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Testing

February 8, 2013
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In the twentieth century, and coming from different and opposed directions, testing in the school setting has become both more prevalent and more despised. Clear voices have been raised to say that it suggests a more prissy and particulate definition of learning than is really serviceable in the wide world; raucous voices have been raised about its sometimes prejudicial origins; and all the while, the early meaning of testing, which is more like strengthening, is almost forgotten. So when the actions of God in relation to the soul are called “testing,” it can be very irritating, very alienating:

Why would God test us?

Is this a mockery: God showing us how weak and stupid we really are, since he already knows?

He knows perfectly well what we are made of.

You bet he does; and he would challenge us to take the next step, to become stronger.

For my own part, I have more or less abandoned the word “testing” as a description of what God is doing in the soul when the interior life is difficult. He is not checking us out, but he is rounding us out, and preparing us for new adventures.

A larger field

He is asking us to own a larger field.

That’s the actual image I have in mind. There was a man who found a treasure in a field and he went away to sell everything he then he bought the whole field, with joy.

When we first come to know God, the field of life in which we live before his face is sort of small – joyful, but small. We have lots of memories, lots of relationships, lots of worldly information, which is not related to this new fullness. For a short time, we bask in the little yard where we have met God, but one day, we take a short walk beyond and seem to discover that we have not really given ourselves to God or that he is not really much present in our lives.

Did we leave him? Not necessarily.

Did he leave us? Absolutely not!

But our lives include a larger territory than what we have shared with God. Oh, God has everything in his hands; there’s nothing he doesn’t know about us: in that sense, no need to share. Does a child share her toys with her Father? But God knowing something and us talking it over with him are not quite the same thing. So we need to bring a larger field of life into relationship with God. Simple.

Simple?

Well, we give God everything we have and everything we remember, but the days go by and suddenly we find a whole complex of emotions that we had forgotten about. Something happened with a friend, long ago, and it was never resolved, but it was forgotten. Why does it have to come up now?

This is why:

Whatever we have experienced is still part of our lives. Whatever strong feelings we have swept behind ourselves because that was the only way to move on, are still there. Now that we are stronger, God invites us to become more whole. Or perhaps we are not stronger, but weaker, and the things we’ve been sweeping behind us are getting too heavy to sweep. Either way – a larger field of our lives has to come into our personal relationship with God.

In our joy at finding the treasure, which is God’s love, we generously accepted responsibility for a whole field of reality, not realizing how large the field really was. It is very large, and whenever we seem to have tamed our space, a new vista opens up. Why shouldn’t it? We belong to the body of Christ. Where do we suppose the boundaries of our responsibility should stop?

You can always quit – perhaps someone generous like St. Therese will cover the rest of that vista? But she might be busy with people who really don’t know God at all. Hmmm. This is getting complicated.

But anyway, it’s not about testing in the sense of cold-process checking to see who makes the grade. It’s all about love and strength, and there’s always more because Love and its adventures are infinite. That’s all.

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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.

Ginger under the tongue

February 1, 2013

Okay, this is going to be pretty practical. If you have the flu, the stomach flu, and you need to quiet your tummy, putting ginger under your tongue is the best thing I know of. Just an ordinary thin slice of ginger from the grocery store. In fact, the first time I used ginger, I didn’t have fresh in the house and used dried ginger from my spice cabinet; it worked. I was alone in the house at the time, and I was at that point where you have to say to yourself: I’m getting dehydrated; how safe is this given that there’s nobody here to find me if I collapse?

I had to stop vomiting, and I called the cousin who knows Useful Things and she told me this and I stopped.

So that’s the first practical thing I can say.

Grandfather’s OJ

The second is what we call grandfather’s orange juice:

  • 1/2 c fresh squoze orange juice (We always call is fresh squoze for this recipe.)
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1/4 t baking soda.

Take one teaspoon. Fifteen minutes later, 2 teaspoons. Fifteen minutes later, 4 tsp. Fifteen minutes later double that. Double every 15 minutes until it’s gone.

