I tried to grow herbs for my rabbit.
I tried really, really hard, but I had lots of things working against me. First, I live in a specific part of the pacific northwest, where we go nine months out of the year without sunlight. Secondly, the windows in my house face north/south, so even that little bit of sunlight we *do* get doesn’t come in any of my windows to reach that little box of dirt behind my big kitchen sink. And third, I have a black thumb. Seriously. I kill plants. I think I shower them with too much love or too much water or I look at them funny or something. I have a very hard time growing anything. I always say I’m glad I can grow kids and animals – clearly any ability stopped there and doesn’t extend to plants!
But one day a stubborn and special little sprout magically popped its head out of the barren dirt and I cheered. “Guys, we have cilantro!”
Could I pick it? Noooo. Poor thing was barely alive. Could I smell the spicy goodness? (By the way, I’m one of those people who do NOT think it tastes like
soap!) No, there was no smell. The little thing had one sprout. We wouldn’t be able to pluck its leaves any time soon.
But we didn’t call it a “nameless sprout thing.” We called it cilantro. It didn’t look or smell like cilantro yet. But it was still cilantro.
Yet so often, we view and treat children as separate creatures from us – like they’re not human beings yet. Like they’re not the little sprouts of adults that they will be someday. Like what we do to them won’t matter in the long run because they’re not really products of us or anything. That they’ll forget all of our mistakes.
I think our children’s behavior surprises us when it becomes their adult behavior. And we glance down and have full-fledged cilantro and are shocked.
Do I mean that kids can’t be kids, and we should expect adult behavior from them? No. Bear with me.
In the past two years, I’ve focused much of my free time and energy on studying childhood traumas, especially parent-child relationship issues. Whether it was through ACBC counseling, excellent non fiction books, therapist newsletters, calling on brave sufferers who wanted to come forward and share, YouTubers who divulge their gritty backstories, and textbook articles of brain scans, I’ve put aside a lot of my fiction writing to focus on how to understand and help those I love. I’ve had to pull back a bit in order to peel back the layers of behavior to see that root. That basic beginning sprout. And for so, so, so many of these people and these disorders, it goes back to pre-age seven. SEVEN years old, folks.
These little baby sprouts were given horrible foundations that still haunt them to this day and cause harmful ripple effects at age thirty… forty-five… seventy…
Divorce, destructive behaviors, addiction, emotional abuse… We have rampant relationship and family issues, and cycles of generational traumas.
Not all of them came from crack houses where they had their bodies prostituted. We’re not even talking truly worst case scenarios here. Many, many of the friends and acquaintances I have met and interviewed and gotten to know and love over the last two years grew up in basically normal homes. Homeschool, public school, private school, two parents, one parent, divorced parents, church attendance or not… the stories ran the gamut. But usually well provided for, well educated, and physically healthy.
Yet one thing was true for all of these very different human beings across the board: none of them felt like their emotions were of any interest to anyone else, least of all their parents. Many of them felt that emotions were downright evil – the bad or immature or unnecessary part of them that needed to go in the garbage can. All of them, decades later, have a deep suspicious distrust of their own emotions, and many of them look at Spock the Vulcan as some sort of secret hero.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is a real thing, and causes emptiness, lack of intimacy and connection, and stifled negativity that leads to bad stress management and sometimes even destructive relationships.
But CEN was the most basic of the concerns I found. For those who experienced actual ongoing active trauma as small children, not just passive dysfunction from parents, friends, or relatives, the mental health disorders also ran the gamut – multiple personalities (now called dissociative identity disorder or otherwise specified dissociative disorder DID/OSDD), or borderline personality disorder (BPD), narcissistic (NPD), histronic, and antisocial personality disorders, to name a few from the cluster B list.
ALL stemming from trauma under age seven – many of whom parents were considered pillars in their communities.
So what’s going on?
