Parenting by the Book
Chapter One The Walls Come
Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust.
Our journey begins in 2002, in Lafayette, Louisiana. I’m in the lobby of an auditorium in which I’m about to speak, chatting with several parents. One of the women suddenly says, “I’m absolutely convinced, John, that my husband and I have experienced more problems in four years with two children than my parents had with all ten of us the entire time.”
That mother’s statement reflects the difficulties inherent in today’s child-rearing philosophy and practice. Further, it echoes not just the experience of one set of parents in Lafayette, but the experience of many if not most parents in the United States. Whether you grew up in a large or small family, you are almost certainly experiencing more child-rearing difficulties than did your parents—a lot more. When compared to your grandparents’ child-rearing experience, there is no doubt about it. Your grandparents had problems with their children—all parents do—but compared to the problems you are having, their parenting experience was a cakewalk.
Men and women who accomplished most of their child rearing before 1960—people who are now in their seventies, eighties, and nineties—tell me that whereas they dealt with the occasional problem, the raising of children per se was not especially difficult. As one ninety-year-old woman who raised five children during the forties and fifties once told me, “It was just something you did.” She was by no means diminishing the responsibility. She made it clear that raising children was the most important job anyone ever undertook. She was simply putting it in its proper perspective: Raising children was but one of many responsibilities she had assumed as an adult, and she had been determined to execute each and every one of them to the best of her ability. These included responsibilities as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, employee (she had worked as a secretary for a number of years), member of various women’s clubs and civic organizations, and member of her church. Because she did not overidentify with the role of mother, she was not overfocused on her kids. Therefore, raising children did not consume, exasperate, and exhaust her. She was able to discharge her responsibilities to her children, including their discipline, in a calm, collected, confident fashion. That hardly describes the day-to-day experience of today’s oft-consumed, oft-exasperated, and oft-exhausted parents, and mothers especially.
The Times, They are A-Changin’
“But, John!” someone might exclaim. “Times have changed!”
That cliché really explains nothing. “Times” have always changed, but until recently, the raising of children did not change from generation to generation. As technology, demographics, and economic conditions changed, the general approach to child rearing remained pretty much the same. My grandparents, for example, were born in the 1890s. During the first thirty years of their lives, they witnessed and experienced more change—in every conceivable fashion—than has occurred in the last thirty years (since 1977). Yet child rearing did not change during that time. My parents were born around 1920. Consider the dramatic changes that took place during the first thirty years of their lives, from 1920 to 1950: a worldwide depression that lasted more than a decade, a global war that lasted for five years, the development and use of nuclear weapons, the start of the Cold War and the national insecurity that resulted, the invention of television, and the ubiquity of the automobile. These events transformed not only America, but the world. No one born after 1950 has experienced such profound cultural transformation. Yet from 1920 to 1950, child rearing in America did not change in any appreciable way. My grandparents raised my parents in accord with the same child-rearing principles that had guided my great-grandparents, and they employed pretty much the same methods. My point: The mere fact that “times” change neither means nor requires change in every single thing.
Once upon a time, people understood that in changing times, certain things should not change; that there must always be certain constants in culture. A short list of those changeless things includes consensus concerning morality, the need for adults to be contributing members of society, and constants regarding how the family should function, including how children should be brought up. Once upon a time, people understood that change would deteriorate into chaos unless change was organized around unchanging “still points” in the culture, and child rearing was one of those points. In fact, there is no evidence that in the Judeo-Christian world the fundamental principles governing child rearing had appreciably changed since its founding by Abraham and Sarah. For thousands of years, the child-rearing “baton” was handed down, intact, from generation to generation. Children honored their parents by growing up and raising their children the same way their parents had raised them, and let there be no doubt: the “way” in question was based on biblical principles.1
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Progress constantly infuses culture with new energy, but in the fifth commandment God promises a stable, secure society to people who adhere to fundamental family traditions. But that understanding went by the boards in the 1960s, the single most deconstructive decade in the history of the United States of America.
