You can take the wisdom of this world
And give it to the ones who think it all ends here — Bruce Cockburn
For most of Western history, children have been reared in the ‘authoritarian’ model of parenting.
Oh, how things have changed. Where are we at with parenting and how did we get here? As Father’s Day approaches, let’s look at this very important subject.
The authoritarian parent values obedience, clearly communicating to the child what to do and what not to do, the rules being generally unbending but consistent. This parent pours the “right” information, subjectively speaking, into the child who is considered an empty vessel. Misbehavior is strictly punished. The teacher (the parent) instructs the student (the child) on each act (such as sow the seeds and weed the fields). The child learns by imitating the expert. In the positive, those who were raised in this way knew what was expected of them and subsequently found their way in life by keeping the rules, being polite and respectful of others, and being responsible. To their credit, the authoritarian parents really did instill in their children a sense of right and wrong, of learning the consequences of their actions, and it had a preserving effect on us, instead of the rampant ‘spoilage’ of successive generations. In the negative, there was a tendency, depending on the personality of the parents, to keep the kids at arm’s length and concentrating on ‘perfecting’ the child instead of just accepting them for who they were, flaws and gifts, giving a sense of security not based on performance. As the 20th century reached it’s midpoint, those whose parents tended to be overly strict soon found themselves in the throes and temptations of rebellion, as ‘thou shalt not’ became, ‘just watch me!’. This parenting style then gave way to Dr. Spock’s “permissive parenting” of the 50s and 60s.
Permissive parenting had it’s own flaws – instead of following, children were encouraged to think for themselves, avoid inhibitions, and not value conformity. Parents took a “hands-off” approach, allowing children to learn the hard way from their behaviors, giving less and less guidance and keeping children naive while the rest of the world became more cynical. Misbehavior was usually ignored which was a double curse for those at the mercy of the bullies and rebels among us. With no intervention, the bully wins, while the passive/conforming child loses and is seen as a ‘loser’. Although those raised in this style tend to be creative and original, ignoring misbehavior gives no information about expected behavior, which by default leaves off any spiritual (Christian) guidance whatsoever.
So far, we haven’t seen or heard anything reflecting our heavenly Father’s model for parenting. Sad, yes. But considering the invasion of psychology into our everyday lives beginning in the 50s, no surprise. Just watch some of the sitcoms from the 50s and 60s and you will hear that new-fangled ‘psychology’ jargon thrown around with pride and authority. Yep, even on Leave it to Beaver. Just watch it sometime. Guaranteed to bring a smile and a cringe both.
Anyway, things don’t get any better. In the 70’s, the feminist movement, the ugly twin sister of psychology and destined to become the single most destructive force to society since the fall of mankind, brought a brand of ‘separation’ parenting into the culture. Unlike the child-oriented 50’s and 60’s where at least one consistent adult was available to patiently guide self-discovery to the consequences of actions, today’s society is fast-paced with a multitude of adults playing into the child’s life each week. Without parental limits and guidance, children get confused, feel insecure, and learn how to manipulate the guilt-ridden, indulgent adult who is obsessed with ‘quality time’. All this because the world convinced the ladies of child-rearing age that they could ‘have it all’ – kids, job, mortgages that would make our grandparents roll in their graves, and keep the man happy too. ‘Having it all’ has actually bankrupted us all in every area that matters: sky-high divorce rates, miserable children, tired women who are still selfishly looking for ‘more’. Now, lest you misunderstand me, I am not talking about those who need to work due to chronic illness in the family, or any other legitimate family need that both spouses agree is workable for their own families. So please don’t over-react as I too was an impressionable daughter of the fems and I know exactly how it works. But ladies – and I mean believers – whether you believe it or not, whether you know it or not, you have been deeply affected by the feminist movement – you have just been so conditioned by it you no longer even recognize it. But that is a different article altogether, and one guaranteed to upset some sisters. Oh well, stay tuned.
Let’s see, where was I? Oh yeah, it’s 1980 or so, and I have just had my one and only child. As soon as I get home from the hospital, I get out my mother’s worn-out Dr. Spock book, thinking I have some vintage and time-worn advice at my fingertips, some gold nuggets of wisdom that should make me quake with reverence, right? Gee, no. What a let-down. Now, as a very young believer, I realize that aside from how to sterilize bottles, it’s pretty much useless to me, since no one can really tell me whether I should let her cry all night or jump at the tiniest peep; either way, my 8-hour straight sleeping shifts are over for a while and this basic need for sleep is all I care about right now. So we muddle through, waiting for the day when we can actually teach her God’s ways, when she can comprehend and interact and exercise her little flesh tendency to rebel. Of course, her first word was ‘dada’. Was I offended that it was I who had actually spent most of the time carrying and caring for her up until then? Of course not, I had no time to react since her second word was ‘NO!’. Now I had another problem and ‘mama’ would have to wait for a while. Having been newly introduced to my own sin nature, my wounded ego would have to wait as I had bigger fish sticks to fry. Now for sure, Dr. Spock was a wash-out, a total waste of $5.95 in paperback. I think I tossed it into the diaper pail.
