Sunday, July 05, 2009

Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go...

"and when he is old, he will not depart from it..."

I love that verse. As a young, inexperienced parent, it comforts me, as I know that God often honors parenting that honors Him by allowing our children to continue to walk in His ways. But that verse can also be a bit frightening: "train up a child in the way he should go..." Yes, but what exactly is that way? I mean, how am I to train up my child? The Bible is soooo helpful-- it really is everything; an life-giving Story, a theology manual (for knowing & enjoying God), comforting & warning stories about flawed, beloved people, a practical guide to life, and a diagnostic manual for my own heart. It sure has plenty to say about parenting, and it speaks in so many different ways: for the cut-and-dry, there's the book of Proverbs, full of practical, easy-to-remember wisdom; for the more romantic and abstract, there are stories of both good & bad parenting examples; for the big-picture-minded, there are the epistles, which place family life in the context of a heart changed by the Gospel; and for all of us, there is a clear picture of God Himself-- The Father figure from whom all fatherhood draws its name, and one who also compares Himself to a perfectly gentle mother.

A Spectrum
Now... how does that fit in with all the books I've been reading? It seems that parenting- even Christian parenting- falls along a spectrum (doesn't everything?), with "attachment" or "gentle" parenting on one end, and with "scheduled" feeding and a more behavioral modification approach on the other. On one hand, let's say the left, you have: "Gentle Christian Mothering," breast feeding on-demand, co-sleeping, baby-wearing and an eshewing of any schedule, all with the goal of trying to ensure that your baby never cries (so of course, spanking is out). On the other hand, there is: scheduled feeding, "Growing Kids God's Way," "Baby Wise," separate beds for parents & child from Day 1, an emphasis on self-soothing and on "alone time" for even young babies, all with the goal of having your child fit into the schedule in place before he came along.

In wading through the different opinions and voices, I've found it helpful to group the two camps under "child-centered" (on the left) and "parent-centered" (on the right). Obviously, either can be totally idolatrous. All Christian parents want God to be at the center of their parenting... but it's easy to tip the see-saw a little too far one way or the other. As I've thought through both camps, I've come to what I think will be the Szrama-Mama guiding principal: I don't want to teach my child that she is the center of the universe, but neither do I want to teach her that I am the center of the universe.

Going for a Balanced Imitation of Christ
Thinking that way helps me sort of pick a middle ground, with what I hope will be the best parts of each "camp." You really don't have to be all one or the other-- can't I'll call my style "Attached-Wise Babying?" Hmm... I'll need to work on something catchier. ANYWAY, as a mama in imitation of the Good Shepherd who gave up all to come after me, I want to be self-sacrificing and patient. As a mother in imitation of the One who demands instant and total obedience, often without full explanations, I want to be a firm and a loving disciplinarian. Both are part of training up children to stay in the path of wisdom. Parents are to stand between our children and God, at first being virtually indistinguishable from Him from their vantage point, but as they grow teaching them more & more that we, too, are under authority and love: His.

Borrowing the Best from Both Worlds
From the "child-centered camp," I love the idea of baby-wearing. For past centuries in every culture, the best way to keep a baby safe while Mommy was working was to keep him with Mommy. It's also so similar to carrying them in the womb that this is soothing to the baby. I want to experiment with different carriers & slings so that I can find positions that help my back out and actually free my hands. I want my babies to be able to be away from me without panicking, but I'm not so convinced I need to mandate "alone time" for an infant. I'm happy carrying them around for the most part. From the "parent-centered camp," spanking and firm discipline go almost without saying-- Scripture is pretty clear on how these are to be used in love, never in anger (Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Ted Tripp, is a wonderful help in this). I fully embrace the feed-wake-sleep cycle as proposed by the authors of Baby Wise-- it makes so much sense and provides wonderful stability for both mother & child. I will be a much better wife & mother with more sleep, and will be so much more clued-in as to why my daughter might be crying if I know what she's used to experiencing at any given hour. Will I try and set the schedule so it fits her? Of course! Will I be trying to force my newborn into a schedule? No way!! When we do have an established routine, will I sometimes scrap it for her sake or mine? Yes! Will I expect it to change? What schedule doesn't?? I've seen several veteran moms model a schedule which guides without ruling... sort of like Jack Sparrow's view of The Pirate's Code: "they're more like guidelines, anyway." =D I will try to shy away from the constant refrain "oh, I'm sorry I can't do x, because my baby needs to nap in her bed at her exact naptime." The schedule is there to help me better serve my husband, children and King-- not to be the be-all and end-all.

Similarly, I want my children to be able to self-soothe, but I know that their ability will be immature for months, and they'll need me to come and help them learn. I'm not opposed to pacifiers, either. Much easier to break them of than thumb-sucking... you can't throw fingers in the trash. I know I'll be quite happy to let Eowyn "cry it out" sometimes... but I'm also not about to let her wail for 45 minutes at a time as a newborn. I think you get the idea.

As a last note, one argument I have heard for "on demand" feeding, which usually translates to "every time my baby cries, I [breast-]feed him," is that "That's how God treats us. He attends our every need and doesn't let us try to 'self-soothe'." While I see some truth in this, first I acknowledge that any analogy between me as a parent and God as cosmic ruler is gonna fall short. But even putting that aside, I say that God DOES let us "cry it out" sometimes. While He is always there, always attending to our needs, we often don't feel or agree with His attending. Think of Job, demanding answers & mourning his children as he scrapes his boils, or Joseph, languishing in prison for fleeing temptation. They sure didn't look or feel comforted like they wanted to be. But God was still good and kind, and working out purposefully for their good (Rom 8:28). David, who'd been promised a kingdom and found himself hiding in cave after cave as a madman sought his life, was still able to affirm "He has caught up my tears in a bottle: this I know, that God is for me..." If I let my daughter cry herself to sleep in a safe, warm house on a full tummy, with me a door away, every one of her needs is being met-- including her need to learn to pacify herself... but she probably doesn't like the way I'm meeting her needs. God answers our prayers in His way and in His timetable-- and He doesn't even need sleep! :) (Also, God doesn't answer every prayer with the same solution. That would be silly. Neither does every cry indicate true hunger, so why would I offer food?)

Once again, you have my humble musings. Hopefully I won't realize it was all a bunch of bunk once the little miss is here to stay. =D I don't think that will happen-- I've nannied, taught & babysat enough to have at least some idea of how things go... Pray for me!!



Jeannette said...

Very thoughtful post, Christina. I'm sure you'll be a wonderful mom.

As a mild warning, I used a front carrier when Ashlea was a baby, and it weakened my back. I ended up with a herniated disc. I might have had a pre-existing condition though.

Jenny said...

Very articulate! You did an excellent good job describing what "middle ground" between the "two camps" looks like. I heartily agree.... I think you'll find me quoting you on this one! :o)

Eowyn's Heir said...

Thanks for all the encouragement! :) And thanks for the warning, Jeannette. I'll have to watch out for any back-pain signs... and maybe invest in an Indian cradle-board...hmmm...