“Take a small child on your knee. Respect him. Do not see him as something to prune, form or mold. This is an individual who thinks, acts, and feels. He is a separate human being, whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become…look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours.”
– Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake
This is one of my all time favorite quotes. I haunts me. I think of it often as life goes by. “We cannot own him. He is not ours…”
Since I’ve read the whole book (quoted above), I know that she doesn’t expect us to check our duty as parents at the door, and let the child do as he pleases.
Contrary to popular parenting strategies, letting children do whatever they please is not the way to treat children as people.
There is a tension here!
We must take our responsibility seriously as parents, and not be slackers. At the same time, we must give children the freedom to grow into the people God created them to be.
This is difficult, and takes time to understand our job and then dedication to actually do it!
We may want to blow right past this idea since of course, duh. Children are people.
But do we treat them like it?
When we choose to treat a child as a person, we begin to notice ways in which we are not loving them as God has loved us.
We see that maybe we are not treating them as we would like to be treated. This is sobering.
When dealing with children, we tend to treat them as if we are superior, they are inferior…because of course we are the adults. Do we respect the fact that God has given them a mind to use? A conscience for discerning truth? (That little conscience is often in better working order than our own hardened conscience.)
We have been given a trust. For however long God sees fit to allow us to care for His precious children. It is up to us to use our authority well and wisely. To not overstep.
When I began to read the writings of Charlotte Mason, I was impressed by her caution for parents. She warned us not to misuse our influence and authority over our children by disregarding them as people.
Charlotte reminds us that true sacrificial authority is another way that we show love to our children. She recommends that parents continuously ask themselves the question that was “presumptuously put to our Lord”…
“Who gave [you] this authority?”
And it is true. When I ask myself that question, the answer holds me accountable.
We do not own our children. We cannot make our children follow our own goals for their life. We must surrender them to God. But we can pray for them, live life with them, and teach them in such a way as to prepare them for whatever God asks of them.
So how does this look in real life?
Let’s take the small example of how we speak about our children.
What if we were to talk about our children to others in exactly the same way we would want others (including our children) to talk about us?
So…if we would rather not have our faults paraded around for others to gawk, whisper or laugh at, then we should give that same respect to our children.*
To be honest, this cuts out a wide chunk of good conversation material. Especially if we’re used to talking about our children’s flaws, personal challenges and character. We might find ourselves with not much to talk about.
But if we truly desire to treat children as real people who have just as much right to be respected as anyone else, we will make the effort not to gossip about them and their shortcomings.
One of the challenges to this way of life is that we might appear to be oblivious to our children’s faults. These days it is so common to share their misbehavior on Facebook, in blogs, and in our many conversations, that it becomes suspicious if we aren’t sharing details about their failings!
We want to prove that we know our kids aren’t perfect…then we want to go into detail about how we know that.
Let’s stop that. Let’s stop offending the children.
Anyone who has children already knows that children aren’t perfect. And neither are we.
If we really can’t think of anything to replace stories about our children’s faults, let’s just start telling about our own faults. (!) There should be plenty of good material there.
“It may surprise parents…to discover a code of education in the Gospels expressly laid down by Christ. It is summed up by three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children.
‘Take heed that ye offend not – despise not – hinder not – one of these little ones’.
When separately examined, [these] appear to me to cover all the help we can give the children and all the harm we can save them from.”
*Of course there are certain situations when we need to go to a trusted person for wise counsel for handling a situation with our child. That is not what I am referring to here.