I have a love/hate relationship with the term “deconstruction.” It’s helpful in the way any word is helpful, when we use it to convey shared meaning. We’ve figured out that some of what we bought into in the church is NOT OKAY, so we’re rejecting it, calling it out, and will no longer preach it. It feels like deconstruction so we call it that to find camaraderie and support.
But just like any other label this term is limiting, and particularly so for those who are moving through this process while parenting. Many parents buy into the false notion that because they are deconstructing their faith, they are parenting out of a vacuum. And that’s what’s problematic about the metaphor of deconstruction, it assumes we are reduced to rubble. How can we hope to offer something beautiful to our children if we’ve got nothing but a pile of demolished materials?
Abandon the metaphor when it stops being helpful. And while parenting, we need all the help we can get.
Most of the people I know who are faith shifting have incredible character. They are folks who are soft and sensitive and have heard the cries of those toxic theology has harmed. They are courageous enough to reexamine the values that have sustained their identity and community, and bold enough to change. They are humble and curious and compassionate. When your faith shifts because of a strong moral center, the term ‘deconstruction’ is insufficient to name this process.
Parents, you are not parenting from dying embers and a pile of ashes, you ARE THE FIRE. All the wisdom and resilience and even your wounds that has formed the beauty of who you are is exactly the parent your child needs. I hear parents say, “I just don’t know what to teach my children with all of my own questioning,” and I want to say teach them EXACTLY THAT. Teach them to question and interrogate and burn with yearning for the truth.
Those of us who have walked away from authoritarian, hierarchical, orthodoxy-centered systems are often wary of indoctrinating our own children. We become afraid of giving our children another set of propositions that are going to harm them the way we have been harmed.
So we angst over how to respond when they ask hard questions, pull evasive maneuvers in conversation, or we simply stay silent for fear of saying the wrong things. We feel like rubble so we think we have nothing to offer. Or, at least, we feel like we have to go through the process of deconstructing and be all sorted out, before we can parent our children.
The truth is none of us operate out of a vacuum, we all have beliefs and values that contain the way we view the world, including those of us who have changed our beliefs in drastic ways. Your values are what has compelled you to question former beliefs, disrupt the status quo, and walk away from toxic systems. It is for hospitality that you rejected boundary marking, for inclusion that you resisted bigotry, for love that you deconstructed hateful ideologies. You do have good values to give to your children. Offer it to them. Give them your beautiful you.
Yes, this means you may have to tell ugly stories about yourself, how you regret some of what you used to do in the name of God, how you changed your mind and lost friendships, or how you are in sharp disagreement with your children’s beloved grandparents. It may mean you give them the messy truth instead of tidy propositions. But listen, they are children, they understand messes. They don’t want perfect parents, they want loving parents. Most of all, they want you to be real and need you to be true.
Don’t be afraid to give them the whole of who you are, right where you’re at. Stop apologizing for what you think NOW simply because it’s not what you’ve ALWAYS been. You know the love that’s inside of you—the love that has guided you through tumultuous faith shifts, that wants what’s best for your children—let love speak boldly: in your actions, your words, your parenting.
Don’t worry that you’ll intimidate or diminish your child by telling them the truth of who you are and what you believe in this moment. Because love doesn’t cut others down, it lifts them up—and truth, it sets them free. Striving to be whole as parents doesn’t mean you take up space where your children would be, it means reaching for new heights so they fly having watched you soar.
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