One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that life is a lot less black and white than many people would have you believe. I know that 15 years ago I was way more sure what was “right” and “wrong” than I am today. I don’t think it’s because I’ve strayed away from truth…I think its just life and living it that have opened my eyes to the fact that there are way more shades of gray in there than you may notice from afar. When you really look deep into a particular issue, pay very close attention to the individuals involved, you can’t help but see that what may have seemed crisp and clean and black and white from a distance is really a kind of mess of shades of gray. And I don’t mean the Fifty kind:)
While this is disconcerting enough as an adult, it makes parenting really tricky. I don’t want to confuse my kids with my own uncertainty and vagueness about particular topics. I don’t want my issues, my questions, to become their issues and questions. (They’ll have more than enough of their own without taking on mine!) But I don’t want them to grow up to be blind to the gray, to be legalistic and dogmatic–towards themselves or others.
This is especially tricky as I have a child about to enter middle school. I haven’t had the “talk” with her yet…mostly because I’m trying to prolong her innocence about grown-up things as long as possible. But it has to be soon-I don’t want her entering middle school completely naive about sex and associated topics, I don’t want her hearing stuff just from other kids, or being taken advantage of in her ignorance. I hope that as we enter this new phase of her life we can have thought-provoking, good conversations–not just about sex but any of the sticky topics that are bound to come up as she becomes more aware of the world around her. I want her to feel like she can talk to her dad and I and get honest answers, not a brush-off or put off til another time that never materializes.
My problem is…how do I address things with her when I’m not always sure of my own answers to things? How do I set boundaries and help her set boundaries for herself without making her inflexible and rigid and unable to forgive herself when she inevitably trips up? How do I teach her grace without being overly permissive and morally ambiguous?
Let’s jump right into a very sticky topic–abortion. I want to tell her that if she ends up pregnant as a teen, her father and I would hope she would carry the baby and either give it up for adoption or raise it as her own (with our help, of course). BUT. I also want her to know that if she chose abortion…that we wouldn’t shut her out. We wouldn’t abandon her. We would disagree with her decision but love her anyway and we believe that God would love her anyway. How to convey this without sounding wishy washy??
What about say, drinking. Or illegal drugs? Obviously we will teach her that she should stay away from drugs, and that she shouldn’t drink until she’s of age. BUT. I don’t want her to be afraid to call us if she finds herself drunk and in need of a ride. Or if she’s tried pot or whatever I want her to be able to tell us without fear of us flying off the handle.
Any of these things…I want her to know where we stand, what our opinions are (which, I must say sometimes I’m even confused about what those opinions may be…) but I also don’t want her to be afraid of retribution, of somehow losing our love because she did what everyone does–makes a wrong choice sometimes. I don’t want her (or any of my kids) to think they’re “ruined” or beyond hope because they chose a path or made a decision that might not be what we had wanted for them.
I know in the past, people hoped that by “putting the fear of God” into their kids they would get them to behave. Anyone with half a brain knows that doesn’t really work. And how is cutting off your kid, “disowning” them, pretending they don’t exist showing them love? Think about some of the things people were fired up about in years past–“I’ll never speak to you again if you marry that black guy!”–how ridiculous they sound now! And is it worth losing that relationship with your child because they chose differently than you would have?? Would you really stop loving your child if they became an atheist or a Christian or came out to you as gay or had premarital sex or became a Democrat or a Republican…
Maryland’s former governor wrote this crazy editorial in the paper recently warning parents about sending their kids off to the liberal hotbeds known as “college”, lamenting the thought that those kids might come back with ideas in their heads that were different from their parents. Is that really so bad? Is it really cause for alarm that your kid might grow up to think differently from you?
I guess its easier to say yes to those things. I guess this is just one more way in which viewing the world as black and white makes life a lot less complicated. But I’ve lost that vision. I’ve lost my “black and white glasses” somewhere along this road. All I see is gray, gray, and more gray. Sure, some of it is closer to black. Some of it is pretty white. But there’s a hell of a lot more that is gray and blurry and scratchy in the middle, like a pixellated photo of someone. Honestly it is a lot more interesting when you see life that way, but it does make things like parenting a bit more of a minefield. How to raise a moral kid who isn’t judgmental. How to raise a kid who is full of grace for himself and others, and yet not morally ambiguous.
I guess I just have to take it one issue at a time right? And trust that the foundation I’ve laid for my kids will help them to make their own good choices. Choices with love at the heart of them–not just for others but for themselves too. Love and kindness and grace and mercy. And to be able to forgive and move on and grow when they don’t.