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The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
~Thomas Merton

Beware of wayward children.

I read a lesson from the old family Home Evening manual when my children were still very little. It was all about wayward children. Looking at my very young kids, I watched for signs; I was scared I might drop the ball and miss something. When the younger used Legos as missiles, launching them straight at his brother’s temple, I worried.

Was it a telltale sign of impending rebellion? Had I lost the battle before the child celebrated his fourth birthday?

What is a “wayward” child? Where is the line?

Testimony meeting after testimony meeting, I remember parents gushing from the pulpit, cataloging the achievements that made their children honorable, accepted. Who can blame them? Hallmarks of good parenthood are just measured like that in our culture.

Have a son that earned his Eagle Scout Award from The Boy Scouts? Congratulations.

Sending out your fourth set of wedding announcements that include the phrase, “Marriage solemnized in the (fill in the blank) Temple?” You have made it, Mom and Dad.

Do you have a healthy stamp collection from missionary letters home? Truly, your cup runneth over.

Never did I hear, “My son and his girlfriend just had a beautiful little girl.” Instead, it is mentioned in hushed tones. “They aren’t married yet…” And, the part left unsaid: Doesn’t he know how much he is hurting us?

The number of things that can wedge between parent and child is staggering. Have you ever considered the list? Tattoos, double earrings, facial hair, inactivity, colored shirts, homosexuality, premarital sex, choosing a career or school instead of a mission, marrying a nonmember, losing a testimony… Granted, some things are far more serious. I don’t mean to imply that devout Latter-day Saint parents are hiding their faces in shame when a daughter double pierces her ears, but the sinking feeling that she is headed for apostasy is there all the same.

God bless the parents that stand up. Their comments seemed scandalous to me back then. I wish now that I could send them the ultimate high–five back across time. Those parents that stepped it up, stood for love and worried less about how their kids’ actions reflected on themselves, have my respect. Now.

My humanity has matured.

Show me a tattooed kid with a Shaggy style beard and a beer in his hand, is he bad news by default? If that’s as far as you look, you just might miss the fact that he is just came from volunteering with Special Olympics. How many outward signs turn us off from the great kid that lies beneath the surface?

There shouldn’t be a superficial checklist. The gap between a few tattoos, a few beers, even a few partners before marriage and criminal behavior is as wide as the Grand Canyon. So your son doesn’t much resemble a salesman from the 1950s, or your daughter a housewife from the same era, this is no guarantee that they are headed for a life of crime.

Or that they aren’t. You see, kids are individuals like that. They do what they are going to do. Now I know my biggest job as a parent is to teach them correct principles like love, tolerance, mercy, justice, kindness, wisdom, patience…

And to love them. The rest is secondary.

So what is a wayward child? In a strict faith community, anyone that colors outside the lines. The next step is the almost impenetrable wall that springs up with startling swiftness, putting an invisible rift between parent and child. Suddenly it is that thing, that outside influence that sours every phone call, family dinner, even the milestones.

And for what?

For a limited worldview of what determines good or ill in humanity, even one’s own children. To be fair, is not limited to just the LDS church. It seems to be an illness prevalent among most of the stricter religious philosophies. And I am just not convinced that the man credited with the founding these religions would throw them away so easily. Especially not the children.

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:14

Beware of the myth of wayward children.


St. said...

Thank you so much for writing this! I have son who is both an Eagle Scout AND an out of wedlock teen father. I have always told my children that a man is not measured by the fall he takes. A man is measured by how he gets up and carries on after the fall. This is made doubly hard when that child is a member of the church. My son has now come face to face with the stereotype of a wayward child with in the church. At times he feels as though he has lost that since of community he once had. When people at church approach me and ask about my son who has now moved far away, it is done with a reverent tone as though he has cancer. A year ago when I was deep into the church I would feel the need to tell them all about the wonderful things he was doing, and what calling he currently held. Now, I give a polite brief answer and move the subject along. The thing is, most of the people I get this from have kids that are pre-teen. I was just like them. I couldn’t imagine my kids using their free agency. Now I look at these young parents and wonder “By what standard will you measure you children?” At this point I wish he had taken a less difficult path, what parent wouldn’t. But the fact is, it has allowed me to see what an amazing man he has become because of it, and I realized that the only wall that would be put up would be between me and the church long before I would allow religion to come between me and my child. It’s a gratifying knowledge to have acquired. Thank you so much for this topic. I wish it was something we could cover from the pulpit with all deeply religious parents.

Diogenes said...

It took 25 years of parenting for me to realize that it is "love them. the rest is secondary." well said..and so true.

jen said...

I feel very blessed. I have left the church. My parents have said that they completely support me in my decision. My dad said, "I love YOU. I see the sparkle in your eyes and the brightness in your face, and I'd rather have that. I like having YOU in my home. That is far important to me than anything."

I know I am lucky. Not many devoted church members would be willing to love me through my "apostasy", but mine do. I have no idea how they talk about me to other members... I don't really care. I hope they are open enough to maybe help other parents show their kids love too.

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