Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Transitional Parenting & the End of the World as We Know It

Our family is taking the Bible-in-90-Days challenge along with the rest of our church. The idea is to read twelve pages a day for 90 days and to get through the whole thing cover to cover by Resurrection Day. What a joy to be doing this all together! We are having great discussions at home and with church friends. It is the first time all the way through for our youngest.

We have reached the Gospels by now. This week, I was struck by the number of times Jesus had to tell His disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven would not be at all like people expected it would be. He compared the coming of the Kingdom to enormous natural disaster-type upheavals: earthquakes, the heavens rolled up like a scroll, mountains crumbling into the sea...Yet most of the time what He was describing wasn't the physical end of the world, but instead was the replacement of the strictly Jewish administration of God's covenant with men by the Church administration of that covenant. It was the end of the world as they knew it.

People must have been blinking and staggering. They could see Jesus and His gigantic capacity for everything they longed for in a leader. But they couldn't see this Kingdom. Rome wasn't falling at His feet. Well not even the Jewish leaders were falling at His feet. There was no army, no crown, no pomp. But there was something. Something so appealing, so poignantly satisfying, so invisibly magnetic. Something real but not yet really seen.

I can't help thinking that parenting young adults is a lot like that. The way they work out the principles parents have taught them doesn't look like we thought it would. So much of them is coming into dazzling focus, and so much is still hidden, still developing. They are as much potential as actual. It's like having double vision: sometimes they are all grown up; sometimes they are still children.

And our world is shifting under our feet. When our children were younger, we were responsible to cast a vision for them, to train them carefully. We had the privilege of creating opportunities for them to exercise their fledgling powers and for revealing their gifts as we saw fit. As they move into adulthood, that is less and less true. Increasingly, they take up the vision; they exercise their gifts in the places where they see needs. Sometimes when we direct them to apply themselves in a certain direction, we find they have already been there. Sometimes when we refrain from directing, we find they were oblivious to the problem.

It's hard to remember that they are already adults, but not yet. It's hard to keep in mind that it is no longer our job to keep them from stumbling, but to keep them learning from the skinned knees - with humble sympathy. The fact is that we are stumbling, too, in this phase of life. We are all experiencing the same earthquake. It really is the end of the world as we know it.

The best we can do - and it's not insignificant - is to make sure that their hand is in the hand of the One who is at the still center of our reeling world. Hang on and try to laugh together. When the new day is fully come, we will see the dawn together and be ready to build afresh together shoulder to shoulder. It is also the beginning of the new world.
Find further expeditions into transitional parenting on Kim's new audio disk, Quests & Homecomings.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Ultimate Brain Boost

When I was pregnant, the joke was that, of course, I'd be addled. "The first thing to go is the brain," I'd chuckle with my friends. In fact, one of my friends just this week quipped that a mom loses one-third of her brain with every birth. Let's see...that would make me a complete airhead!

However, the Bible urges us to have children as a vital part of exercising dominion in a complex, dangerous, broken world. So - from a scientific point of view, does childbearing and child-rearing help or hinder in the work of dominion?

Certainly the introduction of a new, totally dependent being into a marriage relationship increases the demands on the parents and on the relationship exponentially. Our baby's physical survival is completely dependent on how well we notice, nurture and protect that child. So are we as new moms adjusting to radically elevated and emotionally charged levels of responsibility or are we really getting dumber?

According to a recent book, The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, by Katherine Ellison, the possibility of getting dumber could not be farther from the truth. Ellison tracks changes in the female brain following pregnancy and the care-giving of early childhood. Her findings fly in the face of the conventional wisdom of feminism.

The Mommy Brain research shows that pregnant women actually
gain brain cells - something thought to be impossible for human brains beyond the childhood growth curve. Those new cells tend to be in the sensory regions designated to hearing and smelling, which validates the older conventional wisdom marveling over the sensory acuity of moms. "Be careful, your mom has eyes in the back of her head," isn't far off. It's just that she has supercharged ears rather than a third eye.

Ellison also details an astonishing increase in hormones and neurotransmitters which promote hyper-awareness, altruism, emotional bonding, cheerfulness, empathy and social connectivity. This chemical cocktail is self-perpetuating. The more a person exercises the capabilities opened by these substances, the more the body makes. So the extra smarts become permanent.

Even more, the chemical changes are often echoed in an involved father. Science isn't certain how it happens, but it seems connected with pheromones given off by the mother, with skin-to-skin contact with the infant, and with exercising parental nurturing. So it seems parental smarts can be both contagious and cultivated!

Professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Michael Merzenich, contradicts me and my self-effacing friends. "I don't think there are a lot of better things you can do for your brain than have a child." Looks like God knows best, yet again. Parenting does indeed expand our capacity to exercise dominion.
The Mommy Brain is part of my background research for Launch-Proof Legacy, a workshop and book combination about parenting during the transition from nuclear family to extending family, about letting go of children and maintaining vital intergenerational relationships. Preview the workshop in the audio lecture, Quests & Homecomings.


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