Thursday, February 9, 2012

Courageous Individuality

Are you a parent? What do you want for your kids? I have a list of things that I would like to see in each of my kid's lives. I've never written it down, but I have it inside my head. Here's an example of what part of that list might look like:

  • Jesus in their heart.
  • Biblical character
  • Evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in their lives
  • Godly spouse (don't worry. I'm not hoping for this any time soon, but I am praying for this)
  • Talent that they can use to serve the Lord
  • Biblical World View
  • Strength
  • Self-esteem
  • Courage
  • Confident individuality
That last one is a big deal to us right now. It goes along with good self-esteem, and it has a lot to do with finding your worth in Christ rather than the world. These are things that are high priorities for us, for many Christian parents. This means that our family doesn't look like most families, and we're fine with that. We homeschool. We read the Bible every morning and have a family worship time every evening. We spend time together the way families did when families stayed together in the first half of the 20th century. We cook from scratch. We grow things. And? We allow our children to grow and mature at their own pace and to be who they are rather than expecting them to become what the world expects them to be like.

This is why we encourage our children to express themselves in a variety of ways. For our son, this means that he is writing his first piano composition, creating Lego masterpieces and writing hilarious stories for school. It means he is singing and performing and giggling his way through life, and he is using these gifts to serve the church, something he has done since he was 8. I am proud of who he is and who he is becoming.

On Monday, Lukas shared with me as we were getting ready to leave the house to run errands and go to his basketball practice that his coach wasn't being fair. I had to pause to think before I spoke because we all know that what a 10 year old decides is "fair" is very broad. Or narrow. Depending on your perspective. I asked Lukas to explain to me what was happening. He was right. She wasn't being entirely fair, but, since life isn't always fair, I decided not to run to his rescue (this was one crazy giant leap for this mama). I talked through it with him. I suggested that he speak to her himself, and I gave him a few suggestions and asked him what he might say so that he was prepared. And then? I didn't even go into the gym.

When Lukas climbed into the van after practice, I asked him if he had spoken to his coach. He did it. I was so proud of him. And? She completely understood his point-of-view and ended up allowing all the kids the opportunity to grow some skills they had been lacking. Lukas was thrilled, and I could see the confidence on his face as I realized he had just matured by 10 years (we learned about hyperbole today in school. I never use it). This was a big deal. This is the kind of strength, courage, and character we want to see in our kids. It wasn't just about him. It was about all of the kids getting what they deserved. He's a team player, and he went to bat (err...went to the basket???) for his team. I love that kid. He's pretty outstanding if I do say so myself.

For Ava, expressing herself means that she is painting, coloring, cutting, pasting, molding, creating, and making big, sloppy messes every single day. She is dancing to worship music or singing her heart out (usually through her nose. argh!). She is putting together crazy outfits that make me shudder, but this is who she is, and I wouldn't change her for the world. She loves fashion, and, while her choices are not always what I would choose, and she is still learning about matching and what kinds of shirts can be layered together and which ones just don't quite work, it is so important to her that she is allowed to express herself through her clothing, and it's fine with us. This is not a battle worth choosing because, if we did, what would happen to her self-esteem? Her individuality? Yeah. So not worth it.

Just over a year ago, for example, our battle was over socks. "But MOM, all the girls at church are wearing mismatched socks." Say what??? Craziness. That's what I thought. Then we got together with family at Christmas, and our then 16 year old niece was wearing mismatched socks. We don't necessarily subscribe to all the latest fads in our house, but this one is harmless, so I relented. Ava's socks haven't matched in over a year. I'm so used to it that I don't give it a second thought or even notice most of the time. She loves it, and, she's right. All the other girls are wearing mismatched socks(okay, so a lot of girls, but not all). In fact, did you know you can actually buy socks that don't match? On purpose???

One day last month, I came downstairs, and Ava was wearing pastel sparkly pink leggings with knees stained brown from tree climbing and sand boxes and who knows what else. Layered over the leggings were plaid shorts with bright shades of yellow, blue, pink, green and purple on them. She wore a black, long-sleeved t-shirt with a "Rock Band" t-shirt over that. It was a masterpiece. Uh-hem. I shook my head a little and smiled. This is who my daughter is. We weren't going anywhere, so who cares? Right?

I've read many times that we should say yes to our children as much as possible. I actually haven't taken much time to think about that parenting philosophy, but in this case, it is very applicable. I let Ava choose her clothes because it is important to her. If we are leaving the house, I am more specific about what she can or cannot wear. But this freedom I am giving her to express herself? It is shaping her. It is molding her into who Jesus wants her to be. 

There are nay-sayers who believe I am ruining her. I am not. I am watching her learn to create outfits that look amazing. Sure, she's 8, so she gets it wrong more than she gets it right, but who cares? She's happy exploring her closet. When she isn't, she'll wear something different. Right? She is practicing individuality that is unstained by the world's expectations. If that is wrong, then I want to be wrong.

I love who this daughter of mine is. I want more of what she has. Courageous, confident individuality, unaltered by the world's expectations. She is who she is, and she is awesome. She takes my breath away.

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