Teach Your Children
Bill Long 8/6/06
A Midsummer's Reflection
This and the next essay arise from my thinking today about two of my favorite sources of inspiration: The Bible and Crosby, Stills & Nash. The idea for these essays was indirectly suggested by my friend Tony Petrotta, rector at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wilsonville, OR, in a "throwaway" line during our morning study of the Psalms. His line was this: 'The Bible never tells us to love our children; it just tells us to teach them.' No one picked up on Tony's observation, but, as we were trying to work through some of the verses of Ps. 78 today, the following thoughts began to germinate.
1. First, I ran through my mind some Scriptures about love. Sure enough, I couldn't think of any that talked about loving my children (let there be no mistake; I love them dearly, but I was on another point...). I know that the Sciriptures teach us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. I know they tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I know, further, that they tell husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. But the emphasis when it has to do with children is on teaching them.
2. Second, Scriptures are too numerous to mention here about the importance of teaching the "right things" to the next generation. The Psalm we examined today has this to say at the beginning:
"1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done" (Ps. 78:1-4).
3. Crosby, Stills, and Nash in 1977 penned and sang the following song, Teach the Children, the first verse of which is:
"You, who are on the road,
Must have a code that you can live by.
And so, become yourself,
Because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams,
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you."
The second verse turns things around and talks about teaching the parents but, for my purposes here, the first is the only important verse. The first few lines are elliptical and tend to downplay the importance of the past, but there is the emphasis on teaching and feeding the children on dreams, dreams which are nourished by a combination of the past and future hopes. Children will remember and learn what they want to learn, however--"The one they picks, the one you'll know by.." Thus, teach them, realize they will pick up the message they want, and don't be offended if they pick up a message different from the one you thought you were giving, since, in the end, they love you.
So, What do We Teach Our Children?
As they mature, our children have several sources of knowledge on which they draw. They are influenced by their peers, their teachers, the culture at large and, hopefully, by their parents. But often it starts to dawn on us as parents that our children learn things from us primarily by osmosis and less by formal teaching times. In other words, they seem to absorb more things from us from the way we interact with them, the way we spend our time, our temperaments and actions, than on any "content" or specific teaching that we give them. Often we don't have formal teaching times with children both because of the hectic pace of our lives and the sense that others are properly taking care of teaching lessons to our children.
But as I am getting older, I am realizing that I have shortchanged my children by not sitting down with them and formally telling them important things they need to know about the past of people whom they love (i.e., ME). They need to know things about my past not so that I can justify why I have treated them the way I have, but so that they can understand more fully who they are.
Five Things I Still Want to Teach My Children
I will list five things here that I would like to teach my children, things that I never really presented to them in an organized fashion while they were growing up. The next essay will mention what I would like them to know about each of those five things. Here they are:
A. I would like them to know about the lives of their paternal grandparents--my parents--to the extent that I can tell them.
B. I would like them to know about what it was like coming of age in the 1960s for me and how that led to my seeing the world differently from my parents.
C. I would like them to know why religion played such a big role in my life in my youth and early middle age, even though it is comparatively unimportant to them.
D. I would like to tell them what they were like as children and youth.
E. I would like to tell them what I thought I did right, where I thought I made some mistakes and what things I discovered about parenting only after they were substantially on their own (they are 24 and 19 now).
The next essay goes into these in more detail, but I hope it causes you to think about what you want to teach your children, in a rather formal sense, before too much longer.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long