The Importance of Individuality In a Child

(Post 2 of a series of 4)

This will be the second post in my series on parenting. With this one, I want to talk about the importance of a child’s individuality. For my text, I’ll use Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Hebrew scholars tell us that a precise translation of the Hebrew of this verse would read something like:

Train up a child according to his way: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

This explains why the Amplified Bible, which is a translation that adds in extra words to help clarify the exact meaning of Bible’s original Hebrew and Greek, renders the verse as follows:

Train up a child in the way he should go (and in keeping with his individual gift or bent), and when he is old he will not depart from it.

Why am I going to the trouble to dig deep into the original Hebrew of Proverbs 22:6? I’m doing it because an improper understanding of what this verse actually says has led many to an improper application of it. Have you ever heard this verse quoted as a promise that a child who was raised in a Christian home will always eventually return to that upbringing, even though that child’s life has downgraded into sin and worldliness? I have heard the verse preached that way many times.

The problem with that attempted interpretation is that it doesn’t hold up to the test of real-life experience. Saying it plainly, some children who were trained up to know the Lord and live for Him do depart from that training and never return to it. How many times have you heard someone say of a wayward child who is living in rank sin, “Well, he wasn’t raised that way”?

Parent, your job is to let your child run with the talents, abilities, and interests that God has built into the child. You don’t have the right to push some destiny or course of life onto that child. Your responsibility is to find out what the child’s weak points and strong points are and help the child get on a road in life that will lead to fulfillment, happiness, and contentment.

Having said that, let me name the main problem that parents have in this area: living vicariously through their children. The interesting thing is that this vicarious living can play out in one of two ways. I’ll give you examples of both.

First, some parents try to recreate their lives through their children. Let’s say that a father was always a great athlete. Playing ball came easily and naturally to him. So what does this father do? He tries to recreate his days as an athlete by pushing athletics onto his son. But let’s say that his son isn’t gifted in athletics and doesn’t enjoy sports. The boy would rather read a book than go outside and play ball. Despite this obvious problem, though, the father remains too caught up in recreating his glory days through the son to let the child just be himself.

Second, some parents try to go back and change their lives by living vicariously through their children. This way ends up at the same problem, but it gets there by means of a totally opposite motivation. Let’s say that a father wasn’t the great athlete he always longed to be. So what does he do? He tries to go back and change his life by pushing athletics onto his son. He looks at his son and says, “I’m going to make you the ballplayer that I never was.” It doesn’t matter that his son doesn’t have the nature or the ability of a ballplayer. That father makes his son play ball as a means of doing the ball playing he himself missed out on.

Of course, athletics is just one area where these two kinds of vicarious living show up. Here are some other illustrations involving other areas. I hope none of these describes you.

Let’s imagine a mother who is obsessed with turning her daughter into a beauty queen. Maybe this mother was a beauty queen herself or maybe she wasn’t attractive enough to be one, but whatever her motivation is she wants her daughter to be a beauty queen. So what does she do? She pushes that girl into beauty pageants, won’t let the girl eat like she wants to eat, makes her take singing lessons, dancing lessons, etc. You see, it’s all about that mother trying to either recreate her life or go back and change her life through her child.

Let’s imagine a man who is a skilled surgeon. This man says, “My son is going to grow up and follow in my footsteps. I’ll send him to the best college and the best medical school.” The only problem is that the little boy is a born mechanic. The father buys him one of those Operation games, but rather than taking the tweezers and practicing at surgery, the little boy takes the game apart just to see how it works. What should that father do with such a child? He should steer that child towards technical school rather than medical school.

Let’s imagine the most practical, all-business, common-sense mother who ever lived. This mother tries to stamp her personality onto her daughter. But the problem is that the daughter is not like her mother. The daughter is into the arts, things like poetry, music, and painting. So what should this down-to-earth mother do? She should build responsibility and godliness into her daughter and then encourage her to let her creativity flow.

On and on I could go with the examples, but hopefully by now you are catching what I’m throwing. God doesn’t use a cookie-cutter to create children. He doesn’t use a “one size fits all” pattern. Each child comes uniquely designed and gifted, and it is the parent’s job to help that child build a life around what that child is gifted to do.

You say, “But Russell, how do I know what my child’s natural tendencies and abilities are?” The answer is: You spend time with that child, watch that child, listen to that child, and study that child. Also, you let the child try different things.

One of the best ways to find out whether or not your child has a musical ability is to sign that child up for music lessons. I took guitar lessons for a while, and my mom and dad really encouraged me about my guitar-playing. They bought me two nice guitars, and every Saturday morning I went to a music teacher’s house and took lessons from her. I learned my chords and my notes, and I actually got to where I could play a few songs. Some of my friends and I even formed a group. We won our local 4-H talent show, played a few local events, and played in the regional 4-H talent show.

Now, if some boys had that kind of musical encouragement and experience they would make a life path out of music. But I didn’t do that. Do you know why? It was because I didn’t have either a real desire or a real gift for music. Oh, I could memorize the hand placements for chords and notes on a guitar, but I wasn’t born for music. That’s why I didn’t stay with it. I guess the fact that I absolutely despised practicing was an early tip-off!

But what I’m saying is that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t born for music until I actually gave it a try. So, parent, don’t get so upset with your child when the child tries something but doesn’t stay with it. Just see that as a lesson learned in what your child isn’t meant to do.

I’m not a hunter. I don’t think hunting is morally wrong. I simply don’t enjoy it. But I can still remember the one day I tried to be a hunter. My dad used to do some hunting, and one day he took me bird hunting with him. We went up in the woods just above our house. I was glad that my dad included me, and hunting is a wonderful way for fathers and sons to bond, but I didn’t enjoy walking through the woods, holding a gun, and looking for a bird to shoot. I was much happier being in the house watching t.v. Still, though, even now, I classify that day as a good memory.

So, parent, let me encourage you to study your child, learn what the child’s strengths and weaknesses are, and help the child to run with those strengths. The world needs brain-surgeons, but it also needs school-bus drivers to get the future brain surgeons to and from grade school. The world needs corporate CEOs, but it also needs bricklayers to build the office buildings in which corporate CEOS work. The world needs writers, but it also needs garbage collectors to haul off all of the discarded paper writers toss into trash cans.

Each child is unique and special, and it is a parent’s job to do all that he or she can to guide their child into the place in life that God has in mind for that child. Yes, that will take some effort, no doubt about it. It will all be worth it, though, when the child ends up happy, contented, and playing the role God built him or her to play.

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