The Will is a Blessing
My oldest son, Mosiah, is 13 years old (and I'm going to type a manual "pause" in here to reflect the undisclosed amount of time that I sat at my computer and stared at those words in disbelief). Those of you that use Character Badges know that it's designed for children ages 5 – 12 which made Mosiah, just this past October, our family's first Character Badges graduate.
Of course, we knew it was coming. Mosiah had tried to convince us a number of times to let him stay in the system a little while longer, but it was time for him to transition out. I'll admit it was sad to take his charts off the pantry cabinet because Mosiah is one of the main reasons why we created Character Badges in the first place.
Now for a little history...
When Caroline and I were first married there was no question in our minds that we wanted children. Caroline, in particular, would frequently throw out the possibility of having 10 of them. Ah, youth. Even though we knew how difficult giving birth to and raising children could be we didn't really know how difficult giving birth to and raising children could be, (know what I mean?) We've since tempered our expectations on the final tally but the point is, we had a lot to learn.
And, just like many young couples, we were eager to learn it. We sought out all the conservative thinking of the time as it related to having and rearing Godly children. This pursuit wasn't entirely academic though. You see, we thought we already knew where to find the answers and didn't approach the subject with a genuinely open mind.
We gave precedence to authors who rejected, sometimes radically so, conventional parenting techniques. We thought we perceived a number of weaknesses in the methods employed by our own parents in raising us and vowed not to make the same mistakes. Hence, we looked to authors known for their effective assaults against the old parenting norms which, according to them, were responsible for much of the decay in modern society.
But were they assaulting the right structures and from whom were they taking their orders? My answer to that is best reserved for another post, but suffice it to say Caroline and I were drinking deep from the wells of "wisdom" they set before us and were doing our best to implement their teachings in our home.
This brings me back to Mosiah, our dear first born son. How precious he was (and is) to us. I remember weeping for joy the moment he was born and cradling him in my arms moments later as I fervently prayed for the Lord's blessings in his life. What I scarcely understood then, and still do not fully comprehend today, is that parenting is mainly an exercise in getting out of God's way so that he can truly bless your children.
I've obviously gone out of my way not to name the individuals who were allowed to instruct us through books and tapes and talks, but in short much of their teaching centered on "the will" (of a child, that is). What the parenting doctors were telling us was terribly distressing, particularly to us as new parents. It was as if they were standing in the ICU of our lives and pronouncing our son terminally ill.
"He appears healthy now," they seemed to say, "but the sickness is reticent. If you don't treat it soon it's likely he'll never recover." "How soon?" we asked. "Well, many doctors disagree on this, but in our opinion he cannot endure treatment just yet. Wait until the sixth month and commence in earnest." Oh, this issue of the will. We were genuinely convinced that before he could speak his first words our son would be looking for the earliest opportunity to subvert our authority! We were told that it was our job to check him before, in later years, there was nothing we could do about it.
So in those first few months we cooed and cuddled our boy with all the joy common to those who've just welcomed a little cherub faced babe into the world. We stared at him for hours, talked to him in peculiar babbling that mysteriously appears in the presence of babies, and paraded him before all our friends and family. We were normal parents — except for the foreboding.
For all the joy we were experiencing as new parents we knew (or thought we knew) what was just on the horizon — the will. We knew it would manifest itself innocently enough at first and were told our first battles would involve food and sleep. So we waited until we thought we saw the first signs of willfulness and attempted tamp it down. We could hear the advice of the parenting doctors: "The sooner you treat it the better chance you have at conquering it.
Not Going According to Plan
He was very young, probably 7 or 8 months. I remember being in awe of the success stories I'd listened to in tapes and read of in books. It was like some magical formula – do a, b, and c and you'll get instant obedience. So, we did a, b, and c and got . . . major resistance. Undeterred (we were told he would resist at first but not to give in) we did it again and again and again; but instead of seeing the peaceable fruit of submission, over the course of many months our precious little boy only grew in his frustration.
There were all of these arbitrary markers by which we were to measure our success — sits still in church by this age, comes when requested at that age, goes to bed, stays in bed, and falls asleep without complaint when this many months old, and on and on. I don't remember the specific ages anymore and I couldn't care less, but the terribly disturbing thing at the time was that we couldn't get Mosiah to meet any of them — not one!
We felt like complete failures. What's worse, we allowed each successive failure to make us (especially me) bitter toward our son. According to the "experts" he was winning and we couldn't afford to let that happen. What we didn't see was that our preoccupation with his purported rebellious bent wasn't subduing his will, it was actually inflaming it. Something had to change and it had little to do with him.
To be continued...