Involvement or Interference?

Pelicans

Because of a project I’ve been working on, I’ve become reacquainted with some of the women of the Bible. Although I knew about them and their families and histories, rereading their stories has given me additional insight into their courage and faith. The two women I’m referring to are Jochebed and Hannah.

In case your memory of Jochebed is a little sketchy, my version of her story is that she gave birth to Moses at a time when Pharaoh had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be murdered. The midwives refused to do this, and they lied to Pharaoh, saying that the Hebrew women were vigorous and strong and that they gave birth before a mid-wife had time to arrive.

Jochebed kept Moses close by for three months, but when he began to grow and become more active, she knew that she couldn’t keep him quiet forever. Trusting that God would preserve him, Jochebed put her sweet baby in a basket covered with tar and placed him in the Nile River. She knew that Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe there and trusted that the princess would rescue Moses.

When the princess spotted the baby, she felt compassion on him, and although she wanted to raise him as her own (my take on it), she knew that such a small baby would need a nursemaid. Out comes Miriam, Moses’ sister, from behind the bulrushes and tells Pharaoh’s daughter that she knows someone who will nurse and nurture the baby until he can be weaned. The princess agrees to this arrangement.

The day of separation for Moses and Jochebed comes at last, and he is raised in Pharaoh’s palace with many advantages, including an education that prepares him for his vital leadership role as an Israelite leader.

What would have happened if Jochebed had said NO to letting him go?

Hannah is the other mother on my mind. She had wanted a child for years, and yet she remained childless. Although her husband Elkanah never complained about her childless state, she was grieved by it, especially when she saw the children who had been born to Elkanah and his first wife.

When Hannah and Elkanah traveled to Shiloh, she went to the temple to pray for a child. Eli the Priest, after inquiring about what he perceived to be her drunken state, learned of Hannah’s fervent desire for a child and of her promise to give him to the Lord “all the days of his life.”

Eli told Hannah to go in peace and promised that God would grant her petition. She trusted in that assurance completely, and after Samuel was weaned, Hannah kept her word. It must have been difficult to turn her precious little son over to Eli, but Hannah felt that Samuel was indeed a gift from God and wanted to turn he over to Him.

The day of separation for Hannah and Samuel came at last, and she went back to the tabernacle and presented the child to Eli to be raised there. I don’t know how often she saw her son after that day. Some speculate that she visited him regularly. I don’t know. I do know that (to me) it gives deeper meaning to the oft-cited phrase, “Let go and let God.”

What would have happened if Hannah had said NO to turning Samuel over to Eli?

Moses grew up to be one of the most influential men in all history, a man whom the Lord knew “face to face.” He led the Israelites out of Egypt and later gave us, through God, the Ten Commandments. Samuel was a remarkable man whom God used as a great prophet and judge of Israel.

I can’t help but wonder what their lives would have been like if their mothers had continued to keep them close or to meddle in their lives. Sociologists and psychologists study a social phenomenon called helicopter parents who hover over their children, even adult ones, ready to swoop down and take over regardless of age or of the child’s abilities, desires, or predilections.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to step back and when to become involved. And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between involvement and interference. I have no answers to this dilemma. I just know that we might never have heard of Moses or Samuel if their mothers hadn’t turned them over.

What do you think? How can mothers know when to when to let go? How do they stay on the involvement side without crossing over into interference?

Duty-Bound Chick

I’ve been reading and enjoying Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits. Her words have struck many responsive chords over the past week or so, and I’ve often found myself thinking, “That’s me!” or in some cases, “That was me.” This afternoon I’m thinking of the author’s take on the Little Red Hen, a.k.a. Jayne.

When I was a younger mother, we often had family meetings about various daily living issues. A recurring topic was the unequal division of labor within the household. I did the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and chauffeuring while the others (especially the children) contributed very little to the smooth running of the household. To make matters worse, they often whined when asked to clean their rooms or heaven forbid, clean off the table or fold clothes.

Evidently, despite a background in psychology, I had not yet learned the truth of “What you allow will continue,” a phrase I often see on Facebook these days. To make matters worse, I had undoubtedly been overheard saying, “You teach people how to treat you,” in my classes, and yet I had failed to see how paradoxical that was in my own home. I had taught everyone to treat me like one of my favorite and cutest children’s book characters, the industrious little hen.

