Learning to lead – by following

Learning to lead – by following

Learning to lead – by following

Sometimes I wonder if the world is upside-down, especially when I “people-watch” and notice who’s following who.

Doug and I are enjoying a week in Santa Fe and I overheard a conversation at a table in a nice restaurant the other night. The parents were trying to convince their son, who looked about 8 years old, that he would enjoy something on the menu. It was more than helping him choose wisely; the tone was more “we really hope you’re happy”. For at least an hour, the parents kept catering to the young man, and the young man consistently refused to be happy.

I remembered the times my sister and I would whisper to each other in the back seat of the car on the way home from church, “You ask ’em.” “No! You ask them.”

Sunday was the day we had the best chance of stopping to get lunch on the way home; we didn’t eat out often. My sister and I were arguing about who’d ask if maybe we could go to Burger King. Most often, neither of us ended up asking.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself for growing up without a lot of extras; instead I’m noticing a distinct U-turn in who’s following who.

Not that long ago – ok, maybe it’s been a few generations – children followed parents around. Children learned to be adults by living in an adult world, and by walking along side parents who taught them everything from mowing the lawn and car repair to cooking and cleaning.

Today, parents follow children around in a child-centered world – to endless sporting events and ball fields, trampoline parks, theatre lessons, dance lessons, and art lessons. Even children’s museums.

No, I don’t think children’s museums are evil; it’s just an interesting phenomenon that as a culture we believe children will love museums because we build a child’s world for them to enjoy on a large scale – instead of inviting them to walk with us into a real museum and learn to enjoy a mature world.

Few families I know have time to mow their own lawn or repair the car – or clean their own home. Their children’s schedules take up all the time that is not consumed by the adult work that is often required to pay for the activities – and lawn service and maid service.

So, how is this working for us? Are children happier and better adjusted when it’s time for them to “launch” into the adult world themselves?

I don’t find too many people who believe that to be true. I read a statistic the other day saying for the first time in history, more than 30% of college graduates are “not hire-able” because they’re struggling significantly with anxiety, depression, and addictions.

Do you know “adolescence” is an American invention? The concept is as new as the late 1950s. A “teenager” is a recent idea, too. It’s frightening to know that a recent addition of the American Journal of Medicine indicates the age for adolescence now extends from age 10-12 to about age 30.

But it hasn’t always been this way; there are really five stages of maturity – and adolescence isn’t one of them:

  • Infant (birth – age 3)
  • Child (age 4 – 12)
  • Adult (age 12/13 – the birth of our first child)
  • Parent (the ages when we are raising our own children)
  • Elder (the ages when we are contributing to a greater community)

By design we are meant to be cared for, and to care for others. And by design, this is what we find deeply satisfying.image

Jesus’ words to His disciples, “Follow me.” So very simple in a new kingdom kind of way. “I came that you may have joy, and have it more abundantly.”

I look forward to your comments – and your ideas about how we can offer children a safe and humble place in our homes and education environments

  • Marisa

    I love this Janet! Can you give an example of how the parents in this situation could have led the child versus following him?

    • Janet

      Thank you Marisa – and you ask a very good question. The answer may very well be in the working out of “who’s following who” in the big picture of the family dynamics. Other thoughts are that the parents could use this as an opportunity to help the boy deal with disappointment and frustration; those are real feelings and they can be experienced and acknowledged. At the same time, real feelings don’t direct our behavior – so helping him understand the importance of kindness and good manners, even when he doesn’t feel like it, is a great lesson to learn. Of course another option, is a babysitter! 🙂
      What is not a good option is shame, blame, or punishment. Help him grow – with love and grace.

  • Rachel

    I think the idea of adolescence is interesting–and damaging. Sometimes seen as adults and other times as children, there aren’t always clear expectations for teenagers. When I was a teen I often felt overwhelmed and unprepared for the responsibilities of adulthood, and my peers experienced much of the same. Thankfully for me, grace has intervened and given me a great helping hand towards maturity, but not every teen was so lucky. Your post makes me wonder: how much of this strange, awkward, not-the-good-kind-of-struggle-filled period in life is our own doing? By allowing childhood to continue long past its designed stage, are we dwarfing children’s future attempts at adulthood? As always, your posts are thought provoking and very interesting.

    • Janet

      There is wisdom in your comment Rachel; and yes – we are dwarfing children’s future attempts at adulthood. By design, life is about two ideas: being loved (being cared for) and loving others (caring for others’ needs). By design, these are our two options for joy and fulfillment. So by design, an “adolescent” today misses out on both joy and fulfillment – and the opportunity for learning how to live in mature relationships – because we invite them to live in an “all about me” environment long past the infant stage of development. The most important task for a “child” is to learn how to care for themselves (including asking for help) -because as an adult, they will then be equipped to care for themselves and at least one other person. Yeah, I know – we’ve missed these foundational ideas as a culture in so many ways. BTW – I love watching you mature!

  • Donna Eckert

    For those parents who recognize that this is a description of their family and they have a young adult child who is in this position with anxiety etc. Not able to work what hope , help , direction do you give to them for the family to heal and all be able to mature and grow. Where can they go for help?

    • Janet

      I’m writing this reply from a posture of grace – not judgement or condemnation; praying readers hear the grace. Grace is unconditional love AND unwavering truth. “I’m not going to change the truth for you, but I’m not going to abandon you in relationship while you are wrestling with it.” Every circumstance is different – but grace must be given. It is important to be safe and not soft. You won’t criticize or judge or abandon in the feelings of anxiety…you’ll lend strength and help return to joy. AND you’ll lead in truth – not enabling. You will walk on the road of trusting God – even when it causes anxiety. You will still lead on that road. Avoiding all things that cause anxiety reinforces invalid identities of “unable” instead of “I need you to help me in following you on the true, hard road.” Janet Newberry & Company offers this help!