Monday, April 11, 2011

Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve

Image credit: airpark on Flickr
"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, and that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth." ~ Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis

 When our first daughter was born, one of the earliest pieces of advice I got was regarding her sinful nature.  I was cautioned that she would try to cry and manipulate me, and that she would want to nurse more often than she should.  Um, really?  Why would she try to nurse too much?  So that she could get a tummy ache?  Oooooookay.  (And may I just say that many of the religious people I have met who think that babies are gluttonous sure seem to have a double standard when it comes to adult eating?) She would cry from an evil desire to have her mami hold her?  Because surely comforting "the smallest of these" is bad, right?  It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me that a child who didn't even understand object permanence was lying awake plotting malicious, sophisticated headgames.

But many Christians believe that.  Tedd Tripp advocates spanking an eight-month old for squirming during a diaper change.  Dobson, Ezzo and the rest of the punitive Christian authors give similar examples, although the exact age may vary.  They all believe that our children have a sinful nature that is expressed in any behavior that is not convenient for the parent, and that this sin must be dealt with by punishment from the parents, usually corporal punishment.

Why the obsession with sin and punishment?  The Bible also teaches that we are made in the image of God.  It teaches that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Why is their teaching so out of balance?

Even more, why do they teach that parents must focus on ferreting out sin and punishing it, whether it is a child's nature or not?  Isn't the Holy Spirit the one who convicts us of sin?  And isn't the only way to be forgiven through Jesus?  Why do they teach that parents must convict and that spanking takes away sin?

I think that they are choking on gnats and swallowing camels.  Their eyes are intently scrutinizing babies for splinters without noticing their own planks.

There is currently an investigation into a church funded and supported by Christian author Lori Wick where the pastor advocates hitting babies as young as six weeks with wooden dowels 18 inches long and more than half an inch thick.  Despite bruises and welts left on the infants, he believes it was necessary to counter their sinful natures, which were expressing themselves through such heinous acts as fussing in the middle of a church service.

We want to think that those are fringe extremists.  Perhaps so, but there sure are a lot of them out there.  And the pro-spanking teachers never seem to consider that maybe, just maybe, instead of encouraging the parents to spank longer and harder, that they should have the parents deal with anger and self-control.  Glue sticks and plumbing line are replacing belts and paddles because they don't leave marks on the outside.  (Which seems to indicate a desire for deception by the spankers.)  However, just like tenderizing meat breaks down the muscle and tissue, so do those little "rods", eventually resulting in kidney failure.  But the abusers deem it necessary to save their souls from Hell.

Leaving aside the matters of common sense, human decency and child development, which don't seem to figure into the teachings much anyway, why would they suppose that constant suspicion is a good foundation for a parent-child relationship?  Would that benefit any other relationship?  Do you constantly look out for examples of a sinful nature in your spouse? Is his failure to put away his socks an example of the evil in his heart?  Or could there possibly be reasons that don't precisely fall into the category of sin behind it?  Most of those authors would justify behavior in an adult male that they would not forgive in a child.  Why can't they extend any grace to a tiny infant?

When Jesus talked about children, He didn't focus on sinful natures and warn parents to be on guard for any demonstration of rebellion.  Instead, He told the adults that they needed to become like children.  Yet so many who take His name violently insist that babies become like adults without ever giving them time to grow into that. 

I don't believe that immaturity is sin.  I don't believe that crying, or being awake during the night, or wiggling during a diaper change is evil.  In fact, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Jesus had colic as a baby!  I think it is absurd to say that those things are sinful.  I will go even further and say that if a child is not capable of understanding or has not developmentally reached the point of impulse control to truly make a choice about a behavior, it cannot be considered a moral issue.

What about older children who can consciously make good or bad choices?  Then I believe that the whole sinful nature thing can be seen.  However, I still don't think it matters in terms of punishment.   Punishment does not change a sinful heart.  Only Jesus does.  My job is still to teach, to enforce healthy boundaries, to help them make amends, and to show love and grace.  It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict us of sin.  I can help model and teach repentance, but ultimately that is between them and God.

I can't help but remember that Satan is the Accuser.  If I were to fix my mind on detecting sin in my children I would be sliding into dangerous territory.

