Saturday, May 19, 2012

Principles or people?

This post is a long time in the making, though its taken me a while (months) to actually get my thoughts together enough to put it down in writing.  The subject matter of this post comes from a place of hurt, frustration, sadness, resentment, and bitterness, but I have come far enough in my own healing process that I feel like I can finally tackle it.  And I feel it needs to be said, because I know far too many people out there who, though circumstances may differ, have been through similar experiences and had to grapple with the same pain I have had to endure.

As can be deciphered from reading a lot of my former posts, I had a former church experience that left me feeling battered, bruised, and knocked down.  I never walked away from my faith, but I did eventually walk away from that environment, and I feel no regret for doing so.  The healing process has been long and difficult, but I'm getting there.  My wonderful current pastor said that I needed to look at it for what it was - a traumatic experience - and deal with it and go through the same healing process as anyone else who's gone through any other traumatic experience.  Something about looking at it that way has helped me put everything into perspective and deal with it in a more healing manner, and less in a "stuck in pain" manner.  I feel I am finally moving forward, finally unafraid, and that feels fantastic!

The biggest source of bitterness I've had to overcome is something I have coined "principles over people."  The root of everything I dealt with is that people chose their own principles over me as a person.  I was going through a "perfect storm" of personal crisis - the worse depressive episode of my life, and the height of my sister's addiction - and the people I turned to for help had nothing positive or uplifting to say.  Instead, they bagged on the 12-step program from the pulpit and to my face.  They relentlessly threw the Bible at me, telling me I shouldn't be on antidepressants; that doing so, essentially, made me a Christian of "weak faith."  My parenting was questioned.  My every thought, feeling, and action were picked apart bit by bit til I was completely raw and broken.

Having gone through the pain of all that, I will never understand how people can choose their principles over the well-being of another person.  I just don't get it.  In my experience, that is the coldest, most cruel attitude anyone can possibly have toward another human being!  That is the most harmful, abusive attitude , in my opinion, that anyone can possess.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am all for having principles.  I'm a Christian and strive to live a godly life.  But the difference is, my goal is always to choose people first.  Which is a very godly principle in and of itself.  Jesus was asked by His disciples:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."  (Matthew 22:36-40)

All the Law hang on these two commandments!  Basically, the rest of your principles are all well and good, but the basis of everything should be love!  Its not about what you do or don't do, or what you do or don't believe, its about operating in love and respect in everything you do.  Everything else is kind of irrelevant.

Now, I'm not saying that we have to agree with everything or tolerate everything others do, but we do still have to operate in love, respect, kindness, and tolerance for others, regardless of our own feelings.  And no, that's not easy.

And I believe these are truths that extend far beyond church pews, because the bottom line is, everyone would like to be - and should be - treated with the same level of respect.  Period.  Whether you believe in the principles of the Bible, or just the "Golden Rule," I think we can all agree that at the core of every heart, all anyone wants is love and respect.  And if that's the deepest need of your own heart, then chances are, its the deepest need of your friends, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, strangers in the grocery store, and even people you have very different views from.  Everyone deserves to be treated as a worthwhile, wonderful human being!

I think the most heartbreaking "principles over people" situations comes from parents.  Parents, these are your children!  You were put on this earth for the sole purpose of loving them, nurturing them, and caring for them!  Your principles are fine and dandy, but if your children don't have your unconditional love, regardless of who they are or what they do, then who/what do they have?  Consider all the alternatives you can think of...  Its a scary thought.

It breaks my heart when I hear of teens that get pregnant because they're too afraid to talk to their parents about their desire to have sex, for fear that their parents will choose their principles over their own child.  A good portion of the girls who got pregnant when I was in high school came from very strict, legalistic Christian homes, and I can't help but wonder if it was because they were too scared to talk to their parents about it.  I pray that my children wait til marriage to have sex - that is the godly expectation I hope and pray they live up to - but I would rather my kids come and talk to me and let me help them - free of any judgment, and acting purely in my love for them - than be blindsided with an out-of-the-blue announcement that my child is going to be a teen parent.