It’s not 100%, but it helps; sometimes it stops the cycle. It’s electrolytically balanced, I’m sure. Grandfather was a doctor.

Hydrate

If you don’t have the flu yet, get hydrated. Hydration is not just water in your tummy; it’s water in the cells of your body, and it takes a long time. Don’t go into the flu already dehydrated just because it’s winter. Fill your body with all the water you can take, little by little. Maybe it will protect you from the flu; at least it will protect you during the flu and give you a bit more stamina.

Alkalize

An acid body is very subject to disease and very slow to heal. One of the signs of acidity is saliva that is foamy instead of clear. Oddly, one of the best alkalizers is — lemon juice! Not orange, not grapefruit; but lemon juice or lime. It is the minerals that give it an alkaline effect on your system, and there are other fruits and vegetables, especially greens. When you’re ready for meat, grass-fed is more alkaline.

Buteyko breathing

Because you need oxygen in every cell of your body, you may think that deep breathing will aid in health. Quite the reverse!

Did you ever think to ask yourself: if my hemoglobin is so glad to pick up oxygen from my lungs, what makes it so ready to drop off that oxygen in the cell? Turns out it’s not so easy. You need carbon dioxide in your blood to get that oxygen dropped off, and when you deep breathe, you empty carbon dioxide from your lungs, and, in turn, from your bloodstream.

For more accessible oxygen, breathe less. If you find yourself breathing fast when you are sick, either turn on your left side, or try to sit up and breathe less. Paul O’Connell’s site is my favorite on this topic. If I am too washed out to work on my breathing, just listening to his stuff helps. On the other hand, if you’re not sick, it might be a good idea to learn a bit while you have a good capacity for attention. Proper breathing may help you to avoid the flu or diminish your symptoms.

Authority

November 3, 2012

Is it all brainwashing ?

Some years ago, when I was trying to figure out the meaning of Outcome Based Education and the multiple strands of complex damage it represented, I came across a professor who was offering a somewhat counter-cultural course of study for people working to become school superintendents. She made the point that the whole discussion of the role of the superintendent needed to start with a right concept of authority.

Why?

The schools are trying to engage in social engineering, and that is actually an abuse of their power and an abuse of the children under their authority. They don’t see where their authority comes from (God) or what transcendent purpose it has beyond their political agendas. They don’t distinguish between power (the ability to do stuff) and authority (the right to lead people.) At the same time I have Christian friends who willingly assert that they are brainwashing their children, but think it is “good brainwashing,” since it is based on “Biblical principles.” The school is guilty of bad brainwashing, since they are sending the children down non-Biblical roads, but these Christian parents were willing to agree that all education is brainwashing.

Not at all! Absolutely not!

Our Catholic commitment to natural law means that we always know that creation itself has the same laws as the Bible, only sometimes harder to find. Revelation is, in some ways, a short-cut to the truth, but it is the same truth from the same God. Whatever makes the heart pure while forming the mind according to its true nature is education. The rest is just washing the outside of a cup while the inside is full of stains and mold.

Leading us out of darkness

The idea that it’s all brainwashing, either way, is also part of the parenting discussion. Let me be firm about the central point: brainwashing is a sin. It is the intention and the plan to govern the mind of another person – not to serve it with truth, not to clarify its operation with the laws of logic, but to take it over with superior power. That’s how the demons operate. The brainwasher either does not care about truth or believes or assumes that there is no truth out there to be discovered, or he directly opposes the truth. He states that truth is an outdated idea: there are only worldviews to be imposed in a great war of Imposers (or Imposters). He pretends to educate – which should mean “to lead” (ducere) us “out” (ex) – of darkness. Education is “ex ducere” – leading us out of a dark and limited life and into the light and air; but the brainwasher is himself unable to respond to either light or darkness.

We parents have the authority and the mission, and to a limited and temporary extent, the power, to form our children. The culture wants that formation to be all about tolerance, by which they mean without moral principle since any moral principle is bound to be valued more by some people than by others: the prevailing cultural theory is that the strong teaching of one set of values must mean teaching  children intolerance, not just of other values, but of those who hold other values.

