Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Declaration of Interdependence

Perhaps because we're looking college in the eye - the reality of our family living in two places instead of one...well, three in one place and one in another...I have been wondering why we place such an emphasis on raising our children to be independent. As if living their lives separately is a good thing for either of us. So, I'm going to rebel (albeit late as my kids are teenagers) and aim for interdependent kids.

Should they be able to move out and live alone, supporting themselves and buying us a beach house with any extra that they earn? Sure. I'm not looking for them to live at home forever, exactly. I do want to take the vacations with my beloved that our children would not want to take. I want to go to the National Parks and the churches of Europe and meander around, stopping here and there with a sketch book and pencil, not that I can really draw anything worth looking at. Which wouldn't be the point. Sean will take beautiful pictures and we'll marvel at what we'd have seen that day over a glass of wine.

But I also want to spend the rest of my life with my kids and their kids and, if this low sodium diet doesn't kill me off, with their kids' kids. I need us to be part of each other's lives.

So why do we place this value on independence? It certainly isn't biblical. Honoring your father and mother doesn't involve sending them the odd e-mail and never seeing them. Raising your child up in the way he should go so that when he grows old he doesn't depart from it doesn't imply that you'll be absent as he continues on that path.

I think this whole "ideal" of raising independent children is a lie. Just like that old perfume commercial which told us that women could "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man" as if anyone, male or female, can do all that stuff and not keel over from exhaustion, no matter how nice they smell.

The fabrication goes that we should have at most two kids and the sooner we bring them up to go off and be independent, the sooner we can go back to our lives, as if children somehow make you put off living a life. So we are to start training them early to live alone by using toys that teach them to play quietly by themselves on a computer or in front of the tv while we're on the laptop, the phone, nose in a book....whatever it takes to hang on to an identity other than "Susie's mom." And I'm not innocent of the above, I'm just questioning why I've done what I've done.

We are told by the media that we are "worth it" that we "deserve" stuff - and one of those things that we deserve is our "me" time. But why is that, aside from advertisers obvious interest in getting us to buy their products? I can't see what I've done that is so remarkable that I deserve anything. I'm just a housewife. I live a nice life. I volunteer - at stuff I love doing. And if I "deserve" it - who has to give it to me? Where to I go to cash in this chip? And why is the goal to be so alone?

So how to break this cycle of independence and work on interdependence?

When they're babies, independence is impossible as their needs are too immediate and physical. You're face to face with them while nursing. Your body is tuned to theirs as cutting the umbilical cord didn't actually serve to sever much of anything.

But as they grow older, the connection is far more mental and as such is strewn with exit doors. There's the pre-teen angst of junior high boys. You hope the walls of your house survive the fists that pound on them in frustration. The slamming of doors, the forgetfulness, and the realization that you're using your Lamaze techniques far more than you did during labor. Then follows the teenage moodiness (theirs and mine), the hormonal swings and the strangeness of a generation we're not a part of. They stomp off to their rooms, where you're not really welcome despite the fact (which, by the way, you shouldn't bring up) that you paid for the room and the door, and there is more separateness. Their language is different, their music - only somewhat less so, and the technology they view as normal was inconceivable when we were their age. All obstacles to overcome on the road to interdependence.

So I'm seeking the chink in the armor. One way I've stumbled onto, is to find what they love, whether it be video games or card games or music or whatever, and work out a way to do some of it with them. Putting down my laptop, my CrackBerry (which I love and my entire family entirely hates), or my book and playing a game with them. Some games I'm horrible at and they laugh at me, but I actually beat my son at chess the other day. A game I taught him after he beat me at checkers when he was four. Things I wouldn't have thought to do, but things I'll miss doing when they're away. Things that keep us together and make us laugh.

As we get closer to sending our son to college (if the college applications ever get done), I find us all in the same room more often. I suspect it's the looming threat of separation, even though I do want him to go to learn to be a teacher because he'll be a great one.

But I never want either of my kids to think that they need to, or should, do it all on their own. There are a lot of folks who have held their hands as they've walked toward adulthood. Their teachers who helped them learn, the friends who gentled their rough edges, the family that loved and reared them are all part of the world into which God intentionally placed them. We're none of us meant to be independent or alone.

So I'm going to help them to see both the gifts God has given them and to recognize the gifts God has given to those around them so that they can weave their lives into the tapestry, supporting and being supported by it. I want them to know that they are part of the body of Christ...where neither they, nor any other part, can say "I have no need of you."

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