In the communal ecclesia/community of being, we discover how to pour ourselves out for the persons (and needs) of our community as other members learn to do the same. This is not optional but necessary and desirable under the Lordship of Jesus and the formation of the Spirit. Admittedly, this is not always the most attractive or convenient practice at first. This is why church planting necessitates a beginning with disciples and discipleship.Read More
A while back I told a friend I was thinking about getting an impala tattoo. He was surprised saying he did not realize I was a car guy, especially a Chevy guy (since my cars are not Chevy). I laughed and explained that an impala is an African antelope. An impala has amazing physical abilities; these include being able to jump ten feet high, over 30 feet long, and they can run up to 56 mph! In my opinion that is pretty awesome. What makes them spectacular though is that if you place them inside a three foot fence from the time of birth, they will never jump over it. Why? Because they do not know they can! This my friends, is maybe the single most amazing parenting value Robin and I hold. All that potential wasted because of a three foot fence! Our children are capable of WAY more than we give them credit or opportunity for, but the American Dream we find our culture thriving off of places three foot fences our children from the moment they enter life. From hiding our babies from the world, to crazy strict schedules, to constantly holding and comforting our children, to the "be careful" 's and "get down before you hurt yourself" 's, to our CRAZY over reactions when our children fall down or bruise their knees. We are consumed with protecting our children, which gives them an incredible fear of the world and trying anything a bit risky. Helicopter parents are on the rise.
I have forever been marked by my friends on Kauai. My Kauai ohana are some crazy adventurous people. There is not a lot of things they are unwilling to try or do. They will eat about anything you ask them to eat, do about any dare them to do, and get as dirty as you want to get. They absolutely love risk and adventure.
Tia baby I could not figure out what made them so crazy until one day at Kipu Falls. We were there with the Nagao-Agustin's enjoying good times. A little girl named Tia (2-yrs-old) was playing in one of the pools of water when all the sudden she fell in and started sinking to the bottom of the pool. It was like in the movies. Here eyes were open looking up with her hands raised towards the surface as she was sinking. Her dad and I were talking about something when it happened. In mid-sentence he looks over reaches down, pulls her out and sets right back where she was WITHOUT breaking conversation. It was like no big deal to him OR HER. Tia did not cry, Timmy did not freak out and no one else told him to pay attention or move her away from the water. No one made a big deal about it! Including myself.
I am quite positive he does not even remember the incident but it was here that I committed to use the words "be careful" or "you could have hurt yourself" as little as possible.
Irresponsible? Some might suggest Timmy was being irresponsible, but he was not. He new where she was and what she was doing. When she fell in, he was there. She did not drown and was not hurt. And she is not afraid of the water. What Timmy did was show his daughter that he was there for her. Things happen and the sooner we get back on our feet the sooner we can begin enjoying life again. He did not mean to show her this, it just happened. Fast forward this years later and you now have a girl willing to try and do just about anything. She is willing to take on risk and adventure.
Too many children develop life long fears because of situations like these. Whether it is dog incidents, water incidents, heights or something else. Our response to situations like these tells them more than what actually happens. They look to us to see if what just happened is an "oops" or if it is something that should not be attempted or encountered again.
I'm a ladder maker, not a fence builder I don't want to build fences around my children that were never meant to be there. I have to trust that the Father is watching over them.
BUT please hear me. I am not saying Robin and I are trying to raise stunt devils. Robin and I take the safety of our children serious, but we face safety issues in a different manner.
When our kids start showing an interest in the stairs we do not freak out and yell at them to stay away less they get hurt. Instead, we teach them how to use the stairs. Yes, we use baby gates but we also teach them how to slide down the stairs. When they want to use the fireman's pole on the playground, we do not warn them to stay away. We help them learn how to go down it. We try to never tell our kids they cannot do something. We try to help them figure how they can do it. Sometimes this means learning initial steps before actually attempting the grand feat. In doing this we make a ladder that helps them accomplish their goals.