In meeting after meeting, we talked about this sweet, giving little birdie. She repeatedly asked other barnyard animals for help, but they were always busy or disinclined. No one even wanted to go to the mill to turn the wheat into flour. I can still see her picture in one of my daughter’s books, scarf flying in the wind as she drove her little red convertible around the curves on her way to the mill. Elizabeth still occasionally says, “There’s a Little Red Hen car,” when she sees a red convertible.

But I digress. Do you remember the story? When the Little Red Hen returned from the mill, no one wanted to help her bake the bread. Accustomed to sacrificing for everyone else, she slaved away in her little kitchen making loaves of delicious, aromatic bread. When the bread was ready to eat, the sleepy cat, noisy duck, and lazy dog were eager to help her devour the tasty treat.

But the Little Red Hen said NO. She had had it! Enough was enough. Why should she continue to work so hard and do so much for individuals who never helped or appreciated her?

After reading Sue Monk Kidd’s discussion on this busy little creature, I had to laugh. I have been that hen! She represents Every Woman who has ever felt taken advantage of. (I know that she also represents other types of people too, but this is my story). Despite resentment, fatigue, stress, and latent anger, some hens (er, women) continue to ALWAYS put others’ needs first. According to Kidd, they’re letting themselves be martyrs. They need to come back from the mill and say NO once in a while.

Truthfully, I already knew all of the above. But I enjoyed Kidd’s  reminder that women need to think about themselves too. They need to treat themselves well and practice the commandment to love themselves as well as their neighbors.

I have more to say about this duty-bound chick, but I’ll save it for tomorrow. Right now the little red hen part of my psyche is nudging me towards some laundry and grocery shopping. But how about it, Ladies? Do you need to back off a little from others’ demands and focus on some of your own needs?

Lessons from the Onion Field

One of the nice things about having a personal blog is that I can write about anything that crosses my mind. Therefore, this is sort of a hodgepodge blog of topics ranging from exercise and health to family and faith…and a ton of stuff in-between. For instance, sometimes the blog becomes a travelogue, and other times I might decide to pontificate on politics.

That said, today’s post is about a revelation (that’s what I’m calling it) that I got in church Sunday. I had been pondering an issue that someone near and dear to me was having, and then suddenly the speaker said a few simple things that provided immediate insight. He began by talking about the importance of families, and then he shared some relevant stories from his childhood. It was a fabulous talk, filled with several references to scriptures, pertinent articles, and personal experiences.

Here’s one of the stories that I particularly liked, probably because of the underlying lesson. As a young child, he and his younger brother had the task of watering onions on a huge family farm. The onion planting was somewhat experimental, and the adult males on the scene, the speaker’s father and grandfather, had rigged up some newfangled way of making sure that the plants were watered. Unfortunately, the scheme didn’t work as well as planned, and watering became a hot, arduous, and dreaded task.

“You might wonder why we did it,” he said. The speaker then went on to say that he and his brothers and other siblings clearly understood their role as children and the adults’ roles as parents and grandparents. “As children, we knew we were to do what our parents told us to do, and although we didn’t always like it, we also knew that it was eventually going to be for our own good. It’s the same type of relationship that we have with God. We need to do what he tells us to do just like children need to do what their parents tell them to do.”

That’s when it hit me—the parallel between God’s instructions and those of earthly parents. He doesn’t tell us to do anything that will hurt us or cause sorrow, and neither will our biological parents. Well, quite honestly, some parents are pretty crummy in their role, but not the ones I’m thinking of at the moment. I know, just as we all do, some people who are great at following God’s commandments to keep the Sabbath holy and  refrain from killing other people, and yet they totally diss their parents and their instructions to come home on time, do their homework, clean their rooms, and a myriad of other things.

Doesn’t this seem a little paradoxical? It could be that I’m expecting too much from children to truly understand the parallels between the two parental sources, our Heavenly father and our earthly parents. In any case, I’ll leave the explaining part to the grown-ups. For now, I’ll just say that children need to be obedient to their parents and to God.

She’s Not Fanatical

One of my writing friends and I had a great conversation yesterday, and among our many topics, children and parents and families came up. What’s the best way to raise chidren? Is divorce something that the parties involved ever completely recover from? We didn’t resolve all of the issues under discussion, but we did pretty much nail this one: The most important factor in raising responsible, mentally healthy children is L-O-V-E. Naturally, we talked about our own darling offspring, but we also talked about our own parents.

Today I’m missing my parents and yet feeling their influence at the same time. If that doesn’t make sense, read on, and maybe it will. This morning I’ve been thinking of a conversation that took place about 25 years ago between my father and another man:

“Is she the sister that’s a Mormon?” he asked my father.