Something New under the Sun
During the 1960s, the United States underwent a culture-wide paradigm shift that had profound effect on all of our institutions, including the family. Before the sixties, we were a culture informed by and defined by tradition. Progress took place in nearly every generation, but most people continued to embrace traditional values and live their lives according to traditional form. When young people reached adulthood, developed occupations, married, and had children, they adopted their parents’ values and consciously sought to emulate their parents’ examples. (Exceptions to any general rule can always be found, but this was certainly a general rule.) There had been a minor challenge to this constancy after World War I, but it came completely undone in the 1960s. America entered the 1960s one culture and emerged from that tumultuous decade a different culture altogether, in every respect. By 1970, we were no longer a culture informed and defined by tradition, but a culture informed and defined by a relatively new electronic medium—television—a medium that had decided to promote a radical, progressive agenda.
During television’s infancy in the 1950s, television programs, without exception, reflected traditional American values. Perhaps you’re old enough to remember (or perhaps you’ve seen the reruns) I Love Lucy, The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, Lassie, Walt Disney Presents, and variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the 1960s, however, the now-adolescent television industry began to take on a rebellious, activist character. Its movers and shakers became determined to use the influence of television to reshape America consistent with the vision of the emerging neoliberal, secular elite. And they succeeded.
By 1970, the consensus that had previously existed concerning values, right versus wrong, and morality had begun to unravel. All of the “still points” that had previously stabilized America had been undermined and were beginning to topple.
By the mid-1970s, the United States had become a full-fledged “progressive” culture. Progressivism holds that just as most new technologies (such as computers) are better than old technologies (typewriters), new ideas are better than old ideas. For the most part, the progressive mind-set rejects tradition. It refuses to recognize that there is, in truth, “nothing new under the sun,” as a wise man wrote thousands of years ago: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Many in my generation—the Baby Boomers—became seduced by the new utopian progressivism. We (as a much younger man, I identified with this movement) deluded ourselves into thinking that we had been anointed by some secular divinity to usher out everything old and ring in a Brave New World. We decided that traditional values and forms had to go—that our parents’ values were most definitely not going to be our values, and their ways of doing things were most definitely not going to be our ways. One of the old ways in question was traditional child rearing.
Grandma’s Homespun Wisdom
Before the 1960s, when parents had problems with their children, they did not seek advice from people with capital letters after their names. Rather, they sought the counsel of elders in their extended families, churches, and communities. “Grandma”—the generic term I use to refer to the elders in question—was the universally recognized child-rearing expert. Grandma gave child-rearing advice based on the life she had led. Furthermore, the advice she gave concerning any given parenting problem was the same advice her mother would have given her under similar circumstances, and the same advice her grandmother would have given her mother, and so on down the generations.
After the 1960s, parents were no longer going to Grandma for child-rearing advice. Instead, they were seeking counsel from people in the mental health professions—people who dispensed advice based not on lives they had led, but rather on books they had read.
Understanding what Grandma was talking about did not require a college degree. She did not say things like, “In talking with you, I get the distinct impression that you are still trying to resolve childhood issues of your own, and I think we should give some time to exploring those issues and discovering how they relate to the problems you are currently having with your child.” That’s how people with capital letters after their names talk.
Grandma talked like this: “You know, it occurs to me that your uncle Charlie, when he was about Billy’s age, did something similar to what Billy has done. Here’s how I handled it…. You’ve no doubt noticed that Charlie is working for the bank today, not robbing banks. Maybe you’d like to consider going home and doing with Billy what I did with Charlie.”
Young parents left their “therapy sessions” with Grandma feeling empowered and reassured, and with a clear sense of what to do. I was in private practice from 1980 to 1990. One of the sobering things that slowly dawned on me during those ten years was that parents were not always leaving their first appointments with me feeling empowered and reassured, and with a clear sense of what to do. Instead, they were sometimes leaving feeling like miserable failures because, instead of dealing with them as Grandma would have, I was doing so from behind the mask of my impressive credentials. Instead of presenting myself as simply a not-so-remarkable person who had gained some measure of wisdom as a result of my own experiences while raising children, I was presenting myself as a high and mighty, all-knowing, all-seeing psychologist. That realization eventually helped me realize I could be much more helpful to parents outside the office than if I stayed within the protection of its four diploma-ridden walls.
