Every so often something transpires that gets you thinking yet again about an issue that you thought you had wrestled to the ground.
Beverly Cleary died. Now, if you don't know who Beverly Cleary was, she was an amazing and prolific writer of children's literature and, most notably, the author of the Ramona Quimby series. While I didn't read the Ramona books as a child, I certainly read them as a parent to my own children.
Ramona was a spunky kid. My mother would have called her a "rascal." She was full of mischief and fun and so very outside the box. She was perhaps the kid who, in my timid compliance, I was afraid to be. She was so much like the kid I had living in my own home. She was a relief. Here was a lovable kid in literature who was, well, just a kid. She made being a spunky kid OK and not a sin.
I was reading Ramona to my kids at a time when the Christian culture and its views of child raising were a very dominant force. And it was all, all, ALL about obedience (first time and joyfully, by the way). It was all about training (I had one mom call me and ask me how I trained my kids to make up their beds because her 2 and 3 year-olds weren't making up their beds completely and neatly). It was all about making sure the kids' needs came second to any parental needs. It was all about seeing the sin in every action and weeding it out via strong discipline and the intentions of the heart. It was all about doing so much more. So very much more. It was exhausting and I just couldn't get on board.
And yet I felt the judgment. And I suppose I still feel it. I know that I can't say much to parents with children younger than my own because I have little credibility. After all, none of my kids have followed the desired path that most Christian parents have for their children: homeschool or Christian school followed by Christian college followed by marriage to a Christian spouse followed by adorable Christian grandchildren.
After all, I have a daughter who had a baby out of wedlock at age 20. What can I possibly know about parenting? I obviously did it wrong. In fact, all of my adult children have gone through rough periods in their teen and adult years. Life hasn't been a pleasure cruise on the highway of life for any of them.
I am sure that there are plenty of people who look at our family and think, "If they had done X and Y and Z, then these things would have turned out differently. If they had been more structured, more disciplined, had family devotions, had higher expectations, required more, weeded out the idols of the heart...then adulthood would have been a pious piece of cake."
But you know what? Any regrets I have are actually very different. I don't wish I had been more rigid, I wish I had been less so. I don't wish I had been more strict about how some of my daughters wanted to dress, I wish I had made less of a deal about it. I don't wish I had been more insistent on obedience, I wish I had been less focused on conformity and more on what was going on on the inside, not in an inborn sin nature sort of way, but in a "What is happening developmentally inside my child right now and what does he/she need?" sort of way.
And you know what else? I LOVE my adult children. I LOVE that they have had so many different life experiences that are informing and enriching their perspectives and their ability to relate to others. Every one of them has a compassion and acceptance for people that is amazing and humbling and beautiful.
And I love that having children who have made mistakes and bad decisions and also good decisions and decisions different from what I would have chosen...I love that having kids who have their own minds and their own needs and their own lives apart from my management has made me more understanding of all sorts of families.
I can cry with the mother whose child has walked away from the family and God. I can encourage the shocked parents that this unexpected grandchild will desperately need their love and care. I can sit with frustrated singles who desperately want to but can't find a spouse because I have seen up close and personal the challenge it is to find a mate. I can go to bat for single mothers because I know the oppressive burden they carry. I can see the red flags in abusive relationships and come alongside those who need encouragement and support. I have realized that God has a different path for everybody and some of those paths are considerably messier than others. And I have realized that messy can be insanely beautiful.
Perhaps that is what made Ramona so very special. She was messy. She had her own way of doing things. And in all of it she was so very lovable. Ramona, in many ways, gave me permission to raise regular, real kids and love them for it.
Thank you, Ramona Quimby.
And thank you, Beverly Cleary. Rest in peace.