I just got back from a three-day camping trip in Yosemite with Caroline’s fourth grade class. It was an exciting adventure into the emerging world of ten-year-olds.
I unpack my backpack and take down the tent with a lot to reflect upon: the intensity of my love for my little girl who is growing up right before my eyes (read the comment of a fourth-grade boy: “Oh, you are Caroline’s dad? Well, did you know that ‘so-and-so’ thinks she is cute and likes her?”), the developing self-possession of a typical 10-year-old as she cultivates close relationships with peers (read: “Dad, I’d rather sleep in a tent with my friends”), and my own march of life as being a young adult has somehow faded into being middle-aged (read: “But I thought I was still a fourth grader? Shouldn’t my dad be the chaperone?”).
But, perhaps more than reflecting on these things, I have been reflecting on parenting. I grew up in the South where manners and custom are next to cleanliness and godliness. We grew up saying “Yes sir” and “No sir.” To call a parent by a first-name rather than Mr. Last Name was, well, only permissible if one enjoyed the loss of an allowance or a trip to the time-out chair. Because I grew up in the South and am now raising kids in California, I run the risk of over-accentuating the differences between the two. I am not trying to do that in this blog post, but I do think that having experienced both parenting cultures has helped me toward my recent parenting discovery (or reflection).
George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at Berkeley, wrote a book some years ago entitled, Moral Politics. It was written to help the political left understand the political right and vice-versa. He built the book upon two metaphors that were to assist us in appreciating the political orientations of each--conservatives were described as “strict fathers” while liberals were described as “nurturing parents.” The metaphors certainly betray Lakoff’s political persuasion. After all, who wants to be a strict father? But, this is beside the point and I hope that you don’t get co-opted by my use of a political illustration to make an observation about parenting.
Lakoff’s categories are helpful as I think about parenting. It is my observation that parenting in the South leans toward the “strict father” model while parenting in California leans toward the “nurturing parent” model. The best of the former would engender a healthy respect for those in authority and a proper humility with regard to one’s sense of place. The best of the latter would engender a healthy respect for seeing all others as equal and a proper confidence with regard to one’s sense of place.
On the camping trip, I witnessed a lot of kids that seemed to take much of the adults’ direction or instruction as mere suggestion or counsel. Sometimes kids would listen to you when they took off up the trail and you asked them to stop, and, well, sometimes they wouldn’t. One kid came back to the campfire after getting his food and said to one of the dads: “Hey, I was sitting there!” This was enough to cause my Southern roots to uproot themselves and develop a stranglehold around my neck!
But, I also witnessed an entire fourth grade class that seemed to exist without cliques! Some kids were athletic, some were intelligent, some were attractive, some were Caucasian, some were African-American, some were Asian-American, and all were, well, just sort of normal kids. And all of them seemed to get-along and all of them seemed to offer mutual respect and acceptance of one another.
Again, I could be making too much of this--my limited parenting experience and the limited control group that is Mr. Copeland’s fourth grade class would not permit me to offer any complete paradigms or parenting solutions--but, I do walk away from the camping trip thinking about my own parenting in California: What would it look like for me to be counter-cultural in how I continue to help my kids develop a healthy respect for those in authority? And, what would it look like for me to affirm our culture’s sense of respect for others of all stripes and types--to really and truly treat everyone as equal?
The Bible seems to offer a lot of direction on each, celebrating both a healthy respect for authority and a healthy respect for equality and treating others with genuine kindness. Dan Allender, a Christian Psychologist, says that the two questions we must help our kids answer (often simultaneously) are these: Am I loved? (Yes!) Can I always get my way? (No!). As I think about parenting and the cultivation of things like love and respect and kindness, I often venture back to Jesus’ words to his disciples as he sent them out into the world: “I am sending you out into the world as sheep among wolves; be as innocent as doves, and as shrewd as serpents.” (Matthew 10:16). To prepare our kids for the world we must appropriately protect their innocence, and adequately prepare (or develop) their wisdom. We often fall into the trap of over-protection (in the effort to protect innocence), or over-exposure (in the effort to prepare their wisdom). Parenting is balancing on the tightrope between the two, a feat that presses us to also be as innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents. May God grant us help!
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