Glancing in my direction (I hope with a smile), he replied, “Yep. That’s her.”

They were silent for a few moments and then my father added, “But she’s not fanatical about it.” Bless his heart!

That man knew his children well, and he respected all of our ideas and opinions although they were often different from his. Knowing that the four of us were endowed with different temperaments and tendencies, he and my mother allowed us to develop without too much interference. That’s not to say that we didn’t get a nudge or push in the right direction sometimes, but I don’t recall any of us ever being told that our ideas were stupid, off-the-mark, ill-formed, silly, or strange.

Back to the Mormon thing, sometimes I really really really miss my father because he was so non-judgmental. If I’d wanted to become a Buddhist or Hindu, he might have raised an eyebrow, but then again, he knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t do that. He knew that even though I loved to learn and explore and investigate, I’d probably never stray from the doctrines of Christianity.

And he was right. I’m a Christian, a follower of Christ, and I’m a Mormon. Why am I telling you this, especially since just about everyone who reads my blog already knows it? I’m telling you this because I’m beginning to feel like the “Mormon thing” might be making some of my friends uncomfortable around me lately, especially since Romney is likely to be the Republican nominee for President.

There’s no need to feel weird about me, Folks. As my open-minded father said, I’m not fanatical. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the teachings of the LDS religion, especially since they’re pretty much the same ones that my parents taught me, things like being kind, honest, and hardworking. At the same time, I’m not so zealous that I’m going to get all preachy and start pontificating on the perils of not seeing things my way.

All of the Mormons that I know adhere to 13 Articles of Faith, the 11th one being, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege. Let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

So friends, there’s no need to feel uncomfortable about talking about Romney or Joseph Smith or polygamy around me. I’m at peace with the choices I’ve made in the religion department. Just don’t ask me to go out drinking with you or blow smoke in my face.

TLC and Reality Checks

A lunch conversation brought to mind a few more thoughts about fathers and their importance in the life of a child. As we talked about the roles mothers and fathers, it occurred to me for the umpteenth time that they are indeed different. Mother Nature coded us differently from the “get-go’ and that 23rd pair of chromosomes continues to affect our thinking and behavior throughout our lives.

While there are exceptions to this, women are the nurturers. Men are the fix-it people, the ones who see a problem and want to solve it right away. Women want to make things all better, and men want to tackle the issues head on. This way of thinking even affects the way parents handle issues with their children.

Parents look ahead to the future and feel uncertainty, anxiety, and perhaps even downright fear when they consider their children stepping into it. The world is fraught with danger and peril, and each parent wants to prepare the child for it. Their ways of preparing youngsters for the world of tomorrow is different, however. Mothers are more likely to see the possible dangers and warn the child to be cautious and careful. Fathers, on the other hand, are more likely to tell the child to step up to the plate and be strong.

The different parental approaches remind me of the difference between justice and mercy. Both are good; both have their value. And yet too much of one without the other is potentially harmful for the development of a well-rounded and responsible individual. When our children were small and would wail, “That’s not fair,” I was inclined to commiserate with them and agree that while it isn’t always fair, that was just the way it was. “Sorry, Sweetie,” I’d say. Their father, on the other hand, would often quip, “Who says life is fair???”

Sometimes parents can switch off and take turns between nurturer and tough guy, but a child needs both approaches. He or she needs justice AND mercy. Sometimes she needs a big dose of TLC and sometime she needs a reality check. When my daughter Carrie was a college student, she was having a little too much fun, and her grades were slipping. I gave her some encouraging pep talks and reminded her of the importance of education. Truthfully, I don’t think it fazed her at all. Her father told her that if her grades didn’t improve, the gravy train was over. That got her attention, and she immediately began to turn things around.

Maybe some single parents are able to be both the nurturer and the task master, the one who tries to make things “all better” and the one who encourages the child to “man up” (even with female children). But me? I needed both  mercy and justice when raising children, and I think most households do.

He’s Really There for Us

I have dads on my mind again this morning. Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend? We need to. Any reputable human growth and development text will tell you that adolescents in single-parent households are at higher risk for poor academic performance, delinquency, violent behavior, drinking, and risky sexual behavior.

Even if the father is not in the home, he can be a force for good. It is the quality of his involvement that counts, not his mere presence. We all know fathers who  are hateful, ineffective, and abusive and whose families might be better off if they were to hit the road. I’m not talking about them. I’m referring to the ones who genuinely care about their children but for various reasons don’t actually live with them. If the dad provides financial assistance, fosters a close relationship, and practices authoritative parenting, his children are usually better adjusted than if he were absent.

