Our Planned Parenthood
Our planned parenthood is the story of how my wife and I planned to have a family with the right number of children, born into our family and perfectly reared according to the books so that each child would grow up to be model of kindness, success, and wisdom. Further, these children were going to become good Christians and ideal adults.
When Parents Brag
Have you ever run into someone who bragged that their family turned out exactly the way they had planned it? I have. They had my dream. I’m not so perfect that I did not think about shoving a gravel-filled mud pie up their elevated noses. Resisted the urge I did. And compelled by niceness I’d often smile and endure their bragamonies.
Bragamonies, you ask? Many meant well. Others did not know their arrogance was showing. Embedded in their statements you could hear their brag, “I always achieve the goals I set for myself,” or the implied, “God loves me more than you do because he answers my desires and not yours.” Now you know why the mud pie.
Some of the folks set about having x number of children and they did. Others, who were older, had mapped out their lives and the lives of their children with much success. They delighted in their accomplishments, and I for one should have been one to rejoice with them because they were rejoicing. Yet, since these often were in my face about it, I refused to rejoice. Besides, I too had those self-assured, arrogant thoughts.
However, I would rejoice with others who had a humbler story. See, aren’t I wonderful too? I can think of a few couples that I had met in my late teens, about the same time I became a believer in Jesus Christ. These were people I determined to model my future family after. Marriage and family would be planned and those plans would come to fruition. Or else!
The Best-laid Plans
From late in my high school days, my plan was always to have five children. We would have a boy, a girl, a boy, a girl and a boy. Each child would come two to three years apart. We would start our family three years after we were married. Not only that, I would be a strong, loving but firm father. All our children would grow up as Christians and end up serving the Lord in various ways. That was my dream. Early in our marriage, my wife, on the other hand, preferred we adopt children if we were going to have children at all.
What is the old saying about the best-laid plans? Nearly three years into our marriage we sought out doctors to see why we could not get pregnant. Perhaps I had not read the books properly or followed all the advice? Getting pregnant must have everything to do with those important factors, such as whether the time of the month coincided with a new moon, eating certain foods like filling the diet with oysters and seaweed, taking enough zinc and Vitamin E, remaining absolutely stress free, wearing the right underwear or none at all, or maybe even finding some contorted posture in bed? It was as simple as doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. Or so we thought. It turned out there was a physiological problem which none of those well-intentioned recommendations would have helped.
We gave up trying. During those barren years, we experienced the agony of being childless. As a young couple, it was hard to be around others our age who had children. Especially since we both loved and deeply wanted children. The pain inflicted on us by well-meaning people only compounded the grief. It was hard when people would ask why we didn’t have any children. The harshest critics rebuked our childlessness with toxic comments like, “What is the matter with you? Don't you like kids?” or “The reason why you don’t have children is that you are selfish,” or “You don’t know what you are doing,” or “It’s because you haven’t done _______.” Sometimes, when defending ourselves against those pitiful or ignorant comments, the accuser would get frustrated with us and finally blurt out the real reason we had no children: God had cursed us for our sins! Really?
Neither one of us were wise enough to know how to respond to that. It did not help to hear from others to whom we had gone for counsel, “Well, maybe that is true and God is speaking to you through this person?” Oh, I get it! So, God is making us atone for our own sins without revealing those sins to us and heaping guilt and shame on top of grief and sadness? These people reasoned since it’s a blessing to have children and we did not have any, therefore God was cursing us by not giving us children.” Stupidity and bad theology are often mean.
Adoption was the Option
Six years into our marriage, we decided to pursue adoption. After two years of going through the hoops, we thought we would be able to have an instant family. Private adoption was too expensive ($10,000 in 1979) so we applied through a state agency. One time the county office called us and told us about five children that recently lost their parents. That was God’s answer, wasn’t it? Thinking hard about this opportunity and realizing how incredibly difficult it would be to take on five children all at once, we decided against it.
A couple years passed when we received a phone call from a lawyer who heard that we were looking to adopt a baby. He had a client who was a single mother of a little girl. The girl’s father abandoned them right after he found out the woman was pregnant again. She was recently discharged from the Army and was fearful of taking on any more responsibility. We met with the lawyer and a contract was drafted and signed by all parties. The mom would surrender the child to us if we would pay for all her medical care up to the delivery. We did. Five months of it.
