The Meaning of Children: Continuous Change

The Meaning of Children

In May FDW is hosting a new series on  stories from people in all walks of life and their observations of children and what they make us. Click here for more on the series and a list of the contributors. This post was written by a cousin-in-law, Lisa Kort-Butler, who I haven’t met IRL but have enjoyed connecting with on social media. I can tell she is a kindred spirit.

I’ve often heard it said that children are a gift from God. I suppose I agree.  I’ve also seen the internet feeds that declare, tongue-in-cheek, that children are a**h****.  If I’m honest, I suppose I agree with that too.  As a person who studies adolescent well-being, I know that how you view children impacts how you parent them, and how you parent them influences their physical, mental, and behavioral well-being in numerous ways.  To that extent, this blessing-to-burden continuum matters.

Of course, the meaning we attribute to children in the world and in our lives is not that one-dimensional.  We seem to struggle to reconcile who our children are versus what we want them to be.  I look at my Facebook feed and find a mix of parents gushing with pride, griping about something, jumping for joy, seeking compassion, longing for acknowledgement, and crying out in pain.  Perhaps because my own kids face additional challenges, I frequently find myself annoyed at the gushers and jumpers. (Suffice it  Perhaps because I don’t believe in airing dirty laundry at the expense of my kids, I find myself irritated at the gripers.  I wish I saw more of the parents experiencing pain and the parents feeling lonely, perhaps because I feel that way sometimes too.

So there it is: an odd mix of jealousy, ire, and sympathy, all brought on by how much I love and value my own kids. And in the midst of all that stuff, there are days when I think God has blessed me so greatly with these unique boys.  There are also the days when I wonder why God has burdened me so mightily with these boys’ unique ways of being themselves.  It is in those moments when I have thought the most about what these creatures mean in my own life.

My thoughts float to Mary, mother of Jesus.  A woman who sang of her great blessing when her son and savior grew in her womb. A woman who admonished her son when he, as a petulant 12 year old, disappeared in Jerusalem. A woman whose son knowingly brought about controversy. In other words, her son was a perfect blessing, but he had to be, from time to time, an immense burden. (I often imagine, when some person has “advised” me about one of my children, that someone probably rudely asked Mary why she couldn’t just do something about her son’s simmering rebellion.)

My thoughts float to Jesus himself.  During his ministry, he healed children in response to their parents’ faith.  He welcomed children when others pushed them away.  He elevated children — the lowliest members of ancient society — to a place of glory, as a model to others who seek God’s kingdom.  In other words, he valued children and meant for us to learn from them.  Paul also wrote of this, when he advised children to obey their parents, then advised parents not to embitter or exasperate their children.

When it comes down to it, the real meaning of my children in my life changes every day, because I know that every day, I am meant to learn something from them.  I once quipped that God didn’t give me children so that I could practice patience; He gave them to me so I could practice self-control. On that day, when my kids grasped my last nerve and stretched it to breaking, I really needed that lesson.  The truth is, some days I need lessons in kindness, gentleness, and goodness, which my kids demonstrate in quiet ways when they think I don’t notice.  Some days, I need reminders of what it means to be joyful, loving, and peaceful, all of which even my petulant 13-year old and ornery 6.75-year old live into with surprising frequency. Raising children has been one long lesson on faith in God’s mysteries and humility before Him. These lessons not only teach me to be a better parent to my own kids, but also to be a better adult to all kids, a better spouse, a better lay leader, a better college professor, a better person.

My children add immeasurable and indescribable value to my existence.  Most days, I give them 100%.  For those days when I don’t, when I’ve failed to learn, and my kids suffer me as a burden and not a blessing, there is grace.  I can always try again tomorrow.

Lisa Kort-Butler is parent of 2 boys, 13 and 6 3/4.  By day, she is a sociology professor at the University of Nebraska, specializing in the study of crime and well-being.  By weekend and evenings, she is a lay leader at Horizons Community Church in Lincoln, involved in student ministries and adult bible studies.  By night, she would like to read a book, if she could only stay awake.