There’s nothing like having a child to make you look in the rear view mirror about how you were raised. I looked back nostalgically on my own upbringing, happy to have been someone who could count ‘penny candy’, Jiffy Pop, pre-cable TV, 50-cent movies and lazy summers outside as part of her lifetime. Ah, the warm fuzzies. But when it came to TRUE parenting wisdom, I found myself more than a bit grieved that the one thing I had really needed – the true gospel of salvation – was never a part of my youth. Religion? Yes, we ‘fulfilled our obligations’. Saving faith? Nope. Ouch. It took me many years to make peace with that realization, and a firm resolve – vow, even – to counter that influence, or lack thereof, in my own parenting. Was I initially resentful about that? Yep, I was. But I learned that God only is faithful, and uses all things in our lives for our good. I just poured some grace on the situation, and God has met me there. It took a while though.
But where was I headed here? Ah, the 80s. The latest thing for the unregenerate parent of that day was what I call ‘Privileged Parenting’. What were the young couples of the day doing with all that double income? Remember the acronyms that flew around then? D.I.N.K.s – “Double Income, No Kids”. Or this one: O.I.N.K.s: “One Income, No Kids”. T.I.C.K.s – “Two Incomes, Couple of Kids”. And I could go on and on. Hippies, Yuppies, X-ers, Latch-Key Kids, Garbage Pail Kids, let’s give them all a nickname so we can put their upbringing style into perspective and explain away why they ‘are the way they are’. Funny, right? Not so much. The 80s kids, if their moms and dads ‘had it all’, should have also ‘had it all’. But this is not the case. As our society careens out of control and straight for the apocalypse, our kids are more messed up than ever.
I remember when the big deal of the 80s was privilege. The prevailing idea was that as soon as the child was born, you enroll them into the trendy preschool. Prepare to amaze and impress your friends and family as they see what all that income can buy. The idea was to get on a waiting list and then within a couple of years junior will be light-years ahead of Simple Johnny who is languishing in the public schools, or worse, yet, taught at home. The idea was to boost the parental ego and spend that extra money on the perfect child who will be fluent in Latin by the 1st grade. And if you can’t afford that, at the very least get them a 386 desktop computer loaded up with the latest software so they can at least compete and be reading Tolstoy while lounging in the baby pool. The pressure was on and many well-meaning parents who wanted to give their kids ‘everything’ caved to the Spirit of the Age, producing children with no desire to look heavenward. Why should they, with all the distractions that materialism brings?
So 20 years later, where are our privileged kids at? The Self-Esteem Generation is over-praised, over-indulged, crumbles at the first note of criticism, is narcissistic, often angry and unable to compete so they do almost nothing at all. When you give ribbons and rewards to those who do not deserve them, you lower the bar and dismiss those who really did work for something. Of course, not all of the 80s kids are like this – there are some who understand the concept of fair competition and working for an honest reward. But parents, if you raised your kids to think that they were the center of the universe, guess who has to deal with your misguided parenting? That’s right, the rest of the world. All those toys and gadgets you gave them did nothing to build character or prevent their anger and disappointment at a world that does not do their bidding. All those drugs you gave them because they didn’t want to be productive only serve to tell them it’s OK to tune out. All those ‘free parking’ passes did not show them their need for a Saviour, did not prepare them to be wrong, disappointed, poor, sick, or compassionate. Increasingly as a society, we value personal freedom, control, and materialism and shun self-denial and restraint. If someone does us wrong we sue. Heaven forbid we should not have things easy, while love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control are maligned. So now what? What happens when these young adults realize there will always be someone who is smarter, prettier, richer, and has more on the ball than they do? Will there be, for example, violent crimes on our campuses out of sheer envy? Could that actually happen? Yes, it did, just recently at Virginia Tech. That kid was spoiled and privileged, and yet when he found out the world was not his oyster, he blamed everyone but himself. We are all paying for their selfish-steam.
We just had Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day is on the radar. If you have youngsters, and you want to world-proof them, here’s the scoop: you don’t need special parenting classes. There is no magic formula or pill. No programs needed. But you will need the Bible, the only real child-rearing handbook. God made your kids unique and your gene pool pre-determined before the foundation of the world. Every human is born with a birth-defect – you have given birth to genetic sinners; and you also have the sin defect. Raising kids is a chance to see your flesh walk around in someone else, and it is not pretty. Is this by Design? If you as parents do not see these simple things, you will need to humble yourselves before the Lord and start there, realizing that in yourselves is no good thing. When a baby is born, we spend a lot of time figuring out who they look like and where they get their traits, but we also need to look into the fact that the sin nature is their inheritance too.
So, once you see your dependence on Christ to rear these temporary gifts to you, you have only one goal – to get your kids to understand their need for a Saviour, and then teach them the difference between the flesh and the spirit. Instead of keeping them relying on you, you want to get them depending on their Heavenly Father ASAP. There really are two phases to parenting. The early phase, when you discipline them based on God’s law of right and wrong showing them their true hearts, and the later phase, when they prove themselves accountable to understanding both right and wrong, (you need to watch for this) and then you switch gears to hold them to God’s standard with consequences. It is similar to how we become born into God’s family, and how He brings US to the point of the new, eternal birth; teaching us the law to bring us to accountability, and then His Spirit indwells us and brings us to maturity. Practically speaking, once they commit to Christ you seek to teach them how to walk in the Spirit so they will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. It takes commitment, time, and energy, and a growing Biblical view of all things. As you grow in Christ, they reap the benefits. Your kids need to see you doing spiritual exercises. Your kids need to be firmly told what is expected of them in all loving kindness. They need consistency and the constant example of the sold-out, world-proofed life. The alternative? You could model for them the life of the flesh and then we will all reap your lack of commitment later on. What will it be? Let us be like Joshua, who declared: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)