Mostly I avoid getting involved in discussions about parenting, because opinions are a dime a dozen although dearly held and too often used to hurt people. Parenting is the hardest job I’ve ever done, and one that unfortunately receives more judgment than grace from many.
However, recently a friend emailed me about a child-training boot-camp method that is hugely popular in some communities. I don’t know where the article originated, but it reminds me of Michael Pearl and his followers. The article has been making its rounds on Facebook and other places. I read up on it, and the longer I read the sicker I felt. Considering this story (and others I have not told), the article was provoking enough to push me out of my hesitation to say what I think.
I want to say from the start that I’m not interested in judging or guilt-tripping parents who really are trying their best to raise kids who love and serve Jesus. Our best is all any of us can do.
I see plenty of parents who are selfish and don’t take care of their kids at all, or who are raising untrained little terrors. But among those of us who are serious about parenting, I see two opposing ways it tends to be done: through control or through connection.
The “child-training boot camp” article was long and not well organized so it was a little hard to condense, but it consisted of the following:
- The parent is not to be the child’s friend. (The article stated this repeatedly.)
- The parent’s decisions are not explained to the child, and children under 10 are not allowed to appeal.
- Instant, unquestioning obedience is required, whether or not the parent is wrong.
- Pleasant attitudes are required at all times from the child.
- Physical discipline is promptly meted out for nearly every offense. Little or no discussion before or after, just quick spankings.
- The child may not ask for what they want, except for a predetermined number of things decided by the parent.
- Parents are supposed to smile and be pleasant while training their kids this way. This was stressed over and over in the article.
I will give you just a few quotes from the article. (If you want to read the whole thing, email me and I will send it to you.)
When I give direction, it is to be carried out pleasantly and immediately. I don’t allow dialogue even if the child is right!
I tell them that the rule is no matter what I tell them to do, the only acceptable answer is “Yes, ma’am.”
We took away the privilege of eating on their own and made them sit with their hands on their knees while we fed them like babies. Once they were used to not fiddling with things while eating, they were allowed to pick up the fork, put a bite in their mouths, put the fork back down, and then return their hands to their laps.
I had a child once have an “episode” (she asked for MORE in a tone that implied that she thought it was her “right” to have whatever she chose) when we were buying the stuff for her birthday cake and the like. I told the checker to void the transaction, and then I took the cart full of stuff and had the child put it all away. I told her that I would purchase what I was willing to buy myself later and she would be thankful. Trust me, she has always been thankful since!”
Seriously, fiddling with food is a punishable offense? And a little girl may not help plan her birthday cake because she asked for too many things? I can see how any of us might get carried away with planning something as exciting as a birthday party. Instead of the parent working through a reasonable plan with the child, the child was shamed and made to put everything back. The birthday girl’s excitement was squashed and she had to accept whatever the mother decided. It makes me heart-sick just to think of it.
I identify with the desire for respectful, obedient children. I don’t want selfish little monsters who never sacrifice for the good of others. But this parenting style capitalizes on control and fear.
When the parent is always right and never allows discussion, children become unable to make decisions or resist abuse. It programs their minds to think what others decide they must think. This way of parenting treats children as though they are inherently evil.
I’m not a perfect parent–not even close–but here is my response to the above points from the article:
- I’m a parent who enforces rules, but I’m still my child’s friend. Our relationship is based on connection, not control. When the disciples wanted to send the children away (Matthew 19:13-14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17), Jesus rebuked them. Jesus wanted to connect with the children. It is not His idea for children to be “seen and not heard.”
- Many times my children are content to obey without knowing why I asked something of them. However; if they ask why, I see this as a teachable moment. I dialogue with them about things they don’t understand. Children often have a natural desire to please, and even very simple explanations may be all they need. If I don’t have a good reason to ask something of my child but demand obedience anyway, I have a serious control problem.
- My children should not obey someone if they feel a sense of danger. They are allowed to ask questions. I never want them to feel like they can’t ask me something.
- I am a safe place for my child’s hard feelings. They do not need to mask their feelings when they are not happy. I am here for them in those times. We will work together toward emotional regulation.
- Punishment is not my primary method of training. I use consequences, yes, but most training is done by patient instruction and by modeling the behavior I want to see.
- Jesus made my children to have desires, and they are allowed to feel those longings. They might not get what they want, but we can talk about it and even dream together.
- Last but not least, I’m not going to think I can get by with being abusive just because I am smiling!
It’s so hard for me to leave behind the control, and work on empowering my kids. I want my children to follow the rules, but I also want them to exercise their thinking skills. I want them to have a sense of autonomy and value. I want them to be able to stand up for what they know is right while refusing to let abusive people ruin them. I want them to follow their longings and to use their unique gifts to serve God and others.
Over and over I have seen a direct correlation between how people view God and the way they parent or have been parented. If children are treated coldly and harshly, is it any surprise when they find it difficult to experience friendship with God?
The Bible describes a God who connects with His children. God’s best friends in the Bible were the people who asked Him questions. His children obey Him because they love Him not because they are afraid of Him. A loving and guiding human parent makes it easy for children to grow up believing in a God who loves and guides them.
I want my children to follow Jesus because they love Him and not because they were forced. I will not demand of my children what God does not demand of us. We love, because He loved us first. And then we obey because our hearts are connected to His.
But Jesus called to them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Luke 18:16-17 (ESV)