As Caleb awaits the birth of his child, I thought I’d rudely offer my unasked-for advice. The process of rearing children seems to me, an unmarried, unsexed, needless to say, un-patriarchal individual, much simpler than parents often admit. It isn’t necessarily that they won’t admit that the process is simple as though out of self-interest; hoping to appear more haggard and experienced then they are, rather they themselves are unaware. Let me be clear, when I say that the process is simple, I do not mean to say what the parent will feel during the process. It may feel hard or it may feel complex but it is not. If we take the statement ‘a simple process’ to mean ‘a process with only a few, easily distinguished parts,’ then we may still say that the execution of the process feels very difficult. It is also not the case that a parent need know about the process of parenting in any great depth in order to parent. Will she be effective in parenting without some knowledge of the human mind? Probably she will not be as effective as she might be, but multitudes have gotten away with it.
First, before I outline the appropriate process, let me reference at least one method of parenting wrongly. It would be easy to talk about some flagrant abuse of the patriarchal or matriarchal position, but it would be more effective if I were to reference, say, the “we-don’t-negotiate-with-terrorists” mindset employed in parenting in many conservative evangelical circles. This mindset essentially holds as its singular, paradigmatic notion that if a child is fully submitted to the parent’s will, then that child will be the poster-child of the poisonous mixture of the American dream and evangelicalism. Any break from character is met with swift, but appropriate, punishment, there is no authority but that conveyed by the position of parent, and little Johnny, if he wants to be Jesus’ friend, ought to fall in line.
There is a glaring flaw to this scheme in that it’s wonderful if you want to create a mindless drone who repeats exactly what you tell him and eventually repeats the entire process on his children. This process is terrible if you want to create human beings. Oh, little Johnny may go on to be an athletic honors student, he may lead the church worship band, he may be a wonderful street evangelist or an aspiring missionary, he may excel at small business, he may draw pretty, Christian girls, he may support young-earth creationism. But can you guess what he’s not? Little Johnny, who may not be so little any more, isn’t a thinker.
Perhaps the reader might wonder why the things I’ve mentioned as accomplishments for little Johnny are bad and the quality of a thinker so great. I mean, after all, not everyone is “gifted” as a thinker, right? Well, that depends on how you define ‘thinker’. John, when he’s grown up, will find health, wealth, and blissful ignorance disguised as happiness. Any attack on the notions that you taught him from the ground to the knee and his church taught him from the knee to the casket will just be an attack by a lost world on the great fort of evangelicalism. In 1850 it was those damn papists. In 1900, the damn liberals. In 2000, the damn world. What John will not do is positively interact with art, science, music, politics, philosophy, and theology. “But he only needs to know Christ” the objection might run. What is a theology that doesn’t interact with art, science, music, politics, and philosophy? John will have become more one with the world while removing himself from it; he has got the dictum “in the world but not of it” entirely backwards; he is of the world but not in it. Christianity isn’t under siege, the world is, yet, strangely, John seems to be in a fort.
So, what is the good process to pediatric upbringing? Simply put, education. I don’t mean that little Johnny ought to be memorizing Bible verses. He ought to be. But not before he’s learned how to string a logical thought together and to read and decipher appropriately. The diagramming of sentences is more important than the memorizing of what, to him, are meaningless facts. How does one get little Johnny to learn? Again, simply put, by controlling his environment. If little Johnny doesn’t have much to do but read, write, and multiply I imagine he will be much more willing to do something rather than do nothing; it’s merely human nature to want to do something.
In conclusion, there are two steps. 1) The child must learn to think. When he can diagram a thought on paper both grammatically and logically he will have begun to succeed at this. 2) The child’s environment must be totally conducive to his education. People complain of how “teens are distracted today by technology”. That habit, whatever it is, began in the cradle.
“But what of loving and nurturing little Johnny?” He will be more grateful for his discernment than for your ephemeral “love and nurture”; more loving is it to teach a man to fish rather than giving him a single fish.
“What of disciplining 16 year-old John?” If you have been consistent, his discernment will be such that your burden will be lessened. But if he still persists in gaining new experiences (and that’s all his rebelliousness is outside of hormones, that is, if you haven’t turned him into a spoiled idiot) don’t stop him through force but through reason. A teen works like some kind of gas; if you don’t compress it, it doesn’t get hot. Don’t tell him to try sex or drugs or what have you, tell him that he’ll regret it and give him good reasons for thinking that you’re right. If he decides after to try those things, except him back when he gathers it was a bad idea. If you’re careful though, he likely won’t leave, the comfort of home being greater than that of the unknown.
“What of 21 year-old John? What if he decides to flip burgers or something else shameful to the family name?” Then for goodness sakes let him. Christ is not enshrouded with an American flag, a business suit, a pulpit, and Capitalism.