Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On Independence and Independent Spirits

On her blog, Barbara Curtis kindly answers my question about chores for little ones. Here she provides a link on her web site for jobs appropriate for children, broken down by approximate age. I’ve been thinking for awhile that I need to stretch my children a bit more in their responsibilities, and this is probably the nudge I needed to make it happen.

In her article Full House, which she reposted today, Barbara states that one lesson parents should learn is to encourage self-reliance. I remember when I was a teenager, a young mother I knew stated that she was helping her 4-year-old learn to shower alone “because I want to help my children be independent.” I looked at her like she had four heads. Why in the world would a mother want her children to be independent?!!

I understand better now. At the time, I had been greatly influenced by a movement that feared what they called “an independent spirit” in their children. An independent spirit was to be avoided at all costs. The problem was, I discovered with time, that the term or even the principle of an independent spirit is nowhere to be found in scripture. What I learned about most parents who lived in terror that their child would develop an independent spirit is that they kept them close and somewhat helpless so that they could maintain control. This vaguely defined independent spirit manifested itself in children (usually young adults) who didn’t feel a need for their parents to manage every part of their lives, who might desire to live away from home, who had differing opinions and even convictions from their parents. In short, what was termed an independent spirit was usually a desire to grow up, to think for one’s self, and to have one’s own relationship with God. Fear, control, and manipulation turned these qualities of independence and responsibility something to be squashed. Looking back, it’s a scary teaching, one that has ruined a lot of lives, or at least contributed toward rebellion and broken family relationships. In trying to avoid an independent spirit (again, which is not even in the Bible), many parents have pushed their children away.

Do I think that young people should fly solo with no accountability? Of course not. The Bible shows beautifully again and again that we are created for family, for community, for togetherness. God places parents, pastors, mentors, and friends in our lives for guidance and counsel, and the Body of Christ should be characterized by love, mutual submission, and unity. But this kind of unity never means that we should all look like we were dumped from the same mold, or that one person should control all aspects of the life of another, or that differences in opinion and conviction should not be tolerated.

The nearest thing to this idea of an independent spirit that I find in the Bible is rebellion. Rebellion is wrong. Rebellion is acting against the will and counsel of God. Rebellion is pushing away reasonable boundaries and standards. But simply to desire one’s own home, to change a hairstyle, to ask for time alone, to live on a different schedule, to have a strong difference of belief on any peripheral issue (an aside: these peripheral issues are more varied than most of us would like to admit)—these things are not in and of themselves rebellion. Nor do they indicate an independent spirit. It’s simply part of the diversity grace allows us, even that God delights in.

Teaching my children to be independent has become almost a necessity. Sure, I could keep doing everything for them. But that’s all I’d have time for, and they would never learn to do anything for themselves. I understand that in time this will translate from physical responsibilities to spiritual independence as they learn to live in relationship with God on their own.

"Parenting," Barbara says, "is one job we should be working ourselves out of each day." Helping my children become independent will not give them “independent spirits,” I now know from the Word of God and from seasoned parents. Instead, it will help them become strong, responsible, capable people who can think for themselves and discover God’s will for their lives.

1 comment:

AnnMarie said...

I'm a HUGE fan of chores for little kids. I think Barbara's ages are far from "on the early side." My daughter was picking up her own toys (and the dogs') before 18 months. She does it all by herself most of time now (at 22 months). She puts her dirty clothes in the hamper. She clears her plate and pushes in her chair at dinner time. She transfers laundry from washer to dryer (with help pulling them out of the washer) and takes them out of the dryer or off the rack. She also hands clothes to me from the basket. She pushes the grocery cart in the store (sitting in the cart is used for discipline instead) and carries bags to the car (she can carry 4# and she's a little thing!). We're now working on washing herself up after dinner and before bed. And of course she helps undress herself and chooses her outfit for the next day.