In my children’s story “Once upon a time” the Father tells his boy about two trees growing in the garden that is their home.
He tells His son he can eat as much as he wants from the “Trust Me” tree; He tells him not to eat of the “Be Good” tree – or he will open the door to a great curse.
I wonder what would happen if we gave our children these same instructions?
What if, as a parent we taught our children the primary motive of “trust me” instead of “be good?”
I have to ask myself, why did the Father give the boy these instructions? What did He know that we don’t? – – at least not at first glance?
“Be good” is not a bad motive; a person who is “good” is enjoyable and probably capable of doing many things right.
But “be good” is a dangerous primary motive for children; “trust Me” is a healthier motive, when “Me” is God or a trustworthy parent.
When “be good” is the primary motive, several unintentional consequences may result:
- Children may hide when they’re “not good.” It happened in the garden, too. When children are “not good” – they really need our help; it’s when we hope they’ll trust us.
- Children may compare their behavior or performance to others; we may compare, too. Children may feel inferior or superior based on behavior. Worthiness and belonging gets attached to “what I do” instead of “who I am.” This feels true as they judge others, too.
- Children may not try new things – afraid of not “being good.” Their world can stay small and controllable if their comfort zone is only as big as their capabilities and accomplishments.
- We begin to give children a “child size” world – because we want them to “be good.” We give them leveled readers, sippy cups, school subjects in leveled down bits so we can expect them to get 100%,… I know; this is a controversial one. There are pros and cons. But are we willing to wrestle with, “at what cost in the long run?”
- We all begin to write our own definitions of “good.” Which definition will we trust?
- We get stuck in “survival mode” – perform, hide, pain relief, repeat.
- We become competitors – or at least selfish. We can “be good” at our tasks and complete our agenda – and never take time to “love one another.”
- We forget that maturity builds capacity – and try to force capacity in other ways (behavior modifications, medication, labels…).
- We may wonder why more rewards and good performance doesn’t bring lasting fulfillment – like we thought, and like we’d been promised.
What are the possibilities when “trust me” is the primary motive?
- Children learn it’s always ok to ask for help; “trust me” means I want to help you.
- Children learn their true identity and worthiness – apart from their behavior or performance. They begin to know their friends and relatives, too – more than judging or feeling superior or inferior.
- Children experience life in a big world. “Trust me” is an invitation to “follow me” and learn; it’s ok if you’re not good at it yet. Let’s enjoy the real world together.
- Children learn to struggle with real things in a real world. Glass breaks, so children learn to be careful. They also learn to clean up a mess. Most good books are too hard to read on their own – so we get to enjoy them together. We get to talk about new ideas – big ideas; these conversations help deepen our relationship.
- In love, frustration is an invitation to trust – and leads to obedience. Without learning to deal with frustration in trusting relationships, we default to compliance, hiding, or a victim identity.
- Children grow up in a world where “trust me” is the norm for relationships – so they grow up to be trustworthy adults.
- Because children are learning and growing, “good” happens. We celebrate together; we learn to help one another. Helping one another is a way of loving one another.
- We learn to find peace in “living mode” instead of “survival mode” – living mode includes all these things in trusting relationships: work (build/create/restore/design/dream…), leisure, rest and restoration.
- We experience impact and influence for good – and find it deeply satisfying.
It’s interesting to play with this idea: Children who trust will learn and grow and will naturally “be good,” but children who try hard to “be good” don’t necessarily experience trust.
Children who don’t experience trust will stay immature.
I’ve written several blogs recently about the false tradition we call “adolescence.” My hypothesis is that children who trust will grow up to be adults – and children who’s primary motive is “be good” more often grow older as adolescents.
Growing up – physically and emotionally maturing – requires a different recipe of hormones than extended immaturity (adolescence).
Growing up requires oxytocin – the hormone of love and trust. (The Fear Tree and Love Tree pictures are from Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, “The Gift in You.” – you can find more on the GOOD STUFF page.)
“Be good” can often trigger a stress hormone – cortisol. Sometimes “be good” can hi-jack dopamine – in a way that forms an addiction to artificial rewards, more performance, or pain-killers.
When a child’s body continually produces cortisol and hi-jacked dopamine, maturity gets stunted and learning struggles and attention problems are the first obvious symptoms.
When a child’s body continually produces oxytocin – along with healthy dopamine and serotonin – children grow up and become healthy adults.
So this blog ends at it began:
Why did the Father give the boy those instructions? Why did He tell him to eat often from the “trust me” tree, but warn the boy of a great curse if he ate of the “be good” tree? What did He know that we don’t?
I’m inviting readers and friends to join me in wrestling with these and other ideas about trusting grace – and to learn together to apply these truths in our lives, our parenting, and our relationships.
I’m creating a new online course – the draft title is “wrestling with grace – in real life.” The introductory course will have five video sessions, a workbook to download for taking notes and writing questions, and a closed FaceBook discussion group – for members only.
I’ll be an active participant in the FaceBook discussion group; we’ll wrestle together, struggle together, and celebrate together – as we witness the fruit of the “trust Me” tree.
The first offering of this course will be limited to 50 participants – and this “freshman” class will receive a 50% discount for participating in this “first run” of the course.
If you’d like to join me on this journey – or you’re just interested in learning more – follow this link to the contact page and include “wrestling with grace – in real life” in the comment section. I’ll send you email updates – and you can learn more before you make a commitment.