Monday, October 3, 2016

What is your objective for your children?

Noah and his Hannah
A friend told me that it was time to give an update on my children, so here goes.  Noah seems to be settling well into his work in Washington DC as a background investigator for a federal contractor.  He is learning to negotiate Washington traffic and seems to enjoy the challenges in his work.  I'm happy because I think this position is a good fit for Noah and at the same time, he is contributing to keeping our country safe.  I'm also thankful for Facebook Messenger which allows me to keep in contact with him.  Hopefully we will get to see him at Christmas.

Hannah is living at home, working full-time, and recently started grad school at Western Michigan University in a specialty program for Alcohol and Drug Abuse.  Her passion is social work and many of our conversations center around that passion. Last week I had the opportunity to drive with Hannah to Lake City, MI to visit Bob's mom.  On the way back we had an interesting conversation that went something like this:
Hannah:  What I don't understand is what people's objectives
are for their children.  Is it only for them to be happy?  Or for them to also be well-adjusted, contributing members of society?

Renita:  Well-adjusted, contributing members of society would be great.  But, wait a minute, are you saying that your childhood wasn't happy?  (Pause)

Renita (cont'd):  It's not like we moved from the countryside into a high crime urban neighborhood with drug houses and prostitution on our street when you were four years old.....oh yeah...we did...(pause)
...It's not like we sent you to a failing closing public school for which your dad lost his job, and you and your brother were the only white children when you were eight years old....oh yeah...we did...(pause)

...It's not like we moved you to a war torn country where there was no running water or electricity when you were twelve years old...oh yeah...we did...(pause)

...It's not like you lost an important family member when you were sixteen years old....oh did...(pause)
...Well, ummmmm... at least I didn't sell you into the sex trade!
My Hannah, in Washington DC
My goodness, Hannah.  We gave you a tough challenging childhood! 
Hannah:  But that's the thing, Mom.  It was challenging to be sure, but you and Dad were always there for me (well, until Dad was not).  All decisions were made together through discussion.  And you processed everything with us.  Too many parents seek only their children's happiness and comfort, and fail to produce well-adjusted contributing members of society.  Part of the reason that my childhood was happy was because I learned very early on that you respected me and I learned to respect you.  Respect was a mutual expectation.  I was happy to hang out at home because I loved being with you guys.  I feel that the problem with many parents is that they come down too hard on the happiness or too hard on the discipline, but if you have mutual respect you don't have to come down hard on either side.   Don't get me wrong, I thought some of your rules were unfair growing up, but it was not because you didn't explain them to me but because I thought I was smarter than your rules.  Also, I know that even though we discussed the rules, the rules weren't up for discussion.  There was consistency and an intentional consciousness of everything we did. 
This was only a snapshot of a discussion that we had for quite some time.  I am still waiting to see if one day my kids will say that we "sacrificed them for the ministry" as many missionary kids say of their parents.  Bob and I worked very hard to not allow that to happen.  That is why we didn't send them to boarding school, but home schooled when there wasn't a better option.  When they went to the public school, I dropped them off and picked them up every day, and was home when they were home so that they would never be "latch-key" kids.  We had regular family meetings.  We told stories around the dinner table.  And every dinner also had high points and low points from the day, shared by adults and kids alike.  When we moved from Liberia to Ghana, we had a family meeting to discuss, before God, what were our "must-haves," our "like-to-have," and our "would be very nice to have" options.  Running water and electricity were not on anyone's "must-have" list but both kids had "a school with friends" on their "must-have" list, which is why Ghana was a good choice for them.  We certainly didn't do everything right, and they can testify to lots of mistakes, but our objective was happy AND well adjusted, contributing members of society. Clearly, taking them outside of their comfort zone was part of that process.

It is fun to have adult conversations with my children and to hear their perspective on their childhood.  Bob and I sometimes wondered whether our call to the mission field was going to be more about them then about us and any work we might accomplish.  Lots of these things are only seen in hindsight, so at age 23 and 21 it still is probably to early to tell.  But I continue to thank God for the privilege of knowing Hannah and Noah and trust their Heavenly Father to meet their needs according to His riches in glory!