Parenting with Love and Discipline

Parenting with Love and Discipline

Over at The Bonny Glen Melissa Wiley is hosting a fascinating discussion about parenting from a Catholic perspective. I was especially interested in this comment where she elaborated a bit on the connection she sees between unschooling and Catholic belief:

I had a lot to think through (am still thinking) about how unschooling and Catholicism work together. I kept coming back to the golden rule, how we ought to treat others the way we want to be treated, and it struck me that very few parents treat their kids the way they, themselves, would like to be treated. This was a few months ago, and then I started reading Outside Lies Magic, and things came into sharp focus for me. My religion says to treat other people the way I would like to be treated: unschooling, as understood by Sandra and Joyce and others, is a way of living that out, day by day, moment by moment, with the people I have the most contact with. My religion says to �count it all joy,� every moment, even the tough ones, and to give thanks in all things. You can�t be thankful about things you don�t notice; being more observant and seeing something of interest in everything, everywhere is what lets you count it ALL joy. Ooh, I�m squeezing too much into too few words here! Anyway, I guess what I am saying is that after spending a lot of time closely examining certain sets of ideas (Waldorf, CM, others), the principles that make the most sense to me in terms of the real people I live with and the doctrines of my faith are those articulated by unschoolers. Not that I haven�t learned a lot from other sources: I have. And I�m glad to have read and thought about everything I have read and thought about. smile But the idea that made a real and practical difference when applied has been understanding the distinction between patiently enduring (and putting others in a position to have to patiently endure) and savoring the moment. It�s a mental shift. I no longer grit my teeth to hold everyone in check until we get through the grocery store: I take the kids to the grocery store for an adventure. I�m not impatient with them because I�m busy *being* with them. I�m not worrying about whether they�re �behaving� because we�re engaged in an experience together, talking to each other, sharing observations, noticing interesting things. It is radically different from the old �okay, now everyone be good and stay close to the cart, and we�ll get through this as quick as we can.� Some people feel that way about math, but we never have. For us it has been the errands, the doctor appointments, the business of daily life. As I had more kids, I had more of that business, which meant more and more of life was being �gotten through� instead of lived.

Several reactions and observations came to mind that I left in a comment there; but thought I’d also repost them here and elaborate on them as well as more thoughts have come to me in the interim.

In the comments Rachel wrote: �In a weird way, I need to kinda see my kids as not mine.�

I�d amend that further: They aren�t mine, they�re God�s. That�s the realization that has helped me the most as a mother when the going gets tough. My kids don�t belong to me, they belong to our heavenly Father. He�s entrusted them to me for a time and given me the tools (graces) to raise them; but I owe it to him to raise them as his sons and daughters. I need to recognize their freedom and their dignity as persons who are not extensions of myself. And at the same time I also need to recognize that God has placed me in a position of authority over them, that I have responsibilities to them as a parent and that if I neglect those duties I am failing to do the task which God has entrusted to me.

Also along the same line of thinking, I sense that many other moms in the discussion are, like me, a bit uncomfortable with finding the balance between being loving and being the one in authority. I see it in those who fear that unschooling may lead to �unparenting�.

There are times when we feel a tension because we know that doing something unpleasant now will be what is best for our children in the long run. It�s like getting a shot. I hate to see my baby cry, and yet I know that the pain is only temporary and the benefits of the immunization outweigh the sting.

I�m thinking especially of this passage from Hebrews, in yesterday morning�s Office of Readings, which seems to be at odds with doing unto others as we�d like done to us:

You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons:

�My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.�

Endure your trials as �discipline�; God treats you as sons. For what �son� is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards.

Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not (then) submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live? They disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness.

At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.

(Hebrews 12: 5-11)

I totally agree that we are called to apply the Golden Rule, to do to our children as we�d have done to us. But here�s where I think it can get sticky because I think often we have an overly-simplistic reading of the Golden Rule. Sometimes I do want others to do for me that which I may find most unpleasant at the time. I absolutely hate being corrected (who doesn�t?), no matter how gentle the one who is doing the correction. And yet in retrospect I�m often glad that my friend didn�t let me continue to make a fool of myself. Likewise, I want God to correct me when I go astray and yet I know that sometimes his corrections are not pleasant.

As St Paul says right before the passage that I quoted, �In your fight against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.� And here�s the crux of the matter: as Christians we are not called to always be comfortable. Martyrdom is not pleasant or pretty, the cross is a bloody mess. And yet we are called to embrace it. And so I know that we do need to find ways to teach our children to embrace tasks they find unpleasant. And we need to correct them when we see them falling into sinful habits. We must discipline with love just as God our Father does, but children need discipline in order to learn how to resist sin and, as St Paul reminds us, at the time it is administered it will be a cause for grief and not for joy. As parents we are tasked to look at the larger picture. We can see further than our children can and so we can see when the path they are walking will lead to grief, even if it seems pleasant now.

So it seems to me what has been missing so far in this discussion is an acknowledgment of the temporary pain and grief it sometimes falls upon us to bestow upon our children. I�d like to see more teasing out of this tension: keeping in mind the Golden Rule, how do we discipline with love? How do we bring grief to our children in a loving manner while keeping in mind the ultimate joy to which we hope to lead them?

*  *  *

In thinking along these lines a couple of literary images.

The first is a favorite John Donne poem:

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,‘and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,      
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,‘and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:  
Divorce mee,‘untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

Its full of violent imagery, not what one thinks when contemplating the actions of a loving parent. And yet I think there are plenty of examples from the Bible of God’s love that seem harsh by human standards. The question is, whose standards should we be using? Ours or Gods? If it were up to me, I’d never have chosen the cross. Not for myself and certainly not for my children. And yet it is the cross that our loving Father bids us to embrace, not asking of us more than he asks of his beloved Son.

The other literary reference haunting my thoughts is the scene from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in which Eustace has been enchanted into a dragon, his outer image conforming to his inner greedy nature. Aslan bids him to clean himself; but all that Eustace does cannot remove the scales. Finally Aslan has to claw the dragon skin off, layer after layer. It hurts terribly and yet it is the only way in which Eustace can be cleansed and restored to his true image.

So my question is this: are we parents, in conforming ourselves to Christ and training our children to do the same, sometimes called to wield the claws as well as the velvet paws? And, if so, then how do we, fallen sinful beings that we are, balance that stern discipline so that it is done from God-like love and not with sinful impatience, anger, or frustration?

How do we apply the Golden Rule and love our children as we love ourselves? First, we must love ourselves enough to acknowledge our sinfulness and turn ourselves over as wayward children to God’s loving Fatherhood, his discipline, for guidance and correction. We must avail ourselves of the sacrament of reconciliation in which God helps us to overcome our sinful nature. Only if we first submit ourselves humbly and obediently to divine authority will we be fit to wield parental authority over the fragile souls that God entrusts to us.



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1 comment
  • You _know_ this is what happened to Martha sometime. And she probably muttered a lot, especially when Mary burned breakfast because she got absorbed in theology at the wrong moment…. smile