Five months of gleeful anticipation dragged slowly along. A week before the due date our church held a baby shower for us. They were so generous and we received everything new parents could possibly need. My parents flew out to help us for a couple weeks. Two days past the due date the lawyer called and said that the mother was in the hospital and the baby could arrive at any time. Elation filled our hearts.
The lawyer called later in the day to announce the arrival of a healthy baby girl. What? Not a boy? God seemed to have made another mistake. That wasn’t what we had planned as parents. Oh well, if God wants us to have a little girl, so be it. We had a name picked out. The room was set up. We were ready.
Adoption, not the Option?
We expected to go see the baby within a few hours. No call was forthcoming. The lawyer did not answer our calls or messages. The next day brought no further word. The following day the lawyer finally called. It turned out that a nurse, against directions, gave the baby to the mother for a feeding. The bond was too strong for the mother. She could not give her infant up for adoption. She decided she would take the risk of breaking the contract and keep the child.
We were stunned. We were devastated. The lawyer thought he could ease our pain by declaring we had every right to take her to court for violating the contract and would be able to recover all the money we spent on her medical treatment. Yeah, right. Like revenge would take away the grief? Legally, it might have been the right thing to do. Morally, it was the wrong thing to do.
A few days later, my wife and I decided to send a message to the mother through the lawyer. We invited her to take all the baby gifts we had received since she needed them and we did not. We invited her to come to our house or pick up all the items at the lawyer's office. She overcame her fear and stopped by our house. She expected fury, a berating and all the other things she was used to. We were not angry. Just terribly grieved. She asked why we would do such a thing, so we told her it was only by the grace of God in Christ. Along with the carload of baby goods, we presented her with a letter that gave the Gospel as the reason for our actions and also gave her our pledge not to pursue her legally.
In the following months, the Lord provided us with a number of blessings. Between the tax refund and the bonuses my wife and I received from our jobs, God supplied the exact amount of money we had spent in paying those medical bills. Then, one year later and nine years after we married, the Lord gifted us with our own child – a precious and beautiful girl. So much for my plans, huh? That was fine because this girl has been one of the greatest the joys of our lives.
More than eight years after our first child, God providentially gave us our second child. I'll call her C. C was six months old when we learned about her and seven months old when C was placed in our home. A year later, the adoption was finalized. We now had two children, nine years apart. So much for our planned parenthood.
Well, if our goals for marriage and children could not be achieved in the way we (I – sorry Dear) wanted, then perhaps setting goals to make sure our children would turn out exactly the way they are supposed to, could be achieved?
Having a keen interest in children and all things pertaining to them (I can exaggerate because this is my blog) I set about reading a slew of books on child training and children’s education. Most of those books were Christian and nearly all of those books purported to come right from the Bible. Okay. Fine by me, since I’d never want to learn anything from those secular people about families and children. Right? You have to know that two years ago I trashed about twenty-five supposedly this-is-what-God-says-about-how-to-parent books.
Before our first child came along, arrogant opinions were freely and vociferously dispensed about the right way to parent children. My arrogant opinions. Most of the time I did not have the guts to talk to parents about their “little brat,” but everyone else knew what I thought. What a pious fool. It reminds me of what our old friend, Tex, used to say, “Better to be thought a fool and keep quiet than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” However, my opinions were shared among like-minded folk, so I was safe.
We worked very hard to parent our first child by some of those books. Their advice was a variety of the same themes: you plan your parenthood, you follow certain methods, so when your child turns eighteen s/he will be a poster-child and a model of wisdom, saintliness, and success. It was paint-by-the-numbers parenting.
Nearly every one of those books focused on training the child in the "right" manner. You know, discipline the child. Yet the emphasis was rarely on the discipling aspect of discipline (the nurturing, the teaching, grace, mercy, and love). Instead, the emphasis was on law and the punitive aspect (the correction, rebuke, and reproof). This approach centered around the guaranteed instrument for setting the child right – the rod! According to many of those “experts,” child training was focused on the negative. The rationale was, kids are little disobedient sinners. You need to have solid, unbreakable rules and if they disobey, you have to break their will and beat the sin out of them to set them right. The default way was to spank, spank, and spank until the children proved to the parent they repented and were genuinely sorry for the infraction. As one seminar speaker told us, you must beat the child and not let up until she stops screaming.
