“Careful climbing over that chair”
“Careful swinging your stuff animal around the room”
“Careful running down the sidewalk”
“Careful not to smash your cars into your baby brother’s head”
The one word I seem to use with my son more than any other is “Careful!”
Understandable so. There are an endless amount of things that I could yell “careful!” to my child about. The above list is just a small sampling. I have written before about being risk adverse, and it comes out in my parenting. Through my “careful” declarations I am trying to steer my oldest son away from pain and towards a more comfortable life. Most of the time my next sentence after “careful” is “You could get hurt.”
He and I both know he doesn’t like getting hurt. And I know that in some ways, my job as a parent is to protect my son from dangerous situations. If he makes it alive to his 18th birthday, well than I would consider my job a success.
Yet, its becoming very clear to me that my son listens to my words. He repeats what I say, and responds to situations similarly to me. He see, listens and imitates.
Which is why I am concerned about yelling “Careful!” to my son. These regular comments are teaching my son to avoid risk, limit possible injury, and minimize pain in life. And at first glance, I see those lessons as exemplary.
But what if he actually applies “Careful!” to his life (beyond situations with possible bodily harm).
Is “careful” really a virtue?
At school he will have “careful” running through his head when he thinks about sharing his faith with a friend. He will remember that dad cautioned him against things that could hurt him. Maybe talking about Jesus with a friend will be embarrassing and potentially hurt or end a relationship?
At work, the word “careful” will come rushing back from his childhood when he thinks about trying new things or innovating the tasks he has been given. Dad cautioned him against things that could hurt him. Perhaps it would be best if I just kept the status quo in check. That would be the “careful” thing to do.
When he runs into conflict in his marriage, he will look for the “careful” solution, which might mean avoid the situation altogether. Leaning into conflict is messy, frustrating and often painful. The healing that comes is beautiful, but it certainly isn’t the “careful” option.
“Careful” means he might avoid the unpopular opinion, be scared to start his own business, feel uncertain about leaving home to spend a year in a foreign country, or teach his kids (my grandkids) to be careful as well.
Rather than teaching my son to be careful, I want to teach him to be wise.
But wisdom in decision making isn’t as simple as “careful or not careful.” Often the wise thing to do is take a risk, embrace discomfort or do something that make you scared.
Equally disconcerting is realizing that I myself often have “careful” whispering in my ear when I make decisions. Rather than acting in bold, brave wisdom.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
Rather than training myself and my son to live a high-risk-adverse life, I want to fear the Lord. And that may mean we won’t always do the “careful thing”.
And it means I should watch my language so that he doesn’t get the idea that “careful” is that dad wants of him. And so that dad doesn’t believing his own words.