The cool thing about this approach to safety is that our kids are typically a bit more physically advanced than others kids and a bit more confident in trying and doing new things. BUT the best thing about it is that they know their boundaries better than most kids. They have developed a great sense of their abilities. You would think they would get hurt more than most, but they actually get hurt less.
Overcoming falls And when they fall off their bike, trip or get punched by another kid, we do not rush to the rescue. We sit back and watch them overcome the situation. When our kids get hurt we help try to turn their expression of the pain in a different direction. Safari would say "wah-ka-wah-ka" when she would fall and hurt herself. We do not have a clue what it means, other than that it takes her mind off the pain. It took her a while to realize she is "supposed" to cry when she starts bleeding. The first time she realized she was bleeding, she asked what it was. She was three years old before she really knew what a band-aid was. But now that she has seen child and parent alike freak out at the sight of blood she will cry and ask for a band aid. Most often we laugh, tell her she does not need one and give her one anyway.
Please do not hear me comparing my kids to other kids. This is something I do not participate in. I do not care if my child is more athletic, smarter, tougher, daring or beautiful than another kid. My identity is not wrapped up in measuring my child against another. What I am concerned with is developing within them a sense of confidence and willingness to try and do anything God asks them to do. The best way I can do this is to challenge them to try new things, to overcome challenging obstacles, do risky things from time to time, and not freak out when they get hurt.
Our children, like impalas, are capable of great things.
PLEASE feel free to push back on me here. I want to ensure I am getting across the right message. I am IN NO WAY advocating irresponsible parenting. Erwin McMann, in his book The Barbarian Way, tells the story of his son wanting to jump off the roof of their house. His son asked his permission to jump and to his wife's surprise, Erwin said yes! His first reason was that he would rather him jump while he was near in case something happened. A boy has to jump at some point, better if their is some supervision. His second reason is that he didn't want to build a fence. I love his quote that I will end with here,
I’ve seen far too many kids raised in Christian homes who are indifferent towards Jesus and often carry a great disdain for the church. Sometimes it’s the result of blatant hypocrisy, but other times it’s the result of nothing less than sheer monotony and boredom. We raise our children in the cocoon of a domesticated faith and wonder why they run as far as they can to find adventure.
The picture for this blog is of Tia's sister Tianne. Tianne knifed (yes, took a knife and killed this boar for dinner) all by herself. Tia and Tianne are just two examples of fun and crazy girls on Kauai.
I will never forget the first time Uncle Andrew disciplined my daughter. Safari was the first child to be born among our friends and with that honor came much attention and grace. She could do no wrong and had everyone wrapped around her pinky. Then came Uncle Andrew (not her real uncle). I wish I could remember what it was she did. More than likely she was interrupting conversation. All I remember is Andrew saying something like, "What are you doing?" before telling her to stop. She looked at him as if to say, "Who do you think you are?" and then looked at me as if I were going to tell him what was up. To be honest I was a bit taken back myself because Andrew came with a bit of force, which was something I was not quite use to. But I stayed back and observed. They had their show down but eventually Andrew won out. In Friday's blog we talked about introducing your baby to community as soon as possible and as much as possible. Hanging out with friends and family will give you a break, help others learn to interact with children and enjoy their blessings, and stretch your children making them more flexible individuals. The benefit of community goes far beyond these three factors and today I want to focus on a few more that will help your child's development.
Social Behavior If we are honest, our kids pretty much rule the roost when it comes to being at home. They are the center of attention and deservedly so. If they are not, they should be. Robin and I try our best (Robin better than I) to be completely present when we are at home. This means no phones, computers, iPad's, Kindles, etc. Our kids get 100% of our attention and because of this, they know they are loved. This reality requires a community to do life with though.
When our kids get all our attention they begin to expect it and even demand it. This was probably the case with Safari and Andrew. Kids need to learn to be patient and wait their turn. Being in community gives them this chance. It is rude to interrupt conversation or constantly draw attention away from others. How can we expect them to know this if we do not expose them to larger settings? Having a community of people you do life with gives children an opportunity to learn proper behavior among people who love and care for them. So when you go for dinner out in public, you may be less embarrassed.