It’s by God’s grace that our first child survived this nonsense. It’s also by God’s grace that we learned there is no guarantee any parent can break the child’s will (as if that’s really God’s intent), pound the child into a predetermined “Christian” mold, control the child’s behavior or control the heart.
Parenting by the Book(s) did not Work
When the Lord gave us our second child, everything we knew, learned, and espoused was challenged. Practicing what we had used before and what we had learned from all the Christian experts only exacerbated our situation and nearly killed our relationship with our second daughter. Following the advice of one biblical child training expert, we found ourselves spanking our girl again and again. That’s what he told us we had to do: you keep spanking until the child truly cries with a sincere heart of remorse. If you think about it, how would a parent ever truly know what's in a child's heart or when there is real remorse? Our child never did cry that way. Since she was not showing repentance for her bad behavior, we would get angrier with her and keep spanking. On one occasion, I caught myself in a rage over her defiance and realized I was on the verge of serious abuse. I have deeply regretted that day. That was the last time we spanked.
To address her chronic defiance and control her wild child ways, we sought more counsel. Her grandmother sent us a set of twelve CDs from a nationally recognized child psychologist. We listened to the CDs eleven times, used the workbook, and applied his advice to the letter. It did not solve our challenges or change the child.
When C was about ten-years-old, the elders in our church met with me to express their concerns about her rebellious ways. They accused us of allowing her to get away with too much and not keeping her under control. They did not believe that we were doing all that we could. If we were consistently firm and spanked every time C rebelled, the child would change. That's the biblical promise, isn't it? However, it was all with no effect. They insisted that I meet with a pastor who was also a biblical counselor and heed his advice. At the time, that pastor was a friend and someone whom I had sought counsel on a number of other matters. Since I already knew what he would recommend, I declined.
The following month, at another meeting with the elders, the pastor-counselor showed up. Like it or not, they were going to have me listen to his counsel and heed what he said. You can imagine how beside myself I was with this ambush. A better part of an hour was spent telling me how to be a good disciplinarian. He said the real issue was I had failed to break C's will and control her. Yes, my wife and I had heard all that before but were unsuccessful. Then he said that the only recourse we had was to take everything out of her bedroom except for her mattress, pillow, and blankets, put bars on the window, install locks on the door and keep her there for one year. She would eat, drink, and be homeschooled in her room. By the end of that year, she would be a different person and all would be well. Cult-like? Abusive? You bet!
What would you do? You can imagine my initial response. After a few minutes of trying to process what he said, I told him and the elders my wife and I would never do that. It was abusive. They argued with me but my mind would not change. They then ordered me to submit to them. I refused and said they had no right to violate my conscience like that. It was then the elders said they finally understood the real problem with C - it was me. If I was willing to disobey the elders and be insubordinate, no wonder our child was like that. She was following my model. She would never become a Christian and not change with me as her rebellious father.
I pushed back by asking how they could explain why our older child was just the opposite? They said, "Well, that was all by grace." "So, bringing up our second child is all by works?" They had no answer. Then, one of the elders concluded since I was a bad father I must be a bad husband. And if a bad husband and father, I was a bad leader. Since I was a bad leader, I could not be a pastor. Several months later, our family left the church.
The Main Point
Here’s my main point in giving you a little of our parent story: Parenting cannot be so easily planned out. Parenting is not like painting by the numbers, not according to this or that “biblical” methodology, not by cliché, not by traditional parenting, not with a simplistic use of Proverbs, and certainly not by the rule of “one rod fits all.” It’s much more than that (stay tuned to future blogs).
So, when someone like my old naïve, arrogant self comes along and brags about how everything with your child can and should turn out exactly “this” way, you might do them a kindness by telling them they are full of goose doodle.
(The original was written in March 2010 and posted in my old The X Paradigm 4 Parents. )