Destroying the Foundations
One of the changes that took place in the 1960s concerned America’s attitude toward authority. Before that deconstructive decade, Americans generally respected traditional authority. A person might not have agreed with a certain politician, for example, but he still respected him. He had, after all, been duly elected, and that was that. By 1970, a cynicism and general disrespect had developed toward all forms of traditional authority, of which there are five: political, military, institutional, church, and family.
In the late sixties and early seventies, the secular, educational, and media elites began to demonize political authority, the military, institutional authority (especially within corporations), religion (especially Christianity), and the two cornerstones of the traditional family: the traditional marriage and traditional child rearing. Mind you, all of those authority traditions derived their legitimacy from the Bible. In effect, this was an assault on the very Judeo-Christian principles upon which Western civilization was built.
The attack on the traditional family was especially vicious. Psychologists and other mental health professionals allied with neofeminists to characterize the traditional family as the primary institution through which the so-called “patriarchy” exerted its domination of women and manipulation of children. This, they believed, ensured that girls would grow up willing to be dominated by men who had been trained as boys to disrespect and dominate females. Feminists equated traditional marriage with slavery and promoted “open” marriages in which neither party was obligated to be faithful. Feminists and the increasingly female-dominated mental health elite joined with the media to demonize men as natural aggressors. The 1950s father who might have worked two jobs was characterized not as responsible, wanting the best for his family, but as “remote,” a guy who really cared little about either his wife or his kids, a guy who in fact used his money and physical superiority to keep them in line. Finally, mental health professionals such as psychologist Thomas Gordon, author of Parent Effectiveness Training (Wyden, 1970), the best-selling parenting book of the era, claimed that traditional child rearing suffocated the “natural child” and produced instead a child who was destined to become nothing more than a mindless cog in the evil capitalist machine. In one of his books, Gordon actually claimed that the traditional exercise of parental authority was a moving force behind war!2
Such was the progressive, deconstructionist hysteria on which all too many baby boomers, including a much younger John Rosemond, became intoxicated.
The Doctor Is In
During the 1960s, the television industry began to identify psychologists and other mental health professionals as the only legitimate purveyors of sound child-rearing advice. This trend had its beginnings not, as many think, with Dr. Benjamin Spock (a pediatrician), but with the elevation of psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers to the status of a cultural icon. After winning The $64,000 Question (the 1950s–60s equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) in 1955, Brothers became a regular talking head on all manner of television programs. She even had her own show for a time. The networks held her up as an expert on anything and everything concerning human behavior and relationships, including how to raise children properly, and the American public listened credulously to anything and everything she had to say.
Psychologists and other mental health professionals rushed to hitch a ride on Brothers’s coattails. Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) seminars trained thousands of psychologists, family counselors, and clinical social workers in his ideas and methods. In turn, this horde of true believers shared Gordon’s utopian child-rearing vision with millions of gullible American parents. One of Gordon’s most devoted disciples, Dorothy Briggs, wrote the best-seller Your Child’s Self-Esteem (Doubleday, 1970), in which she advanced the notion of the democratic family—a family in which parents and children related to one another as equals. In YCSE, Briggs asserted, “Democracy in government has little meaning to a child unless he feels the daily benefits of it at home.”3
She was apparently ignorant of the fact that the Founding Fathers did not grow up in democratic families yet seemed to have an exceptional grasp of democratic principles. But logic did not drive this paradigm shift; hysteria and hyperbole did.
Along about this same time, child rearing became “parenting,” a new word referring to a new way of going about it. The new way transformed the parent-centered family into the child-centered family. The new way substituted high self-esteem (individualism) for respect for others (good citizenship). Parents who subscribe to the new way are not supposed to simply tell their children what to do; they are to reason with them and reward them when they “cooperate” (being de facto peers, children of enlightened parents do not simply obey).
The new way would be most satisfying to Karl Marx, who said that in order for socialism to succeed, the traditional family had to go. In that regard, there is no doubt that family psychology took on a socialist bent in the 1960s. In the 1970s I did postgraduate course work in family therapy and ultimately came to the conclusion that the real intent was to put parent and child on equal footing, to destroy the authority of parents. The authority that would step into the vacuum was the authority of the therapist, who usually sided with the kids in family disputes. The more alarming problem, however, was that I saw one set of parents after another acquiesce to this insidious kidnapping.
