Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch
This week I found myself reflect on the importance of challenging ourselves with new things.
When we only offer our children that which is familiar or comfortable, they do not grow. As a parent (speaking of my own parenting philosophy), it is my responsibility to seek out or loosen the reins for them to experiment in age-appropriate ways with new things. Age-appropriate for some will mean their number of years, but on the whole, it is a matter of discerning their personal readiness.
As a mother, it is my responsibility to show my children adventure is out there, good food that might look strange is out there, good books that challenge us are out there, good music that we have not yet learned is out there, answers to our deepest questions are out there. As a mother, it is my responsibility to introduce my children to this beautiful world, the gifts and inspirations among people, our culture and the cultures of those with whom we share this space. It might be unfamiliar. They might balk at a meal or clamor for a familiar song, but as I introduce them little by little too new and valuable things, they grow and their culture develops.
I have to be intentional about it because of what has taken place culturally in the United States. Within a society heavily focused on pleasure and entertainment, many receive their culture passively through media. This leaves them open to use by corporations seeking to market and sell products. Marketing reinforces the passivity of the senses. Thus, religion has diminished in the public square, holidays of virtue like Thanksgiving diminish and Black Friday takes its place as the national focus. In my parenting, I proactively introduce my children to important things like literature (storytelling), art, music, and the traditions of our religion, because that is the only way to transmit culture. It begins in the home.
Occasionally, when times are stressful or the environment too unsettling, we might rely on familiar things to get us through, but that is only when so much is already unfamiliar and the child needs the comfort of familiarity or when I have become incapacitated in some way as an educator. In times of relative comfort, we push them a little to expand their horizons. We do this not just with words, but their environment, their actions and their tasks within the home.
If I shelter my children whether it be with food, with experiences, with music, with entertainment, and offer only what they already know, their development will be stunted. Some of the adventurous ones will still want to try new things, but the more reserved among them will rely too heavily on the familiar and never want to take risks, never try new things, the natural curiosity of childhood will diminish and in some cases, die. How many adults no longer feel curious about the world in which they live! How many no longer ask questions about other cultures, life, existence itself!
In the 1994 Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II wrote the family is the school of love. I have the opportunity form my children not only in the love and recognition of other persons in their lives but the love of life itself, curiosity about the world and joy in the good things this world has to offer. By my own interest and vitality, I model it. By my encouragement, I invite them to share in it. And at times, by my insistence, I push them a little when they might hesitate to jump in.
And so, following in this grand tradition of parenting, pushing ourselves to grow —in addition to chickens, cats and children— we now own a dog.
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