As a matter of fact (alas!) some Christians do want a formation that is intolerant, that can’t even listen to the hearts of those whose ideas are not “Biblical.” By “biblical values,” they mean values taken from the Bible with passages to quote behind them. Somehow they seem not to have noticed either that the Bible is complex and has passages that could be construed to support a variety of positions; nor have most actually looked at non-Christians to see what they hold in common. Nor do they take natural law (which is based on faith in our Creator’s consistency) seriously enough to seek truth outside the Bible.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The authority of parents comes from God, as a gift of his own Authority, his initiative; and this portion of his Authority is necessary to support the gift of human life. We are not deer, whose offspring are born with the necessary instincts for their lives. No, we are persons with a long childhood and a need to be educated about complex and invisible dangers. Parents have a vast responsibility for their children; our authority is equally vast, at least at the outset.

Nevertheless, our authority is not infinite, and the formative power of any family is limited by the nature of the human person. BF Skinner didn’t think there was a human nature; we were the same as pigeons to him and could be conditioned to do whatever the conditioner chose. That’s the school idea, and it’s also the communist ideal: we can shape society – that is, some people can shape society – that is, some people can shape other people – any way they choose.

Keep that last conclusion in mind: “we can shape society” always means “some people can shape other people.” It feeds an imperial instinct.

Developing our personal center of initiative

The truly Christian idea is that even though our children are born into specific families with all kinds of physical and social inheritance, nevertheless, they have a human nature and a personal character that come directly from God. He has placed a center of initiative within them, (we call it a soul or a personal nature) and it has a purpose that is only partly revealed in the Bible. Only partly – because it is fundamentally mysterious, because it is so profound that no words can ever express it. This center of initiative allows us to choose love, to exercise intelligence, to enjoy sights, sounds, tastes, and memories. It is why we have an interior life.

You could, by the way, as well say that the formative power of any family is expanded by the nature of the human person, as say it is limited. Let’s keep our horizons large. Who could ever imagine making a person? Read a little about artificial intelligence, and you will get a taste of the immense effort it takes to put out a cleverly designed creature that still has no personal center, no real initiative. But as families, we get these persons from God, and we have authority over them… for what?

Our purpose is to help them find their true freedom, their loving creator. Our authority takes its character and its purpose from the Author of life. In this way, through our children so full of surprises, God leads us, the parents, every day into new challenges, new realms of life.

All this by way of going back to my first essay about the dignity of the child. Discipline is important; it’s difficult; for most of us, it’s the hardest thing about parenting. The most important thing, however, is to stay centered. Our culture is not going to help us, and the majority of Christian advice is also not going to help because whatever good it has to offer tends to go off-center so quickly, into authority as power, not as a leadership initiative that must decrease as the child increases in maturity.

But (Behold the Underlying Truth): God will help us because that’s the whole point. We come to know His Person as we meet the challenges of new persons in our lives. Parental authority is the right to do what is necessary to help the newest persons on earth learn to rightly exercise their own dignity and begin an abundant (happy) life, an interior life with a window on eternity.

Seven Steps in Discipline

October 30, 2012

Discipline in seven easy steps

Well, not always easy… And hopefully only three or four steps.

Here are seven steps, or levels, of discipline. They are really a way to organize all the good techniques you have heard of, so you can see where you are and think about where you need to go.

[I am, by the way, indebted to Glenn Doman for this reflection, though I have my own thoughts and he must not be blamed for anything I have added to or subtracted from his insights.]

1.   Request

The first level of discipline, of asking our children for their cooperation, is a simple and loving appeal. We belong to a family and we have relationships that bind us together in service and need. So we can ask for help. We can say “please” and if there is no response, we can actually drop it. Not every request is a demand. It’s silly and unchristian to think that parents can never ask for stuff they are not going to enforce. So this isn’t really discipline but it’s relevant to discipline. Do you ever slip from a quiet desire – say, that one of the kids bring you the equivalent of a cup of tea – to a storm if they don’t? Do you have to? Think about it.

