Manipulating Children

Children rely upon the wisdom, compassion, and protection of adults to face the big world they live in. Bold Innocence by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition art print at Great Big Canvas.

Children rely upon the wisdom, compassion, and protection of adults to face the big world they live in. Bold Innocence, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

When our children were younger, they were phenomenally popular with various women in the church — important women, you know, deaconesses, and wives of commanders and the management branch, a section of the priestly Pentagon none of us in my family were allowed into because we perversely never attended Sunday School.

(If you’ve always wanted to be a deaconess but aren’t yet, be aware that Sunday School attendance is a hidden, but mandatory, requirement. My college friend years ago was allowed be the Deaconess of Windows because of her acceptable attendance rate, although she hit a glass ceiling, or, er, window, when it came to progressing to the highly coveted upper dais of leadership: the Deaconess of Baby Showers.)

But back to the women who loved my children: they, the Deaconess set, allowed my urchins to play with theirs because mine, the urchins, knew how to do chores and clean bedrooms.

Now in our household, there was a rule: no friends over until your chores were done, and while the bedrooms didn’t have to be pristine (we eat off plates in the dining room, not off the carpet in the bedrooms), the essential work had to be done before playtime began.

Afternoon Tea mother and child in meadow on sunny day oil painting by Steve Henderson

When guests come over, this is a time to invite them to partake in a social event, not put them to work. Afternoon Tea Party, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

But in the Deaconess set, the rules were different: upon arriving over to “play,” our children were told that the Deaconess’s Exemplary Child was not allowed to do anything until he/she had cleaned the bedroom, mown the lawn, or mucked out the horse stall (and yes, this one is real).

Obviously unable to admit the truth to themselves, the Deaconess set was smart enough to see that my kids worked and theirs didn’t, and if the bedroom was going to get cleaned, the lawn mown, or the horse stall mucked, then it was going to take a lot of work from one of my urchins before this was done.

While chores can be mixed with fun, this is a delicate combination. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

While chores can be mixed with fun, this is a delicate combination. Lilac Festival, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

And danged if my kids didn’t always fall into it.

“Why didn’t you call us to pick you up?” we asked afterwards.

“Because that would have been rude,” they always replied. “I was their guest.”

Even now I hit my head on the desk, over and over again, at the thought of it all.

Later, now that the kids are grown, they have told us that one reason they complied was because of us — knowing of our lowly status in the mop of saints, they were concerned that the relationships we had with the parents of their friends (many of whom were actually decent friends, with just clueless progenitors) would be endangered if they did not comply.

“True friendships are stronger than that,” we told them.

Well, so now our kids know, and they have years of work experience cleaning other people’s bedrooms and mowing other people’s lawns, and the Deaconess set lives on.

Genuine relationships last. Seaside Story by Steve Henderson; licensed, open edition art print at Great Big Canvas.

Genuine relationships last. Seaside Story, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

For years, I actually sort of wanted to be a deaconess, because, like my college friend, I know how to throw a fun baby shower with games that don’t bore or embarrass other people, but I have moved on; my kids have grown up; and the tenuous relationships we had with the parents of our children’s friends, are long gone.

But I have some advice for the Deaconess set, concerning other people’s children:

  • When you invite a child over to play with your child, do not put the guest child to work.
  • If you need a good example for your own child, don’t rely upon another person’s child.
  • Any child invited into your home is just that, a child, and especially if he/she has been raised in a church environment, he has had pressed upon him the importance of respecting his elders. Do not abuse that sense of conscience.
  • Kids’ rooms do not have to look like army barracks, and the strength of their Christianity, or yours, is not dependent upon the cleanliness of your house.

And finally, and most importantly, this one to all of us: we have more to learn from children than they have to learn from us, because “. . . anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

I think that maxim is asking for trust, humility, dependency, and love, which, fortunately, are attributes we can all seek to achieve, whether or not we are deaconesses (or attend Sunday School).

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
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3 Responses to Manipulating Children

  1. Amen, amen, amen. We got very tired of folks wanting our children to “influence” their children, without putting the effort into the process themselves. Not to mention, their peer driven children had no interest in socializing with ours. You know, we didn’t do video games…we spent hundreds of hours reading to them….cozy family times….stuff our culture doesn’t do much of anymore. The list goes on. This is very good advice for all parents….thank you.

    • Susan — your perspective of people wanting to “Influence” you children without putting effort into the process themselves is perceptive and wise — it makes me think, and you’re right. While I was always aware that we, the parents and our family, were considered spiritually lesser somehow, I had not made the jump to people wanting to influence our children to be “better” people (perhaps it was thought to be a lost cause).

      Like you, we were out of the video game and societal frenzy bit — we were very close as a family then, and we are blessed by that continued and growing closeness — even if we are geographically apart — now.

      Thank you for your good, thoughtful comments, and your warm, embracing support. May you have rich moments of joy with your family this week — in person, via e-mail, on the phone, and in your thoughts. — Carolyn

  2. Pingback: Children Have Something to Teach Adults | This Woman Writes by Carolyn Henderson

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