Sharing is Caring We constantly have people at our house. At least twice a week we have friends (who we call family) over for dinner and hang out. Safari and Sojo get excited whenever Robin or I begin cleaning the house because they know people are coming over. Safari starts going through her toys deciding which toys she is going to share with her friends. Last night we had seven kids running around our house and no arguments over toys! Safari LOVES to share and give, and Sojo is learning
When a child is rarely introduced to community and use to having everything to themselves, they become incredibly self-centered. We get embarrassed and irritated when they do not share or get along, but this is not their fault. They have no capacity for sharing because they have not had the opportunity to do so. Living in community helps children learn to share and get along with others. They develop a love and devotion for their friends just as you and I do for our friends. Safari and Sojo love their friends and are constantly thinking of them. They always want to pray for their friends when it comes to night time prayer. When we go to Target they do not say I want this or I want that. These words rarely come from their mouth. Instead they say, we should by this for so and so.
No more Mr. Mean Guy The greatest thing about involving kids in deep community is that you are no longer the mean mommy or daddy. Why? Because everyone is reinforcing each other. If I am the only one telling Safari not to interrupt people or telling Sojo not to play with his food, then I am ruining their fun. But if Uncle Andrew is telling Safari to chill out and wait her turn, then it becomes a way of life. Why? Because it is coming from more than one source. Living in a community of people who will reinforce proper social behavior shows your kids that you are not just a mean mommy. The community Robin and I live in teach our kids a lot about life. They help reinforce our way of living and interacting in social settings.
Conclusion We asked Safari what she wanted to do for her fourth birthday party last month. Guess what her response was? "Uhm...I'm going to have a slumber party at Uncle Andrew's house." Seriously. Safari not only submitted to Uncle Andrew's discipline, but he has become one of her favorites. When a friend disciplines your child (in a proper manner) it may feel odd at first, but it is essential. Doing life with family (friends or literal family) is one of the best things Robin and I have done for our children.
How has your community helped you raise your children?
It takes a village to raise a child - African Proverb I explained in the first blog of this series that Robin and I did some things intentionally and some things by accident. One of the greatest accidents we ever made was doing life with a community of people and initiating Safari (our daughter) into it immediately. From just about the moment (within 90 minutes) of entering the world, Safari was introduced to people she is still doing life with now. I am not just talking about grandma and grandpa (she actually did not meet them for a couple weeks). There were about ten people waiting outside for her arrival. I am not suggesting this type of birthing experience is for everyone but I am suggesting that introducing your baby into a community of people ASAP is very beneficial.
Contemporary wisdom seems to say that you should take your infant home from the hospital and put them on lock down for the first few months of life, not exposing them to the germs of the world. I would suggest the opposite. Pass your baby around and let your friends love on them. Passing your baby around benefits everyone.
Parent Recess First and foremost, being in community it gives the parent a break. When you are at home with the baby, you are constantly focused on the baby. You feed her, change her, hold her, etc. YOU need a break from baby world. Many new parents feel trapped and weighed down. Moms get tired, stressed, and often times depressed. Almost all their attention goes to the new kid. This leaves dads feeling left out sometimes and frustrated often. They need social interaction as well. The baby cries and mom and dad argue.
A lot of arguing seems to happen when an infant arrives. Being a part of a community allows you to pass off the baby and be an adult for a while. Have adult conversations and enjoy yourself. These community times are like recess. Robin and I always felt so refreshed and relaxed after having friends over for dinner, or going to a friends house for a night of fun.
School is in session I know there are a few people out there who have never held a baby, but most of us got our first baby experiences with another persons baby. Passing your baby around exposes your friends without kids to babies. This is especially great for guys. Robin and I are seriously discipling some great dad prospects. Your baby is pretty darn tough. Your friends will not break them. Even if they accidentally elbow them in the face (eh-hem...Aunt K K). Babies are rubber maid. As for the ladies, I have only met a few women who do not salivate when they see a baby. So do not feel like you are inconveniencing your friends by passing off your baby.