2.  Appeal to love

The second level is a request accompanied by an assertion of love, an outward expression of need and a gentle expression of confidence that your child cares about that need. Not a guilt-trip; just a simple reminder: this is first of all about family, not about power. You want your tea with a happy smile. Even if you need something and it’s not going to be optional, it’s still about love.

Reason

The third level offers your child an explanation for the value or importance of the service you are asking. The child has a right to grow, and it is appropriate for him to have at hand the tools for understanding what needs to be done. You have those tools; share them.

Remember: Rules without Relationships breed Rebellion. The idea that a child should be instantly obedient without any explanation is a slave-holder’s attitude. Yes, there’s a place for immediate obedience; one can’t always be explaining, but within the limits of practicality and generosity, be respectful of your child. Even Jesus says, “I do not call you servants; I call you friends because I have told you everything my father has taught me.” (John 15:15) That’s from the Son of God. It’s not a big adult secret why the garbage needs to be taken out. Maybe you can bore your child with the names of the organisms that will come to live in the house if it’s not done. Somehow, mobilize the mind.

In the end, you want your child to do good things for the reasons you do them: because they are the right things to do. Give him a chance to transition into that part of adulthood. It doesn’t happen overnight or without any preparation. Before you move into a flat demand, make sure you have done what you can to enable a mature choice.

4.  Reward and relationship

Level four is where you offer a reward, still keeping it positive, but not necessarily optional. If you are quick enough, and one gets quicker with practice, it is possible to mention a reward that is appropriate to the event. If the table is set on time and without a fuss, we can make cookies for dessert or watch a movie after dinner. If you get ready for bed promptly, we can read two chapters tonight. If you can all stop quarreling for 3 days in a row, we can go to the zoo. The reward is the enforcement: no action, no reward.

On desperate days, this is quite frankly bargaining with your child. Lots of people don’t approve, but I believe it has its place.

Anyway, there is a deeper level, where the offer of a reward is more than mercenary. At this point, you are searching for specific ways to build a positive relationship with your child. What does he really like? What does he want? Does he need a new math program? Does he need to visit his grandmother? Does he need you or Dad to work side-by side with him?

Does your daughter need to have a mother-daughter coffee once a week? What is going on?

Don’t just offer candy. That’s insulting. That’s behavior modification, and if you are trying to raise someone who would accept martyrdom, that’s not how it’s done. Oh, maybe there’s a place for candy, a small one, a momentary bargain.

But you need to address the depth of your child: This is a person. Is there a lack of relationship behind his refusal to act? Enforcement without relationship breeds rebellion.

5.  Limits and threats.

Don’t step in here unless you intend to go all the way. You have already made one implicit punishment in withholding the reward you offered. Nevertheless, demanding obedience is also a responsibility of parentage.

“You’ll want to make your bed before I count to ten,” is a possible admonition. Such counting is not about letting obedience be slow; it is about being respectful of the child’s own work that you are interrupting. If you are interrupting a fight, of course, that’s different! You might count to three, enough time to catch your breath. In any case, if you go to this level, obedience is no longer optional, and you have to follow up.

For some Moms, the biggest and most effective threat is, “I’ll tell your Dad.” In that case, you’re off the hook until he comes home, but you better tell him.

     Let me say some general things about punishments.

  • First off, the promptness and certainty of a punishment are more important than its severity. Don’t threaten what you are not going to do; and do it promptly.
  • Second: Don’t offer punishments that wound the whole family; don’t spoil dinner; don’t ruin your family time. You are trying to build a place of love, not run a prison. Love is your goal. Some people deliberately choose a punishment that will annoy everyone so much that the culprit worries about his peers and acts for that reason. Maybe it has a place, but mobilizing the mob is not a wise plan. Keep it truthful; keep it loving.
  • Third: This is about spanking. Keep in mind what you are seeking to accomplish – don’t forfeit your long-term goal for your short-term goal. The nice thing about corporal punishment, including spanking, is that it’s prompt and it’s over. The down-side is that it is getting into your child’s space, and for that reason, it may not build a positive relationship. It may, if it’s quick and done; but it may not. Pay attention. Of course, there is a further down-side if it is illegal.

