"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Theological Parenting Conundrums

(Above, Mom loves Eva so much that she really doesn't want her to die anytime soon.)

Every so often, I find myself experiencing tension between the sort of common cultural standards and the sort of Christian values I hope to instill in my children. Recently two particular episodes have occurred to make me think about two important general issues.

The first event that happened was that a child got hit by a car in our neighborhood (right down the street in fact). She was fine; she walked away from the accident, until some police made her stop so they could get details. At the time I wasn't too surprised. After all, our "borough" as they call in in NJ, is only one square mile, and people walk a lot because everything is so close (library, post office, farmer's market, the schools, the parks, etc.). But there is also a lot of on-street parking, and people don't always stick to the 25 mile speed limit. So with kids darting through parked cars and people driving faster than they should, it's somewhat inevitable that a kid would get hit at some time.

But after it happened, Jeff spent a fair amount of time thinking about the possibility of Maia getting hit while we're out walking. So then I started to think about it, too, and started to get worried about her dying. And, truth be told, I do not want Maia to die at such a tender age. Since that girl got hit, I've spent a fair amount of time when we're out walking, reminding Maia to be careful and stay by me so that she doesn't get hit by any cars.

(Above, Dad with the girls, at a non-worrying moment.)

In case you can't tell, the general issue here is that I find the common sense parenting wisdom to be instilling in one's child a fear of death. We want our children to fear death so that they won't put their lives at risk by doing things like running into a busy street, or sitting down to put on their sparkly pink princess shoes in a driveway where an SUV is backing out.

I think Jeff (Dr. Worst-Case Scenario), if not I, has done a pretty good job of getting Maia to fear death, sickness, and injury. But wait! I don't want my daughter to fear death! As a Christian, I want her to know that there are worse things than death, and that death represents the opportunity of eternal life participating in the life of the divine Trinity. I don't really want her to be afraid of death, so to speak. But I don't want her to live recklessly either.

A related theological parenting conundrum I've met with is wanting my kids to see Christ in every person, regardless of age, ethnicity, economic stance, etc. I want them to be kind and sympathetic to strangers. But I also don't want them to go anywhere with strangers. In short, I want them to see strangers both as Christ and as potential perpetrators of kidnapping and violent crimes.

(Above, the girls and Mom in a moment of natural beauty)

The second episode that raised a theological parenting dilemma for me was nothing as dramatic as a child getting hit by a car. It had to do, rather, with picture day at Maia's nursery school. Ah, picture day! From my memories as both student and teacher, it consists of a headshot. The day before picture day, Maia and I picked out a nice solid color shirt for her picture. Then that night I read the informational sheet they had sent home from school. This sheet informed me that girls usually wear pretty and colorful dresses and have their hair nicely done for picture day. Apparently the group photo would actually be a group photo, rather than a picture chart of headshots.

Hmmm... what was I to do? We had already picked out a shirt, not to mention that Maia doesn't have any long-sleeved dresses for this fall/winter. But what if Maia showed up to school and was the only girl not wearing a dress? What if she realized that all the other girls were wearing fancy clothes, and she was not? Would her self-esteem be ruined? Would she be worried? Would she feel unpretty?

Not to mention that with my morning schedule, I get back from Mass and have about ten minutes before we have to walk to school. Would I be able to do her hair successfully in that short amount of time (given that it's something that she dislikes and I'm not great at) while trying to get everything else ready?

(Above, sleeping beauty, getting some beauty rest, not that she needs it to be more beautiful than she already is)

When I tried to talk to Jeff about the issue, he didn't seem to think it was a big deal. While I was mulling over the options, he started to read me blurbs off the dust jacket of the new book he started reading until I informed him he was being insensitive. It helped me to realize (not the blurbs, but his lack of concern for the issue) that part of this is my own issue. Like most females, I had (and have) times where I worry about my appearance not being satisfactory. I always felt I was too short in my school days, and, since becoming a mom I've spent basically no time whatsoever trying to make my hair look presentable. As a conscious choice, I wear no make-up and don't paint my nails.

I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I want Maia to realize that true beauty is not about clothes or hair or shoes or jewelry. On the other hand, I want her to care about her appearance and, more importantly, to be confident about herself (as I was not in my school days). This is a Christian issue, too, which is why I'm always telling her that Mary is the most beautiful woman, and what makes her the most beautiful woman is her closeness to Christ. Moreover, as Jeff and I always remind our princess-crazy daughter, Mary is a queen. And it's not because she has sparkly shoes or pretty dresses. In short, it's the inside that matters, and the virtuous and holy life that one lives that makes a person beautiful. We can see similar things reflected in the lives of other saints as well; both Therese and Teresa lived beautiful lives, but they didn't wear fancy dresses, make-up, etc.

So why should it matter if Maia wears a dress or a plain blue shirt for picture day? Why does it matter whether her hair was nicely done or messy? I would like to be detached from such issues, but I find I'm not. Instead of deciding and being done, I find myself struggling with a sort of scrupulosity about the issues.

In the end, Maia did wear a dress, albeit one that she's worn already for two winters in a row. It's not the prettiest thing ever anymore, but SHE felt pretty, especially once she had her hair done and her princess shoes on. But of course, when we got to school we found that many of the girls were wearing their normal clothes. Not to mention that Maia does seem to have confidence that's not entirely tied to her clothing. Praise God for that!

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