Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Parenting by the Book: A Book Review

Four years of being a psychology major, plus more years doing case work did not necessarily impress me with the wisdom of psychology.  I am convinced that the "common sense" that psychology teaches often flies directly in the face of Biblical wisdom.  That is the assumption that a refreshing read, Parenting by the Book, by John Rosemond, begins with.  

His is an interesting story.  He was a maverick, a newspaper columnist, and a fully licensed psychologist for many years. Like many others he had for the most part left behind the "cultural" Christianity he had been raised with. As he spoke around the country people emphasized to him that his teaching on child-rearing lined up closely with God's point of view, but he blew them off.  When he finally dug into the Word, he was astonished to find how right they were.  

Two points stood out to me against the rising tide of psychobabble.  The first was that the sum of children's behavior is neither their biology nor their parents. Think about it. The first thing we do when children struggle is either to heap blame up on their parents (occasionally appropriate) or to believe that they are "sick" and need therapy, medication or both (also occasionally appropriate).  Rosemond emphasizes the third very common problem, sin. 

I don't believe that children are born bearing the guilt of Adam's sin.  I don't think that infants whose lives are lost are condemned to hell.  (If you want to talk more about that, leave me a comment!) But I have become convinced that sin is evident in any normal 2 year old. Sin is the single most pervasive human experience.  Every person suffers with it or from it every single day of their lives.  

So when my kid does something rotten, it only makes sense to ask myself, "What sin might be motivating that action?"  Hit another kid?  Wrath, hatred, self-will. Lie to my face? Speaking the language of the Father of lies.   Stand toe to toe with me in defiance?  Rebellion pure and simple- an echo of Satan's defeat and exile from Heaven.    

This kind of thinking results in a very different reaction to bad behavior.  Think.  Johnny is 5.  In a fit of fury, he slaps you.  Biology indicates that Johnny has not yet developed the ability to reason or to empathize.  Or perhaps that Johnny has some disability that causes him to have poor impulse control. The blame the parents strategy goes something like this, "I'm a terrible mother.  I should apologize to Johnny for making him so angry. I should be spending more time with him everyday. If I was a stay-at-home mom instead of working, Johnny wouldn't feel the need to express his anger this way." If I think that Johnny's behavior is motivated by sin, I'll react entirely different.  

I'll pray for him and with him. 

I'll point out to him the heart and character issue behind his behavior. 

I'll understand how VERY serious the problem is and treat it accordingly.  (Did you remember that in the law, Exodus 21:15, a child who struck his parents was subject to capital punishment?)  

And I won't think I am the problem. 

That last bit, blaming the parents for everything that goes wrong with kids, and in no way empowering them to fix it is the second farce.  We tell ourselves when things go wrong with our kids, "If I only..."  We tell each other, "If you only..."   The second half of those two sentences inevitably calls on the exhausted, shell-shocked, parents to do MORE and be MORE.  

You and I both know families where the kids are rotten.  You and I have both had moments when our kids were rotten.  When we look into the eyes of our precious child and see a sociopath looking back at us what can we do?  

Sink into guilt?  Throw up our hands in despair?  Cry?  See a therapist?  Analyze the kid's current psychological and developmental state?  Kids used to be afraid of their parents. Now kids make their parents afraid. 

None of these things empower parents to fix the problem.  Rosemond's answer is take back the reins.  Be the leader in your family.  Order and expect to be obeyed.  

Rather than lacking in kindness, setting clear rules and enforcing powerful consequences set kids and their parents free. Think for a moment about God as our Father.  He certainly doesn't micromanage us. Our world is designed to enforce consequences on us at every stage, yet living in the law of Christ is the truest freedom of all.  Offering our children a clear "law" with consequences designed to help them follow it is nothing more than following in our Father's footsteps.

Rosemond sets out to eliminate a plague of Mommy guilt.  We give it to each other like chicken pox.  And through our worry, fretting, and constantly saving kids that need to suffer we are creating a nation of neurotic sissies.  If on the other hand, we take back our proper position as leaders, leave them alone to "sink or swim" or "stew in their own juices," and insist that they are polite and respectful to everyone they meet, we can raise happy healthy kids.  If we recognize the sin in them and react with all the seriousness it merits (both in discipline and in grace), we can raise kids who see their need for Jesus and follow him in all righteousness. 

I would recommend the book to any parent whose kids are ruling the roost, to any mama suffering from Mommy-guilt and especially to the parents of any kid under 2 so that they can get started on the right foot.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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