More importantly, it has a very serious downside if it generates a passion within you, something that can run away with you and deepen your own desperation about household order and your disciplinary identity. Think about your early memories of punishment. Don’t engage today’s disobedience in a way that jeopardizes your long-term relationship with your child.

     And something specific about punishments:

There’s no fix-all punishment; children and parents are so different. I have heard about using painful pressure points, another Dobson special, legally different from spanking, but morally far more dangerous in my opinion.  This kind of hold goes very deeply into the child’s space and is likely to generate a specifically cold anger and lasting distrust that actually inhabits the muscles involved.

On the other hand, there are other things you might try.

  • Asking two quarrelsome children to sit together and memorize a poem may work wonders. A child loses a certain personal dignity when he is punished; and even before being punished; he loses dignity when he does what is wrong. Learning a poem is an accomplishment that is restorative. And learning it with someone you quarreled with means cooperating with the enemy.
  • Asking for cooperative housework such as washing a window can be restorative. One child washes each side, and they work together to find all the spots; then they make faces at each other through the glass. Good all around!
  • Exercises like jumping jacks may siphon off some of the energy that is going into disruption. This is a quick and accessible punishment.
  • Sitting in a corner may work. At least it gives you time off.
  • Using housework as a punishment is appropriate because long-drawn out discipline uses the energy you need for housework. The down side is the need for supervision, but ask yourself whether this child needs Mom-time. Maybe he really needs to wash the floor with you or set the table with you. Children will go to great lengths to get your attention; if that’s what they need, best give it. I know that this is a demanding suggestion, but nothing is as demanding as a child who is out of relationship with his parents. Talk to someone with a child in juvenile detention. Avoiding that outcome is worth a vast investment.

Anyway, Christians must take the attitude of white martyrdom: that we are willing to die for our children’s joy, – and sweetly, not with a growl.

6.  Tangible Punishment

The threats are done. If you are not already out of your easy chair and moving into your child’s space, you must do so now and must administer the punishment threatened. Somewhere between four and five, you lost the option of bailing for the evening, and letting it go. If you drop it now because it’s too much work to follow up, the clear message is that your disciplinary threats are just temper tantrums and can be appropriately ignored. If that’s what they are, you need to apologize for your tantrum and don’t do it again. If you have a serious commitment to guidance, then move.

7: Enforcement.

Force is the operative root word here. Level seven is not a place where you want to be. It’s where you enforce your request in a corporal manner, one way or another. Glen Doman was dealing with brain-damaged children, and his point to the parents was that the very demanding protocol he had worked out, without which the children would have a very limited future, depended on co-operation not being optional. Your children are not brain-damaged; do you need a wreck to learn parenting?

For example, pick up your child, wrap his arms around the book he was to put away, carry both of them to the shelf and deposit the book and then take child, kicking and screaming, over to corner to think about it while you get on with your life.

There are other ways to be corporal. Obviously for an older child it means something different because he’s bigger and his space is more his own; violation of teenage space is very risky. Safer and more useful punishments may relate to car keys, movies, friends’ visits, electronic entertainment. Washing dishes and scrubbing the floor are good unless such assignments will be the occasion of further rebellion. Maybe demand that he remain in the open spaces of the house (not his room) and read (possibly aloud) or listen to something of your choosing so that the ipod is not his refuge. Something beautiful, something educational; it does not have to be about the events at hand. You are trying to get his mind to shift gears. If he won’t read, get a book on tape.

At step seven, the real issue is: who is in charge? If your child doesn’t get this one right, then you cannot serve him. Seven is where you land if you keep pulling out on discipline because it’s too much trouble, or if you have let your child drift into a habit of opposition by demanding meaningless obedience and offering punishments that challenge his courage (oh yes!) instead of making him re-think his choices. Some personalities become very rebellious about empty obedience; step three is meant to accommodate them appropriately. Anyway, level 7 should be no more than a temporary spot. If you keep landing here, something has to change. Ask a friend to help you sort it out.

