03 July 2009

Discovering Your Child's Design, Part 4

For my last two posts regarding this book (which I need to finish up so I can lend it to a friend who's waiting to read it), I'd like to highlight an analogy the authors used, which gave me words to describe how I feel I parent best...

"...popular Christian culture may tend to place greater responsibilities upon parents than they are meant to bear. To illustrate this, we should consider the common view of parents as architects. Well-meaning parents, attempting to follow the commands of Scripture, sometimes become overly zealous architects of their child's design.

The parent as architect is not difficult to describe. Such parents believe that they will be totally responsible for what the child eventually becomes. The architect parent goes to a mental drawing board and designs the child from beginning to end. The design is usually so complete that it embraces all aspects of the child's life. Even physical appearance, over which the parent has no control, is addressed in terms of how the child's looks wil be packaged and presented.

Regardless of whether the architect parents are blue-collar workers or university graduates, they will develop a clear image of the "package" that they expect their child to become. Architect parents are careful about the toys they buy -- whether plastic guns and commando troops or the latest thing in developmental toys. They know that these toys will influence the minds of the child who plays with them. Some architect parents are deliberate in teaching their kids to be peacemakers and avoid fighting at all costs. Others encourage their kids to protect their rights.

Architect parents are also careful about what their children are exposed to. Some steer children towards books and ballet, others to guns and fishing rods. In either case, the parents are careful to indoctrinate their children into a particular value system. They make sure the children play with the right playmates and socialize with what the family thinks are their kind of people.

When a child of architect parents grows up, the parents still have clear expectations of what that individual should do with his or her life.... Whatever the parent's intent might be, the child knows precisely what is expected and will experience extraordinary guilt if he pursues any other path. After all, it is the architect who really knows the total design. Whenever architect parents are also Christians, they often justify their intentions with spiritual or biblical principles.

Some architect parents act the way they do because it fits the way they are designed. They simply do what comes naturally, and it is natural for them to want to control other people's lives. Other architect parents do what they do because they believe it's what good parents ought to do.... Of course this portrayal of architect parents is a sterotype. Yet sometimes it takes an overstatement to help us to identify a well-disguised problem. The mind-set of the architect parents is supported to a great degree by the training processes of the church...

The sterotype of an ideal child is one who is quiet, responsible, loving to brothers and sisters, clean, neat, always on time, faithful in completing homework assignments, creative in play, fair in sports, interested in academic study and in sermons, a good eater, repsonsible, and so forth. These expectations are based on common sense and conformity. None are unreasonable for people who have to live together with some degree of tranquility. Yet it is unrealistic for parents to expect children to display all of these characteristics all the time.

It is dangerous to have our children conform to every whim imposed on them. It causes them to become indecisive and spiritually weak, substituting a legalistic awareness of God for an enthusiastic knowledge of their Creator. They are driven to become right rather than holy. Holiness is never achieved by adherence to models or rules. Rather, the Holy Spirit brings it about through an intimate relationship. In this way, holiness is a state of being in God and behaving accordingly. Biblically, is should be the norm for all Christians, not just a selected few superspiritual people.

Many Christians have a misconception of what holiness should be. Very few see it as a matter of beautiful actions and relationships emerging out of an enthusiasm for serving God, displayed in day-to-day living. The reason for the misperception is that holiness has traditionally been taught be presenting a perfect model and pointing out our own shortcomings. But teaching holiness should be a matter of nurturing a unique relationship with God....

Your child may be nothing like what you desire or expect. That's OK. God has a very good reason for creating him in such a way. And unlike an architect building a structure, you won't be able to stop the process and adjust the shape or color anytime you want to. You need to take a different approach as a parent, one that allows God to bring about unique results beyond anything you might have envisioned..."

I'm still mulling over much of this... There are many things in the above excerpt that resonate deeply within... maybe partly because of how God designed me as a parent, and the realization that I fall so short of the parenting standards with which I began parenting - things I'd learned from my own upbringing, watching other parents, heard and learned in Christian circles as well as academic ones... I've highlighted in a different color the parts on which I'm particularly "chewing..." I'd love to hear what you think.

Excerpted from Discovering Your Child's Design, by Ralph Mattson and Thom Black, pp. 189-194.


  1. As one who is still relatively near to the start of the parenting walk it's so nice to hear I'm not the only one who doesn't feel they are meeting my self imposed parenting standards! Thanks for sharing the exerpts of this book and your thoughts - they have been a very timely reminder to me of the fact there is no "perfect" way to parent!

  2. again, very interesting. i think interacting with all types of parents- esp here in niger, where the interaction is not always with people i would have necessarily chosen has taught me a lot about my architect self and how to loosen that expectation/control SIGNIFICANTLY. part of growing as a parent i guess. very well expressed here. what throws me here is how do you TEACH RELATIONSHIP???? i am there with the book about holiness and agree that i think of it often/have often been taught that it is comparing the perfect model with the imperfect. i also think that holiness is also equated with things like neatness or a clean nose or never burping at the table- really there are a lot of things we major on that aren't sins!!! we had to weed through that with one of ours... but i guess i have always had a bit of a problem with the idea of nurturing a relationships between my child and God- how does one nurture other people's relationships? seems then the relationship involves you too, perhaps needs you in it. one can encourage, but really i can't make my kid have a unique relationship with God any more than i can make him enjoy playing with joe! hmmm... maybe that is why we err on the definition of holiness, it is so much easier to have a list you can measure. got to run.

  3. Glad you found it encouraging, Karen.

  4. I stumbled a bit over that same idea, Beka... relationships and "doing relationships" is always something that I felt was more "caught" than taught... i.e. munchkins need to see me modeling different relationships with different types of people and personalities, and with God. perhaps a better word to use is "nurture" kids in their development of a relationship with God by giving them exposure to other ways of worship, etc... and then helping them figure out what works for them. So to go back to the music example, it is something i enjoy, but not as critical for me. for b, who plays the flute to relax and who wants to turn on the praise and worship the minute he walks through the door, listening to the same stuff till tim and i are ready to pull our hair out - maybe we encourage his relationship with God by teaching him discernment in music, allowing him to collect music, taking lessons getting him good music to play... and an mp3 player for when we are sick of it ourselves...

    at least that is how i'm starting to "interpret" what they are saying... and then holiness is a product of thriving relationship since we tend to become more like those with whom we spend lots of time.

    ... well -it is an idea - any further input?


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