What if, instead of focusing on judging and punishing what we deem to be sin in our children (and might be misjudging completely--after all, who knows the heart of another?), we worked at "restoring one another gently"?  Yes, we are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  We are also sons and daughters of God.  Which should we consider more important?

26 comments:

granny2five said...

As your contrary auntie, I, once again, think your pendelum has swung just a bit too far to one side. However, I totally agree with much of what you've written here. Your thinking is so deep and child-centered. That's not wrong. Just concerns me a bit that your way is the only "best" way. I learned when my sis and I were raising our children that, even though we parented differently, we were growing good kids - BOTH of us. I think, knowing them as adults, that you would have to agree. Just like the avenues of life, many paths lead us to our goal. We don't all have to take Route 66 to get to St. Louis! Love you - as ALWAYS!

dulce de leche said...

Lots and lots of love right back to you! I appreciate your viewpoint so very much. I am still learning, and still making mistakes, for sure.

Truthfully, I don't want to be child-centered. I want to be Christ-centered. Sometimes it is hard for me to see exactly what that looks like.

I also am grateful that grace is for moms, too, and that God does lead each of us through our own experiences and our own stories. And I totally agree about the wonderful adults in your families! <3 <3 <3

granny2five said...

Well said, my dear! I've never thought you elevated your concern for your children above your concern for pleasing your God. Sorry if I inferred that. You simply amaze me sometimes - in a GOOD way!

Hippie Housewife said...

Well said as usual, Dulce. It's so strange to me that a reflexive survival action - an infant crying - would be considered manipulative and sinful. I loved the way you summed up a parent's job; you really covered it all in those four things.

dulce de leche said...

@Granny2Five, thank you so much! <3 Please don't ever feel like you need to apologize for any comments. I was just thinking of how often I have heard that we must be parent-centered instead of child-centered, and how easy it is to pendulum swing. Your cautions are good ones. <3

@Hippie Housewife, thank so very much! <3 I appreciate your encouragement so much, and all of the posts that you write that help me to see things more clearly. <3

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

When my daughter was a baby, I followed my instincts. When she cried, I picked her up. When she was hungry, I fed her. But now that she's a toddler, I feel at a loss. I like what you're saying, but I'm having a hard time fully embracing it. It's so contrary to everything I have believed and been taught. And I do fear the pendulum swing - I don't want to be so focused on my children and how they can do no wrong that I completely miss them being sinners.

dulce de leche said...

((((Ashley))). I do believe that children can do wrong. However, I don't think I need to focus on them being sinners, either. Instead, I feel like my responsibility it to teach them how to do what they should. That is a lot of work, and needs to be repeated often. I need to model the behavior I want to see (that is hard!). I also need to enforce healthy boundaries, which means protecting other people's rights and property. Non-punitive parenting is *NOT* letting them run wild and do things that are destructive.

So, for example, if my two year old grabs her brother's game without permission, I don't need to shame her or punish her. I *do* need to teach her not to take things that do not belong to her without permission. I need to give her words to ask for permission or to see what she really wants (to be included with the older kids' play). I need to help maintain boundaries that keep my son's belongings safe. I need to help her make amends. (Give it back, help fix something if she messed it up, apologize). There is a lot of teaching going on all the time, which is really what discipline is all about.

Anonymous said...

I followed a friend here... I agree concerning babies, but the older a child gets is it not our job to guide them? I think to generalize and say "We don't look for our husband's sin constantly, do we?" is totally off target. Our husbands are grown men who've been raised by their own mothers. I think we WAY over analyze discipline to the point of extremes. Kids are pretty black and white. When there is an action, there has to be a reaction. When they misbehave, there must be a consequence (just as in the adult world and as God does with us). Consistency through spanking or time out is absolutely a must! I formerly worked in a daycare through college and then became a teacher and could NOT BELIEVE the way kids were talking to adults and their own parents. Not just one child, but almost ALL of them argued non stop with their parents who usually always gave in to their child's demands. I think this is so unfair to the child and more cruel than a time out ever could be. This is not how the real world works and to have them head out among peers and other adults with only their needs and wants first in their thoughts will leave them with a rude awakening. I argue that our jobs as parents IS to show them the consequence of their sin and what behavior is and is not appropriate. How else can we adequately prepare them for being a friend, a citizen, a church member, a spouse, or even a Christian? With no real respect for authority, how can they truly follow Christ? With many children (of course not all) we can't simply just tell them what they're doing is wrong. They are most often experiential and need a physical reminder (be it a time out or a spanking, I'm not advocating either) of what happened with a past behavior. Goodness I'm rambling. This is a touchy point for me! Forgive me if I misunderstood your point! Thank you for letting me share my point of view and for letting me read yours! God bless you. :)
Sandy Sipp

Anonymous said...