I think it worthwhile to mention that digestive and eating disorders may contribute to the kind of settled defiance that lands you and your child at #7 every day. Try probiotics! Ask yourself whether there are learning disorders that make life so frustrating that your requests are the last straw for a child who needs time to find himself again. I was always an A student, but I was very poor at sports. As I stood on the sidelines, I used to wonder how it felt to be this kind of a failure all day, instead of just 45 minutes a day. I could not imagine it.

In sum and in closing

Be attentive, clear, rational, and responsible. Know where you are with your children and have a plan. Go over these seven levels, and try to see where you are spending the most time. Work your way back towards the good spaces. The ideal is always to start on level one, but you don’t have to spend five minutes on each level. Think about what kind of rewards would be meaningful and what possible punishments would serve your actual purposes.

Always begin with being courteous to your children as you want them to be courteous to everyone in their lives. Courtesy is not weakness; it’s remembering that they are the children of a great King. (members of his court – so be courteous) Sometimes our children are bossy with each other; listen: do you hear the way you are talking to them? Are you modeling the gracious request or do you suppose that Christian parents can always demand immediate and unquestioning obedience but their children will naturally learn to make polite inquiries?

You need to enjoy your children. Someone once told me, “If you dig your kid, he’ll be okay.” I like this old-fashioned expression because it expresses how much real pleasure you are meant to take in your children.

Love is rational, but it’s not abstract. God wants you find joy in parenting; your joy is part of the revelation of his nature, which includes his joy in us. Sometimes the kids at #7 are kids that their parents don’t really dig. That’s ok. There’s often one that’s a challenge. Ask the saints to help you; ask your friends. Abide in God’s love, with this child close to your heart. Go to his bedroom door and pray for him while he is sleeping and cannot resist your prayers and love.

This has been very long.  Sorry.

Motherly discipline

October 29, 2012

What is a Christian mother’s discipline?

The reason that all answers fail and all answers always will fail is that discipline is about the development of a person, and the nature of everything personal lies in God, the source and center of all personality. There is no “technique” for knowing God or for knowing any person. You approach God; you find him because he was seeking you all the time anyway. Then you find your vocation, which includes the need to discipline his children. So this is first of all about love for God and then about love for certain persons in your life. Everything else follows; whatever else people say is just bits and pieces.

Here are four bits, in response to the four models I have just rejected:

1.   Love is attentive.

We have the Care Bears all beat on this one. Jesus died for us, and we have to be willing to die for our children. Lots of times, the reason we are inconsistent about correction it’s because we are tired of the effort. Jesus says, “Come follow me.” It’s not an easy path we’re on, but it’s a loving one. You must be attentive to God; you must be attentive to your children. You are like the corner on the letter “L” which stands for Love. You look up and you look beside you and you stay connected both ways.

Be sure you are taking time to pray because that’s where you get the energy and the will to remain attentive. There will be seasons when prayer is difficult; Jesus had those difficulties too. Remember when he went over the lake to have some quiet time and everyone followed and he had mercy on them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Don’t bother feeling guilty if you have a season when dedicated prayer time seems impossible. But keep trying, in the small ways as well as the large.

  • Pray at night. Talk to God all day, as a father. Talk to our Lady.
  • Step outside the door and pray for a minute.
  • Pray short prayers all day: “Oh my loving Father!” “Jesus, I trust in you!” “Come Holy Spirit! ” “Hail Mary, full of grace!” Do not pray, “Help help!” all the time, but “Father, Father!”
  • Find some spiritual reading that really draws you. Lots of people find time to finish mystery stories when they can’t find time for spiritual reading. You need spiritual reading that pulls you in. Find it.
  • Establish a prayer corner or altar, a room if you have one, a shelf with a picture and candle if there is no room. You need a physical reminder to pray.
  • Take a dedicated half hour if you possibly, possibly can. The day will come when you can; you won’t notice its coming unless you are seeking it.
  • Pray for each of your children. This is not blame time, not defending anybody time; just belonging to Jesus time. Each one: you are just roping them in, and you are making your relationship with them part of your relationship with God.

