Monday, September 7, 2009

Marriage Monday: Myth 2:Nurturing Your Children Is Natural and Instinctive

Hey gang!

It’s Labor Day here in America and people are still working. It’s also the time for the Jerry Lewis Labor Day MDA Telethon. I don’t know exactly how long it’s been around, but it’s been long enough that I remember it as a child. I saw firefighters out this weekend collecting money in their boots. I’m never sure why, but firefighters are good donators to causes like this. They are able to collect ungodly amounts of money to give to causes. They are good at it.

Anyhow, we are also starting another week and it’s time for another Marriage Monday. We are still in our book study of Parenting Is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. Last week, we debunked the myth that having children makes you happy and fulfilled. This week, we take a shot at another myth, that nurturing children is natural and instinctive.

I can already tell you that as a stay at home dad that the nurturing process is anything but natural and instinctive. As a guy, the so called “normal” role that I am supposed to fill is the hunter-gatherer. “Me go get dinner. Me kill dinner. Me grill dinner. We eat.” OK, it’s not caveman simple, is it? While a lot of what you read from Leslie will be from the female perspective, I’ll offer a male perspective. I think that more and more guys are now in the home because of a variety of situations and while we love our children and can take care of them, many believe that we are at a natural disadvantage. The disadvantage may not be as much as you think.

Leslie begins talking about this myth by relating a story of one of her sons having a rambunctious streak jumping all over the furniture and her husband disciplining him by sending him to his room. She attempts to be the peacemaker by going to his room and complimenting him on the good he had done on this day. I’ll say here that it is a normal ritual for her to go in and pray with her kids before bed, so her coming in is normal in the daily process.

However, during this time, her son reminded her of a purchase she had made that day that he did not agree with. One of his older brothers also chimed into this debate. Each side defended their point of view and she did not feel like praying with her son at this point. She knew she should, but the attitudes changed her heart and she didn’t want to pray any longer.

As consistent as we try to be with our children, sometimes our children frustrate us to a point that we no longer “feel” like doing what we should. If you’ve been a parent for any amount of time, this type of argument has happened to you at least once.

Leslie allows us to remember next how it all began. The memories of that first day bringing our new baby home. Most of feel terrified of messing them up, but we also feel an awesome love toward the child because they were yours. And you belonged to them. She also relates that not all people feel this way. Some parents build the love through bonding time through the course of experience with the child.

I admit that I had this feeling with my son, James. When my daughter Megan came home from the hospital, I was in the off-season of tax preparation and spent all of my time at home with her. She is truly daddy’s girl and it started from day one. I spent most of my time with her and she was the precious baby girl. My son on the other hand was born in January and I was working like a crazy person at this point and really didn’t get to enjoy his early days in the house as much as I had with Megan. Once I came home and following gall bladder surgery, we had the time to spend together like Megan and I had and my love developed with James. He is my little buddy and we often hang together because we are the men of the house.

While Leslie tells of the defiant first “No!” of her daughter in the book, I will share a slightly comical view of my youngest daughter Maggie. Maggie has had problems with her hearing because of drainage in her ears. She has had two tube surgeries to correct this problem, but she has not fully developed a vocabulary, Her “no” is not a screaming or defiant yell, but a shaking of her head. There are times when she wakes up at night and the last thing I really want to do is sit up with her. So I look at her and ask if she is ready to go back to bed. She normally doesn’t say anything and just lays with her head on my shoulder. But if I start to move to get up, that head begins to shake back and forth. There is no way I am taking her to bed at that point.

One night, my wife thought it would be funny to ask other questions as I was walking her toward bed. “Do you really want to go to bed?”, “Does daddy love chocolate?”, “Do the Pirates stand a chance of ever having a winning season?”, “Is Obama a good president?” You get the idea. Yeah, it’s a good thing my wife is funny, huh?

Leslie then makes a great comment. “Once your little one develops a steel will, a vocabulary, and an elevated sense of her place in the world, loving that child can become an Olympic sport.” I shudder to think about those coming days. But she closes the section asking a question. Is it us? Is it them? The answer is that it is everyone because of the sin nature that we are all born with. Thanks a lot, Adam and Eve.

So then, as Leslie asks in the book, “Why Is It So Hard to Love?”