I also know people who've stayed "in the closet" for fear of their parents' rejection.  I know of people who've been completely ostracized, or even banished, from their family because of their sexual orientation.  Regardless of how I or anyone else feels about homosexuality, I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around rejecting your own child!  No, having a gay child wouldn't be easy, but its still your child, and your job will always be to love them no matter what!

No matter who you are or what you believe, though, the message remains the same.  We were put on this earth to care for one another, to lighten each others' loads, to extend help, smiles, and kind words of encouragement.  We weren't put on this earth to judge, cast out, or hurt each other.  At the core of our every action taken or word spoken toward another human being, should be love.  We don't have to agree with someone - we can still think they're completely off their rocker - but we do have to operate out of respect and kindness toward them, regardless of who they are, how they live, the choices they make, the religion they adhere to, the part of the world they come from, the beliefs they hold...  Its not an easy thing to do, but its crucial that we at least try.

Have you ever been treated as less than a person due to someone else's principles?  How did you respond?  Any other thoughts?  I'd love your feedback!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Public schooling doesn't make me a bad parent!

Okay, I just have to address this, because, well, I do. I am hoping this doesn't come off as a terrible rant or offend people, but I feel like I need to be the voice for many a public schooling Christian parent.

 Public schooling doesn't make me a bad parent!

Just so we're clear, nobody has ever directly accused me of this, but there are undertones I hear in others' conversations; condescending tones, indirect jabs, sarcastic remarks, questioning of the morals of parents who subject their children to "the horrors of the secular world"... It gets old, and its hurtful. There. I said it.

I also need to point out that, prior to my son turning 5 and having to actually make tangible decisions about the schooling of my children, I, too, was on that bandwagon. The attitudes of the majority of Christians I knew was that homeschooling was the "right" - dare I say, the "godly" - thing to do, and public schooling was "wrong," and practically neglectful parenting. There was a clear notion that only "bad" or "lazy" parents who didn't really care about their kids' education and spiritual well-being public schooled their kids. And I bought it. I truly began to believe that I had to homeschool if I was a "good" Christian parent.

Then reality set in. Private Christian school is outrageously expensive and would've been a good half-hour drive each way from where we were living when my son started kindergarten (and we only live 5 minutes closer now).  I'm a stay-at-home mom, I could handle driving him back and forth, but that would take a lot of time out of my day.

Homeschooling, I then decided, was also out of the question.  Observing my son at preschool, I realized that he did better when he spent some time each day away from me, and likewise, I spent time away from him.  We both love each other immeasurably, but having our own time and space on a daily basis seemed to be very good for our mother-son relationship.  Another factor is that I am a very undisciplined person, and I run on a very "organic" schedule.  I worried that the lack of structure wouldn't produce a lot of "school time."  And, like private school, homeschooling costs money we just didn't have for the supplies and curriculum.  It just didn't seem like the right fit for us, either.

So what were we left with?  Public school.  I was wary at first, but I knew both the kindergarten teachers, so that helped.  Then I began to see my son blossom as a student.  He began to read and write, learn his addition, create art, enjoy music, make friends, and generally enjoy going to school.  And it was then that I knew we'd made the right choice.

I'm not going to pretend like public school is all sunshine and roses.  Its not.  We've had a number of situations arise throughout the years that we've had to deal with and been utterly unprepared for.  Curse words, lewd jokes and ditties he'd come home with, unkindness from peers, struggles with math, and a whole slew of other situations.  But you know, while most parents would look at those situations as purely bad things, I see the good in them.

Say what?!?

I see those instances as teaching moments.  When one of my kids come home with ditties or jokes with lewd innuendos (that they don't even catch, fortunately), I gently and appropriately explain what the content means (within reason), and explain how its offensive and inappropriate and should not be repeated.  In peer situations, we remind them that its okay to speak up, but to always do so in a kind manner.

