Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Christian" Child Training

I read a thought provoking article today on the various popular Christian parenting gurus who are out there. Many of them I am familiar with through homeschooling circles, and some of them I have even read. Almost all of them claim to be providing Christian parents with a method that has God's stamp of approval on it, with results guaranteed. If you don't get the result you want, then it was because you didn't do something right and are a BAD PARENT whose name will become a hissing and a byword to other godly parents who did it right. Ok, this is a bit of hyperbole, not to mention, simplification, but you tend to get this idea if you read a lot of these folks.

Now, I am the first to admit that my parenting isn't perfect, even with all the years of practice that I have had. In my inadequacy I turned to many of the books by the experts, especially if they were Christians. It seemed simple according to them. Some of them advocated spanking for a great many things. It wasn't long before everything looked like a nail for this proverbial hammer to hit. In retrospect, their methods were quite wooden and had a cookie cutter mentality to them that did little to show respect for children as people and individuals who would benefit from an individualized approach. Instead, children were subordinate creatures who were to view mom and dad as the fount of all wisdom and who were required to submit to their every command, even the arbitrary ones.

Over time I became disillusioned with a lot of these methods. I came to the realization that God is a perfect Father, but his perfection doesn't keep His kids from going off the rails with great frequency. Do we dare to say that it is all His fault when His children misbehave? I also noted that God doesn't spend His time spanking us for every infraction. He is often merciful and withholds the wrath we well deserve and often the evidences of that mercy are enough to bring us to our senses. At times He even entreats us, "Come let us reason together." It is His kindness that brings us to repentance. In short, God uses a variety of methods to correct His children, including, but not limited to, spiritual spankings. Such flexibility and creativity on our parts then surely doesn't come amiss.

I guess one of the problems that comes with writing a book on child training is that once you are published you tend to be married to those opinions and statements of yours til death do you part. If in time, you find that you were wrong about some things, how embarrassing to have to admit this to the public who may be following you. I would think that the temptation to defend and protect your methods in the face of greater knowledge or well deserved criticism would be great if the stakes were high enough in terms of prestige, book sales, and website hits. What else could explain the dogged tenacity of a Gary Ezzo despite the number of times he has been disciplined by churches and the amount of criticism he has had to endure?

You know, it is easy to think you have the whole child raising thing under your belt when your kids are little. I know I did. My kids were well spoken of when we went places (still are, if it comes to that). By this I mean places like the dentist's office and the various grocery stores I frequent on a weekly basis. I am not sure what the standard they used to measure them by. Perhaps the fact that they didn't try to trash the store or office was enough to merit the badge of "good" in their eyes. Then the kids hit the teen years and all of a sudden the things we thought were under control became manifest that they were not. I am convinced that teens are God's means of keeping parents on their knees. They also serve the salutary purpose of demonstrating that your methods were not foolproof, and if they turn out right, it was because God worked in spite of you.

This might put some people's knickers in a knot, but one of the best books on child training that I have read recently is SuperNanny by Jo Frost. If she is a Christian, it isn't overtly made manifest. However, I find a lot of her methods are based on what works and, most importantly, they respect children as people, not merely little extensions of parents designed to make the parents look good. Moreover, I don't have to think too hard to see that these methods are actually Biblical in their application.

Just my humble opinion.

1 comment:

TulipGirl said...

Very thoughtfully put.

The article you linked to is a very sobering one. I'm a younger mom than you, and my kids are still younger--but I was a teen in the homeschooling movement and remember a lot of the "authoritarianism and isolationism among us." Though, thank the Lord, my parents were much wiser and mellow than that of some of my peers. . .

You bring up a good point about being "married to our views." It took me YEARS to leave behind Ezzo parenting, because doing so would mean admitting that I was wrong, that I had been less-than-discerning, and that I had actively chosen to do some things that were harmful to my children. How much harder for Mr. and Mrs. Ezzo! I do believe they started out with their hearts in the right place, but at this point. . .

Interestingly, one writer/teacher/speaker who has shifted through the years and has been humble and open about it is Clay Clarkson.

Thank you for sharing what you have. I always appreciate the insight from mamas who are further along life's journey than I am. . .