An Amateur Parent Reviews an Obscure Parenting Tract

Review of Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle

Two necessary precautionary disclaimers:

  • As of this writing, I am the parent of a one-month-old. Which means I have exactly zero real-world experience when it comes to raising children who can do more than eat and scream and poop.
  • When you say “Duty” out loud, it sounds like “Doody.” Be prepared to giggle. 

This little tract by J.C. Ryle (available for free here and here) is short, well-written, and full of excellent advice. Specifically, he provides 17 guidelines that are the, well, duties of parents. For example:

1. First, then, if you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would. Remember, children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong. (pg.9)

2. Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience. I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him. Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys,—these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily.” (pg. 11)

Which alone should tell you that this is the sort of parenting book you’re unlikely to find in the “Childrearing” section of your local bookstore. Rather than being full of life-affirmation, or encouraging individualism, or whatever other tripe is currently making the pop-psychology circuits, Ryle reminds us that we are to love the little sinners while teaching them that they, like us, are little sinners. 

To that end, we are to guide them according to Godly principles which build the kinds of habits that do three things. First and most importantly, these principles teach them to turn to Christ (this involves our regular prayers that by grace our children will do so!). Second, these principles properly instilled help to offset sin. Not cure it, of course—we’ll only see that in heaven, but at least offset some of the more vicious external expressions of it (the famous “Second Use” of the law). Finally, these principles help our children grow into responsible, virtuous, and useful adults in society. These last two are of course distant second and third after the first one, but they are points to consider nonetheless.

I suspect the big objection that most people will have is that the advice herein is largely general rather than specific. For example, Ryle tells us we should discipline our kids, but doesn’t give exact instructions on how to do so. Of course, had he actually given exact instructions, then it’s likely that my objection would be that he is too specific and that his Victorian sensibilities no longer apply to our sensitive and enlightened age. So it may very well be that Ryle has done the right thing in providing general points and left it up to us to fill in the details as needed by each individual child. And to be fair, even his general advice on discipline is excellent:

As to the best way of punishing a child, no general rule can be laid down. The characters of children are so exceedingly different, that what would be a severe punishment to one child, would be no punishment at all to another. I only beg to enter my decided protest against the modern notion that no child ought ever to be whipped.*

Doubtless some parents use bodily correction far too much, and far too violently; but many others, I fear, use it far too little.  (pg. 56)

Moderation even in discipline, then, is the goal. We should discipline, but not with cruelty or joy on our part. Rather, each child should be discipline according to what works best for that child.

As hopefully even the short notes here have suggested, this is an excellent book and well worth the short time it takes to read it.

Highly recommended. 

*Lest we be put off by the word “whipped”, that’s just an older form of “spanking,” and need not necessarily involve an actual whip. Those of us who grew up in the rural parts of the country undoubtedly heard this holdover of the English language when we were threatened with a “whipping.” Coming from our parents, this meant neither fists nor the horsewhip, but most often a wooden spoon.

This book was provided for free by King of the Blog Paul Miller. I was required to write a review (he strongly implied in the subtext of his email that my knees would be broken if I did not), but not necessarily a positive one.

Dr. Coyle Neal is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where he tries to only giggle at appropriate times.

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