We’ve all heard it and maybe even said it ourselves when a new baby is born:
“What a precious pure spirit!”
“He’s so innocent and perfect!”
“Look at her sweet and perfect little spirit, fresh from heaven.”
Except those fuzzy-feeling exclamations aren’t really true. I know we see that new little person, so full of potential and oh-so-cute, and we just want to say nice things about them. And we totally should say nice things. But we’d be wise to make them true things, lest we set their mother up for an unspeakably disappointing failure.
We’ve totally convinced ourselves that our babies are blank slates, and that we have this incredible responsibility to teach them everything they will know and make them good people. When we talk about new babies as if they are perfect and clean we are sending a message to their mother that reinforces this idea that there is absolutely nothing but perfection displayed in her baby. Sounds like a good message to convey to a new mother, but it’s not. If she believes that her baby is perfect and comes to her pure and a blank slate, then she will also believe that every mistake or misstep that child makes is her fault. Total failure meet crippling depression.
There are a couple of things going on here. First, this whole age of accountability thing. I believe the doctrine that people are not accountable for their sins until the age of eight, but we all know that the way that 3 year old is behaving is not in line with Christ’s doctrines either, so what’s the deal? Before the age of eight, ish, our bodies are doing the most development cognitively. This continues well into the early twenties, and for some it maybe never end, but the majority of cognitive function is completed around age eight.
This means that understanding that you have a body, understanding that you have feelings and emotions, understanding that those feelings and emotions are autonomous, and understanding that you have control over those feelings and emotions and thereby your actions are pretty much all solid by eight. Whether or not you apply those understandings in a way that leads you towards enlightenment and love is a lifelong endeavor, but during those first few years we develop the physical tools we need to really be held accountable for our actions. We make mistakes and do mean things during those years, but we don’t really have the cognition to purposefully do otherwise so we aren’t held accountable.
If we screw up in those first eight years it’s our parents’ fault, right? Of course not. They can’t make you develop faster than nature allows for. All they can do is teach and exemplify the best feelings and actions of humanity so that when your body catches up you’ll have the other tools you’ll need to make good choices. So, if they don’t teach and lead just right then it’s all their fault, right? Not entirely.
The second part of this is the plan of salvation. You know, that plan that says we were created spiritually long before we came to earth, and that we made a choice to follow Christ and get a body. We don’t talk about it much in Sunday School because we tend to focus on what we are doing here and what we will do when we die, but there is a whole lot that went on before we came here. We were spiritually born, whatever that was like, learned about our divinity, were taught the gospel, made friends, probably lost friends, had opinions, heard propaganda, had to figure out what we felt was the most true, made life-changing decisions, and followed through with our decisions with varying degrees of consistency and bravery. Actually, sounds a lot like what is happening here, except here we have the added tumult caused by physical issues.
If we are completely different people when we leave this life than the person we were in our youth, it’s reasonable to assume that the person we were when we finally made the jump to Earth was completely different than the person who first learned of God or even the person who decided to choose Christ over Lucifer. This means we come to this life with a whole belief system unique to us. We come with personalities, preferences, propensities, and problems pre-packaged. And this is important. This is what makes life, relationships, and humanity so awesome and fun as well as useful for helping us become more like God. We need the bitter to know the sweet, right? We come with a history, with baggage. Not so pure and perfect.
As parents, there is no end to the shame and guilt we heap upon ourselves because of our children. We love them, we want the best for them, and we know that we do play a large part in their lives because we teach and guide them through their formative years. We do have a responsibility to be our best selves so that our children have an example to follow. We have a responsibility to teach them of Christ so they know where to look for answers to life’s most complicated questions, because heaven knows we don’t have all of those answers. But we have absolutely zero control over who they are or who they will choose to be. They are a completely autonomous being, whose spirit was developed, tried, and grown long before ever coming to us. The best we can do is keep pointing them back to Father.
We need to lay off our guilt trips and start focusing on being our best selves. We need to mature and meditate on our growth so we can help others around us on their unique paths. We need to let our kids mature and teach them how to meditate on their growth. We need to accept that they are completely formed spiritual beings and that their issues are not our fault. We are all just trying to get better, and sometimes there is conflict, but it’s no one’s fault. Everyone’s a mess. And there is beauty in that mess.
We love our children, we guide them, we hope they’ll find the answers to their questions, but we are not responsible for their every move. And you know what? They’ll be okay. Even if they seem to be totally messing up this life, don’t worry, there’s another one after this one too. Another one without a body causing extra headaches. Just as much as God knows you from before the world was, he also knows your kids. He’s got this. He knows they came to you with completely developed personalities and a history of choices. He knows that sweet little baby full of potential and life isn’t a blank slate ready to be impressed upon by us. I mean really, what a horrible plan that would be. “Let’s take the purest form of life there is and have them taught only by people who haven’t figured everything out yet.”
Don’t worry, that’s not the plan. All he asks is that we do our best. That we calm down and stay close. That we love and allow ourselves to be loved. That we be still and know that he is God. For us, and for our children.
So we can stop telling moms that their babies are perfect precious little innocent blank slates fresh from heaven and, more implicitly, that any mistake their child make’s is their fault. That little baby, as cute as it is, is not an empty vessel. That little baby is a complicated god-in-the-making, divine and difficult. God is great, humans are awesome, and everything is going to be okay.