Faith is a funny thing.
We bought Lars his own deodorant since he is always playing with Michael’s. I guess he is fascinated with it because it represents something real in the adult world – we slather our bodies with stuff like deodorant, make up, lotions; we talk about how people disappear to a place called “Work” most days; and parents’ jobs include keeping kids safe – which he hears a lot from me lately.
At least the last part I see Larsen is finally understanding, for he has started to make risk evaluations himself.
I think telling kids why it’s important to be safe – “we put the deodorant on our armpits” (or arms for Larzy which he thinks is his armpits) – “please don’t eat the deodorant – it could make your stomach hurt and we would have to go to the hospital if you swallowed it” – “its for keeping us smelling good while we perspire.”
If this seems long winded to be telling a two-year-old, I know! Do you know what kind of patience this takes for a parent? I have to slow down and start telling him reasons before I get annoyed.
Description of the why is very important for kids I think. The whole “Because I said so” line I didn’t understand growing up. I wanted the truth even at age four. And some kids are just like that, and it’s ok.
When we explain the true reason for something to kids, we are showing them some important things like respect, love, critical thinking, and even discipline (our guidance).
I’m always explaining. I’m always telling Larsen about the consequences so he will understand what could happen. I am always telling him it’s my job to keep him safe.
And he’s finally understanding what that means! He gets it on the first time now! He is an amazing kid. They all are.
People would sometimes look at me strangely when I would tell a one-year-old the stove is hot or we need shoes on to keep our feet safe or if we touch a light socket, it could shock us. Maybe people think there is no way a baby could understand these things, but he is always listening. They are always listening.
What’s so satisfying to me about reasoning with a toddler is that the consequences I relate to him are all true. These things are important to know. They build his world. It’s my job as Lars’ parent to introduce him to the world – both the bad and the good, truthfully.
Sometimes I can get heavy with fear, and I will let that fear seep over into Larsen. But fear is scary! I’m terrified now with a child that something bad can happen, or even the idea of his loss (even typing those words feels like a death sentence) overwhelms me more often than not. I have to remember to speak about the good too- that deodorant is a good thing as long as we don’t put it in our mouths, that people do come home from work, that parents keep us safe because they love us and want us to develop these skills on our own too.
Yes, it’s my job to keep him safe. But I can only do so much. I am only a temporary gate keeper.
In his early years, I establish rules for him. But I also establish times where I’m quiet and don’t have rules. I allow for his curiosity and abilities to develop all on his own. I choose to trust in him, to have faith in him.
And with this, there is no idea of shame, of worry, or hopefully “he will learn better next time.” There are just true consequences devoid of my interpreted value on his decisions. There’s no “that’s good or that’s bad,” just “You did X and then Y happened.” Just the facts. He is connecting them all on his own.
At first, it was hard for me to believe that – I mean how many times do I need to repeat myself?! It still is hard to trust he has the ability to make good decisions even at his young age. But he does. And I am utterly astonished.
For me, once I read about how kids do not have a working brain like adults do and their impulse control is severely limited, my frustration of repeating “We put the deodorant on our arms. If we eat it, it could make our stomach ache” subsided and my faith in his abilities flourished.
It takes about 30 days for adults to create new neural pathways, so why do we expect a two-year-old to do it immediately? I think it has taken Lars about three months! Sometimes it does take me telling him about the consequences every single day of each of those months. We’ve done it with dressing, potty training, and even walking down the street.
His brain is making those neural pathways. It’s working even though I might not get immediate results. It takes time for him to process these ideas and to have them imprinted in his brain.
Ah – and what a valuable lesson it is for a toddler to start appreciating: He is responsible for his actions but mom and dad are here to help him navigate too.
There is no hierarchy of knowledge (I’m the omniscient parent), no arrogance from a position of authority (I am superior than you because I know better), no fear about his questioning or doubts (If he questions me, then he is defiant).
So it is through parenthood I have actually come to know more about my spiritual self. I love being a mother to Lars, but I love even more that he is a teacher to me. I love he shows me how to open my heart, even when I want to close it in a protest to fear.
And it’s funny how the connection between parenting and my spiritual self has only begun to unfurl – not only by thinking or meditating on it, not only by praying on it, not only intellectualizing it, not only by reading more about it, but by living out my questions just as Rumi proposed:
“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
I do wish faith was easier. I want all the answers given to me when I ask the questions. I think that’s what a traditional faith does for some. Sometimes the answer was given before the question was asked.
I know we each have our own unique journey to faith. I am happy to be living out some of my spiritual questions.
I want Lars to know there are good people in the world too. And I want him to be the good in the world as well. So I guess in a sense I’m teaching Lars how to fish instead of giving him a fish.
We are all interconnected, what I do affects others – what they do, affects me. I know that for sure.
I’ve figured out I want a spirituality that connects me with others in a deeper, trusting way. I seek a faith that does exactly what I give to Lars – someone/something to keep me safe but letting me find my own way, empowering me live out the journey without all the made-up reasons like “because I say so.”
I have faith in Lars because he is developing on his own with the help of my parenting skills, hope because he will not forever be a child who strives to understand the world and his place in it. I am not limiting his potential because I need him to forever need me.
I’ve only just started developing a trust in others, and it has begun with my son.