The Personalist Project

I heard a great talk the other day on loving your children's freedom. This sounds like a fine idea until you try to practice it. But it's worth aiming for.

The speaker, Fr. Sal,* made clear that loving their freedom doesn't mean loving their choices. Do you have to love your toddler's decision to run into traffic, or your adult child's determination to live on ramen and Netflix? Definitely not.

Nor does loving their freedom mean letting the chips fall where they may and trying (or pretending) to be happy about how things turn out. Love isn't passive. It implies the effort to educate that freedom--encouraging it, giving them opportunities to exercise it, helping them to develop it .It's obvious enough that they can earn more freedom as they get older and develop good judgment. It can be less obvious that they need opportunities to exercise it before their judgment can be trusted, so that they can get there eventually. "Only in this way," Fr. Sal pointed out, " is their growth their own." 

Squashing their freedom seems so much safer--but there are two reasons why it's a temptation worth resisting.

First, if God Himself values freedom as much as He obviously does, who are we to distrust or despise it? It's tempting to disapprove of our children's freedom, or even our own. Life can get exhausting, and sometimes we want nothing more than blind obedience, or even for somebody to just tell us what to do ourselves. Abdication is so much simpler. Still, better to take our cue from the Creator, who, as Fr. Sal points out, "prefers the apparent failure of His plan" to being a puppeteer.

But here's the second reason why it should be resisted: Freedom-squashing doesn't work. Even if you manage to produce a docile, passive, obedient child who doesn't rebel against you, what then? What good is it to send him out into the world unequipped to exercise his freedom?

And if your child does rebel agiant excessive freedom-squashing, the tragedy is not just that you've been foiled, but that you may have fostered animosity in him against precisely all the things you hold most dear.I know good families who've set their children up to have a special resistance to precisely the habits and virtues and beliefs they most want to inculcate. These are good kids, but before embracing, for example, some practice of piety, they have to get past the sense that it's "that thing that my parents always made me do." Before embracing certain music, or art, they have to overcome a resistance, a sense that it's not really their own preference, or belief, but something they were pressured or manipulated into liking.

As Katie writes about cults here, it's not just that certain organizations are full-blown cults and others are not. Cultish elements can creep into communities that aren't objectively problematic--either because of leaders' vices or because of misunderstandings among the well intentioned.

In the same way, not every family is simply freedom-affirming or freedom-squashing. Elements of manipulation, of thinking of children primarily according to how they reflect on their parents, can creep in surprisingly easily.

Fighting your children's freedom is easy. Resigning yourself to it is harder. Loving it is next to impossible, but if you can manage it, Fr. Sal pointed out, it transforms "the whole tone of the conversation."

What do you think? Where do you draw the line? If you've learned to embrace your children's freedom, how have you done it? How has it worked out? Is it possible?

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*I'm not sure of his last name but will add it when I find it out.

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