As my kids are getting older, and my friends’ kids are getting older, Charlotte Mason’s “Children are born persons” is meaning something more to me. Or maybe it’s just hitting home more.
For years, I’ve heard that if you “train up your child in the way he should go, when he’s old he will not depart from it,” and various interpretations of that — if you train them to be good, they’ll always be good, if you teach them right, they might stray, but they’ll always come back.
At a recent gathering of moms, one of the moms said that “raise up your children in the way they should go” means that we guide them in the unique direction/career God has planned for them — as if we could be presumptuous enough to know what God has planned for them. I’m not sure I’d even want to arrange a marriage for my child, much less their entire life.
I think of all the things I’ve attempted to do with/for my kids, like instilling values, presenting opinions, and nurturing tastes for reading and music — when they grow up, they choose for themselves, and it might be very different than what I wanted, or even from what I thought from observation was “the way they should go.” One of my little boys used to build things. Friends would even comment that he was very good at building things and would someday be an engineer. But, nope, as he’s gotten older, I see his interests going somewhere else, and his brother being the one to show an interest in building things as a possible career, and I’m glad I didn’t lock the wrong child into that path.
The first time “Children are born persons” really hit home for me was when my oldest son was in maybe fifth grade and showing some talent in his school lessons. I remembered reading about a child back in history who was extremely gifted, and spoke multiple languages. No doubt his parents threw everything they had into his gift and harbored hopes of what was in store for this child. And then he died at age nine of some childhood disease. I don’t know what kind of childhood he had — whether he had been allowed to play, daydream, enjoy nature, and seek out his own interests, or whether he had been pressured to make the most of his time by studying for hours on end because of what he would be “someday.” But his “someday” never came. In the end, what mattered for him wasn’t the hopes for his future, but his childhood. It was all he had. It occurred to me at the time that each child is a born “person” and may only have a few years to live their life, and withholding any life from them in the hopes of their useful, prosperous future may rob them of what life they have. That was the first time I thought I understood what CM meant.
Now, watching the kids around me — my own as well as my friends’ children — becoming adults, it’s hitting me again. These children we thought we were raising are complete people, very different from us, very much their own people, and “they always were.” I look around at my adult friends and their opinions and ways of life, and wonder if they’re even an inkling like what their parents thought they were raising them to be. The children we’ve collectively raised represent our contribution of a few full-grown adults thrown into the general population with their own opinions and ways of life, and, in many cases, they are very different as adults than what we saw in them as children. They have gifts we totally missed, or interests it never occurred to us to introduce them to in their childhood, or information gleaned from sources we never heard of.
Sometimes I think that the best we can do as parents is to watch them grow up into adult people, and hope we don’t do anything to damage them along the way. I don’t say that to sound helpless or despairing, but raising a child is more awe-inspiring and “bigger” than I thought, and I as a parent have less influence and control than I imagined. We attempt to set their feet in a large, broad room, without really considering the large, broad room we’re in ourselves as their parents.
© 2011 by Leslie Noelani Laurio