Toorak Uniting Church

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Nice Parents and Perfect Children?

Baptismal Reunion Sunday
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Pentecost 23
27 October 2013

Meg Lawton, a woman who writes a weekly blog from the US which I read from time to time, wrote this last week. And I have paraphrased the story she told.

Two little heads were leaning over a pothole in an uneven driveway. It was an unlikely playground. The little boy had a bucket and his sister a spoon. But what both of them shared is imagination.

Their mother was cooking dinner. The kitchen window gave her a clear view. She stopped and watched her two children. One pours water into the hole, the other digs soil from the garden and with the spoon carefully puts it into the hole. It is not long before both children are wet and dirty. Yet they don’t even seem to notice.

After some time they stand back and there it is, a world excavated before their eyes. Rivers race down the driveway toward the grass. These two curious little spectators watch the patterns of brown water decorating the old concrete drive.

Their mother recalls that they have been meaning to fix that driveway for months. They needed to fill in the uneven holes, and make the driveway better; make it nice.

But of course nice doesn’t make the water run from a child’s imagination into rivers of chocolate. Nice just sits there, smiling with perfection.

Perfect has never met a pair of wet jeans and muddy shoes. Nice doesn’t particularly like it when a soup spoon from the kitchen drawer is used for digging dirt.

Imagination has a much better time when it is playing amidst life’s imperfections. It can run more freely knowing there’s nothing to ruin and nothing to get right.

That afternoon these two children created a new world and handed it to their mother, so that she caught a glimpse of floating down the chocolate rivers; and she thanked the potholes, the cracks and the imperfections for a delightful afternoon.

The Persian Poet Rumi is often quoted as saying:

"Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about ideas or language. Even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make sense anymore."

The Good Enough Parent:
It’s that place beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing that the best parenting happens. A friend told me some years ago that he was looking over his son’s report card. The son was pleased to show his father all the A’s he had got in the subjects he had studied that year. "Well done son," said my friend, "But there is just one problem." The boy looked puzzled and asked his father what it was. "This A for classroom behaviour," said the father, "I’d like to see a B+ next year."

The irony wasn’t lost on my friend’s son. At the end of the day niceness just doesn’t cut. Yes, respect, compassion, thoughtfulness and encouragement are all fundamental values in life. But not being nice; that should be reserved exclusively for a good cup of tea.

Nice parents don’t raise nice children. Strangely the opposite seems to be the case. Equally the attempt to raise the perfect child will often result in a lot of pain and tears. Some years ago the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote a book titled, The Good Enough Parent. In that book he debunks the myth of the perfect parent. OK, so if we agree that we are neither nice nor perfect parents and that we are not trying to create nice and perfect children, then what are some of the qualities of the "good enough parent".

The last of these is perhaps most problematic; in part because we are prone to live our "unlived life" through our children. "That’s why we have children" someone said sarcastically, "so that we can get it right second time around." The Christian faith emphasises that each person is unique. Each person bears the image of the Divine and is loved unconditionally by the Creator of the universe. And in the spiritual sense, children do not belong to us. Kahlil Gibran’s poem titled, On Children, explores this well:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love, but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies, but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

So if you are a nice and perfect parent please stand! And if you are a nice and perfect child would you also please stand! Umm, that’s surprising. Maybe we all are good enough parents after all.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2013

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