At Christmas time, we have a tradition of hiding a small ornament in the tree. This started when I was young when my brothers and I would hide small elves. Now, for our family we have a green googaly-eyed guy. After it is hidden, other people try to find it. If they find it, then THEY hide it…and so on. One day, I hid the ornament and Eli was trying to find it, but he was having trouble. After a minute of looking, he asked me to give him a clue. I wanted him to have the satisfaction of finding it on his own, so I told him, “no clues, you need to find it on your own”. He kept asking me (to no avail) and started getting frustrated that I wouldn’t help. Eventually he was pouting standing in a corner facing the wall. At this point, of course I can’t give in, which would reward bad behavior. Soon after, he got out of his funk and promptly found the googaly man on his own. He was excited that he found it and immediately forgot about his pouting from a minute earlier.
My instinct as a parent in situations like this is to teach Eli how to do things on his own. I tend to want to teach him to be self reliant and to not give up when things get difficult. I feel there is a definite purpose and benefit in these concepts. It is important for a man to be able to work hard and not throw in the towel just because of a failed attempt out of the gate or if something takes a little longer than expected.
However, after the tree hiding incident was over, Julia had an interesting thought…which really got me thinking. By refusing to help Eli when he asked, I am actually reinforcing the concept that he SHOULDN’T ask for help. In addition to the arguably “good” things I mentioned above, I am also teaching him that he doesn’t NEED help. I am subtly teaching him that all he needs in life is to rely on his own brains and his own strength to be able to accomplish something.
Wow, I didn’t think about that! But that is NOT what I want him to learn. Sure, it’s nice to be smart and strong and determined. But, even more than those things, I want Eli to grow up to be a man who knows how to work with others. I want him to be someone who knows his strengths and weaknesses. I want him to actively pursue asking for help as a way for both HIM to be more effective and as a way to encourage and promote the strengths and abilities of other people.
This also has huge spiritual implications. As a follower of Christ, the LAST thing I want Eli to learn is how to rely on himself to get things done. One of the biggest deterrents to following Jesus is when you think you don’t need help. If you feel you can do it all on your own, and you’ve been raised to never ask for help, then it will be very difficult for your faith in Christ to be real, active, and powerful.
What Eli was doing was actually quite commendable. His goal was to find the ornament. So, after a minute of looking on his own, he went straight to the source of knowledge (the person who hid it) to ask for help. What if I took a page from Eli’s book? When I’m struggling in life, how often do I wallow trying to push through and figure things out on my own?! What if I went straight to the source of knowledge (God) after a “minute of looking” and asked him to help?!
But now what do I do! As a parent, I don’t want to coddle to his every need and request. There still is something to be said for teaching him how to work hard and persevere. But, I want to find a way to do that without squelching his desire to ask for help. This is a tough balance. I don’t have the answers, but nevertheless, it is a good thing to keep in mind. I will continue to pray that God will help me to raise him as best as I can, and to show me what to teach him.
My challenge to you:
Think about what you’re teaching your kids. Figure out what traits you ultimately want your kids to have as men or women, and make sure the things you teach them point them in that direction. And most importantly, make sure to rely on God to HELP YOU in this task.