Do children ‘make us grow up’ or ‘keep us young’?April 1, 2013
But having children in your house, your church, your cafe, your social occasion is often implied as reducing the ‘adult’ level of sophistication…or requires segregation in order to maintain the integrity of the ‘adult’ activity…
What do we think the ‘adult world’ is and means? And what about it is inappropriate or inaccessible to children. If you were to search ‘adult’ ongoogle (but don’t…) the slice of culture which appears is anything but mature – it is full of cliche, abuse, reductionist humanity, monochrome, one track-one dimensionality. Surely, this is not the best representation of what we mean by adult – and if it weren’t for my steadfast refusal to use the word ‘childish’ pejoratively, that is what would call it.
On the other hand, we are full of stories about children who offer the occasional commentary on adult lives, which we tell with (mock, I hope) surprise exclamations like ‘Oh he doesn’t miss a trick!’
Or ‘Out of the mouths of babes’ (surely a biblical reference which, if used by followers of that tradition should lead us in much higher expectations of infants that is currently witnessed in the architecture of most church buildings.)
We act as if we are astounded that our children can see our lives for what they are. We ought not be so naive. Children are deeply intuitively connected to the adults they share life with. They are great observers – speaking out what they see, sometimes with less inhibition and more truth than we find comfortable, and great amplifiers of our (sometimes barely) suppressed emotions.
And beyond commentary and emotional amplification, they are participants in life with us – in our griefs and failures and broken hearts – our struggles with identity, security and opportunity.
What ever the ‘adult world’ is – the majority of the world is a mix of ages, with children and young people thoroughly and vitally present – an active agent in the mix.
Much of our muddly thinking and speaking about the role of adults and children in distinction to one another, arises from imbalances of power. Like the ignorance of how desperately contingent the lives of the rich and the poor are on each other, we we act as if adults ‘manage’ and ‘shape’ the lives of children. The agency children have on adults is suppressed, problematised and apologised for (like the vicar, who each time children are present in worship congratulates them on being so quiet that we can hardly tell they are there.)
Rather, children – as whole human beings constantly act upon other human beings – this is a shared life we are living on this planet. While there are many pretenders to power and ‘over-above-ness’ in fact such distinctions are distortions of reality and temporary – (fortunately for all of us). The gospel that Jesus and his followers spoke of and lived is often typified as a ‘reversal’ of power. The weak are strong, the poor are rich, the blind see, the wise is shown to be foolish, the dead rise to life, the powerful are made humble. Children are signs of the kingdom of God, and adults are called to be born anew.
I am not sure that ‘reversals’ is quite right though – it is not the case that the poor are ‘eleveated’ to the insanities of the rich, or that the weak are unleashed in powerful assault. That would be a ‘reversal’ of our current world – and would be no good news for anyone. Rather, the poor and the rich are unmasked as equally dependent and contributive. What would that look like?
so – do children ‘make us grow up’ or ‘keep us young’?
or do they have the capacity (if we are open) do both at the same time, and make us all just truly ourselves…not ‘immature and irresponsible’ and not ‘pretentious and crusty’ – but simply human, with all the ongoing challenges, moments of insight, fragilities and gifts.