The other day I watched a historical drama on British aristocrats in the 18th century. What appalled me even more than the rampant infidelity and treating women like cattle to be bartered and traded, was the perspective on children and parenting. They were to be seen and not heard. They were toys to be fed and put to sleep by a live-in servant. They were second-rate citizens, beneath the favorite house pet. And somehow expected to age a couple years and enter society, hold government positions, or even raise children of their own! Horrors!
Where is this disconnect happening?
Children are not separate creatures from adults, who somehow magically die in a fire and burst forth as phoenixes, completely unrecognizable from their past selves. Fat little caterpillars that go into cocoons and emerge butterflies. Things that stop you from YOUR life goals and dreams and get in YOUR way. Things you have to pacify and put up with for a while and then move on from. Beings who will go, “I get now why I was mistreated and it totally doesn’t matter. I have an ‘Adult Brain’ now and everything makes sense and all is forgiven and forgotten and I’ll probably do the same to my kids because it builds character and all.”
Children never really forget. Their brains never forget. Deep down, that foundation, by an extremely young age, is SET. And if you have to undo foundation, you have your work cut out for your tenfold. It takes like ten times the effort to help repair the foundation. It can be done, praise God, but it will probably be that kid’s spouse or your own grandkids, let alone a therapist and counselor or two, who will be putting in the effort.
Do the hard work now, parents-to-be and moms and dads of little kids. Be intentional, sacrificial, open God’s Word, and be wise.
Can you look your child in the eye and see not a houseplant or a cute pet but the next president of the United States? Can you look them in the eye and see the future mother of your grandchildren? Can you see the next schoolteacher of other people’s children, the mayor of your town, or someone’s future best friend? Can you talk to them like you expect them to grow and hold opinions and vote in a future election or pastor a future church or lead a Bible study or raise their own kids?
If you wouldn’t treat another adult with such blatant disrespect and unkindness – if you’d sit a bestie down and listen to the tales of their woes for hours – and if you’d explain with calm and intelligent sentences why God says what He does in His word to a congregation member who sits next to you in the pew… why won’t you do it for your own children?
Many peer parents just assume their five-year-olds are going to wake up one day and “get it” through osmosis. They’re going to be great citizens and understand a relationship with the Lord and be kind to their peers and avoid bad boyfriends and work hard and never do drugs and the list goes on! These peers are shocked when some of us take the time to explain doctrine to our children, or pray for our daily concerns out loud in front of them, or apologize on our knees when we’ve sinned against them, or ask them if there are ways we could be a better parent and take notes, or go out one-on-one and listen to them ramble about their life like it matters and is a worthy and legitimate life that bears listening to.
My kids are still under my authority and answer to my commands, but even those are run through God’s Word and have a reason behind it.
Their feelings, their hearts are precious. If you wouldn’t squash a best friend’s or a close coworker’s heart and questions by your lack of care and concern, by your unfocused attention and disinterested spirit, by your silent tongue when you need to speak and angry impatient tongue when you need to listen… then why are you doing it to them? They’re the ones who can’t shake you off and find a new, better counselor and friend. They’re the ones who are busy learning their adulthood foundation.
I’m barely scratching the tip of the iceberg in what I want to say about parenting in this article. Some days I think I want to write a book after all of the horrendous things I’ve heard and seen in the last two years. The horrendous things I’ve experienced secondhand. There will be more blog posts to come, for sure. For now, I’m busy listening to the sufferers, weeping, and taking notes. Hugging my own three girls close and learning to give up my own rights for what my day looks like. Maybe it looks like reassuring the almost-three-year-old with tight hugs because the little one thought it was her fault the rabbit got into her goldfish crackers and got sick. Maybe it looks like reading another chapter of the Bible and praying at length with the seven-year-old when she talks back instead of getting to math facts.
I can sum up at least the general thought in three question: Do you see your children as pre-adults? Do you see your actions and words and attitudes as being a lot of what makes up their adulthood foundation? Do you see them as more than just “yours,” but as part of God’s plan for the world, and that He’s asking you to treat them like His special instruments and to help put in a lot of the hard work now?
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4