In teachings that don't align with our beliefs, we explain what we do believe, how it differs, and why we believe what we believe and don't believe what we don't believe.  We do not, however, freak out about all the things "out there" that our kids are learning.  We don't believe in macroevolution (the "big bang" and all that), for example, but we don't make a scene about it.  We just explain what we believe, how it differs, why we believe it, and leave it at that.  We don't live in fear that what our children learn at school will taint their understanding of their world or their faith.  In fact, I believe that to fully understand what you do believe, you have to have a comprehension of what you don't believe.  So, I don't mind if they learn that the theory of evolution exists, as long as they understand that we believe in a Creator and not a "big bang."  And I think both my school-age kids have a pretty good grasp of that.

I am not opposed to homeschooling or private schooling, if that is what others believe is best for their own child(ren).  What I take issue with is the notion that every child should be schooled the same way, or that I'm a "less than" Christian parent because I choose to public school my kids.  Every parent has their own priorities when it comes to the education of their children, and I totally understand and respect that.

For me, school isn't about "churchin'."  Its about reading, writing, math, science, music, history, social sciences, peer relations, etc.  My kids get plenty of Christian teaching on Sunday mornings, and throughout our weekly discussions here at home.  For some parents, that's not enough, and that's fine.  But personally, I don't feel like my kids need to be immersed in Christian teachings 24/7 to excel in life or have a solid relationship with Christ.  In fact, I feel like the teaching moments that public school provides will make them more solid in their faith than kids that are immersed in it 24/7, because it makes them have to really dig deep and think through their beliefs, actions, and words regarding their faith.

So here is what it boils down to for me...

Before I even had kids, I always wanted to afford them the best education I was able to give them.  Around here, I truly believe that is through public school.  We're fortunate to live within the boundaries of one of the best school districts in the entire state, so for educational purposes, its a no-brainer for me.  While the idea of a Christian school is great, due to separation of church and state (which I do believe in, by the way), religious schools don't have to hire licensed, accredited teachers.  Now, I don't put all my stock in college degrees, licensure, and accreditation.  And I do believe there are some really lousy licensed teachers, and really incredible unlicensed, teachers out there.  But, right or wrong, I just can't accept that the quality of education at a private school with unlicensed teachers is going to be at the same educational level as our cream-of-the-crop local public school.  Right or wrong, that's how I feel.

Regardless of how you choose to school your kids, make sure you weigh all the options and make your choice for the right reasons.  I think its crucial that we go purely on what's educationally best for our kids, and not on fear or our own emotions.

I know a lot of parents who homeschool to "protect their kids from the outside world."  That's noble and everything, but I feel like that is a fear-based decision, and not an education-based one.  If you aren't equipped to give your child a homeschooling education better than a public or private school option, then I don't think you should homeschool.  If you don't know how to teach your child upper-level math or proper spelling, capitalization, sentence structure, and grammar, then leave it to someone who does know and can effectively teach your child to the highest standard you can provide them.

Likewise, if a private school can't provide the same quality of education as a public school or homeschooling, and you're just doing it so that your kid can get more "churchin'," then I question those motives, too.  I'm all for nurturing the budding faith of our kids, but I don't think the quality of their education should be compromised for it.

And if you live in an area with really crummy public education, then I urge you to consider alternatives such as homeschooling or private school.  Again, its not worth selling your kids short just to do what's cheaper and easier.

The bottom line is, I chose public schooling because I feel its best for my kids.  I am fulfilling the promise I made to them before they were even conceived that I would give them the best education I could possibly provide them.  And, for us, the best education comes in the form of public school.  So its hard for me to see public school-bashing posts on Facebook, or hear snooty comments here and there out in the Christian community that imply that us public schooling parents are "lazy" or "uncaring" about the education of our children.  I can't speak for every Christian public schooling parent, only for myself, but that is anything but the truth!

I will end this post much in the same way I end many of my parenting-related posts:  You do you, I'll do me. You parent how you see fit, and I'll parent how I see fit.  And let's leave it at that and not judge eachother for our different choices.

