On Blankets, Pottery and Parenting

I’ve always had two metaphors for parenting that I keep in mind when I’m balancing my special blend of discipline, encouragement, teaching and shouting.

Being a former educator, I’ve seen many different styles of parenting – most that made me shudder, to be quite honest. I’ve taught in child care centres, pre-schools (pre-prep for Queenslanders), primary schools and high schools in both the public and private sector. I’ve seen awesome stuff and pretty ordinary stuff in all of those sectors. I went to public primary schools and high schools, so this is not me banging on about the public system, by the way. Public school teachers are AWESOME and have to work hard in so many areas just to complete their most basic function: teach.

So! My two metaphors (or images) that I keep in mind when I’m about to come in heavy with my children on a particular behaviour or issue or when I’m about to let them go and allow them to just ‘be children’ are as follows:

Firstly, I’ve always imagined that your parenting is like a blanket. If you’re a super-strict parent who doesn’t give your child an inch to move, try new things in a supportive environment or develop their own unique personality, it’s like having the blanket wrapped really, really tight around them. They can’t move and it’s pretty uncomfortable. It gets hot. They get itchy. The result of this is usually that the child either a) lies perfectly still, afraid to make a wrong move, even into adulthood and ends up with a gigantic headache, not feeling well, b) rips up the blanket in frustration and fury and chucks the blanket away or c) lies perfectly still until they leave school or home, then just go crazy and make poor choices with sometimes dire consequences.

Alternatively, if you give your child no guidance, teach them nothing, just let them do what they want, it’s the equivalent of just lying them on the blanket. It does nothing apart from provide a small amount of cushioning to their back. It’s also pretty cold and insecure. Or maybe just their toes are exposed, so that part of them is cold and under-developed. I’ve always noticed that firm parenting that’s consistent and easy to understand really equates to security – something to hold onto when the child isn’t sure what to do, even if they decide as teenagers or adults that they don’t agree with their parents and decide to behave in a different way or choose a different path.

If you ever work out how to keep the blanket of parenting securely but not too securely around your child, let me know. Some days I feel like I’m practically strangling my children with my parenting blanket and other days I feel like there’s NO blanket!!

My second metaphor is Biblical. Have you ever heard the song ‘The Potter’s Hand’ ?

Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour
I know for sure all of days are
Held in Your hand
Crafted into Your perfect plan

You gently call me into Your presence
Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit
Teach me, dear Lord
To live all of my life through your eyes

I’m captured by your holy calling
Set me apart
I know You’re drawing me to Your heart
Teach me, dear Lord, I pray

Make me, mould me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand

I’ve always had this image of these large and firm yet gentle and loving hands on me, the clay, gently pulling me up and supporting me to grow taller and stretch out into something beautiful, rather than an ugly lump of cold clay on the potting wheel. I did ceramics in my last year at high school, and although I wasn’t a big fan of throwing pots (I preferred coil pots and slab pots), the image has never left me. Clay that’s moulded by hands becomes warm, malleable and beautiful. Clay that just sits there and doesn’t allow itself to be moulded is cold and although maybe interesting, is nowhere near as spectacular as a tall, smooth vase or a wide and elegant bowl.

So it is with parenting. From experience, if you squeeze the clay too hard while you’re throwing a pot, it becomes top heavy and falls over. As with children. Squeeze ‘em too hard, push ‘em too hard and you’ll end up with stump of clay and a beautiful shape that’s squished a bit from falling over. However, if a potter doesn’t even touch the clay, or doesn’t even apply pressure or guide the clay, it stays as it is……cold, misshapen and pretty ordinary. I mean, it’s OK. But it’s just…..ordinary.

As parents, we need to achieve the balance of protection, discipline, silliness/fun and education. Man, it’s an exhausting job trying to keep things even! What makes it so much harder is when we don’t take into account the differences in personality of parents and the raised eyebrows and rolled eyes start. We are all imperfect, sinful people who will never, ever in a million years achieve perfect parenting. Some will tend to leave the blanket a bit loose, some will apply a bit more pressure to the clay.

At the end of the day, keeping your parenting style within a certain range, no matter what other differences you have, is what’s important. I’m pretty sure that the God who created our universe is more than able to make up for parenting that may have tended on the more strict side because you’re an ex-teacher who may have a streak of type-A personality and hates clutter. All is required is that you give your parenting over to Him and ask for His help. I do it all day, every day in arrow prayers and keeping God’s presence with me. I have to practice hard at the things in parenting I’m not good at. It takes work. Effort.

It’s one of the best things about God. He made us individual and He calls us all to His purpose in different ways, yet He spells out in the Bible some very clear, basic rules for parenting (and life!). What are they? Well, perhaps you’d better open up the best instruction manual for everything and do some investigating J! Proverbs is a great place to start.

So, when you’re about to launch into a great behaviour-shaping tirade or about to sigh and say, “They’re children!” – take a few seconds to assess whether your parenting blanket is still secure, but not too secure, or if the influence you’re applying to the situation is going to be beneficial and grow your children stronger, taller and expanded or just cut them off so that the beautiful bowl shape you have is going to be wrecked by harsh words or rash actions.

And remember to chat to The Great Potter especially and also your parenting blanket friends!

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