“If you manipulate, coerce and bully your children, you will have no power at all. If you lead with humility, gentleness, and by example, you will need no power at all.” – William Martin
Sally and Nathan Clarkson’s book Different didn’t exactly live up to my hopes and dreams for it – that is, I suppose, it didn’t give me a checklist to follow or an instruction manual to read or even a set of principles to live by which would ensure success in the endeavor of parenting a unique and uniquely challenged child.
But that really wasn’t the point of the book. As Sally writes, “…don’t try to use our family’s experience as an exact template for your family. Every child is unique and requires a unique approach.”
And the story they told together, of struggles, pain, faith, and triumphs, was just as beautiful as I thought it would be. While they shared specific aspects of their personal lives, they made those intimate and individual stories relevant to a whole range of readers, drawing out empathy for both the challenging child and the challenged parent (or in other words, for both the different child and the parent who longed for normalcy). As there are in my close family many people on both sides of this dynamic, it spoke to me on a number of layers, and both encouraged and convicted me about several of my relationships.
(For example, it is easiest for me to apply the need for patience, acceptance, and understanding to my children, while failing to give that same grace to my husband, parents, siblings, or in-laws. Different, while primarily about that parent-child relationship, continually challenged me to scrutinize my motivations and intentions in my other relationships as well, and to try to bring them also into a more open, gracious, and loving posture.)
My primary take-away from the book in this season of my life is the value of making a home in which everyone in the family can feel at ease and accepted for who they are: a place where each one of us can truly feel that we belong. When my children are losing their tempers over trivial affronts, or melting down for inexplicable reasons, or refusing to answer a simple question when everyone else is waiting for their response, or taking out their frustrations on each other; when my husband is tired, preoccupied, or worried and speaks more sharply than typical; when I am moody and irritable and impatient – in those times, it is very hard to accept each other, to love each other, to give grace to each other. It is tempting to construct a narrative of the people in our family using only those negative moments, to focus on their immaturity or sinfulness, to attempt to fix and correct them with annoyance and frustration for their present state. But Sally addresses that temptation directly (emphases mine):
“…creating a welcoming home also includes the choice to accept the unique design of our families and the limitations of each family member. We have to learn to lean into life as something beautiful even if it is not exactly what we expected. Trusting that God works all things together for the good despite the challenges we face is a gift of worship we give to God. Acceptance with humility must eventually come to each of us if we are to please God and not always fight against the limitations of our own family pattern.
If Nathan had grown up in a home where he was constantly put down and corrected, I think the oxygen of God’s love would have been strangled from his heart, which needed a wide berth of unconditional acceptance. Love is the food our hearts need to grow, and so I had to figure out a way to give it in a way he could feel.”
I can choose to be impatient, irritated, frustrated with the imperfections I see in myself and my husband and the immaturity inherent in my young children – or I can choose to see the beauty and value of who we are and what we are building as a family. Only one of those choices will fill our home with the love our hearts need to grow, and the welcome we need to feel that here, at last, is a place where we – no matter how different – can truly belong.
“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” – Stacia Tauscher
“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”
– John Holt
It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.
In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?
When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?
Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?
I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have discovered a new favorite webcomic, Lunarbaboon. They seem to exist on the intersection of parenting, mental illness, and nerdiness, so I identify with and heartily enjoy almost all of them. One from January, titled “Enemy”, caught my attention as a particularly apt description of what it is like to be functional despite depression:
The techniques taught in therapy are designed to help us ignore that inner enemy with more and more success – to make it harder for him to tear us apart each day. That’s why I’m so thankful for them, for the pills that give me the energy and positivity to keep fighting, and for the family and faith that give me a reason to fight and a hope for the future.