The Secret Lives of Children

Note: On on January 11, 2009 I began facilitating a parenting class for DaySpring, the church I attend in Waco.  I’m going to be offering some of what I’m doing there in this space over the Spring.

This morning the parenting class participants and I will be discussing “A Child’s Secret Life,” by Parker Palmer.  This brief and moving section from his book, A Hidden Wholeness, offers a glimpse into Palmer’s understanding of what it means to say that we are all destined to be broken by life.  This passage is all the more poignant for me in light of Palmer’s two episodes of debilitating depression (His first experience with this darkness is described in his article “All the Way Down” and in his interview with Krista Tippett on the public radio program Speaking of Faith.)

Anyone raised in an evangelical church is likely to have been confronted with that dense and foreboding sentence found in Romans 3: 23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Christian theology is right to confront us with our failure to choose the redemptive path, but scripture does not offer us much of a “developmental psychology” when it comes to sin.  Palmer provides one window into understanding how we, and our children, are lured down the path of brokenness before we can possibly be conscious of what is happening.

When our children are young, before they head off into the wider world of school, we have the opportunity to bathe them in the inoculating experiences of blessing, grace, and incarnation.  However, it can be hard to accept that our ability to protect them from the wounding realities of the jungle diminishes so dramatically when they get on the bus.

Watching, listening, and inviting become so important when school enters the picture.  Elementary age kids lack the ability to fully articulate what its like to face these challenges.  So we must watch, listen and invite.  We must watch their behavior, listen to what they are able to put in to words, and invite them to express themselves more fully.  And yet we still have to that accept the wall will appear — the wall that will separate them from their Authentic Selves in the name of survival, and the wall that will separate them from us.  I guess that sounds rather depressing, which is why we must also keep in mind the words of 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God is in Christ, drawing all things back to wholeness” (and yes, this is my own rather loose, and perhaps liberal, paraphrase).  If we lose our hope in the big picture, then our parenting will be infected with our anxiety, and we will parent from a place that is reactive, compulsive, and controlling.

So, here’s a couple constructive suggestions.

  1. Reflect on how Palmer’s words help you to think about how your wall began to take shape as you entered school oh so many years ago.
  2. Notice how you watch, listen, and invite with your kids.

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P.S.   Last week I found a box on my doorstep.  It contained several copies of A Little Book of Parenting Skills by Dr. Mark Brady, which he has graciously donated to participants in our parenting class.  If you’ve been following this blog, then you know I’ve recommended that parents keep up with his blog, “The Committed Parent.” At the risk of sounding a bit melodramtic, trying to parent without availing yourself of his wisdom and scholarship is a bit like trying to drive a car without brakes.  You can do it, and perhaps even reach your destination, but you’re just making things harder than they need to be!

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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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