Thursday, February 20, 2014

Copy-cat Love

The following is a post I wrote three years ago this week. Today I saw a little girl imitate her mother to perfection and it reminded me of this. . . so I share again a few thoughts about copy-cats and relationships.

Imitation is. . .

I saw it again yesterday: a mom who imitated her child so perfectly that it made me laugh. A child who has a parent who loves them enough to mimic them is a blessed child.  Uninvolved parents can't do this - parents who are totally fascinated with their children and immersed in their role of parent can.  It's really lovely to see.

Children, on the other hand, always imitate their parents. That is grace, pure and simple.  Children adore their parents whether the parents deserve it or not.  Watch any group of children and you will see their parents emerge.  Most preschool teachers will tell you they are rarely surprised when meeting a child's parents - they can already recognize them by their mannerisms.

True love between a parent and a child may be the closest vision of God's love that we will ever see.  Adoring parents watch every move their child makes, and interpret, and re-interpret the meaning behind it. This week a mother pointed to her small child and said "he always rubs his head when he's worried".  The child, barely old enough to comprehend "worried." was indeed, at that moment, worried.  Children can be equally perceptive of their parents.  "My Mommy doesn't feel good.  She's got those lines between her eyes" was an unsolicited observation by a very sharp five-year-old.  And, sure enough, they soon excused themselves, Mommy citing an impending migraine. 

We've all seen a brother torture his sister by aping every move she makes: "Mom, he's copying me" immediately echoed, usually in unflattering squeaky tones by, "Mom, he's copying me."  And whether it's brother/sister, brother/brother, sister/sister imitation - it's a connection born of relationship, a natural expression of sincere affection.  With my girls, I noticed that I could always tell when one of them made a new friend because suddenly, a new catch phrase, attitude or habit would invade our home, with no apparent source.  Some of these imitations were short-lived; others moved in and became part of the family. 

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also one of the truest indicators of love. We can imitate those we love because we watch them with great intensity, and we spend as much time as possible together. We are fully immersed in the relationship.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Familiar words.  If I look to God with the eyes of a child and, in total adoration, imitate what I see, how will I look?  Will I, like the preschool children described above, adopt enough God mannerisms that you will learn to recognize God from watching me? Which God mannerisms will your child pick up from watching you?

Being a parent is a large calling. Don't be afraid; you're never alone in this. The Parent of us all is available as a model. You just have to imitate. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Kind of Smart is That?

What kind of smarts does your kid have?

No. Really. Here are some of the kids I know:

A boy who is a straight-A whiz kid and a total klutz on the soccer field.

A boy who can take anything apart and figure out how it works and who leaves a mess behind him where ever he goes.

A girl who has been able to match pitch since she was two and who can't stay overnight away from home.

A boy who is a natural athlete who excels at a number of sports and really struggles with learning the multiplication tables.

A girl who can write plays, poems and short stories but who can't find her way home from the grocery store if she goes out the wrong door.

A girl who can whip up a gorgeous poster with very limited art supplies but frequently misspells a word on it.

A boy who can calm any frightened animal but can't calm himself.

The list could go on and on. Every one of these kids is bright and talented. Each of them has strengths and weaknesses. And each of them learns about the world in a different way. Think about your kids. How do they learn? Where do they struggle?

The people who study intelligence have identified eight different types of intelligences, or preferred ways of learning. Here they are:

  • Linguistic Learner (reads, writes, talks, listens)
  • Logical/Mathematical Learner (numbers, puzzles, problem-solves)
  • Visual/Spatial Learner (sees, pictures, maps, colors)
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic Learner (touches, manipulates, moves)
  • Musical Learner (sings, plays, rhyme, rhythm)
  • Interpersonal Learner (shares, interacts, collaborates)
  • Intrapersonal Learner (reflects, thinks, chooses)
  • Naturalist Learner (experiences, explores, connects)
We all, adults and children, have all eight intelligences. And in each of us, some are stronger than others. I think that we who are parents have an obligation to observe our children and celebrate who they are and help them encounter the world with their best learning styles.

