On brave parenting

Posted 7/7/21

My friend’s 5-year-old daughter was having trouble falling asleep one night, and as she was being tucked back into bed for the third time, she told her mom that she was scared.

My friend asked …

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On brave parenting

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My friend’s 5-year-old daughter was having trouble falling asleep one night, and as she was being tucked back into bed for the third time, she told her mom that she was scared.

My friend asked what was making her afraid. The child replied, with a sleepy grin, “The Lord in vain.”

It turns out that this young theologian had been listening to the audiobook of “Ramona the Brave,” specifically the part during recess when boys taunt Ramona’s older sister, Beezus, by chanting “Jesus Beezus!” Beezus is appalled that her fellow students were taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Since her daughter’s young mind was staying awake, gnawing on that unfamiliar phrase, my friend asked me half-jokingly, “What do I do with that, Pastor?” By way of answer, I’ll first respond to the biblical context, then offer my perspective as a modern-day parent.

“Taking the Lord’s name in vain” is from the King James Version of Exodus 20:7. The most straightforward interpretation is that it is a prohibition against blasphemy — insulting or showing disrespect to a deity. For this reason, it became taboo in Judaism to speak out loud the name of God to ensure that someone would never misuse or defame it.

Exodus 20:7 could also be a warning against perjury or swearing to tell the truth in God’s name and breaking that promise. This seems to be the interpretation in the New Testament, which forbade oaths in favor of simply telling the truth (Matthew 5:33–37; James 5:12).

Speaking of the truth, are you still with me? I promise that I’m going somewhere with this!

I grew up reading Beverly Cleary, including all the Ramona books. The stories are witty and entertaining. They also tell the truth about the difficulties of growing up. In “Ramona the Brave,” Ramona laments, “Nobody understood what is was like to be six-years-old and the littlest in the family.” Later in the book, Ramona is upset because she is the youngest and “no matter how hard she tried, she could not catch up.” I think a lot of younger siblings can relate to her frustrations. Ramona gives voice to the truth that sometimes life is unfair.

I believe children thrive when their caregivers help them give voice to their difficult feelings. In my own parenting, I find this much harder than rushing in with ready reassurances. It is so much easier to soothe than to sit with the hard feelings and questions. And if you have ever been the caregiver of young children, you know that sometimes helping them find their voice means their voice is really loud and in opposition to yours, much like our precocious friend Ramona.

But too often as parents and caregivers, I think we dodge or dismiss our children’s difficult feelings by telling them not to worry. “In vain” literally refers to “empty” words. We run the risk of stunting or harming our kids’ emotional development when we respond to them with clichés and platitudes rather than genuine curiosity and a willingness to be with them in the fear and discomfort. Like all of us, kids need to be allowed to speak their painful truths. And we as their grownups need to be brave enough to hear them.

Here’s my favorite line of “Ramona the Brave”: “Love isn’t like a cup of sugar that gets used up.” This young theologian comes to this declaration of faith by first giving voice to her frustrations and fears. By this, she is truly brave and, by the end of the book, readers know that her struggles have not been in vain.

As we strive to be brave and speak the truth, especially about hard feelings, maybe Ramona’s idea of love will help us all rest a little easier tonight.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”


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