TTUAC: I Made a Child That I Don’t Like

To Train Up A Child, pp. 

This week we finish the chapter on parental anger.

I MADE A CHILD THAT I DON’T LIKE

The reason you are angry toward your children is that you don’t like them. “Oh! I love my children very much.” I didn’t say you didn’t love them. I say there are occasions when you just don’t like them, for the simple reason that at such times they are very unlikable. It is impossible to like a whining, selfish, self-centered, spoiled brat.

Okay, ugh. Look, there are times I don’t “like” my husband. There are times I don’t “like” my friends. In essentially every relationship you ever have with another individual, there will be times you get fed up or annoyed with them. That’s just how it works. So of course there will be times you don’t “like” your child. If there never were such times, I would wonder whether your child was being given the space they needed to develop into an independent person.

And I think one thing Michael misses in his rush to call children “whining, selfish, self-centered, spoiled brats” is that there are plenty of times when children don’t “like” their parents and plenty of times when parents are “whining,” “selfish,” “self-centered” and “spoiled.” You see, this is why I don’t like the word “brat.” It’s a word we only use for children even though adults can and do act in the exact same ways. And to be perfectly honest, this book is all about teaching parents to be selfish, self-centered, and spoiled. It says to parents, “you are entitled to having your own way, always, and must hit or otherwise punish those weaker than you until you get your own way.” It says to parents, “when those weaker than you don’t immediately give you what you want, they are the ones who are being rebellious, evil, and selfish.” What is more selfish or self-centered than that?

We cannot help approving of that which is good and lovely, and despising that which is ugly and unwholesome. God himself has such feelings (Ps. 11:5). We are involuntarily very fair about it. When we think we are ugly in spirit we equally dislike ourselves.

I think Michael is probably interpreting “ugly in spirit” differently, but let me address this, because this is a common complaint I hear about kids. The thing to understand is that kids aren’t born knowing how to handle their feelings. We as adults have spent decades learning how to properly handle our feelings, and even then we sometimes handle them badly. We should absolutely not expect children to be in complete and perfect control of their feelings. What we should do is work to help children learn to handle their feelings well.

It is okay for some children to have occasional bad moods. After all, we as adults sometimes have bad moods. Sometimes all a child needs os space and the permission to feel sad or angry. Of course, sometimes children lash out when they are angry and hurt people or break things. In these cases, they need to be told that this is not appropriate and be offered better ways to express and handle their anger. In other cases, bad moods are coming from an actual source that needs to be addressed, such as feeling neglected or overlooked. And sometimes children may get in a habit of responding to things going wrong with bad moods. In these cases, parents can talk to children about different ways to respond to problems and help them start more positive habits. But as you will notice, Michael doesn’t consider any of this.

You must face the fact that there are times when you just do not like your own child. I have observed the sometimes intense dislike of a mother for her teenage daughter or son. You may say, “But no one else dislikes the youth.” If they had to live with him on the same terms as the parent, they would.

Michael doesn’t understand how being a teenager works. Teenagers can be especially trying for parents because they, the teenagers, are at a stage in their lives where they are separating from their parents and becoming independent people. This is normal and good, although there are obviously better and worse ways for parents and teens to handle this process. And what is with this continual focus on how hard it can be for parents to live with their teenage children? Is Michael incapable of understanding that teenagers may find it equally hard to live with their parents?

Now, why is your child unlikable? You will not like the answer: You made him that way through your training techniques. You may say, “But, I have not instituted any training techniques. I just scold them when it gets to be too much to bear.” Precisely.

All children are trained. Their responses and actions are a reflection of their association to their principal caretakers. To neglect careful nurturing and training while trying to keep them in line through threat, intimidation, nagging, anger, and an occasional outburst of spanking is the most negative of training exercises.

If your parenting consists of scolding your children when they get on your nerves, you’re doing it wrong. If you use threat, intimidation, nagging, anger, and the occasional outburst of spanking to keep your kids in line, you’re doing it wrong. Also, I’m starting to think Michael may be unaware that there are other parenting styles out there beyond his methods and this scold-and-spank-when-they-get-annoying technique he keeps contrasting his methods with. And Michael uses the word “careful nurturing.” What is he talking about? So far the only thing he’s told parents to do is implement “training,” where they set up situations to tempt their children and then cause their children physical pain when they quite naturally go for the bait. That’s not what I call “nurturing.”

Most automobile drivers are aware that the radar patrolman will usually allow motorists to go four-miles-per-hour over the speed limit without issuing a ticket. Consequently, most motorists will drive four or five miles-per-hour over the speed limit. When you allow your children to be disobedient four or five times before applying discipline, you are training them to disobey.

There is nothing cute or lovable about a whining “brat.” To allow a child to whine and disobey is to mold a personality and character that you will eventually find hard to like. By taking control and teaching them to control their emotions and to instantly obey, the child will be cheerful and pleasant. Then the mother will like her daughter as well as love her. The child reciprocates the mother’s delight by loving and honoring her even more. They can both enjoy each other’s company. The mother is rested and refreshed by spending time with her children.