There are some very big obstacles that get in the way of us doing that:

  • Schools tend to teach to, and reward, Linguistic and Logical Learners. (Reading and Writing and Arithmetic!)
  • Society tends to value, and reward, Bodily/Kinesthetic and Interpersonal Learners (Athletics, Beauty, Sales)
  • Corporate/business life has really trained us to think about addressing weaknesses more than leading from our strengths. (Improvement Plans)

We, as parents, also get rewarded if our children get good grades or excel on the playing field. Sometimes we hope for our kids to succeed at things we didn't do as well so we push them in that direction. We may fear for their livelihood so we push them away from their strongest intelligence into one of the more highly valued intelligences. And when our bosses are pushing us to improve our weak areas, we tend to do the same for our children. Step away from those temptations!

Your child is a beautifully and wonderfully made gift from God. Celebrate that.  Encourage that. Focus on what is right with your child and relate to that. I know that this is hard when your child operates from a different set of intelligences than you do, but you can learn from them, and they will certainly learn from you, and the world will be bigger and more comprehensible to both of you, which might be part of the plan!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Special Needs & Unique Circumstances

Recently I have read some incredibly poignant blog posts about kids with special needs. Each of them brought me to tears for different reasons: gratitude for parents who speak up for their children, compassion for children and families who have to face such uphill battles, outrage at the insensitivity people can exhibit, awe at obstacles overcome, and deep respect for parents who step up and play the hand they've been dealt for all it's worth. Then the pictured quote appeared in my Facebook feed. What follows are some of the ideas these things generated. No prescriptions, promises, or preemptive strikes, just some rumination.

Some kids needs are evident - they use wheel chairs, crutches, braces, hearing aids, coke bottle glasses, or sign language. Other kids don't display their needs until they explode with rage and frustration or dissolve into tears when the stress pushes them over the edge. Other kids try to get noticed because they need some attention, but we usually just label them as behavior problems. Some kids are having to function as adults because they are often on their own or have an impaired parent. Other kids may be having a hard time learning or socializing because they are chronically hungry.

Perhaps if we all saw every person as special (that is unique) and acknowledged that every one has needs (circumstances and obstacles) we would stop seeing kids with special needs a weird or different or to be avoided and start seeing them as kids. We would recognize them as people with unique circumstances, which really applies to all of us, and we would all have better ideas of how to welcome, nurture, sustain and respect them.

As I mused about the issues around special needs, I couldn't help but think of how Jesus encountered people: no stereotypes, no assumptions about what was needed or wanted, no commentary on appearances or genetics. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount seems to recognize that each of us has unique circumstances, and reminds us that we are all blessed in and by those circumstances.

In the Spark Children's Bible (best children's Bible EVER!!!) Jesus sayings, the Beatitudes, are rendered this way:

  • People who feel hopeless are blessed because God will give them heaven.
  • Sad people are blessed because God will help them feel better.
  • People who don't have many things are blessed because God will give them everything they need.
  • People who want to follow God's ways are blessed because God will help them.
  • People who treat others with kindness are blessed because God will treat them with kindness.
  • People who know what is right in their heart are blessed because God will be with them.
  • People who make peace are blessed because they will be called God's children.
  • People who are hurt because they try to do what is right are blessed because God will give them heaven.

I think that sometimes we get lost in our fear that this unique circumstance could happen to us or that we might do or say the wrong thing. In our fear we isolate the other person, and also isolate ourselves. Jesus words become reassuring "God will help them feel better. . . God will give them everything they need." We are not called to meet needs, that is God's job. We are called to love our neighbor. That means letting them be who and how they are, and loving them - whatever that looks like in their unique circumstances.

Often our kids are better at this than we are. They don't have as much fear and so their natural curiosity leads them to the right answers about how to love the other person. We adults shush them and teach them to be afraid of differences, to worry about doing the right thing, to feel entitled to special treatment. "People who know what is right in their heart are blessed because God will be with them." God is very much with your children. Let God be with you too as you parent them, no matter what their special needs or unique circumstances are.