To Train Up A Child, chapter 4 part 2
Sometimes I feel like Michael is this bizarre walking contradiction.
THE THREE-YEAR-OLD TRUCKER
As my wife sat talking, an altercation developed between the young mother’s two sons, one and three years old. They both began to scream while tugging at opposite ends of the same toy truck. The mother hollered, “What is wrong with you two?” “He is trying to take my truck,” cried the older of the two. “Billy, give Johnny back his truck,” she yelled. After further peace-shattering threats and screams of protest, he reluctantly handed over the truck.
The younger child then defeatedly left the yard and stumbled into the house to stand beside his mother–thus punishing the other brother by the loss of his company. (It is an adult form of retribution, but children must learn it sometime.)
After the chastisement of loneliness had done its work, the older brother became repentant. Picking up his truck from the sand pile, he made his way into the house where he found the offended younger brother now sitting in his mother’s lap being consoled for his losses on the battlefield. With a smile of reconciliation, he held his truck out to the younger brother. As the younger brother was about to accept the sacrificial peace offering, the mother turned to see the grinning child dribbling sand from his truck onto the floor. “Get that thing out of here!” she commanded.
Being engrossed in her company, she was not thinking of her children as human beings with complex feelings. She just saw another cleaning job to further add to her burden.
At this point a psychological transformation occurred in the child. He had just experienced a “repentance” that had cleansed him of anger and selfishness. Weighing his right to possess the truck against his brother’s company, he had found that he valued his brother more. He was learning important social lessons about give-and-take. He was learning to share and how to control his possessiveness. His heart was surrendered and vulnerable. He had gone the second mile; and when he got to the end of it, he was shocked to find that no one cared. It really didn’t matter. He had laid down his guns, and now he was being fired upon. If he was not going to be allowed to surrender, if they didn’t care enough to accept his offering, he was not going to stand there exposed, grinning like a fool, while being unjustly blasted.
He didn’t understand what all the row was about. Who could be upset about a little sand on the floor? After all, he had been playing in sand all morning—he loved it. As he studied the threatening face before him, you could see the little mental wheels turning.
Immediately the smile left and was replaced by wonder, then puzzlement, finally defiance. Suddenly, an idea came to him. It now being clear she was mad about the sand being dribbled on the floor, he raised his truck to examine it, then defiantly dumped the full contents onto the floor. To his satisfaction it worked. She came apart. She had hurt him and he had successfully retaliated. “Just look at her red face. That will teach her to attack me. Boy, I won this round.”
This mother had missed the opportunity to accept the surrender of this rebel leader. Instead she had driven him back into the countryside to practice his civil dissent in defiance of the established authority. Like many rebels, he had no alternate plans for the future. He lived to be a rebel because of his hatred for the authority that he hoped to punish for perceived injustices.
Now, you may think that I am over-dramatizing the child’s feelings. It is true that he could not tell you what he was thinking. Nor will he be able to understand these same feelings when at fourteen it becomes apparent he has serious problems. But, at three years old, the child’s actions all demonstrate the root bitterness of a rebel.
If the parents don’t change, when the boy becomes a teenager they will throw up their hands and say, “I don’t understand that boy. We have raised him right, taught him right from wrong, taken him to church; and he acts like we are the enemy. We have done our best. It is up to the Good Lord now.”
This mother is failing to tie strings of common respect. The seeds sown at two years of age come up at fourteen.
Interesting. So Michael actually understands what goes on inside of children. Sort of. Michael’s statement of the mother that “being engrossed in her company, she was not thinking of her children as human beings with complex feelings” is so incredibly apt and important. He’s right—many adults do neglect to think of their children as human beings, or to see them as individuals with complex feelings. But then Michael himself seems to do exactly the same thing when he proclaims that the child’s retaliation against his mother’s anger demonstrates “the root bitterness of a rebel.” No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. Did Michael forget that he just wrote that children are human beings with complex feelings?
This really backs up what I’ve been feeling throughout this chapter. This chapter is titled Tying Strings, and it immediately follows a chapter titled Parental Anger, which was preceded by a chapter titled Childish Nature. The first, long introductory chapter was titled To Train Up A Child. It was in that initial chapter that Michael preached the importance of training children to instantly and without question obey every parental command. That, not this, was the chapter Michael led with. The chapters following this one are titled The Rod, Applying the Rod, and The Philosophy of the Rod, and I predict that as we walk through those chapters we will continually shake our head and say “but what about when he said X in the chapter on tying strings?!”
Michael has some good principles and some good ideas, but he surrounds them with things that are so toxic they threaten to drown them out entirely. It’s sad, in a way, because it gives you a glimpse of a Michael who could have gotten it right, who could have written an excellent hands-on, rough and tumble, laugh till your tummy hurts Mountain Papa child rearing manual.
Parent, if you are having problems with your children, just know that you are not alone. They are also having problems with their parents. One party is going to have to adjust in order to help the other. Since you are reading this book, and not the child, and since you are the more experienced of the two, and since God didn’t say, “Children, train up your parents,” the responsibility is completely on you.
One party is going to have to adjust to help the other, it’s the parent who needs to change, etc.—that all sounds well and good until you ask what Michael actually means by that. And there, in the last sentence, Michael gives it away. He means that if you and your child are at odds with each other, you, the parent, have clearly stepped off the path of properly training up your child and you need to return to it. Remember all the time Michael spent earlier blaming parents for not properly “training” their children, suggesting that any misbehavior was a result of the failure of the parent to enforce absolute and unquestioning obedience on the children? I don’t get the feeling Michael is going back on that. So when Michael says, here, that if there is a problem between the parent and child the parent needs to fix it, it gives me chills—and not in a good way.
I remember looking into the face of one of my boys and knowing that the strings had been cut. It was a sad thing to see him slip from the mooring and drift away. At the time I had not formulated the terminology, nor even recognized the principle; but I could see that there was a breach. A fault line was widening the gap. The fault was mine. I had pushed him too hard, demanded too much, and then been critical when he had not performed to my expectations. When, like a turtle, he withdrew into his shell, I could see that he had dismissed me. He had decided to live without me. There was too much pain in association with his father.
I didn’t know how to define it, but being fully responsible for the training, I knew that it was my responsibility. I immediately apologized, lightened up, revised my criticism, found the good in what he had done, and suggested an exciting outing. It took several days of me being sensible, fair, just, and kind to restore the strings of fellowship; but children forgive quickly and are restored if we will let them be.
Again, you can see a good principle here! Michael admits that a parent can be too demanding and too critical! Could he not see that earlier when he spoke of intentionally tempting toddlers with desired toys and then spanking them when they reached for the enticing object? Could he not see then that spanking a child for the child’s natural desire or curiosity might make the child withdraw into her shell, or close down her feelings? It’s like Michael has this odd disconnect.
Michael’s solution to his breach with his son was a good one. And yet, in his chapter titled Attitude Training, which we will get to eventually, Michael tells parents to spank children for temper tantrums. He says to spank a child “on the bare legs or bottom” until “the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper” and until “you have conquered.” Michael continues with this advice: “If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again.” And did I mention that Michael is speaking in that passage of a seven-month-old baby? I don’t understand how in one context Michael can determine that a parent should respond to a child’s sullenness and withdrawal by lightening up and apologizing, by being sensible, fair, just, and kind, and yet in another context he can advise parents to beat their tantruming babies until they give a wounded, submissive whimper.
And so, sometimes I feel like Michael is this bizarre walking contradiction.