2.  Love is clear.

We have it all over the thunder men, whose irrational disciplines continually undercut the allegiance of the heart by enforcing an allegiance of fear.

Of course Christians are always wondering how “fear of the Lord” fits in here, because it’s right there in scripture as the beginning of wisdom, and we want that for our children, don’t we?

This is very simple. Fear doesn’t start wisdom if it stops thought. Fear initiates wisdom if it focuses the mind for better thought. This can happen, and it’s your job to pay attention about it. Anxiety is not the beginning of wisdom, but a little adrenalin sometimes helps. A little. Sometimes.

Love is not supine; it is the supreme vigilance. It is awake. It is the dawn of humanity. It is full of light, but it is a steady light, not a lightning strike. Make the rules you need and maintain the relationships they are meant to serve.

“Rules without Relationships breed Rebellion.” (I owe this to Nancy who owes it to someone else. Thanks all.) Your vocation is to be attentive to these persons, who have minds. You are not just here to control them for 18 years. They have to know you love them and are available to their questions and needs.

3.  Love is rational.

We have it all over the cool Dobson types, because we are at rest in God, and our hearts are hearts of flesh, not of stone. That’s why we can think clearly, and this kind of thinking is always important to us. We don’t have to be cold to be rational.

Love is rational? Yes, love is not irrational; it’s rational. Love is the interior act chosen by a thinking person who goes right on thinking all the time. Love desires the good of the beloved, and is glad of a mind that will help her to recognize how to be of good service in each situation.

Love is rational because it is not just a feeling: it is a choice. If it isn’t a choice, it isn’t free, and in that case, it isn’t love. Even a free action still has something behind it; a choice means you thought about it. Random actions are not free; they are at the whim of the nearest advertiser, the nearest pleasure, or even the nearest demon, really.

It does sometimes happen that people get cornered by someone who thinks faster, but not better, than they can. Maybe someone more analytic than you traps you into admitting things that you don’t really agree with but you can’t say why. If this happens a lot, you may come to have  a negative attitude about thinking. You have to fight back; you have to learn to say, “I can’t deny your logic, but I think you have left something out. I am not sure what, but I will think of it.” At midnight, right after the rosary, it will come to you. Don’t get bamboozled into rejecting thought, just because you are not the quickest. Quickest is not always best, but in any case, when people hate thinking, they do not become free; they just become bound by something smaller.

Calling love rational is not to deny that there are important feelings that go with love. Above all, there is an inner sense of freedom and a joy that we have when we live in love and everything seems worthwhile to one who lives in love.  Still, this feeling is the consequence of love, not the nature of love.

In motherly love, then, discipline is an act of guidance, and its justice is never cold, because that would deny the role of mercy. Oh, mercy and justice are not opposed except when they are each made smaller than the way they come from God or when they are misused. Both are pure; both seek what is most perfect.

Good discipline measures itself against the need to restore peace and dignity to all wounded parties – to the child whose dignity is already diminished by having failed in some way, and then further diminished by the need for punishment. A mother also seeks to care for anyone her child has hurt, whose dignity may be wounded if no one takes account of their new needs.

4. Love is responsible.

Anger is a source of energy, and we need it because it takes energy to correct someone. It’s very often easier to let things go. So anger gets us to our feet, and that is necessary.

But we mustn’t rush in without a plan or let our angry feelings take over the situation. Discipline is a responsibility to everyone. We need a plan, not just a training schedule. So we make a plan, but make it bigger than behavior modification. Plan on raising children of God; plan to be attentive, clear, rational, and responsible.

I have one more post in queue. I need to think it over before posting. It’s my plan, and it’s not new, but it was hard to write it out.

I will just close this piece with my favorite scripture about discipline: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, lest they lost heart.” That’s the center of it; it’s actually Colossians 3:21. The children must not lose heart when they are scolded. Their spirits must not be broken! Their trust must not die.

Discipline is hard, perhaps the hardest task in parenting. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it right the first year or even the first twenty or thirty years. You’re still in good company. Your task is to grow. If you do that, your children will figure out their responsiblities.

