If you are a parent or may one day raise children, what is your philosophy of pain? How much should you allow your children to experience? Surprisingly, many young people actually need more of it. It helps them to grow up.
But who wants pain? There is so much pain in the world. Sin causes pain – the pain of abandonment and abuse, the pain of rejection. Isn’t pain always bad?
We have to ask, “Why did God create pain?” The answer is connected to free choice. If he wanted to give us the gift of freedom, then he had to give us the opportunity to experience consequences.
This is how we learn almost anything as children. My grandson Asa is learning to walk now. He repeatedly experiences the pain of falling down and prefers to crawl. The only way to get better at walking is to fall down.
My parents understood that the faster they could get out of the way and let me experience the consequences of my choices, the faster I would grow up.
But we as a society are deeply confused about pain. As parents, we know that we’re to protect our kids. They start out completely vulnerable and need to be protected. Yet many of us don’t really understand the importance of allowing our children to experience the possibility of more and more pain as they grow. This is called the maturation process. It is normal for all animals and humans.
Pain and comfort exist on on a continuum. You need both to grow. Traditionally fathers have been the primary advocates for more pain and more responsibility. Moms traditionally were the primary source of comfort and love. And it was a good thing when those roles were blended and responsibilities were shared. Too many fathers were harsh disciplinarians – they needed to learn how to love their kids better.
Unfortunately, as the American family has frayed, many fathers have gone AWOL. Single mothers and moms married to absentee husbands have been left with the job of doing all the parenting. Moms do the best they can in the absence of feckless husbands and sometimes the dads are involved but themselves are overprotective.
The result? A generation of children whose growth is stunted because they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn responsibility, perseverance and resilience.
To help our children to grow up, parents of all stripes need to ask “Where is my child on the continuum between pain and comfort?” Clearly many need more comfort. But many need the gift of remedial pain. They need to be trusted to make the kinds of decisions that adults make so they can make them when they are on their own. They need the experience of many more decisions that don’t turn out as they hoped.
Yes, they will struggle. The world is not fair and is filled with knuckleheads who don’t care about your children. But as they enter their teens, kids deeply desire to be trusted enough to suffer the consequences of an unfair world.
By the time kids are 18, we parents need to be stretching in new ways to release them more fully to God’s care. They may not be able to articulate that, or even recognize that is what they yearn for, but it is appropriate and necessary for them at this stage. It can be scary. But this is how we raise adults instead of just raising children.
As a society, we need to think about the role of pain in the maturation process of our kids. We need to get out of their way and give them the gift of remedial pain.