Sunday, September 23, 2012

Finding Nemo: a parable for parents

We're in another rough phase around here.  It seems that happens whenever we slip into a comfortable place.  I understand that these are the "growing pains" with two young kids who are growing into independence, especially two who inherited the strong wills of their parents.  As much as we prod, cajole, reward, push, demand,encourage, and punish them into obedience, they push right back with attitudes, yelling, defiance, and rude words.  It's a frustrating business of needing to teach them how to behave, and yet feeling my own behavior unravel in the fruitlessness of it all.  The only breakthroughs seem to come when my calm words break through after a day of yelling and reprimands, and I end up with a sad and sobbing boy in my arms, who covers his face and says through hiccups, "I'm in trouble."  I feel broken as well, especially after the girl wakes up in tears twice during the night, and I imagine she is having nightmares of "mean mommy". After reassurances and love, grace and new beginnings, we promise to try again the next day.

Today, I sit in a blissfully quiet house.  John and the kids are off early to church, and I get to lounge around a bit as I'm going to visit a different church this morning in preparation for preaching there next month.  Before they left, Brady cued up an audio version of the "Finding Nemo" story for me to listen to while they are gone.  My sweet boy, his attitude of defiance washed away in his morning bath, wants to share what he loves with me.  Yesterday, John had taken the kids to see the "Finding Nemo" movie in 3D.  (Yes, my husband is awesome.  He's the one who stays at home with the kids, then takes them out on a Saturday morning so that I can get a break.  Bless him.) 

This movie has always tugged at my heart, so it's probably best that I wasn't in the theater with them sobbing my eyes out.  Of course it starts with the death of the mother fish and her eggs, with the exception of Nemo, who has hatched during this traumatic time.  His father, Marlin, is left to raise his only son as a single parent, and is haunted by his losses.  He becomes tightly attached to his son and frets about giving him any freedom or independence, afraid that something bad will happen and he will lose him.  In spite of his best efforts at control, something bad does happen.  Nemo rebels, and swims away into the very danger his father had warned him about.  He is captured by divers, leaving his father and a memory-impaired fish named Dory to search for him.  John came home and shared one of the movie lines with me:
Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

I can so relate.  As a parent, there are so many worries.  Responsibility number one is always to protect our children, and beyond that, we always want to shield them from anything that could hurt them.  All of our rules are either an attempt to keep them safe, or to teach them how to live well in the world.  Part of me naively believes that if I control them and control our situation, then I can keep bad things from happening to them and to our family.  I can keep us in this nice safe bubble.  Although I know that is not reality.  If I've learned one thing in parenthood, it's the fragility of it all, that my sense of control is only an illusion.  I see the harsh realities all around: children battling cancer, accidents, depression, rebellion, death...there is so much hurt and pain, and we can't do much to stop it, only hope and pray that it doesn't touch us.

I know, too, that it's a disservice to protect our children from failure and pain as those are the things that help them to grow, to find their strength and resilience, and to become independent.  Shielding them from experiences also keeps them from experiencing the joy and adventure of life.  As the movie dialogue continues:

Marlin: What?
Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

In the end, Nemo finds his own strength through his journey of independence, and is able to be the hero, saving both his father and himself.

I pray that I will have the faith to trust that the values we are teaching are sticking somewhere, as evidenced by the moments in which they allow their caring hearts to shine through.  May my letting go of control be for them the gift of independence that will help them grow in strength, courage, and faith.  May we always find one another again and again, even as we fight the currents of the ocean around us.

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