Most people will admit to having unexpected learning opportunities when becoming parents. I had many, but now that childhood obesity is in the arena of public thought and discourse, one particular observation I had when I was a new parent comes to mind.
When each of our children arrived, I noticed that whether they were taking liquid food as infants, or increasingly solid foods as they grew, when they were satisfied, their little mouths simply clamped shut and no amount of coaxing or cajoling could pry them open. It didn’t matter what I thought they needed to eat or how much; they had a decisive sense of wisdom about their intake.
The attention being given to childhood obesity challenges this innate ability to self-govern that I observed, for the underlying premise is that children lack such discernment, or that it is lost.
Truly, children require and desire education, guidance, and discipline as they navigate making choices about eating, as in all areas of their lives. A successful way to achieve this in raising our children is to recognize that they do have right inclinations, and that these need to be cherished and encouraged as they grow. That was certainly another one of my early discoveries as a parent – children are not blank canvases upon which adults paint. They are complete and whole children of God. Viewing them in this way brings out their innate natural goodness, which is, in fact, what we love about them. Rather than seeing little malleable mortals, we can see the spiritual essence of their identity, as Christ Jesus did.
On one occasion when Jesus was presented with children while teaching, his disciples at first tried to deny them access to him. Jesus corrected his disciples and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16, New King James Version).
To my sense, Jesus was using this occasion to teach that children are entirely worthy, of great value to God, and belong securely in God’s kingdom as necessary, full-fledged citizens. Understanding this fact about children, and conscientiously supporting their naturally wholesome inclinations, is fundamental in ensuring that they form good habits. In God’s view, we are all His, and neither our apparent youth nor agedness discounts our wholeness and worth. Jesus continued, “Assuredly I say to you, whosoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
Mary Baker Eddy, a devout follower of Jesus and the discoverer of Christian Science, commented on Jesus’ love for children: “Jesus loved little children because of their freedom from wrong and their receptiveness of right” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 236).
What is certainly right is for our children to be freed from heavy and burdensome impositions on them, robbing them of the very childlikeness that includes wisdom, innocence, and attraction to good. Some of these impositions are that children are vulnerable, easily perverted, and susceptible to prevalent trends of materialism and sensuality.
Children are not defenseless in God’s sight, but rather are sheltered by God, divine Love. As God’s children, they are not neglected and unloved – two of the underlying issues surrounding childhood obesity. Their Father-Mother God is always tending to His-Her little ones, hovering over them, nourishing them, and nurturing them.
Mary Baker Eddy described children as “the spiritual thoughts and representatives of Life, Truth, and Love.” This characterizes children as the conceptions of God, pure and spiritual, made in His image and likeness. However, she went on to alert the reader to the inversion of what children are, as conceived of by mortal perceptions, when she wrote, “Sensual and mortal beliefs; counterfeits of creation, whose better originals are God’s thoughts, not in embryo, but in maturity;...” (Science and Health, pp. 582–583).
Prayerfully, we can address this topic by affirming that children have a direct relation to their Father-Mother God, are responsive to the wisdom of their Maker, and obedient to the spiritual inclinations they so naturally have. In a question-and-answer section of Mrs. Eddy’s “Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896,” she responded to an inquiry about raising children, in part: “If you make clear to the child’s thought the right motives for action, and cause him to love them, they will lead him aright:…” (p. 51).
In our prayers for children, and for the parents, guardians, teachers, Sunday School teachers, and counselors, all working with children, we can confidently place them daily and conscientiously in the hands of the Father-Mother who loves them best and guides them.