A few recent comments from church members and small group members has created some deep thinking recently regarding diversity in family and parenting styles in the church. As any of my long-term blog followers know, at one point I struggled with judgment towards others. My Meyers Brigg personality is a borderline I/E but a very strong NTJ, especially that big fat J. Fortunately, part of being a Christian is growth and development through the working of the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and other Christians. As a late teenager and young adult, I was able to almost completely resolve my fear/judgment cycle (because I judged others, I feared their judgment towards me and became very hesitant and reserved).
I have seen in the past few weeks and months how many others still suffer through the same issues that I did. I feel sympathy towards them, and yet I also feel compelled to offer my support. Honestly, I truly do not take their judgment personally because of the work that has been done on my heart, but I also don't want them experiencing the same mistakes that I made when I was younger.
We are all human and we are all diverse. My husband chooses not to wear a wedding ring. I am not wearing a wedding ring currently due to being 9 months pregnant. Shockingly, two separate people at church have mentioned my lack of wedding ring in the 1 month that I have left it off. Really? You see us multiple times per week, you know we're married, you know we're faithful, what does our choice of wearing a ring or never taking it off matter to you? One of the people that mentioned it did seem to recognize his judgmental fallacy by saying he felt terrible for judging all the people he saw without rings when there could be a valid explanation. Yet, even if there wasn't a valid explanation, is that the right reaction a Christian should have towards a stranger? Yes, if there is sin WITHIN the church, it needs to be pointed out in a loving manner, but we need to be very clear on what is "sin" and what is "personal choice". I am not cheating on my husband, and he is not cheating on me, so our lack of rings has no bearing on our heart or sin situation.
In another instance, I have heard a few families make judgments on parenting styles. Admittedly, sometimes I do this myself, but it has no bearing on how I interact with other families. Yes, sometimes I have to have a conversation with my children about how just because another boy or girl their age is allowed to do something does not automatically give them permission. I also have to step in sometimes as a parent if the other parents are not aware of what is going on and protect them from a safety standpoint. And I am 100% on board with other parents stepping in in similar situations. Yet, in non-safety situations, there is such a huge spectrum of parenting styles. When I married my husband, I joked with a few friends that I had a lot of cultural differences to work through early in the relationship. They asked what culture he was from and I said he was born and raised in the same town we currently live.
Culture is something that varies from person to person and family to family and yes, even when crossing over town or county borders. We tend as humans to try to create relationships and friendships with those who are most "like us" and while that is not necessarily wrong in and of itself, it can tend to lead towards drama, hurt feelings, and a reaction of judgment in cases where no judgment is needed.
We recently went to Chic-Fil-A with some friends of ours. They let their kids go to the playplace while the food was being ordered, but our kids know they are not allowed to play until after they've eaten their food. While one of my kids was throwing a bit of a fit because he missed his friend, we had a good conversation with the parents. Neither one of our two families was wrong, we just do things a bit differently. Fortunately, the line was short and only a few minutes later the kids were happily eating together and then playing together. Doing life together doesn't mean doing life the same. It means appreciating the differences in other families and respecting their personalities without judging.
Accidents happen, kids get hurt while playing, some kids are overly sheltered, some kids are largely unsupervised. When it comes to parenting style, we try to maintain a bit of an even balance with our kids. About half of the families with kids the same age as ours are more discipline oriented and about half are less supervisory. I make a big deal of safety issues, prompt obedience, and being nice to others. I also make a huge effort not to overly shelter our kids, so they do have some words occasionally that they probably should not be repeating, but have heard from YouTube, Dave Matthews, or TV. I also take into consideration the personalities of my two children. So occasionally, my almost 4 year old is put to bed with a book and we go to bed without forcing him to stay in his bed. And occasionally my oldest child is not punished for his behavior when he gets overwhelmed with sensory issues beyond his control.
So why is there judgment in the church over these issues, when I don't see it at the park or the library? I think some of it comes from a place of love. We see someone in the church disciplining in a way that we wouldn't and we think that maybe they really need to fix that. But we need to question whether it's something that truly needs to be fixed (i.e. outright disobedience towards parents) or if it is a much subtler issue of personality, rules, and culture. Is someone truly needing help with the discipline of their kids, or are they perfectly happy with where they are on the spectrum of discipline and love. Just like with Grace and Justice, we need to find the balance with our children to create in them a disciplined life without causing them unnecessary pain and suffering (i.e. exasperating our children). And maybe, rather than judging another parent for how they discipline (or don't discipline) their children, we need to find Grace and Justice in the diverse beauty of the church. I personally think it would be incredibly boring if every family were exactly like mine. I've learned a lot about relaxing from the more relaxed parents around me, and I've also seen some adjustments that need to be made in my choices of what to discipline through other parents and grandparents.
If we all did everything the same, would it be right, or would we all end up doing it wrong?