The Dobson refrigerator and the Skinner box

October 29, 2012

Cool Dobson

After the mush and the thunder, we have the cool Dobson model. Dobson believes in corporal punishment but he doesn’t believe we should discipline in anger. He advises that we cool off first and then administer punishment.

Sounds very balanced, doesn’t it? Get over your anger; then administer the proper and proportionate punishment. If you are dispassionate, you will be just. Certainly it is very important for anyone who advocates or even seems to advocate corporal punishment to be sure that there is nothing intemperate about it, and that it has no possibility of spilling into abusive behavior. So that’s good.

But it’s not enough. Anger that is suppressed is still anger, and only a deep maturity will help you know when you are suppressing your anger and when you are really over it. And what then? Just as your child starts to feel that things have blown over, suddenly you are punishing him. And what if that upsets him and he says something that “makes” you mad again while you are engaged in punishment? Then what? Stop and wait another hour or two before resuming what he knows is coming, now worse than before?

I need to say a word here about a childhood experience. Well, it was just an observation, really, but it was formative for me. I was sitting on my front doorstep in the house where I grew up, and across the street, there were three ugly brick houses where one gracious old house had been torn down when the elderly couple who grew corn and made crabapple jelly finally died. So, three new couples lived there, and a little boy was running around the house in the center, crying desperately, and screaming to be let in. His mother had put him out of the house because he was naughty. This was the event that made me believe in spanking. It’s quick; it’s over.

In the progressive state of Delaware, spanking is now against the law. Fine; maybe their social services directors never saw how exile functions; maybe they are overwhelmed with abuse victims. So don’t spank if it’s illegal and don’t do it if you know it’s edgy for you.

But that’s not the last word. Any form of punishment can become abusive; none are pleasant or what? They wouldn’t be punishments if they were pleasant.

Actually, if there’s anything positive about corporal punishment, it’s that it can be over at once and you can move on. That is the single value that you need to carry into whatever discipline choices you make. Don’t drag it out and make it the center of your family experience.  The danger, always, but a danger that is actually greater when it is delayed, is that the punishment won’t end the episode, but that new anger will spill into the relationship and prevent the kinds of things you most want to see: peace, cooperation, wisdom, love, rational and gracious choices…

The Dobson refrigerator won’t make these things happen, because it’s not over. Punishment administered in cold fury is not nicer than punishment administered in hot fury and if Dobson understood this, he didn’t make it clear to his devotees. He made a point; it is no more than a point.

Behavior Mod

So the simple answers, mushy, thunderous, and refrigerated, are insufficient. Next comes behavior modification, the complex system of rewards and punishments that, like horse training, is sure to have results. We owe it to B.F. Skinner who thought he could get reliable results this way. There are books and books of how to do time-outs and make charts and cookies; and all of the time, we have these admonitions to stick to our discipline no matter what.

  • Really, no matter what? Do any of these behavior mod folks have more than one child? So what if you are gently telling Jimmy he has to pick up his blocks before you count to three and Carla pushes her sister off the couch right into the pile, so Scott attacks Carla with a library book – the closest large thing at hand…? We’ll leave it at that.
  • Behavior modification depends on having one or maybe two children (at least three years apart!) and being able to give your full attention to an offending child every time you think he needs discipline according to your tidy rules all spelled out. It never considers that you might be needing to rethink your priorities, not enforce them; it never considers that your disciplinary priorities are nested in the wild ride called life, or that meantime, you are weathering the storm of your own pursuit of personal maturity.

It’s worse than that. Behavior modification treats children like animals in training. Nice animals, valued animals, but animals. It’s just not personal. You forget that the purpose of the family is to bring new people into the human community and even into the body of Christ. Discipline not about control; that has its place. But it’s about the human person, especially about teaching the most vulnerable new human persons, what it means to love, to make way, to live for each other. That’s just not something that comes by any technique.

I will talk about technique later; I’ll give you an organized seven-step plan that will let you use any technique you like and a few that you don’t. But it’s just a plan. It won’t give you a heart or a motivation; it won’t center your discipline, so let me go on.