Dear Parents: Let Them Eat Dirt!

I have said several times over the years that parenting is a great insight into the mind of God and to how He feels most of the time. It has never been an easy thing to raise children, but the reality is that the joys, graces, and the struggles of being a parent are all opportunities to deepen our appreciation for God’s own fatherly care for us, and to better understand that we are indeed children under His care.

How do you think God feels when we sin? Very much the same way that parents feel as they watch their kids walk right off the pathway of smart choices, even when they’ve been warned several times not to. How does God feel when we do good? Like parents do when your kids run up to you and joyfully give you a hug.

To that end, it is good to ponder if we ourselves parent in the same way that God parents since he is in fact the model parent. Thousands of pages are published every year on how to raise kids well, but, rarely do I see anyone try to adopt God’s parenting techniques. And He has several brilliant ones at his disposal to ensure that we all turn out as well as we possibly can.

I will mention one divine parenting tip that I think all moms, dads, and grandparents seriously need to ponder today: let your kids experience the grace of suffering. I realize what I am suggesting is profoundly unpopular, but, hear me out.

We have so few real life and death situations to worry about in our culture anymore, even with terrorist attacks, etc, that we have now turned most of our collective energies to straining out every possible bad influence on our children, to the point where our kids do not experience the transforming power of pain.

And we do it because we are absolutely convinced that if we just tinker with our kids, and mold them, and shield them enough; if we give them all the right foods, put them in all the right activities, offer all the best therapy, drench them in affirmation, and win every one of their fights for them that they are going to grow up perfect.

But that is crazy. They just grow up entitled and bored. And, they grow up full of fear of the unknown and any sort of suffering to the point where if all of their circumstances and surroundings are not carefully crafted to their every taste and preference, then they just tune-out.

This is all very well-intentioned, to be sure.  Who sets out to be a bad parent on purpose?  No one who is sane, anyway.  Who would not want the best for their kids?  Any good parent does, yes.  But even good parents get caught up in the cultural swings and socially constructed ideas of the day. And the fact is that these days we are raising, intentionally or not, a generation of weak and faithless children.

In many ways children grow up today not needing God.  God is only found when our security bubbles pop. That means that sometimes we have to let the bubbles we have constructed around our kids pop.

A lot of parenting today (again, unintentionally I think) conveys a profound lack of faith in two areas: one is any faith in our children to figure things out for themselves and adapt. The second is a lack of trust in God who does in fact allow life to work out, especially when things do not go according to our plans.

Our kids will actually be fine if they do not get into college. Our kids will be fine if they eat dirt. God will sort it out if in fact they contract a life-threatening disease, or marry the wrong person, or do not make the basketball team. Don’t we trust Our Father’s designs of providence?

Nope. And us anxious parents are raising a whole crop of anxious kids as a result.

God respects our freedom and allows us all to learn things the hard way most of the time. He does not shield us from necessary pain and hardship. He will force us to go without at times. He does ask us to work. And He does all of that while still showering us with gift upon gift of love and mercy as any good parent would do. His love is unconditional, but we never learn this truth if we do not have the freedom to fail.  Can parents adopt the same approach?   Indeed they can.

In many respects, God’s parenting style is “hands off.” We would be wise to adopt a little more of His approach. But we will only do that if we learn to trust Him as the children of His that all of us really are.

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About Father Nathan Reesman

Father Reesman is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He is the Shared Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, and also of Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, both in West Bend, Wisconsin.
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