The new way involved not just a change in outward appearance and practice, but also a change in basic assumptions concerning the child and parental responsibilities. The traditional point of view holds that children are fundamentally bad and in need of rehabilitation; the nouveau point of view holds that children are fundamentally good. Supposedly, children no longer do bad things intentionally; they just make errors in judgment. The term most often used today is “bad choices”—mistakes, in effect, as if a child’s rebellious misbehavior is no more egregious than choosing the wrong answer on a television quiz show. Because malevolent motive is absent, punishment is not warranted. Besides, punishment damages self-esteem, or so the new parenting elite warns.
So instead of punishing children when they misbehave, new parents administer what I call “therapeutic discipline” or “yada-yada discipline.” That is, they talk to their children, taking care not to hurt their feelings. If repeated sessions of therapeutic yada-yada do not cause a child to start making “good choices,” he is assumed to be in the grip of an “issue,” a psychological conundrum from which he cannot extricate himself. His maladaptive behavior is a desperate way of drawing attention to his psychological plight and calling for help. So, whereas the old way enforced responsibility on the child for his behavior, the new way neatly absolves him of that responsibility. The misbehaving child, once a perpetrator, has become a victim, in need of therapy or drugs or both.
The Serpent’s Babble
I am a member of the last generation of American children to be raised the old way—according to traditional, biblical form—and a member of the first generation of American parents to raise their children the new way, according to psychobabble. Along with others of my generation, I possess a firsthand appreciation for both the old and the new. I know that whereas child rearing wasn’t perfect before the 1960s, it worked for the ultimate good of the child, the marriage, the family, the school, the community, and the culture. I also know that the new way—what I call “Postmodern Psychological Parenting”—has never worked, is not working, and never will work, no matter how diligently anyone works at it. Why?
For one thing, it makes no sense. It’s composed of babble: clever, seductive babble, but babble nonetheless. But more important, it is not in harmony with God’s master blueprint, which he has bequeathed us in the form of his Word, the Bible. That’s why it makes no sense. It is founded not on truth, but on falsehood.
The serpent manifests itself in a different form in every generation, but its goal is always the same: to persuade God’s children that God does not have their best interests at heart, that he is only trying to keep them in a state of ignorant servility, and to persuade them to turn away from him. Ultimately, Postmodern Psychological Parenting is a particularly clever manifestation of the serpent’s continuing effort to undermine trust in God’s authority.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?…God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
—GENESIS 3:1, 5
The Big Blueprint
God created the universe and all that is within it. The Bible tells me so, but my faith in the truthfulness of the Word is shored up by a number of relatively recent discoveries in physics, math, astronomy, and chemistry that have confirmed that the universe had a definite beginning. Before this beginning, known as the Big Bang, there was neither space nor time. There was nothing. A distinct beginning out of nothing, ex nihilo, requires the supernatural. The Big Bang means the universe had a cause, and Creation requires a Creator. It’s as simple and undeniable as that.
God designed the universe such that it would support a complexity of life on one planet, and one planet only—our very own Earth.4
The fact that all of Creation seems specifically designed with the single purpose of supporting a complexity of life on Earth means that God’s act of creation was not a “throw of the dice.” He was not acting out of curiosity, throwing the building blocks of the universe out there just to see how they would combine and what kind of universe would result. Rather, it is obvious that he created with intent, that he had a very specific plan, an ultimate purpose. What?
God’s ultimate purpose was to provide a home for his most special creation—humankind—with whom he desired, and continues to desire, a special relationship. He endowed us and only us with the ability to know him because he wants to be known.
God has given us a big blueprint for living creative, productive, fulfilling lives and experiencing fulfilling relationships with one another and with him. This blueprint is clearly set forth in his revelation, known as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible—the Word.
