This is a quote from a book that Caleb was reading a little while ago called, “The Mystery of Children.” It’s a philosophical book written by a Christian pastor. At first, I was quite taken aback by this statement. However, the author insisted that children are terrible in a less traditional sense. Here’s what the Free Dictionary has to say about the word:
1. Causing great fear or alarm; dreadful: a terrible bolt of lightning; a terrible curse.
3. Extreme in extent or degree; intense: “the life for which he had paid so terrible a price” (Leslie Fiedler).
a. Unpleasant; disagreeable: had a terrible time at the party; terrible food.
b. Very bad: a terrible actor.
My kid doesn’t cause me “great fear or alarm” and hopefully your doesn’t either, but he is quite disagreeable. That is, when I plan my day (or life, really) he often seems to have other ideas as to how I should spend my time. So, he is kind of disagreeing with me. When Mason was defining children as “terrible” what he really meant was this: children will turn your world upside down. They will ruin your plans and strip you of your entitlement. This is not pleasant. However, I would like to propose that it’s not the children that are terrible. It’s the experience of losing our freedom that’s terrible. Afterall, we are the ones who brought them into this world willingly… They’re just humans trying to get their needs met. They didn’t say, “Hey, I think I’ll be born and then I will ruin that woman’s life by keeping her up and pooping on her when she’s late for a meeting!” I know this, yet there are times when I feel like Luca is purposefully ruining my plans/manipulating me/being demanding when I am busy. My kid is 9 months old. He isn’t smart enough to come-up with such devious behavior. So why do I often jump to this conclusion?
I’ve realized that I have the underlying belief that kids are bad.
I wonder if you have it too. I wonder that, because I hear a LOT of people say things like, “Oh, he has your number!” (Meaning: He knows how to manipulate you to get what he wants!) or “She’s cute isn’t she? Oh she KNOWS she’s cute!” (Meaning: she will use her cuteness to get attention) or “Will you be nice and let your Mommy sleep tonight?” (As if his needs for the night are in his control and he chooses whether to be mean or nice to me by waking me…) All of these comments were for children who are under 18 months of age. From a developmental standpoint, the fact is this: children this young do NOT have the capability of being manipulative.
ma•nip•u•la•tive (məˈnɪp yəˌleɪ tɪv, -yə lə tɪv)
1. of or pertaining to manipulation; serving to manipulate.
2. influencing or attempting to influence the behavior or emotions of others for one’s own purposes.
Well, maybe I’ll take that back. According to the definition above, kids are sort-of manipulative. They are concerned about their “own purposes” in the sense that they have needs and their job is to find out how to get them met (It’s a survival mechanism). But when we use the term “manipulative” we usually don’t mean it in this way. We usually think it means: my kid is going to put on some kind of unnecessary, exaggerated behavior so that they can get what they want. It’s like we think our kid is a miniature Dr. Evil, secretly conspiring to mess with us. In reality, kids are rightfully reacting to the absence of a need that they have. Often, because they can’t talk yet, we think babies are just being difficult. Yet, if they could talk, they might say things like: I’m crying because I miss you or my PJ’s are uncomfortable or… or… or… There are so many things that could be going on, yet we go over our small checklist (fed? rested? diaper changed?) and if all are ok, then the kid is just being manipulative. In other words, our kid is just being BAD.
This is where our God Image comes in. How do you think God views people? Do you think He has a positive or negative view of us? Most of my life, I thought that God had a negative view of people. It wasn’t until I took a Spiritual Formation class at Vanguard University that I was taught otherwise. There, I was taught about the true definition of sin. I came to learn that sin isn’t necessarily a list of “bad behaviors,” rather it’s a posture of the heart. Sin is wanting to be our own God, which by default, means we are denying the one true God. All of the “bad behaviors” that we consider “sin” are really just a manifestation of our desire to obtain all of the things that God can give us but without turning to God. For example, often people abuse alcohol or drugs to find peace when life is demanding or overwhelming. Yet, God is the only one who can provide us with true peace. By turning to a substance, we are telling God, “I don’t need you” and our bodies pay the price. This makes God sad and even angry because he loves us and doesn’t want to see us turn to destructive behavior. So God HATES this behavior because it is harmful to us and it keeps us from coming to Him. But he doesn’t hate us for doing it.
In fact, one of the most profound things I learned in this class is that God sees us from a developmental perspective. Just as children have the capacity for learning and understanding according to their developmental stage, so do we as people have our limitations according to our spiritual development. God sees us uniquely, according to our capacity for understanding Him. What this means is this, if I am a “spiritual infant” in God’s eyes He will understand that my desire to get drunk every weekend is merely my desire for His peace. Although, I don’t recognize that what I want is “His” peace. He offers grace and forgiveness for that behavior because he understands my heart. Out of his love, he will encourage me to come to him instead of alcohol because His peace isn’t harmful and it will provide me the true peace I desire. You can see from this illustration, that we could try to get “peace” from anything, even things that don’t seem “sinful” like… watching tv. So, the point that stood-out to me is this, God doesn’t see me as BAD. He sees me as a complex being that is trying to get a valid need met (peace) but just going about it in the only way I know how, wether it be by blog writing or by smoking crack.
As a parent, I am trying to have this same perspective toward my kid. His mind is only so developed at this point. His tools for getting his needs met are extremely limited. He doesn’t have the complex understanding that his needs may be imposing on mine. He won’t even have the capacity for empathy- the ability to understand another’s feelings or experience- for YEARS from now. I think I’ll save myself a lot of frustration if I remind myself of his limitations. In a nutshell: my kid isn’t mean. He isn’t manipulative. He isn’t BAD. He’s just a living being trying to thrive in this world. As he gets older and has the capacity for it, I can teach him how to identify his emotions and how to use words to ask for things. He’ll be able to understand empathy eventually and then we can talk about “fairness” and things of that nature. Until then, I have to give Him the grace that God has given me. I know it’s the right thing to do but I’ll admit, it’s terribly difficult.