What. No. Michael got the closest to actual good advice when he referred to the necessity of parents “teaching [their children] to control their emotions,” but then he dashed any progress he might have made by following it with “and to instantly obey.” Also, I don’t like the use of the word “control.” I prefer the word “handle,” because as someone coming from this background I find that “control” suggests stifling your emotions and ignoring them rather than learning to handle them in healthy and appropriate ways. But even if you give Michael a pass on that, to follow that with “and to instantly obey”? What? Instant obedience has nothing to do with learning to handle your emotions, unless . . .

You know what, let me explain this by outlining what happened in my parents’ home growing up when they applied Michael’s teachings in this area. Bad moods and bad attitudes weren’t allowed. We were never taught to handle our emotions, we were just told not have them. “Wipe that frown off your face.” “Go to your room and come back when you’re ready to be cheerful.” “Obedience is complete, immediate, without question, and cheerful.” “Obedience with a sullen mood is disobedience.” It’s actually a lot easier than you might think to be incredibly angry and unhappy inside while pasting on a smile and an obliging “yes ma’am”!

In other words, Michael’s solution to children’s bad moods or negative attitudes is for parents to order their children to be cheerful, and for the children to obey. And then, Michael says, parents will like their kids. What about parents who don’t want robots for children? What about actually teaching children how to handle their emotions in appropriate or healthy ways? Read the last four sentences of Michael’s excerpt above, and notice how narrowly focus on the mother rather than on the daughter. What Michael is saying here is that parents should simply order their children not to have bad moods, require them to obey by holding the rod over them, and then marvel in what pleasant children they have created. Ugh.

THE FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD

Talking with a mother concerned about the attitude of her fourteen-year-old, it became apparent she just did not like her own child. The mother’s disapproval and frequent criticism had caused the daughter to become morose.

Actually, she was a very good and obedient daughter. She was cheerful with others, but sullen with her mother. The mother was wondering if she should use the rod to correct bad attitudes. She was afraid she had lost all control and influence. The mother had a very stormy youth and was anxious to prevent her daughter from the same fate. The more irritated the mother became and the harder she pushed, the more ground she lost.

I knew this family when the daughter was a child. I recall that even then the mother didn’t like her daughter. Taking her own ugly attitude to Christ, the mother found cleansing and healing. The teenage daughter quickly showed tremendous improvement.

This confuses me, because if you ignore a few underlying minor points, it’s actually really good advice. When it comes to conflict between parents and teens it is often the case that much of it could be solved if parents would stop trying to “fix” their children and accept that those children are growing up and will soon be adults. It’s also a very bad idea to be too critical of children during these years, or really, during any stage. And yes, it is often the case that the more a parent tries to control a teen, the worse the situation becomes.

What I’m trying to figure out, though, is how this fits in with what came before it. Michael just gave this advice—”By taking control and teaching them to control their emotions and to instantly obey, the child will be cheerful and pleasant”—and now he’s saying that sometimes parents need to let go rather than taking control. I guess I feel like sometimes Michael hits on something that’s actually good advice, but that advice is always set in among toxic ideas that completely overpower it. If Michael wants parents to consider the role of their own negativity or controlling nature in their children’s sullenness, he needs to state that clearly and unambiguously, and he doesn’t do that.

Sometimes in the areas of talent and personality, parents have narrow expectations for their children and are critical when they fall short. But, more prominently, where the parents are poor trainers, they come to dislike the child they have produced. If you have painted a picture that you don’t like, don’t blame the canvas. Get out the brushes and paint over the mess.

I keep reading the first two sentences here and trying to understand a way in which they don’t blatantly contradict each other. Is Michael saying it’s bad for parents to have narrow expectations for their children and to be critical of them, or just that this is something parents do? In light of what came immediately before, I’m going with the former, though again, it’s ambiguous. But if that’s what he’s saying, why does he follow it by saying that it’s also bad if parents don’t require absolute, complete, and unquestioning obedience from your children. How does that even work? I guess . . . require absolute, complete, and unquestioning obedience from your children, but don’t give them too many commands? Again, Michael is not being clear, and he’s letting any good advice he may have be drowned in the toxic advice that surrounds and overwhelms it.

And this idea that if you don’t like your kid, it’s your fault and you need to start over and try Michael’s training techniques again . . . I just don’t like these messages. If your kid is constantly sullen, angry, and mean, it might be a good time to reexamine how you’re treating that child, but all you can control is your own actions. Your child is not a blank canvas where you can choose what to paint and then paint it, choosing the pattern and controlling the outcome. When it comes to raising children, you can control the input, but not the output. And in my experience at least, the more you think you can control that output, the more stifled your child will feel.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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