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Gifts of Dependency

Disclaimer: The story below is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to generalize about women, cars, or fiancés!

A newly engaged woman is driving in a rough neighborhood towards the end of a long day. Suddenly, her car swerves and the tell-tale thump of a popped tire lets her know she’s in trouble. She pulls over to the side of the road and calls her fiancé. “I need help! I don’t know what to do.” The fiancé can answer one of two ways and I ask you to consider which way will engender love and closeness in the relationship and which will drive a wedge between them.

Version One: “Oh no! I’ll come meet you and put on the spare tire for you. Version Two: “Oh no! You’re an adult and I know you can figure it out yourself. Good luck!” Which answer builds a relationship and which one strains it? We intuitively understand that offering support will strengthen their bond while calling for independence will challenge it. Inviting someone to depend on you is a crucial tool to build a relationship, whether in a courtship or in a parent-child relationship. When another person looks to us to be the answer to their needs, (physical, psychological, or emotional), and we respond to them, we are building connection. While we often understand this in the context of a romantic relationship, (“I’d love to bring you a coffee” instead of “Can’t you get it yourself?”), many parents don’t understand how foundational dependence is to parenting. The reality is that our ability to train and influence our children lasts only as long as they depend on us for guidance. No one can parent a child who doesn’t want to be parented. The fact that our children look to us and depend on us allows our relationship to deepen and flourish. Amazingly, this lesson is taught in the Torah portion of Parshas Eikev, (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25). In Moshe’s (Moses) final speech to the Jewish people, he attempts to cement their relationship with God so securely that it will last beyond his death and throughout history. How does he do this? By reminding the nation that their formative experience was a forty year period of complete dependence on God, just as a child depends on their parents! Deuteronomy 8:2-6 (Excerpted verses with translation and elucidation based on traditional Jewish sources.) Remember the entire path along which God, your God, has led you these forty years in the wilderness… He had you live in want… (You lacked the security of knowing you had tomorrow’s breakfast in your pantry. Each morning you awaited that day’s portion of manna which was finished by nightfall.) He fed you with manna which you did not know and your fathers did not know, (You had to trust Him that the manna was a reliable food source which would satisfy you. No one in history had ever eaten manna before!)... Your garment did not become worn with age upon you, neither did your foot swell, these forty years. (You were dependent on God even for your clothing. There were no spare outfits in the bureau - the clothing on your back lasted forty years.) Therefore hold fast upon your heart the knowledge that, even as a man trains his son, (the word “train” implies to educate him, shape his character, and inculcate values), so does God, your God, train you. And keep the commandments of God, your God, to walk in His ways and to be in awe of Him.” Moshe is teaching us two integral lessons.

1. The forty years in the wilderness were a time of complete dependence on God for all survival needs for the sake of training the nation of Israel as a parent trains a child.

2. The outcome of those years of dependence would be a nation that will obey God, emulate Him, and be in a relationship with Him.

Dependency is at the root of relationships, but the Western world is preoccupied with independence. Many parents are eager to push their young out of the nest instead of extending an invitation for dependence until they are moved to fly on their own. When a child asks for help, we often answer “You’re a big girl. You can do it yourself.” Instead of offering support, we demand autonomy. We’re missing the opportunity God has given us to use dependence to deepen our relationship. It turns out that dependence isn’t only a vehicle to relationship, it also develops independence. The Dependence Paradox states that the more we can safely depend on someone, the more we are moved to independence. When a mother offers, “Would you like me to tie your shoe?” the child is likely to respond, “No thanks. I’ll do it myself.” Alternatively, when a parent demands autonomy, ”You’re big enough to tie your own shoe!”, it leads to a child acting less independently, not more. When we feel that we can securely depend on another, we are then moved to assert our independence. When we look back at the scenario we started with, we understand that if the young woman’s request for help was met with her fiancé's expectation for her to be independent, she will likely feel clingy and helpless, “No! I can’t take care of it myself!” However, if her fiancé answers with a supportive offer to come help, an invitation to depend on him, the sense of security she feels may move her to attempt a solution herself. “Thank you! You know, I see a service station up ahead. I’ll try and get there myself and see if someone can help me get the spare on. If we want to help our children develop a natural drive for independence and be connected to us in a secure relationship, we must embrace the gifts inherent in dependence.

I will further explore the fundamental relationship between dependence and parenting in this Sunday’s webinar, Parenting So Your Children Will Listen, and develop its application to adolescence in the upcoming Thriving With Teenagers webinar. I invite you to join me!

(Video recording and handouts will be sent to all registrants.)

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