Relationship Series—Parent & Child
By Miriam Rockness
This summer, as I stood in front of the Cape-Cod style house in Arlington Heights, Massachusetts. I was transported back to my childhood. With a bit of imagination, I could repaint the house its former soft dove-gray, add blue shutters and window boxes spilling over with coral geraniums and ivy, picket fence and rose arbor. Tears blurred my vision as my mind was crowded with memories of 60-some years past. Once the possibility of a journey back in time presented itself as a probability it had become almost a visceral need to return to my roots – and recapture blissful childhood years.
The dormer window to the right of the house brought me back to reality. Even as I painted my childhood home back to its nostalgic origins I realized my tendency to “white wash” the reality of childhood along with my childhood home. That dormer window of my bedroom was the space from which I retreated to lick my wounds and console my grievances. From here I would sit on a table and view the world going on below – normally – as if my heart was not wounded (if not broken).
What was the basis of those wounds? The battle played out in the arena of the will: my will against my parents. Generally, it worked like this. Miriam had a plan operational in several places: indoors it could be my bedroom (read a book, play with dolls or dollhouse), attic (writing and drawing), basement (clubs, animals); outdoors (street games, friends). Problem: my plans were regularly brought to an untimely end by my parents’ plans for me: practice piano, set table, meal time, and bedtime. It was amazing what my parents could conjure at the most inopportune time!
In the “Battle of the Wills” my parents held the trump card. They even had God backing their plan. “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right…”¹ was part of the arsenal by which they commandeered my life along with the proverb “Cleanliness is next to godliness” (or was that Benjamin Franklin?) Obedience, incidentally but not insignificantly, was defined instant obedience.
And this was Part II of my problem. The Parents defined my efforts to negotiate as “talking back.” So generally the crime that sent me to my room (after being “dealt with”) was double-edged: disobedience and disrespect. Sometimes the two were so interwoven I couldn’t quite figure out which weighed the greater in my ultimate banishment.
To the safety of my dormer window I went carrying the sense of injustice with me. “It isn’t fair.” “They always get their way.” I would sometimes indulge in dark thoughts: “They (The Parents) would certainly regret their actions if something happened to me their only, albeit wayward, daughter.” This would last only so long. The view from my window inevitably brought distractions which drew me back into my known world again, I forgetting my vow to never come out of my room (even for meals) ever again.
So what was the result of a childhood of “defeats” in the battle of the wills? I learned early on a lesson that kept me alive and well throughout childhood and served me well in countless situations since – through youth and adulthood – at home, work place and community. There is a God-ordained principle that serves not only the individual but an entire society: Submission to authority. The parent, teacher, boss, even governmental leader may not always be “right” but it is “right” (in God’s Plan) to submit to designated authority in given situations. Looking back over my childhood it is clear that my parents were, in fact, more usually “right” in their judgments than wrong.
Right or wrong, notwithstanding, the first mandate was sweetened by the second: “Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”² If my experience had stopped with the discipline of obedience it would have been a heavy load to bear. Instead, the same parents that received my re-entry from shame and sorrow were individuals who gave context to their discipline and provided a loving environment for me to learn and grow.
Years later the tables were turned and it was now me making the judgment calls and, at times, “trumping” the “battle of the wills” with God’s design. And now I know, from a parental point of view, just how difficult it is to “make the calls” and “see them through.” We (with the combined knowledge and ignorance of two adults) didn’t always know with certainty if our decisions were “right.” But we did know someone had to make them. We took comfort in knowing it not to be only our Divine Right but our Divine Responsibility. Not infrequently we would tell our children “We don’t know if this is the best decision but we know we are entrusted to make the decision. Please believe that, right or wrong, we have made it out of love for you. If our judgment is impaired we pray that God will protect you from our limitations.”
When we were young parents there was a parenting book popularized by its “No win, no lose” theory. The idea was if we approached our children’s delicate psyche properly we would never have to make an ultimatum. Hence, without anyone taking a position of authority no one would win; no one would lose. I would like to suggest that God’s Plan is the true “Win, win.” When parents take their God-given responsibility to provide loving “training and instruction” and children observe the God-given mandate to obey – we all win. As we children – of all ages – submit to God’s design for the family, we understand more fully His Ultimate Design for our submission to our Heavenly Father: growing into conformity to His Likeness and experiencing His Purposes for our best. “Children obey…” Fathers – parents – lovingly “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Win; win!
(1) Ephesians 6:1
(2) Ephesians 6:4a