Sunday, May 13, 2012


I heard a comment that changed the way I mother while attending a Suzuki String parent workshop a couple of years ago.  One of the teachers on the panel for the question and answer period, who is also a mother, shared her motivation for beginning music lessons at such a young age, and diligently keeping her child in violin lessons, no matter what, until he was out of her home.  "I wanted to give him an identity."  Her sentiment was that if we don't do it for them, who will.

While this mother's goal is certainly a worthy one, I immediately felt the idea lacking for me.  If my child's identity comes from any worldly source, no matter how worthy, how lasting can it possibly be.  Furthermore, can I actually give my child an identity, or does he already have one that he needs to hold true to?  If I nurture the identity he already has, he will find his path.  If I try to give him a new identity I create an identity crisis.  No child needs an identity crisis.

As mothers we nurture, teach, and train.  That has little to do with our deciding for them which worldly pursuits will give them a false identity and sense of self worth.  Whether it's music, sports, social engagements, or even academic achievements, identity does not come from without, it comes from within.  Whatever they do and pursue, does not determine who they are.  More to the point, it has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to create their own lasting peace and happiness.

Not that any of the aforementioned things are bad.  But I have noticed it is far easier to focus on the outward things that prove, to ourselves and others, we are awesome mothers and are doing everything right.  I know amazing mothers that have amazing children that do many things really well.  The key to it all is they are raised with core values, morals, and principles and they are allowed time.

Time to be children, to play outdoors, to experience life, and learn how to navigate emotions and draw upon logic and reason.  They invent, discover, seek, organize, create, problem solve, and share, all unprovoked and without time tables and pressures.  They find joy and peace in the little miracles and joys surrounding each moment.   All by their very own little selves, they find their identity, and upon maturity and growing older, they choose the things to be involved in and pursue that will be beneficial to their life.  They spend none of their time competing and trying to become the next best thing.  They spend all of their time becoming their best.

A while back Zack won some movie tickets from a contest at his orthodontist's office.  He asked me on a date and searched long and hard to find a movie worthy of our time.  We had to drive quite a distance (about 45 minutes) in order to find a theater that was still playing this movie.  Circumstances were favorable to asking one of his friends to accompany us, so he did and off we went.  As we traveled, it was interesting to be a fly on the wall and listen to their conversation.

The focus for Zack's friend was very much on sports and how to be famous and make lots of money and be important because you are able to beat everyone else.  These things are foreign to Zack, but he listened like the good friend that he is.  At one point he was asked the question, "What sport are you going to play when you go to college?  You really need to play sports to be somebody."  Zack went through a monologue that was painful for me to hear.  He fumbled through trying to answer the question and much of what he said was negative.  He was trying to fit himself into another's view point, quite a forceful one too.  After a while he said, "Well it couldn't be basketball.  I am not very good at basketball."  I couldn't stay quiet any longer.  I chose to break in and simply said, "You know Zack you are only 11.  If you choose to play sports I am sure you still have time to work hard and pursue that.  Also remember that comparatively there are very few professional athletes to people in this world and there are lots of ways to be happy besides sports."

The attitude change was immediate and decisive.  He had hope that all wasn't lost because he could not, at the ripe old age of 11, play professional sports and 'be somebody'.  He remembered that he is already 'somebody', and a pretty great somebody at that.  He remembered the core values and principles I try so diligently to focus on.  I am so glad that I was there for that moment.  I have nothing against sports.  Zack has wanted to play soccer on a team ever since he left his team in Louisiana.  Circumstances thus far dictate that it can't be be part of his life right now.  He has learned that sports are fun, but they do not define him.  Maybe he'll be a soccer star.  Maybe he won't.  Maybe he'll be a sanitation worker (garbage man to those of us less politically correct!).  Maybe he won't.  He'll always be Zack and that identity transcends all social norms and expectations.  Beautiful.

Last night, I watched a story of a boy, beginning in childhood and continuing through early adulthood, he was interviewed and his life was followed as he navigated life.  He was the popular kid.  The one everyone wanted to be.  He had the most friends.  He played every sport and excelled in each one.  He had walls full of trophies, medals, and certificates.  And he felt empty.  Completely empty.  He actually said, "I want to quit everything and just have time to live.  Have time to figure out who I am and what I want.  But I can't.  Who would I be without the sports.  What would I have to show people that I am a worthwhile person.  I would disappoint my parents and my teammates.  I can't quit, but I want to."

He was 16 at the time of this statement and had played sports ever since he could remember.  These were thoughts he never shared with anyone around him.  He wrote them in a journal to be discovered by his father when when he was at a treatment center for drug addiction.  The addiction started in 6th grade and I watched as he convincingly spoke of never having anything to do with drugs and being disgusted with the practice.  No one knew until he was 18 years old and his addictions had grown from 'smoking weed' to heroine and 'coke'.  He was happy, friendly, and just like every other kid.  Until he started stealing from his dad to pay for his addiction.  I would have never guessed what was coming, and I am fairly perceptive.  It was heartbreaking.

Years later, after: treatment, relapse, more treatment, and finally coming to a place where he felt he could be authentic and genuine, without needing drugs to numb the pain of not meeting social, familial, and popular norms and expectations, he has finally found himself and his place in the world.  Drug free for 4 years now, he lives in poverty (according to worldly standards) in a remote land, with "a bike, good friends, and a community of people that allow me to be myself and live in an authentic way." He doesn't need anything else and has found tremendous joy and peace.

He does not blame or find fault with any who pushed or coerced him in specific directions.  He knows they meant well.  He also understands that the need for him to fill the "holes in his soul" due to pressures and not being mature enough at the time to voice his own desires, was something he couldn't fix on his own.  He now answers first to God and has made peace with the fact that earthly parents, who mean well, can hurt when they meddle with something so precious as identity at such young ages.

We mean well.  We always mean well.  Meaning well usually means we are poking our nose in someone else's business.  Our children are certainly our business.  But we would do well to navigate our way carefully through their business.  They are first God's children and ours second.  The fundamentals of child rearing have nothing to do with us being able to show them off or write spectacular Christmas letters declaring their awesomeness, which in turn proves our own.  We would do well, and not just mean well, if we would focus first on our identities, and let our children have their own.

I have been through a few things in my lifetime.  I am sure to go through more.  My identity as a daughter of God, a mother in His kingdom, a wife and equal partner to my husband in His priesthood, is what has seen me through.  I can not give the credit to any diploma, academic achievement, trophy, award, or any other such tangible thing with bragging rights.  I seek the Lord and by His grace I am enough.  I have enough.

Our children are not ours.  They are not to be owned as possessions that prove us.  These are not little adults that come into our lives.  They are precious little children that need time to be children.  They are to be free to own their identity.  How are we directing them to that path?  That is the question, not which thing to sign them up for.

Now, if the sentiment would have been to teach and train, diligence, hard work, practicing for progression, patience, and developing talents for the Lord's purposes; that I could buy off on.  Not so much at the early ages some feel strongly about, but certainly there can be much crucial character training that comes from participating in such things as music lessons and sports.  Moderation is key, and knowing the weak spots of our children's souls helps us know how and when to use things to help teach them.    

1 comment:

Amy Frank said...

Couldn't have said it better.