I began to understand how God loves me, I recognized that this aspect of His being is for me a sure foundation.  His love, expressed in Christ, is an anchor for my soul.

You see, I often fail those around me when I ask them to meet expectations before I will love them.  I believe in unconditionally loving my kids, but too often they come away from me sensing something other than that.  And that is pretty much modus operandi for most of the world.  It was in Jesus' day.  Religious leaders went around putting others under the microscope of their judgement.  They had no room for things like grace, love, mercy (and I daresay, joy!)  Theirs was entirely a behavioural construct: You do the things we say the way we like and we will approve of you.  You can earn your acceptance.  And Jesus stepped onto the scene and discarded that thinking, which drew their ire and led Him all the way to the cross.

He blazed a trail contrary to the earned-acceptance model of the day.  And the world has never been the same since.  He called it the Kingdom of God.  And He told us it was within us, if we follow Him.  Instead of:

             1. What You Do    (coming before)
             2.  Who You Are

He flipped it and made it:

       1.  Who You Are (His deeply loved child, His creation, His joy) - supercedes
       2.  What You Do

He didn't waive the importance of living righteously - but He recognized that how we live flows from who we are and if we're posturing, insecure, afraid, and unaccepted our behaviour will be fraught with exhaustion and lifelessness.  Following that model may produce some outward gain, but inside there will be lifeless despair.  Can anyone relate to that?

If I somehow communicate to my child that what he does (when and how and such) matters more to me than who he is as a child of God, I have confused the truth of the Gospel and complicated his view of God.  (By confusing the Gospel, I mean that by showing them their acceptance is conditioned on their behaviour I risk them thinking that this is how God views them - and the Gospel is precisely the opposite: because you can't perform to perfection, and because God made you and loves you and redeemed you, you are completely loved, welcomed and affirmed as His worthy creation - based entirely on HIS work, and not yours).

In Christ the highest performance requirements are met.  And if I am in Christ, I am fully accepted and loved, even when how and when and what I do isn't as great as anyone thinks it should be.  Sadly, I think I have sometimes made too much of even things that aren't even remotely sin issues.  Sure, as soon as I ask my child (or tell him) what to do, if they disobey it then becomes sin (I suppose at some level).  But why do I complicate life by asking them to do so many nit-picky things the way I want?  Do I respect them as individuals with thoughts and feelings and ideas when I ask these things of them?  Do they know why I'm asking?  Why it's important to me?

Lately, because I have such stellar human material in my children (ha ha), I have taken to actually asking them politely if they can do such-and-such, but often giving them an out - an, "It's okay to say no this time."  (I haven't tried this at all on the younger ones, mind you :) - just 9 yrs and above).  And often they are willing to comply because I am aiming to respect them as persons.  Of course this won't work if your kid is belligerent, defiant and rebellious.  So, don't take this as some kind of sloppy parenting advice (use your noggin' in other words).

But I know I am just meandering my way through this and discovering new insights all the time.  Maybe you have some good ideas of how to affirm our kids - respecting them as uniquely wonderful individuals - while at the same time instructing them as to how we (and God) want them to live.

I'll look forward to your comments!


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