If you have friends with kids, especially friends with older kids, they more often than not LOVE holding and playing with babies because it reminds them of their little babies. So your blessing them with the chance to remember the good ole days. You also may be able to pick up a few tips by observing how they interact with your baby.
Getting a good stretch Infants are way more flexible than you may think. Ask a person doing yoga. In yoga, you are introduced to some crazy positions and stretches when you first begin. You will be bending like Beckham (or Gumby) in no time though, if you stay with it you. The same goes with your baby. Babies are some of the most flexible beings in the world, if they are exposed to opportunities to stretch. I see this time and time again. Parents who keep their baby hidden from the world the first few months and then begin introducing them into community have a difficult time. Why? Because babies are like sponges. They are constantly absorbing how life works. They are developing boundaries and habits like crazy (more on this in a later blog). The quicker you can expose them to people, the more flexible they will be.
The Keys to Success I can hear the words rolling in your mind now. Your kids are not like my kids. My child has to be at home to sleep. They cannot sleep in a pack'n'play. They cry when they go to other people. Babies can and do sleep anywhere. I admit, Safari is an extrovert. She LOVES people. Sojo (our first son) on the other hand, is an introvert. Many can attest to his sassiness. He would cry when we would pass him off. He is standoffish when he first meets people, and will only warm up to people who try. But this did not stop us from passing him off. It did not stop us from going to friends or inviting friends over.
There are two keys to success here. First, ASAP. Whether it was Safari, Sojo, and even now with Kanoa; from the moment they were born we are introducing people into their lives. We practically beg people to come to the hospital or to come over for dinners when we get home. With each kid we either attended or hosted our first party within two week of their birth. We introduce our kids to community ASAP. Kids start forming their habits immediately, so we need to expose them immediately.
Second, AMAP. Be with people as much as possible. Our kids hang with people every day of the week. Kanoa is held by someone in our community every day of the week. I realize many people do not live like this (sadly). But give it a try. Get together with a group of friends once a week. And then maybe add a dinner night with one or two other people weekly or bi-weekly. Our culture has lost the extended family and is in deep need of it. If you try this, you will find many more benefits than just a more well-adjusted baby. Remember, practice makes perfect. If it goes bad the first time, try again and again and again.
What if my baby cries a lot? I realize this is a difficult issue, but it will tell the strength of your community. The community that Robin and I live in is more like family than friends. I do not know about you but I am not worried about handing my crying baby to my mom, grandma, brother or cousin. We are family. So is our community.
What if my community does not feel the same way? In all honesty, this is a much bigger problem than a crying baby. Unless this is a group that your are reaching out to in a ministry perspective, then it is probably not a community worth investing in. Your children are now a part of you. If your friends do not want to be inconvenienced by you child, then they are not your friends. Seriously. We need families, not social clubs. Yes, there are times when children need to stay at home (more on this later), but these are fewer and further between. In our current family (community), we have several new babies and I cannot wait to see them.
What if my baby is already several months or years old? Get started immediately. It is never too late to start. It may take a bit for your child to get adjusted, but kids are incredible at adapting. Ask your friends for grace and mercy in helping your child adjust to becoming more flexible.
Interesting point An interesting point is that Sojo (our introvert and least flexible) is the one least exposed to community from birth. We were in a transitional phase of ministry after he was born and out of respect for the church we had been a part of, we separated ourselves from our community of friends. I think it could be fair to say that we had to readjust him a bit. He is now pretty flexible in social settings. He will go out and play right in the middle of the action with all the neighbor kids, then come in for a break before heading back out for more action. When we go places he is shy for the first few minutes before he starts interacting with people.
Conclusion The community life factor was definitely by accident. But it was missional accident. God has called us to love people and to make disciples. The best way to do this is to do life like a family, and we WERE NOT going to set aside the Kingdom Mission because we had a baby. We unconsciously had the end in mind from the beginning (last blog).
When I look back on our four years of parenting and look to the parenting experiences of friends and family, this factor seems to be a pretty accurate view across the board. The important things to remember is to involve your child in community ASAP, AMAP, and pass them around. Taking your child into community and guarding them from people seems to have the adverse effect, so PASS THEM AROUND.