Friday, September 9, 2011

the idols of a parent

There’s nothing like parenting to reveal your true values.

My 12-year-old daughter started secondary school this year. It’s an anxious time for any parent. Your mind fills with questions: will she settle well into her new school? How will she cope with the extra homework? Will she make good friends? Will she make any friends?

During the first few months of the school year, I found myself passionately wanting the oddest things (and talking about them passionately to my husband, who will confirm that I became just a tad neurotic). It seems I want my daughter to:

  • be popular (I want people to like her) but not too popular (I don't want her to be overly influenced by her peers)

  • get all her work done, on time, to a high standard (I don't want her - or, more tellingly, me - to lose face)

  • dress trendily (I don't want her to look daggy) but not too trendily (I don't want her to be a fashion victim)

  • be friendly to the unpopular kids (I want her to be kind) but not too friendly (I don't want her to be unpopular by association)

  • keep to a high(ish) standard in her piano practice (I want her to be accomplished, but I'm not one of those pushy mothers)

  • be upfront about her faith (I want her to stand up for Jesus) but not too upfront (I don't want the other kids to think she's weird)

  • be happy at school (I don't want her to be unhappy) but no so happy that she hates being at home (I want her to love me as much as ever)

  • go to church even when it’s not fun (I want her to learn to serve) but also to have fun there (I don’t want her to hate church)1

Sorry about all the double negatives; but the truth is, there are a lot of bad(?) things I don’t want for her. Especially, it seems, unpopularity (probably because I was a bit of a dag myself, and hated it; like most parents, I visit my own disappointments on my children).

These desires lead to all kinds of strange behaviour. Like constant, nagging reminders about homework and music practice. Like asking my daughter if she needs more fashionable clothes (gulp!) and exploring the trendy teen stores a week before she goes to camp. Like frequent, irritating questions about her friendships. Like talking a lot, in front of her, about whether our church serves her needs.

After all this, there’s no doubt in either of our minds about what matters to me.

So what matters to me? What am I communicating to my daughter are the significant things in life? It seems these things are far more important to me than I realized:

  • popularity

  • trendiness (where did that come from?!)

  • academic success

  • impressing people

  • achievement

  • happiness

  • having your needs met.

Some of these goals look innocent enough. Who wouldn’t want happiness and academic success for their children? But without me noticing, these goals grow bigger than God. I worry and nag. I spend more than I should (and teach my daughter to do the same). I get angry and impatient. I talk about things that don’t matter. I try to shape my daughter to my desires. Our relationship, predictably enough, suffers; and her godliness suffers too.

Acceptance. Achievement. A good education. What I want for my children, I want for me.

As so often in parenting, it’s time for repentance. It’s time to confess my idolatry to my daughter. It’s time for some honest conversations about what really matters: serving rather than being served, valuing inner more than outer beauty, caring for others even if you lose face, choosing friends wisely, pursuing godliness over success, and standing up for Jesus even when it makes you unpopular.

1. When my daughter was younger the idols were a little different: the approval of parenting experts, a child whose behavior impresses others, an ‘educational’ toy collection – just to name a few. (And a good night's sleep, of course.)

This post first appeared on The Briefing today.

image is by mermay19 from flickr


Tasmanian said...

The "fashionable" clothes are often dated - meaning they look ridiculous in photos five years later (and won't be worn next season or by the next sibling.) Wearing something plain and middle-of-the-road helped me blend in at school on "Free Dress Day" better than something "trendy". My husband wisely notes that jeans and a t-shirt is always a safe option. My Mum taught teenaged-me to buy things that will go together with other items in the wardrobe, things that won't fall apart, things in the right size that are also flattering... thanks Mum. I will be passing that on.

Jean said...

Yeah, mostly they were jeans and t-shirts! :) But good advice all the same.

Caroline E said...

Oh help. I think you just exposed my idols too. And she's only starting kindly next year! Better pray!

Valori said...

I sometimes cringe at the things my children wear and yet they will be the ones who communicate they aren't worried about what others think about them. I'm nailed. Don't you love it?

Kath said...

Thanks Jean,
You have highlighted how easy it is to be influenced by the world's values. And it is a real challenge to live out Jesus shaped values so that our kids know what is important and valuable.

mattnbec said...

Ouch! Brilliant post that highlights many of my idols too.

And I love the line "like most parents, I visit my own disappointments on my children". It is amazing just how much this is true.