Parenting: The Search For Identity
A mother and her four-year-old daughter were in a hospital waiting room when a minister came in who was wearing a clergy collar. The little girl was fascinated with the collar, and kept staring at the pastor. He noticed it out of the corner of his eye, and went up to the little girl and asked, “Do you know what this collar means?” She looked up and said, “I sure do. It kills fleas for six months!”
As a parent, how do I help this child find his or her identity? Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain, King David writes. A house is built of wood and stone, a home is built of loving deeds and both will stand a thousand years. My biological father was never a father to me. There were never loving deeds to build my personhood, shape my character or simply to say, “I love you.” The man who adopted me, was a father and gave me what I needed and have never lost.
Identity is found in story telling! Children reared in a minister’s home are rarely different from children reared in other homes. While a student at Lexington Theological Seminary I had dinner one evening with one of my professors and his wife. They had reared three children and one even as an adult was giving them some concern. As a boy, the child had not wanted to go to church, even though his father was in the ministry. The mother wondering if she had done the right thing said, “You have to go to church.” “Why?” “Because you are a Pope.” I think she made the right decision, she did what she knew was in the best interest of her child. As we said last week, “ Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Children look to the past to find the present. Photo albums.
Family stories of oral tradition was important in the Bible.
Identity is found in family intimacy! Spending time together in work, play and rest.
Freely giving affection! Hugs, kisses, verbal reinforcement a teenager is visited in the psychiatric ward by her pastor. The family rarely attends church but still looks to this pastor as their pastor. What’s the problem? There is just no expression of love in the home. There probably is love–inconsistent though it may be. But even that inconsistent love is not shown to the children. The divorced father has never lived with his family and has rarely spent time with his children. The mother is in survival mode, but also has interests and desires that preclude her children. But the mother is concerned that her children are hanging around with the wrong crowd and are making some poor choices. So she yells at them, tells them not to do these things, and she leaves them alone to go live her own life. They are starving. They are starving for physical affection. These children melt when the pastor touches them or hugs them. The pastor would love to take them home and make them his children. But it is physically impossible to do this plus their mother would never give them up. So this pastor watches these sweet children as their possibilities slip away and their futures are exposed to the forces of evil. As soon as Jesus was baptized, at that moment heaven was opened, he saw the Spirit of God descending…and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” You see, I think that was as much for the benefit of Jesus as it was us.
Materialism is never where it is, relationships are important. Complaining and materialism were escalating around the house so Dad sat his children down for a talk. He said, “Kids, you don’t realize how good you have it. When I was a boy, I had to get up before daylight to deliver newspapers. I walked to school in the rain and snow, then worked at a grocery store after school. Even then, we didn’t always have enough to eat.” The three children’s silence made him feel as though the needed message had gotten through until his little four-year-old said, “Boy, Dad, I bet you’re glad you live with us now.”
Identity is found in family role models! All important things take time. A child’s personality, character and individuality are shaped in a life long process. (We want to assume how a child will turn out by halftime, and you can’t!) I have seen some children that at halftime didn’t look very promising, but who grew to be great people. Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Being a role model is important. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have flaws, we do. It does mean that we are honest and admit our mistakes. It even means learning to say, “I’m sorry.” Children learn to be people by the ones that rear them. Set high expectations. Live up to commitments.
Identity is found in family trust! I hear parents all the time saying, “I want to be fair with my child.” You can’t be fair with a child. Have you ever seen two children divide a cookie? They will divide that cookie down to the smallest crumb. What we want to do is discipline our children to develop trust. The Palmist say “…he grants sleep to those he loves.” Trust is not blind and trust always includes boundaries. When I go to sleep, I know that they will be in on time. I have the trust, but I am also a light sleeper. Trust means giving them room to grow up. When I first came to Wichita I drove a Honda. I had it out in the driveway checking it over. When I finished I asked Brooks if she wanted to drive it in the garage from the driveway. Jonathan got Short Stuff and hoped up in the passenger seat. She drove in fine, but forgot to put her foot on the brake. The car hit the back wall of the garage; Jonathan hit the windshield and broke the glass, Short Stuff was traumatized! All Vickie said was, “Don’t let her drive my car.” In an atmosphere of boundaries we have to let them explore, grow, and develop. Listen to each other’s feelings. But provide room for freedom of choice and decisions. You can’t make fear go away, but you can balance fear with trust.
In no area of our lives is the cross’s way of relating — forgiving one another, being kind to one another, and treating one another kindly — more needed than in the family.