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Not about Discipline

February 2, 2013

Now I’m over the flu, so I need to make another point about discipline, one which has been much on my mind. Well, not exactly about discipline.

I see the desperation of mothers facing discipline problems that are intractable. I don’t want to criticize you, because it’s very hard to get this thing back in place, and you won’t get much support. The culture says it’s your fault and forbids anything harsh enough to really get you back in the driver’s seat. Some counselors, in the name of scripture, put it all on “sin” and you get the driver’s seat, but it’s no fun being there.

All I want to say is that if discipline is a massive problem, then you need to look beyond. Neither rewards nor punishments go to the heart of the human person; either one says, “I, who reward and punish, must become the measure of your actions.” This is completely contrary to the dignity of the human person. It can’t work. It’s against the First Commandment, which says that God has to be first in our lives and which is not cancelled by the Fourth which ways we have to honor our parents. God made persons a certain way. Parents have to work with that if they are to find joy.

The relevant measure of any person’s actions is interior – a person is curious; he wants friends; he wants a responsive world; he needs to concentrate: things like that. If these necessities are not provided, no demand for “obedience” is going to take proper hold.

Actually, let’s put some of these human things in developmental order:

  1. The toddler is building a self. He must be allowed to concentrate. He must not be told to share his toys when he is concentrating on building a tower. He must be allowed to concentrate. Don’t even bother disciplining a child who is not allowed to have a self. Why would he care? Make room for him to build a self, and don’t interrupt it when it’s happening.
  2. The young child is ready to build a minor cosmology. He must be invited to learn buckets of stuff. If you plug him with digital pseudo-concentration, he can make no sense of the world, and he cannot be happy. Buy a house in the woods and go eat cornbread for six months while you teach him to read, know the constellations, name the flowers, and recite the dates and deeds of the American Presidents. Aach! Well, he needs a chum too. You have a neighbor who’ll send her child along, don’t you? I know. Unrealistic. But ask yourself: what’s more unrealistic: a shack in the woods now, or pulling a teenager out of the drug culture once he’s in it, and without taking him off to a shack in the woods? Some things are unimaginably difficult; others are simply impossible. You are in a war. Stop looking for it to get easy.
  3. The new teen is even more in need of the shack. Anyway, very practical, adult conversation – with adults besides his parents – and new challenges in the adult world – are needed. Impossible, because child labor laws forbid the type of employment that would be most helpful at this time. But you have a neighbor in need – you can call it volunteer and you can pay. Get him out of the house doing something that’s obviously worthwhile. Later teens can usefully do schoolwork, but there’s a moment of early teenage life which just needs grounding. Don’t try to make him the Top School Parrot this year. He can’t. Even she can’t. They need an invitation into adulthood. Find it. Get it into the mailbox. Somehow.
  4. They do grow up. And if a child has a self, friends with a shared and informed cosmology, and a sense of how adults assume responsibility, college and other types of helpful education are a natural. Lots of challenges ahead, but you can go with them, one at a time.

Discipline is not all it’s cracked up to be, because healthy people are not into being control freaks or into being controlled by other control freaks. I would like the good mothers I know to have a way to get into the driver’s seat, but let’s think about where we’re going.

It’s a child. It’s a person. Only God knows what’s inside, and you have to work within his creative plan for persons.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013 7:18 pm

    While I am really sorry that you had the flu, the reason I am tracking you down is two-fold. Firstly, to suggest you write a high school text as a companion for your two other diagramming texts, which I have used since you first started. Secondly, to ask a bizarre question: how on earth do you diagram a sentence where a single adjective is used to modify both elements in a compound subject? I have no idea how to do it, and since probably only you do, I beg you for an answer.

    That said, while here I found out that you have been ill, and I am so sorry. We did that pretty recently, too. Also, I am a hobby bread baker and was thrilled to find out that we have that in common. Moreover, I am a freaky compulsive knitter and was more than thrilled to find out that we have that in common. I like you more and more all the time.

    I had the occasion to talk science with you once at a home school conference in Denver many years ago (probably ten). We not only discussed Galileo but the theory of evolution supported by spontaneous rapid mutation and I knew that I liked you and bought all the books you had for sale. I have used them to death since. Now I find out that you also knit and bake. Too bad you live so far, I’d invite you to come visit. You would not only be hounded by me, though. My thirteen year old daughter adored “Universe in My Hands” so much that she has continued using it in her spare time and has assembled quite the notebook.

    Anyway, hope you pop back in and read this. Feel free to drop by my blog, which is significantly less intelligent but fun it its own way.

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