This afternoon my kids and I went to one of our favorite parks, and yet again, I was "that mom" who allowed her children to climb up the slides while the other moms were repeatedly telling their children not to climb up the slides: "Slides are only for sliding down." This happens nearly every time we go to a park.
Yes, I confess, I allow my children to climb up slides. I definitely tell them to make sure no one is trying to come down it at the same time, and if someone is wanting to come down, that child has the right of way for sure. But about 99% of the time, there isn't a child waiting to come down. So why not climb up? I can't think of a good answer for that question.
I mean really, nothing is only for coming down. We ski down mountains, but millions of people also climb up mountains. We climb down ladders, but my husband absolutely loves climbing up ladders. Santa comes down the chimney but Mary Poppins goes up the chimney. The stock markets come down, but don't we love it when they go up? Planes come down when everyone is antsy and crabby, but the excitement and thrill is in taking off and going up. We ride down elevators, but who doesn't love taking the elevator to the very top and looking down?
I mean really, what on earth is only for coming down?
There was a time when I thought I had to enforce this rule because it's just what you did. But it was a summer day at the playground near our first house when I stopped enforcing that rule. We went to this playground nearly every single day, and we were almost always the only ones there. One day I was, in vain, trying to enforce this trite slide rule, and my 2-year-old Evelyn looked at me and asked me, "But Mommy it's more fun to climb up the slide and no one else is here. Why not?"
I thought about it. Good question. Why not? I couldn't come up with an answer.
"I don't know; that's just the way we do it" doesn't usually work for me. I have four kids; I don't have time to enforce rules that don't in some way protect my children or serve for the good of humanity or the glory of God. Also, Jesus never used this answer. He had a purposeful answer for every question. And He went against the grain of societal expectations all the time, particularly if the expectations didn't serve a purpose for the glory of God and the good/protection of creation. Jesus wasn't and still isn't into rules simply for the sake of rules.
So ever since then, my attitude is go for it. Don't be defiant about it. Defiance of authority is never accepted. (Yes, I tell them that at recess at school when 100 children are on the playground, then absolutely not and they must respect authority.) Always be kind and patient for other kids coming down. But if the coast is clear, climb away.
Why do we tell our kids not to make that which is very easy (like sliding down a slide) into something more challenging? Why do we tell them they have to do it that way "just because"...especially since, let's face it, climbing up is a lot more fun. And it takes more strength and builds more muscle. It takes balance. It takes problem solving - which is why Gregory always sits down and takes off his shoes first.
This is why people love to climb mountains. It's hard. It's exciting to make it to the top. Don't we want our kids to do hard things? And if we start teaching our children in early childhood that they really can do hard things, I believe the desire to try hard things will grow throughout their lives. Doing hard things and not backing away from a challenge will become part of the fabric of their being. It'll be innate.
In fact, really, the desire to do hard things already is innate (which is why they are climbing up the slide in the first place). God created us with an inborn desire to do hard things. Watch any six-month old try to crawl over and over and over again, as he smashes his face into the floor a million times, and watch his perseverance to accomplish that which is hard. And you'll know. God made us to want to do hard things. And we're the ones who smother this inborn love for challenge by constantly telling our children to just do things "the way everyone else does it."
You see, in my professional life of ministry, I teach teens to do hard things. Or more so, to rise above just doing the things everyone else is doing. Stay sober even though every one else is drinking. Refuse to smoke the joint even though everyone else is getting high. Walk in purity in your relationships even though it seems like every one else is having sex. Take up your cross and follow Jesus through adolescence even though it seems that most of your friends have decided that's lame or irrelevant.
But you can do hard things. Go against the grain. Anybody is capable of having sex with his or her boyfriend/girlfriend in high school. It takes strength and courage to wait. Anybody is capable of drinking that beer at that party. It takes strength and courage to walk away. Anybody can be ambivalent or apathetic about things that really do matter. It takes great courage to follow Christ and let others know where you stand on issues of faith. Do it anyway.
Do hard things. You can do it. And if we train our children from a very young age that they are capable of doing hard things and nurture this God-given desire to accomplish that which is difficult (even if its simply allowing them to climb up slides), then how much more likely will it be in their nature to work on accomplishing the hard things in high school, young adulthood, even adulthood.
I realize some of you think this is a stretch...from climbing slides to saying no to sex. I don't think it's that much of a stretch. I think the years between age 5 when I'm telling my daughter she can make it and age 15 when I'm still telling my daughter that she can make it are going to zoom by in what seems like a heartbeat. The stakes are much higher in the situations at age 15 than they are at age 5; that's why I want to use all these childhood years to train my children to do hard things. To teach them they don't have to do things the way all the other kids are doing things. Obey authority, but don't obey the culture that says "everybody is doing it this way."
So, if you see a mom letting her kids climb up the slide at the park tomorrow, it might be me. And if you see a mom chasing her kids up the slide tomorrow just to hear them squeal from the thrill of being chased, it might be me. And it's really fun. And sometimes challenging.
And they aren't just for sliding down. So go for it.