When my hubs and I first got married, we adopted the practice of holding hands for a few moments while we silently gave thanks or prayer. We both had our own spiritual practices outside of this holding hands, but we managed most of it privately. It definitely wasn’t obvious or observable to our children.
When our son was four, he went to a church-based preschool. He came home insisting that we say a blessing before our meals. We were happy to oblige, after all, we had been giving thanks silently for years. We started saying a blessing, which over time evolved to singing ‘Johnny Appleseed.’ This seemed to satisfy all of us for a couple of years.
However, recently, our son has become resistant to singing with us at mealtimes.
We tried to playfully draw him into singing. No luck.
We tried insisting he sing with us. Again, no luck. You can lead a horse to water, but you definitely can’t make him sing!
I became irritated, angry and resentful, saying to myself, “We only started singing a blessing because HE wanted it!”
After a couple of weeks of back and forth and an increasingly UN-smooth start to our family meals, I finally thought to ask my son why he doesn’t want to sing with us anymore (novel idea, right?)
He happily told us that there are three kinds of people: those that believe in God, those that don’t, and those that just aren’t sure. He is one of those who don’t, because he is more of a “science-kind-of-boy” (his actual words!)
None of this was surprising coming from the thoughtful boy who once said,
“On the first day, God created dark. Then, on the twoth day, the day the tooth fairy was born, God created white. That was long before people came along, when the world was still flattened from the big bang.”
At first my husband and I were shocked and disappointed. We truly believe that all people come to their own spiritual belief over time, but we just didn’t expect our child to give up his belief in God at such a young age!
Once we calmed down, we had to take the time to really examine our core values and decide whether we cared about continuing to say a ‘blessing’ at meal time. It turns out that we DO want to foster a sense of gratitude and reflection in our children and our family, regardless of a belief in God or not. And we think that pausing before eating and expressing that gratitude is a great way to bring this to our daily life.
We also needed to remind ourselves that we are the ones responsible for fostering the values we want to support in our family. So, WE NEED TO SAY THE BLESSING regardless of whether our son wants to say it with us. We needed to be clear on our expectations. We can’t force our son to say the words, but he does have to sit quietly and wait to start eating until we are finished. We need to hold the space because it is important to us and our family culture.
This limit had become a problem because we, as parents, hadn’t taken the time to decide whether this fit with our values and HOW it fit. We also had agreed to it without really caring about it, so it became difficult to enforce. And we had let our child drive the process, which put him in control over us. We were not empowered here.
After clarifying our values, I searched in books and online for a number of blessings that would satisfy everyone in our family. Then, I sat down casually with my son while he was having a snack and told him that whether he believes in God or not, it was very important to me and his dad that we take time to give thanks before we eat and to reflect on all we have to be grateful for. I also told him that I had found a selection of blessings which we could choose from together as a family. He seemed very amenable to this and seemed actually happy and relieved that I had set the limit.
That night at dinner, one of the adults read the blessing we had chosen. Our son was all smiles. We had restored the proper order of things. We were empowered as parents to guide our family according to our values. Our son was empowered in that his spiritual questioning was taken seriously. And we all came together to find a solution.
A mutually agreeable solution.
If you are having trouble setting limits with your children, take some time to ask yourself whether the limit is in alignment with your values.
If the limit IS IN ALIGNMENT, then hold the space for it in your family life.
If the limit IS NOT IN ALIGNMENT, then let it go!
I would love to hear from you! How do your values inform the limits that you set with your children?