“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” -Dr. Seuss
Sometimes I wonder if we really see our children as people in their own right. We tend to think that because they are our children then what we do with them is simply up to us, just a matter of our personal parenting style. But they are not ours to do with what we please, like a house that we can remodel and decorate, or clothing that we can alter, or anything else that we possess. They are ours only in the sense of who they are in relationship to us, just as my spouse is my spouse – that’s who he is to me. We belong to each other because of our relationship with one another. But belonging to each other doesn’t mean we have control over each other. It means that we have given our hearts and our trust to each other. He is mine to care for, not to control. Our children are no different.
Our children are really our spirit brothers and sisters, fellow children of our Heavenly Father. And we have been given a stewardship and responsibility to them, as some who have come to earth shortly before them, to help them and “show them the ropes,” to lead and guide them on their earthly journey, recognizing that they will have their own unique experiences and lessons to learn. And in the process we are blessed and privileged to forge some of the most deep and intimate and eternal relationships we will ever have. When we see our children (and our relationships with them) that way it changes our perspective and our sense of our responsibility to them.
From birth, our children are individuals, separate from us, with their own thoughts and feelings and preferences. A mother-baby dyad is so intertwined and connected that they are almost one. But what that means is not that we have a right to do whatever we want with them without regard to their feelings or desires, but rather, that we have a gift and responsibility to be attuned to them, to understand them, to respect them as we would ourselves.
So we should get to know them. What are their preferences? Their talents and strengths? Their weaknesses and challenges? How do they think and feel? How do they express themselves? What is their temperament and personality like? And do we respect those things about them? Do we accept them for who they are? Or do we try to change or “fix” them, or mold them into mini replicas of ourselves or someone we think they should be?
Shouldn’t we help them overcome their weaknesses though? Sure, we absolutely should support them in becoming their best selves. But that doesn’t look like “fixing.” It looks like understanding that if they’re acting or expressing themselves inappropriately then it means that they don’t have the right tools to do better, and it looks like showing them those tools and how to use them, until they are able to do it on their own. It looks like patiently guiding and helping. It looks like understanding that “a misbehaving child is a discouraged child” (Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline) and helping them with their underlying needs that are not being met. It looks like connecting and building a deep and abiding relationship with them. It looks like treating them with trust and confidence, understanding that feeling trusted leads to acting and being trustworthy.
“The children of Father in Heaven can do amazing things when they feel trusted.” -Richard G. Scott
One one hand, this is a lot more challenging than controlling our children. But on the other hand, it can be a lot more peaceful to not be constantly fighting and forcing, and it makes life together a lot easier in the long run. I know what I personally need to work on in accepting and guiding my kids – how about you?