The big blueprint of the Bible incorporates a number of smaller blueprints for every aspect of living, including marriage (a permanent, faithful relationship between a man and a woman), conducting business (all parties are to profit equally, albeit differently), forming and living in healthy societies (laws must be obeyed; legitimate authority and the rights of one’s “neighbors” must be respected), and the rearing of children (proper discipline is as critical to proper child rearing as is love; the education of children is the responsibility of parents).
Free to Win, Free to Lose
Because God created us in his image, we possess free will. This freedom includes the freedom to choose whether we obey God, whether we live our lives in accord with his blueprints for living. Choices result in consequences. The ultimate (but not necessarily immediate) consequence of obeying God is good. The ultimate (but not necessarily immediate) consequence of disobeying God is the opposite of good. Said another way, we obey God to our credit and disobey him at our peril. Some people are uncomfortable with the notion of a righteous God who punishes wrongdoers by allowing them to experience emotional and/or physical pain; therefore, they deny the existence of God or create an alternative god in their own image. Their denial does not alter the fact that a loving parent does not allow a child to disobey without consequence. (As we will see, the notion of a one-dimensional god that does not punish is consistent with one of the tenets of postmodern psychology: to wit, that punishment is psychologically damaging to a child, and that loving parents, therefore, do not punish misbehavior.)
The risks of attempting to raise a child without regard for God’s blueprint for child rearing, as clearly set forth in his Big Blueprint, include a child who is ill-behaved, disrespectful, destructive and self-destructive, irresponsible, inattentive, careless, aggressive, self-centered, deceitful, and so on. The risks to the child’s parents include chronic frustration, stress, anxiety, anger, resentment, conflict, and guilt.
The sad, tragic fact is that most American parents, even (dare I say it?) most parents who would identify themselves as faithful believers in God and his only Son Jesus Christ, have deviated from God’s child-rearing blueprint in the rearing of their children. This alone is sufficient to explain why child rearing has become the single most stressful, frustrating, anxiety- and guilt-ridden thing American adults—and especially female adults—will ever do. This alone is sufficient to explain why a mother in Lafayette told me that she and her husband had experienced more problems with two children in four years than had her parents during the raising of ten children.
Nothing but the Truth
This is a fact: If you depart from God’s plan in any area of your life, you will experience more (and more serious) problems than you would have encountered otherwise. Oftentimes, those problems will seem never-ending, as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel. America has departed from God’s blueprint for child rearing. That explains it all.
This is also a fact: If you adhere to God’s plan in your life, you will still experience sadness, pain, frustration, and heartache (since the Fall, there is no escaping this tribulation), but you will endure and you will eventually come out on top. That’s God’s promise to us. Any parent who so chooses can realign his or her child rearing with God’s plan and begin to experience success.
That’s the purpose of this book. My intent is to help parents understand and properly align themselves with God’s blueprint for child rearing. I can promise you this: Unlike the attempt to conform one’s parenting to the many intricate and confusing dos and don’ts of Postmodern Psychological Parenting, this alignment will not strain the brain or cause doubt, anxiety, and guilt. I can make this promise with authority because of two simple truths:
1. God makes nothing complicated.
2. Conforming to God’s plan in any area of life will bring relief from troubles, cares, and woes.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
So, with that in mind, what say we take a walk with Grandma and her Bible?
Questions for Group Discussion
or Personal Reflection
- In what specific ways does “honoring your mother and father” stabilize and sustain culture? How has the general dishonoring of the traditional family contributed to the unraveling and weakening of American culture? What are some signs that the ability to “live long in the land” is currently tenuous? How has the weakening of the traditional family contributed to a general weakening of our collective ability to respond adequately to forces that threaten America and, by extension, all of Western civilization?
- Have you subscribed, however unwittingly, to the tenets of Postmodern Psychological Parenting? If so, what has influenced you to move in that direction?
- Do you parent from the head or from the heart and the “gut”? In other words, do you tend to think a lot, to intellectualize about child-rearing issues or do you rely on what is called “common sense”? How does thinking a lot prevent a parent from getting in touch with common sense?
- Like those parents in Lafayette, Louisiana, do you think you are having more problems raising your children than your parents had in raising you and your siblings? If so, what was different about your parents’ approach when compared with yours?