Monday, July 4, 2011

Puppy lessons, part 2: a crazy joy

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free…” –Gal. 5:1

We’ve had our puppy, Maisy, for 4 months now and she is growing like crazy! She is acting crazy too. Though we’ve been working with her to “sit” and “stay,” she is still a puppy. We’ve even nicknamed her “Crazy Maisy” because there are times when she acts pretty wild. But puppies are supposed to act wild. They are puppies, after all. Kids are supposed to act wild too. Sure, parenting is about teaching our kids to “mind” and “be seen and not heard,” but not at the expense of their childhood. In our effort to keep things “orderly” (no doubt I have a little OCD in me), we have to be careful not to squelch our kids creativity and fun.

I have been having daily “leash times” with Maisy. She reluctantly lets me put the choke collar on her and then we patrol up and down our driveway. I repeat “heel” as I force her to stay next to me on the right side. Every few feet, I stop and command “sit” and she sits next to me as she looks my direction. Then we start walking again and repeat the process. It usually lasts about 10 minutes. but when I take off the choke collar, she runs wild. She takes off into the front yard, her legs moving faster than her body, takes a sharp turn around the trees and comes flying back toward me. She looks like she could crash and burn at any time. She needs the discipline time but she also needs the “release” time.

It’s easy, as parents, to require only structured discipline from our kids. After all, when children are compliant and organized, our world works better (sort of.) Research shows that kids are the happiest when they are allowed to be the most creative. Creativity requires “release”- that’s when their unorganized, messy, and unpredictable world yields phenomenal results. In all my years of counseling, I’ve discovered that the happiest kids are the messiest kids. Why? Because when freedom is allowed, freedom flows.

Now, I’m sure not advocating chaos and our kids do need to learn compliance and respect, but the key seems to be balance. Our kids need to be mindful, but they don't need to lose their joy. Because our kids experience joy when they are allowed to run. Does Maisy need time on the choke collar? Yes. And in a weird way, she even likes the leash time. But she does not experience all of her joy on the leash. She experiences joy when she’s free from the leash, chasing a squirrel, smelling whatever she smells in the yard, grabbing a stick or just rolling in the grass.

So how do we find that balance between letting them run wild and free and between bringing structure to their lives? As Gary Thomas suggests in Sacred Parenting, first we pray. Nothing exposes our weakness and inadequacy more than parenting. All of the “how to” books in the world can't provide the wisdom we need more than the inventor of family in the first place. God asks us to come to Him with our burdens and none are greater than the needs we have as parents.

“Lord, give me the wisdom I need to discern when to be an active teacher in the life of my child’s character and when to just chill out.” What a prayer. And of course, it’s more than the words. It’s a heart beseeching the Lord for wisdom and discernment. It’s a humble spirit that acknowledges that it needs help. There are no easy answers here, but when we’re prayerful, we sense in our spirit when to turn up the volume and when to just relax and laugh. God is faithful to provide the answer.

And the crazy joy begins!

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

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