She gives us the Biblical argument because of our sin nature with scripture that tells us that we all fall short because of sin. Even after we are saved, we still lean toward leaning on ourselves rather than God to help us. However, we still have an image of how we are “supposed” to act toward our children. Leslie explains it this way, “Yet, somehow, against the backdrop of Scripture and the reality of life, we have woven images of parental love--especially mother-love--that look like a skip through a lovely park. Our culture depicts a ‘good mother’ as an angel in the house who is naturally sweet, self-denying, and eternally loving.”

I think of women like Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show or Tess from Touched By An Angel. I used to have a college professor named Dr. Judy Byers. She seemed like the happiest woman in the world. Always smiling, always kind and loving. It seemed that there was no one that would get her upset. She was the even keel in the rowboat of life. The third class that I took with Dr. Byers had a student named David Tucker. David was a nice guy, but had a lot, I mean a lot, of annoying personality quirks. After 16 weeks of being patient and what I assume to be a lot of tongue biting, Dr. Byers had reached her blowing point with dear old Dave during the final. He asked at least a dozen irritating questions and after the last one, she just look at him and goes, “Just work on your exam.” She had that look that her skull was about to crack and she was going to shoot him with lasers. The whole class broke up into laughter.

Leslie opens the next section telling of love that goes against our instincts with biblical stories that show us that this love is never easy. Hannah gives up Nathan, her only child to be a Nazarite. Moses is shipped off in a basket and eventually lands with Pharaoh’s daughter in Egypt, David dealt with a son wanting to kill him in Absalom. Leslie then adds the stories of John the Baptist and Jesus. She tells us that nearly every story of love in both testaments of the Bible are more jolting, radical, and unsettling than easy or natural.

Then we are given three verses of scripture from the NASB.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. (John 12:24-25)

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

The point here is that we are to die to our own desires. Does that mean that the only way to be a good parent is to be miserable and make sure our kids are happy? No. I think quite the opposite. God wants us to understand that by nurturing the needs of our kids that we will see a higher desire come from it, satisfaction of something well done. But we do have to say goodbye to always thinking self first.

Leslie then takes us to the question of if it is possible to love perfectly with being the imperfect beings that we are. She relates the story of the rich man that wanted to know what it took to follow to inherit eternal life (Mark 10). Jesus told him to sell all he owned and follow Him. Unfortunately, the rich man loved his stuff more than doing what he needed to do for eternal life.

Jesus then told his disciples that it isn’t easy to enter the kingdom of God. But he gave us hope with verse 27, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” We can’t be perfect in love on our own. We need help. That help comes from God. The best part is that you aren’t the only one struggling with this. All of us do. That is comforting, maybe not at the moment that it’s happening, but in retrospect. When we take the breath to think about our decisions, there is comfort from God. We love others because we are first loved by a holy, perfect God.

The great part is that we get more help than God, the Father. Jesus explains in John 14 that we also will receive the Holy Spirit. However, there is more. God gave us the Bible to learn from. We are to read the manual, not just for us, but to teach God’s desires and commands to others. The next thing that we need to do with God’s Word is keep it in our hearts and minds. I’ll expound a little further by giving you all of Phillippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” When words of discouragement and wrong thought entire the mind, kick them out with God’s holy Word!

The last part of the chapter focuses on what love costs us. When we choose to do right, there is a cost involved. Leslie first relates a story from the movie Marvin’s Room, where two estranged sisters are reunited after 20 years after the single sister finds that she is dying of cancer. The line from the single sister that sets the tone of love is this: “I want to measure love not by what I receive, but by the orientation of my own heart and my actions toward others.”

I love to receive love. But it’s so much more fun to give. The best Christmas present I ever gave was in 2000 at a Christmas party that I was a part of at SunTrust Bank’s call center. I work with a lady named Inneabelle and she, along with her husband Roberto, were about to give birth to their first child. I found a little outfit for the girl and gave that to her. I didn’t think it was a huge deal when I picked it out. However, when she opened the outfit, she was the happiest mom-to-be I’d ever seen. I had no idea it was the first outfit for the child that anyone had purchased. It meant so much that I had thought of her unborn child.

The last story that Leslie shares is of a couple that is taking care of their son after he served in Iraq and was severely injured. By severely injured, I mean that his injuries were so serious that he was blind, quadriplegic and severely brain damaged. The parents both quit their jobs to take care of him. They admitted the hardship, but they have found such times of joy being with him. They love him. He is their son. Most of us will never be called to sacrificially take care of our children in this way, but all of us can work to love our children to their needs.

I love you guys!
Frank

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