Big congrats to fellow Christian blogger, Rachel Held Evans, and her husband for the arrival of their baby boy. Rachel has helped me and so many others put words to our faith evolution, and as she becomes a mother, I am selfishly hopeful she will share some of her reflections on parenting with shifting faith. As I was brainstorming potential titles for my book on Raising Children unFundamentalist, I jokingly suggested, “Searching for Sunday School.” I only hope I can write a book with as much grace and beauty as she writes hers.
Towards the end of her pregnancy, Rachel did pen a blog post publicly announcing her one resolution as a new mother, and that is to never call herself a bad mom. It was a great post and ever since reading it, I have become more aware of catching myself mid-phrase as the words are leaving my lips. I confess I have failed once, when my daughter came out in frigid weather dressed in pants that are hiked almost to her knees because I haven’t yet updated her wardrobe. (She is going through a rapid growth spurt, okay?)
Today, I want to write a corollary blog post to Rachel and every other parent out there. I want to assure you that not only are you not a bad mom, you are not raising bad kids.
Sometimes parents, especially after an ear-piercing toddler tantrum or some serious pre-teen sass, we avoid eye contact and mutter with embarrassment to other parents who witnessed the debacle, “I’ll just be glad if this kid doesn’t end up in prison,” or some similar disparaging remark about our children. This is partly to fill up the awkward social space after such an event, but partly, if we are honest with ourselves, because it is a reflection of our fears. As we plainly see that there exist dysfunctional adults in our society, and have in moments considered that even Hitler had a mother, it is hard to avoid frightfully imagining our children going down a dark path.
Christian parents, especially, have been taught that even before a child is born, he is a sinner. We are inclined to see evidence of any misbehavior as proof of our sinful nature, one that needs strict discipline in order to uproot the evil from our children’s core. This has resulted in devastating consequences, both in harm to children’s development, self esteem, and inability to trust a loving God, as well as spiritually manipulating Christian parents to ignore their intuition to care for and cherish our children’s unique needs.
I do not believe any child is evil. This is why I find harsh juvenile sentencing reprehensible. Children have immense capability for reparation, and any dysfunction almost always finds a source in another societal ill (i.e. poverty). And even when accountability needs to be applied to minors, are we not people who believe in the beauty of every single human being made in the image of a good God? Even kids who end up in prison are not “bad kids.”
Rachel wants to strike, “I’m a bad mom” from her lexicon, and I want to encourage us all to stop declaring any kids as bad kids. Our kids are good and beautiful and wildly different. Our cultures have unfortunately learned to appreciate some personalities more than others. American culture prizes a kid who is outgoing, independent, and expressive. In my Chinese culture, kids who are obedient and respectful are praised. But the truth is, all kids are good and worthy of equal value—this ought to be our Christian conviction. You only need to spend enough time genuinely listening to their hearts to discover what makes each child uniquely wonderful. I am adamant about this.
However, our kids will struggle. This is what makes parenting such a gut-wrenching vocation. Little babies will have tiny gassy pains in their tummies and not yet have words to tell us. Toddlers wired to imitate adult movements will become frustrated when their developing motor skills fail them. Pre-school kids will have to learn to share as they expand their world from doting parents to other similar-sized creatures who shockingly seem to also want the same toys. And don’t get me started on playground bullying and pre-teen angst and hormonal friendship woes that comprise the tumultuous ride of growing up.
In this process they will make mistakes, sometimes extremely grave ones. They will hit, gossip, steal, have sex before they’re ready, and lie. Far beyond infancy, they will still cry tears of hot shame and pain. They will blame others and say they hate us. They will be confused, afraid, angry, disappointed, and resentful. But none of this indicates you have raised bad kids, just that you’ve birthed a vulnerable human being into a world with strife.
Your kids are good. So, so good. They are working around the clock to adjust to the shock of being on this planet, dealing with unpredictable challenges and rising to every occasion with the set of tools given to them. They are doing their best and so are you. For every parental moment of despair, we have multiple moments of pure love erupting from the depths of our hearts as we consider the wonders of our children. Their whimsy and imagination will never cease to delight those who draw near. Their unadulterated joy and delight in the simplest things remind us of the innocence of our own beginnings of life. And their resilience and ability to express remorse and repair their wounds holds witness to astounding hope. Redemption is always possible.
There are no bad kids, only kids who can experience grace.
To Rachel, congratulations again, and may you experience life anew through the gift of your little one whom God made. And God has said and will say again, he is good.