To Train Up A Child: Soul Invasion

To Train Up A Child: Soul Invasion May 3, 2018

To Train Up A Child, chapter 21, part 5

Today we finish Michael’s conclusion—and the book. I may at some point try to draw up a post comprehensively critiquing the book’s main themes—with quotes—that people can point to as a basic primer. For now, though, Michael’s conclusion.

Reading back over the text, it seems that I have given a lot of negatives–what not to do, and what is wrong. If I were simply giving instruction for laying out a flower garden, it could all be quite positive; but if a surgeon is instructing student doctors on heart surgery, there will be a lot of negatives. A procedure so invasive requires cautious, narrow limitations with needful warnings. That which is successfully accomplished every day can end in tragedy if done negligently. Child rearing is an invasive procedure. You invade the soul of a developing human being, an eternal living soul. It is not an inconsequential procedure. The whole heavens stand in the waiting room in anticipation of the outcome.

Oh boy.

Child rearing is an invasive procedure. 

You invade the soul of a developing human being. 

I’m trying to figure out how to put into words what feels so off about this. Maybe it’s the word “invade,” which would seem to suggest forced entry. Maybe it’s the idea that we should get inside of our kids’s souls—whatever happened to privacy, or a little mental or emotional space? Maybe it’s that Michael says this in the same book where he advises parents to beat their children until they utter a “submissive whimper.” Is that part of the soul invasion he recommends?

I would use very different words. We teach our children. We guide them. We help them learn how to work through their emotions, how to center themselves, how to treat and interact with others, how to be effective consumers of technology and material goods. We don’t invade their souls. There is just something so creepy and off about that.

Because here’s the thing: When I was a child, my parents could control my behavior, but they did not control my internal life. That was mine. They might spank me for disobedience, they might send me to my room for having an “unpleasant attitude,” but they couldn’t control my thoughts or feelings. Those were mine. And that was important!

I may guide my daughter in how to manage her emotions and feelings—emotions can be big for little people!—but that is where it stops. Her emotions, her thoughts, her feelings—those are hers.

If after reading this you feel frustrated and discouraged, don’t attempt to implement the techniques taught herein. This is not something that can be TRIED or applied a little at a time. It takes insight and confidence to endure. If this is all new to you and you have some doubts, you will not make it through the trials. You should read it again and turn to additional sources of counsel.

On the other hand, if it is as if I have put into words the things you have known all along but never been able to articulate, and these concepts are in your heart, and you are totally convinced of the right of what we have said, then by God’s grace you will see results.

This whole “it takes insight and confidence to endure” bit—this whole you have to implement it whole package bit, you can’t just do it piece by people and by god you have to endure—this is what led to the death of Lydia Schatz. It’s a toxic attempt to short-circuit any feeling that something may be wrong. You set a line and your child will not give and you’ve been spanking them for hours and still they will not submit to your will? You can’t stop. That feeling like maybe you should stop beating this child, maybe whatever you’re trying to do isn’t working—suppress it and endure.

It’s cult-speak is what it is. It leaves no room for ifs and maybes and what ifs. It leaves no room for nuance, or for situations where it doesn’t work. It’s absolute. It’s unchanging. It’s unbending. It runs people over.

Let me close with the words of a four-year-old. A family who had been applying these truths for only a week was visiting us in our front yard. Preparing to leave, the father called their new dog. The excited dog teased the man by running off just as he got within reach. The father became irritable and started speaking critically of the dog’s intelligence. Pleading on behalf of the dog, the four-year-old son said, “But Daddy, you haven’t trained him yet!”

Pleading on behalf of the dog.

What exactly was the father saying about the dog’s intelligence?

I have a problem with the word “train” as applied to child rearing. I don’t train my children. I teach them. They’re going to be adults one day. Training them to jump when I say jump wouldn’t serve them at all, as adults. What skills, exactly, is Michael passing on with his methods?

The premises in this book are just so backwards. It makes me think of a scene in Michael Farris’ Forbid Them Not where a mother is ordered by the court not to spank her 9-year-old son, and suddenly has no way to get through to the child. And I’m reading this section thinking, he’s nine. If you can’t get through to a 9-year-old without spanking him, the problem isn’t that child. And yet, Farris clearly wrote that section thinking see, this is what happens when parents aren’t allowed to spank, like he he was proving some sort of point. Well he was—just not the one he thought he was.

The premise is broken.

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