I recall the moment when I first realized that single parenting was becoming more the norm. A dozen years ago, I had a pretty, petite, pregnant redhead in one of my classes. I was a bit surprised that she was beginning the semester because it’s been my experience that having a newborn usually takes more time and energy than the expectant mom realizes, and more often than not, she ends up withdrawing for that term. Sorry ladies, although there are many exceptions, that’s been my observation, especially if the mother is single.

And that was the case with this young mom. The moment she told me about her “boyfriend,” I thought, “Uh oh,” and  had that sinking feeling that her college career would be cut short. Indeed, I somehow knew that the course of her life was about to be altered in a big way and that unless her circumstances changed, she and her baby would struggle in a myriad of ways.

Little Junior was born, and after a week, there she was back in class. I was delighted and surprised. We talked after class, and she showed me some pictures of the baby. There was a young man smiling and holding the newborn in a couple of the photos, and she proudly told me that he was the baby’s father and her boyfriend.

“He’s really there for us,” she said.

“That’s good to hear, “I replied.

“Yeah, he doesn’t come every single day because he’s busy, you know. But at least every other day he comes over and gives the baby a bottle.”

Again I said, “That’s good.”

Did she finish the semester? No. Her son would be approaching his teens now, and I often wonder about their fate. Does the child’s father offer financial assistance? Does he still “feed” his son? Is the child angry or rebellious? Do they live in poverty? Did she go back to college?

 There have always been single mothers and absentee fathers. I just don’t recall it being so openly flaunted as it is now. I’m amazed at how easily a person can become adjusted to change, even if it’s not good. These days I’m often surprised and thrilled to learn that the couple is married, something that I used to take for granted.

Be a Dad

Is there any greater legacy for a man to leave than that of being a responsible, dedicated, and caring father? At the end of life’s journey, I don’t think money or fame can top it in importance. For a child, there are empty places that only a father can fill.

It started with Courageous. Then later that week, I saw a huge billboard with Simba and Mufasa, the words “Be a dad,” written across it. For several moments, I reminisced about The Lion King and its many great themes, one of which is the importance of “remember(ing) who you are.” The movie also said a lot about effective leadership and the power of example. I could go on and on about the attributes of the movie, but I couldn’t do it justice. It’s something you need to see for yourself.

The two movies made me think of other fathers, young and old, living and deceased, and their tremendous potential for influencing their children. Of my young favorites, there’s Rich whom I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post; my son Paul; and Ryan and Charlie, my husband’s son and son-in-law respectively. What all four of these young men have in common is the love and caring that they extend to their children every single day. All work hard and are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to care for their growing families. Their children look up to them and enjoy spending time with them.

Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of recent examples. My daughter-in-law Amanda says that she and Olivia Jayne will often go out on the balcony to wait for Paul when it’s time for him to come home. As soon as the tiny tot sees her father, she gets excited and starts stomping her feet. Recently, little Allie spent a couple of hours with us one morning before school started, and one of her favorite topics of conversation was Daddy, Daddy, Daddy (a.k.a. Ryan). And then there’s Hannah, Charlie’s oldest child. A sweet and precious child, she has often shown me a pearl necklace that her father gave her one evening when they went to daddy/daughter event.

Fathers of adult children are important too. Regardless of age, children need fathering, especially when it involves showing an interest in their lives and expressing a desire to spend time with them. As a quick example, my daughter Elizabeth enjoys monthly outings with her father. Whether shopping, enjoying a movie, or sharing a meal, his presence in her life clearly says, “I love you.” Then there’s my husband who talks with and sees his children on a regular basis. Last week, he spent one day hog hunting with Ryan and another day visiting with Lauren and her children.

Speaking of older fathers, last week I attended the funeral of an 84-year-old father, step-father, and grandfather. After the demise of his first wife, he married a friend of mine who had four young children, and for over twenty years, he’s been “there” for them. At the funeral, these four young adults sang a beautiful hymn in a tribute to Will.

Is there any greater legacy for a man to leave than that of being a responsible, dedicated, and caring father? At the end of life’s journey, I don’t think money or fame can top it in importance. For a child, there are empty places that only a father can fill. Even someone of presidential stature, Barack Obama, speaks of feeling a “father hunger” for much of his life.

Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend?