Friday, March 1, 2013

The Sacredness of Personality or Why We're Not the Duggars and It's Still Okay

I saw a commercial today for a tv series called "19 and Counting: The Duggars Do Asia." 

Bless their hearts. 

I am not knocking the Duggars. That is in no way what this post is about. What I want to get at is this idea that if you are a Christian family and you DON'T resemble the Duggars, well, honey, there's something terribly wrong with you. 

That just isn't true.

We started out very duggaresque, I must say. And I was extremely proud of myself for it, too. We modeled our parenting after some very specific families who we admired and whose children we wanted ours to emulate. That's not so terrible a thing, is it? This couple had daughters who were polite and courteous, knew how to cook and bake, spent time serving others within the church, assisted their mom with the younger children, their beautiful peasant dresses and long hair flowing behind them. What's not to love? Not a thing, really. 

My first clue should have been that my girls took their pretty pink playskool dollhouse and turned it upside down. They wanted to make it into a zoo for their adventure friends. They have generally turned our world upside down ever since -- mostly in fantastic, wonderfully creative ways. While the "girls who must be emulated" were learning how to become lovely young ladies and homemakers, our daughter Hilary decided she wanted to become Mary Anning or The Crocodile Hunter. While they were baking, she was chasing imaginary snakes and crocodiles around the yard in khaki shorts and a raggedy tee shirt, shouting, "CRIKEY!"

Our other daughter appeared to be heading toward "Suzie homemaker," but that, too, was a false alarm, based solely on the length of her eyelashes and the curl of her often tangled hair. While it's true that she wanted to be a symphony violinist like her grandmother, it's also true that she craved adventure. She wanted more than anything to be a fairy -- not the fairy princess kind but a fairy who could fly around saving people from distress with her superpowers like a superhero. Once she found the Redwall books, she HAD to own rats and a guinea pig. And we soon had a turtle living in our bathtub. What happened to those freshly coifed french braids and those pressed and starched school uniforms? Sigh.

Did you know we once had our picture in the newspaper? More than once, actually. The first time, though, we made the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They called me randomly from a list of homeschoolers, looking for answers as to how we managed our time. They sent out a local photographer who snapped a couple of fab shots of our kids in uniform, sitting at their desks in our makeshift schoolroom. It was simply marvelous. Only that isn't really where they learned much of anything. The world is our classroom. Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, Virginia was where the real feasting took place. The zoo was their favorite field trip. The dark nocturnal building was their favorite spot at the zoo. They loved the sloth most of all. 

So the Duggars we are not. And we were even less so as the years went on and our children began to look about the world and pick and choose from what they saw various things they'd like to incorporate into their own lives, some desirable and some less so (in my opinion). One saw that the rights of homosexuals were being violated and began picketing Chick-fil-a restaurants. Another began going to Chick-fil-a whenever possible in support of religious liberty. Our son began playing the drums and growing his hair past his shoulders. His favorite store to buy clothes is Hot Topic, which is let's just say, not a Duggars type clothing store.

I shuddered inwardly as I watched one thing lead to another. I wanted my perfect little children to live perfect little lives on a perfect little suburban plot of land and one day raise perfect little children of their own. Then I noticed just how whitewashed my tomb had become. Several things went wrong all at once. My mother passed away two weeks before my teenaged daughter had a baby. She wasn't married. I was in way over my head. I imagined the Duggars shaking their heads and warning me that this is the result of allowing our children to delve into the ways of the world. And I would have to say I completely agree with that assessment. But we're discussing the sacredness of personality here. Where does intervention stop and the sacredness of who our children are begin? I clearly have no idea. And although I continuously offered wise counsel, support, anger at times, and correction, a certain amount of "the world" still crept in while I wasn't looking. 

Not all of it was bad. And there have been bright, shining moments along the way, too. That day my daughter told me I was right about everything. The day she told me she wants to homeschool her children, too. The day I watched my eldest daughter get married at a castle (wearing fairy wings!). The day my son made it into Boston Conservatory, one of 55 who get in each year out of thousands who apply. Watching my youngest grow in his musical gifting and become a strong Christian man, despite my feeble faith and fumbling ability to meet his educational needs (and despite his long hair!).

Here are a few tidbits from Miss Mason on the sacredness of personality (or how not to blow it by trying to make your children into people they are not as if you are God and your job is to fit them into a certain mold):

Principle # 4: "These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by fear or love, suggestion or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire."

"We get a little nervous when she says we oughtn't try to 'train [the child's] moral nature.' We must understand that she means we _can't_ change a child's moral nature. A child is born with a natural affinity toward his creator (remember that Jesus said one must become as a little child in order to see the Kingdom of Heaven), and it is our job to nourish that affinity. We read Holy Scripture with the child, and share with him the idea of God as Father, King, Shepherd, etc. We model piety and fear of God with our lives. But we can't _make_ the child love God; we can't awaken his spirit. God has given the child a spirit, and Holy Spirit does the quickening." Lynn Hocraffer 

“Let children alone... the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions - a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.” 

"But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may at the same time be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.”  

“ Ariel released from his tree prison, a beautiful human being leaps out of many a human prison at the touch of sympathy.”  

My final advice to you is this: 

Teach your children well. Feed them on your dreams; the ones they pick will be the ones they live by.  


  1. Children are born persons, not Duggars. :-) Since I don't do programmed television, I had to check out their FAQ for a little context.

    Wow, "Praise your children ten times more than you correct them!....It’s fine to occasionally praise the outward beauty of a daughter, but if that is all you praise, that is all they will focus on. You first have to learn the definitions of the character qualities to be able to effectively praise others."

    Oh, my. The character definition chart. That is what I have been missing all of these years....

    I know how you feel about the emotional roller coaster we ride when we offer wise counsel and grow both worried and angry when it falls on deaf ears and we know the plunge is about to begin. Sigh. It is hard to let go and watch the consequences line up. Where would we be without God's grace?

    I love your children. Distinctive. Quirky. Brilliant. Making their mark on the world--in, not of it.

  2. I had a great comment for you, but wiped it out when I tried to publish it without specifying my identifying connection!

    Anyway, I read your article to Richard, we both really liked it, but the coup-de-gras was the Crosby Stills (& Nash ?) song which we both sang along with... I even played it twice! ;-)

    Thanks so much for sharing! I love your writing and also the great photos you punctuated your article with! (And yes, one CAN end a sentence with a preposition... I think we were all taught!) ;o)

  3. Thank you! What precious comments! Nancy, you and Richard have had a huge part in our children's spiritual care over the years. So you can celebrate along with us as we watch them grow into lovely Christian men and women. You built that! ;D

  4. Wow. This post and the one above it especially are just wonderful. Thank you!

    The time I had in the car with you last year was a treasure. Thank you for sharing your wisdom here, now.