Monday, September 05, 2011

I don’t want to raise good kids.

Eden nears the radio. “Eden,” I call her in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “Don’t touch the radio, please.” She obeys and does not touch the radio. “You’re such a good girl.” A couple of hours go by. Eden gets close to the radio again. “Eden, please do not touch the radio.” This time she does not obey. “You’re being a bad girl.”

What has my daughter learned from this? If anything, Eden has learned that she is a good girl as long as she does what I say. If she does not comply with my rule then she is a bad girl. Most people do not see anything wrong with this lesson. But I do. By telling my child that she is a bad person as a result of her disobedience, I am essentially teaching her that being “good” is dependent upon the correctness of her behavior. Her behavior must meet my expectations, or else. What happens if a child makes a mistake? Or if, as a two-year-old, she cannot control her emotions? Or if her imperfections as a human being get the best of her? Do you see where I am going with this?

In a world where good kids are only those who behave correctly, there is no room for mistakes or failures. The line is drawn down the middle and kids are constantly being placed in and out of the “good” and “bad” side. You screw up and you are one bad kid. How many of us can relate to this? How many of us have had parents who were intolerant of our mistakes and attacked our identity because of it? As a result, something horrible happens to our sense of self. We learn to view ourselves as anything but good when we screw up or do not perform accordingly to a set expectation. No one likes me. My husband doesn’t love me any more. My parents think I’m so irresponsible. I’m not very smart. I’m ugly. I wish I was talented.

The fundamental problem with our obsession in wanting to raise good kids (kids that do not misbehave) is that we neglect the heart of the child—the core of who she truly is. Behavior is just an external activity, and many times these external activities are neither good nor bad. I liken behavior to a pot of water. If the water is boiling hot, it is not because the water decided to be hot. There’s a source of heat somewhere causing the high rise in temperature. Likewise, when my child’s behavior is not what it should be, I do not identity her to be a bad girl. There is something going on deep down in her heart that is manifesting itself in said behavior.

I don’t want to raise good kids. What I want to raise are kids that are confident in their God-given self-worth to make the right decisions. I want my kids to know that their being good has nothing to do with how they behave and everything to do with how God sees them. But even if I did not subscribe to a religious faith, I want my children to be secure in their identity, to be proud of who they are even when they screw up, and to be assured that no misbehavior will ever make daddy love them any less.

Let us look at the situation with Eden again but with a focus on her heart instead of her behavior.

Eden nears the radio. “Eden, please don’t touch the radio.” She obeys and does not touch the radio. “Eden, thank you for obeying daddy. I am very proud of you.” A couple of hours go by. Eden gets close to the radio again. “Eden, don’t touch the radio, please.” This time she does not obey. I remind myself that Eden is only two years old and her testing my authority is a normal developmental process. I tell her she needs to go to timeout. After her time is up, I ask her to come to me. “Eden, why were you on timeout?” She admits her infraction. Then I tell her, “Daddy is very disappointed because you did not obey him. But do you know that he still loves you very much?” Her sadness turns into a bright smile and she gives me a big hug. “I know you will do better next time.”

Firstly, my daughter has learned that her daddy loves her unconditionally. Secondly, she has learned that her actions have a consequence. And thirdly, Eden has learned that her daddy believes in her ability to make the right decision next time. There was no need to demean her identity by telling her she is a bad person. Leave such contemptuous terminology to Hitler, not your children.

Good kids are overrated.

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