What about you?  What is your take on this issue?  Is this something you've witnessed or experienced as a parent?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why *can't* my child be different?

Quite possibly the biggest heartache in parenting is when people don't treat your child with respect. And right now my heart is quite achy.

Without going into great detail, my son is being picked on by some of his peers. And I'm pretty sure know why.

Its because he's different.

 We live in a community that, like most communities, values sports as the pinnacle of....well, pretty much everything. However, my son isn't athletic. None of us in this family are. We don't like to kick soccer balls or throw footballs. We just don't. We lack both the desire and the coordination. (Save my 7 year old daughter who is involved in dance and practices her little butt off.) We'll occasionally go swimming or hiking in the summer, but organized sports just aren't our thing.

 My son prefers to draw, write, read, act, play the drums, sing, and create. My son has a boundless imagination! Just about every year he gets cast as the main role in their class play(s) because he can act out just about anything with confidence, enthusiasm, and ease. He got chosen for honor choir because he can sing. He got chosen to play the drums by his music teacher because he has a God-given gift for it. (Trust me, that's what it is, because I've been musical my whole life but I stink at playing the drums!) My kid is very talented! Just not in the way society deems "normal" or "cool" for a 10 year old boy.

I was also watching an episode of Dance Moms Miami earlier today . (Yes, I know its totally trashy TV, but being a dance mom myself - though not a psycho one, thankfully - I am really sucked in to it.) There is a little boy on there who is a phenomenal dancer, yet gets picked on by other kids at school, being teased and called gay. Since when did dancing "make" a young boy gay? That kid is going to go far in dance and in life, that is evident. Just not to his more "normal" classmates. And that's sad.

When did organized sports become the end-all-be-all compass by which kids judge eachother's talent and worth? Talent and worth extend far beyond a football field! Not everyone is wired the same way, and that's the way God made us and intended us to be! When was it decided, and by whom, that being different is bad or wrong? So what if my kid wants to play the drums? Or sing. Or act. Or dance. Or....anything! Who cares what my kid does? He's really talented, just not in the things that our society places worth on. And again, that's sad.

 It just burns me up as a parent that these stupid judgments and intolerances continue to be passed down from generation to generation to generation to generation to... You get my point. We speak of this "tolerant day and age" we live in, but let's face it, we're no more evolved in our thinking than our great-grands were! In order to have tolerance and respect, parents have to teach it to their kids.

 I think part of the problem is that our society still has a "macheesmo complex" when it comes to boys. Girls are allowed by society to get their hands dirty, work on machinery, change the oil in a car, clean a carburetor... But a boy taking dance classes? Ohhhh no....that's not happening!


 Put the stinkin' macheesmo aside and let your boy take dance classes! What is the harm? Really, truly, what is the harm? I highly doubt anyone can give me a good answer to that question.

 I'd also like to point out that the people who are most remembered throughout history are not the sports heroes (in fact, not a single name popped up in my google search for pre-1800's athletes) - they're the artsy-fartsy "weirdos!" The people who've left a big impression on this world have been the creative types, the innovators, the artists, the scientists, the dancers, the singers, the composers, the authors, the poets, the actors... Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, George Friedrich Handel, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Tchaikovsy, Mozart, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Steve Jobs, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway.... To name a few of thousands.

 So, why can't my child be different? Why can't he just be who he is, with his own, unique talents, strengths, and interests, and be respected for it? Why does he have to fit the "norm?" Who decided that not being part of the "norm" makes him less worthy of their friendship and respect?

 Fellow parents, would it kill you to teach your kids to respect others? Would it kill you to teach your kids that differences are to be celebrated and not ridiculed? Would it kill you to teach your kids that there's a reason we've all been created differently? Would it kill you to teach your kids that interests other than their own are still important, valuable, and interesting?

 I respect you and your kid(s), so respect me and mine, and teach your kids to do so as well. That's all I ask.

What makes *you* different an unique?  How have you handled the societal fall-out?  I'd love to know!