Lately, my social media outlets have been blasting out links to parenting articles like parenting is the latest fad. You’re doing it all backwards, they say. You’re doing it all wrong. Parenting brings out people’s greatest fears and insecurities. It also teaches us more about ourselves then we care to know. So, that’s how short my fuse is. What exactly does “be slow to anger” mean? I always thought of myself as a patient person, but with kids like these. . . Like marriage, parenting can bring out the worst in us – and the best.
In writing willtravelwithkids I often focus on the benefits a child, even a toddler, receives from traveling and having unusual experiences, eating unusual foods and put in out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. It is understood that this is good for the child developmentally and for a proper worldview. But how does this travel impact my parenting? Does it? Absolutely! My culture has its specific methods and formulas. Cry-it out or co-sleep. Only organic, if you’re a “perfect” parent (which, by the way, precludes low-income families, who can’t afford those luxuries, from being “good” parents). Charts. Check lists. Chores. One sport and one musical instrument. That’s what our culture says. But when you travel and immerse yourself in something completely different, we are forced to admit our pride and ethnocentricity.
Our culture says we must eliminate all possibility of danger (don’t allow your children to walk to a friend’s house two blocks away), injury (don’t climb trees until your are ten-years-old) and sickness (pass the hand sanitizer!). I’ve seen babies learn to crawl in the dust outside their African hut. That’s normal. So maybe it’s okay if my crawler crawls through the mud in the backyard. I’ve seen children walk long distances to school and enjoy every moment of the adventure, relishing the freedom to pick up sticks and smack every tree they pass, just because. “Children are drawn to the things we parents fear: high places, water, wandering away, dangerous sharp tools. Our instinct is to keep them safe by child-proofing their lives,” writes Gross-Loh in a Huffington Post article. She goes on to describe things that other cultures allow in their children that our culture does not condone, like letting children go hungry from time-to-time or allowing, even fueling, frustration. When you put yourself in new cultural situations, it can bring to light shortcomings – and strengths – of our personal parenting preferences. We can learn things we should let go of and some things we need to cling to even more tightly.
But one thing no culture’s parenting formula teaches is that you are not in control. There is no formula. The only hope in parenting is trusting God. I was recently encouraged by a short article written by Dr. Juli Slattery where she warns against books and programs that seem to provide the answers to how we should parent. While the advice may be sound, “this type of thinking runs the danger of promoting a Christian formula – and formulas can result in a prideful approach to parenting and independence from God.” God created culture to express his creativity and give us more numerous ways to worship him. Good insights into parenting can be found in them all, not just our own. In the same way, sin permeates culture, so we must go back to the things we know are true about parenting. Slow to anger. Rich in love. Abounding in mercy. And we should ultimately desire and pray most fervently that our children have a relationship with the living God, not that they sleep through the night in their own bed at three-months-old.