I followed a friend here from fb... I agree concerning babies, but the older a child gets is it not our job to guide them? I think to generalize and say "We don't look for our husband's sin constantly, do we?" is totally off target. Our husbands are grown men who've been raised by their own mothers. I think we WAY over analyze discipline to the point of extremes. Kids are pretty black and white. When there is an action, there has to be a reaction. When they misbehave, there must be a consequence (just as in the adult world and as God does with us. Just as a friend calls us on our sin or our hubbys hold us accountable). Consistency through spanking or time out is absolutely a must! I formerly worked in a daycare through college and then became a teacher and could NOT BELIEVE the way kids were talking to adults and their own parents. Not just one child, but almost ALL of them argued non stop with their parents who usually always gave in to their child's demands. I think this is so unfair to the child and more cruel than a time out ever could be. This is not how the real world works and to have them head out among peers and other adults with only their own needs and wants first in their thoughts will leave them with a rude awakening. I argue that our jobs as parents IS to show them the consequence of their sin and what behavior is and is not appropriate. How else can we adequately prepare them for being a friend, a citizen, a church member, a spouse, or even a Christian? With no real respect for authority, how can they truly follow Christ? With many children (of course not all) we can't simply just tell them what they're doing is wrong. They are most often experiential and need a physical reminder (be it a time out or a spanking, I'm not advocating either) of what happened with a past behavior. Goodness I'm rambling. This is a touchy point for me! Forgive me if I misunderstood your point! Thank you for letting me share my view and for letting me read yours! God bless you. :)
Sandy Sipp

Mike and Christie said...

Excellent post.... I too do not think you are kid focused by trying to be Christ focused..... :)
I have always thought about Christ as a child... in Scripture when he was teaching at the synagogue, his parents actually reprimanded him. He went with them, but did say, "Didn't you know I would be teaching in my Father's house?" Some would consider that "talking back"!
Our daughter said one time.... I know why Jesus didn't start his ministry till he was 30! Why....
Because when his parents found him they said, "You are grounded until you are 30"..... :)

dulce de leche said...

Sandy, welcome and thank you so much for reading and commenting! I appreciate you taking the time to do that. :)

Regarding the arguing/backtalk to adults, in the real world, we should speak up, but do so respectfully. One of the skills that I am teaching my children is how to disagree while still being polite and respectful of others. It is a difficult balance sometimes, even for me as an adult, but they are learning well.

I agree completely that children need to learn to be respectful and to make wise choices. Where I would disagree is that punishment is required for them to learn.

In my experience, if a child is only doing something to avoid punishment, then eventually they will decide to either be sneaky and not get caught or that doing what they want is worth the price of the punishment. That is not how I want to motivate my children.

I don't follow God because I am afraid of hell or any other punishment. I want to obey Him because I love and trust Him. That is the foundation for teaching my children, as well.

Love is a more powerful motivator than fear.

dulce de leche said...

Thanks, Christie! That made me laugh, but it is an excellent point!

CatholicMommy said...

What a thought-provoking post! I agree that punishment, especially corporal punishment, is not a healthy way to raise a child. Natural consequences do wonders. I was rarely punished as a child; I can remember three times, in fact. One of my coaches asked my mom once, "What do you do if Liana is acting up to make her behave?" "I say, 'Liana.'" "Well, right, but when she doesn't listen?" "I say, 'LiANa.'" That was all it took. I had a good relationship with my parents and wanted to please them. I hope I can do half so well with my own child(ren).

dulce de leche said...

That is beautiful, Liana! Thank you so much for sharing. It is so encouraging to me to hear of other families where it 'worked'. :)

CatholicMommy said...

Decided to expand a bit on my comment... now it's a whole blog post of my own! :-)

Kelly said...

"Punishment does not change a sinful heart. Only Jesus does." - LOVE this.

The idea of hitting such young infants makes me so very, very sad. What has gone wrong with our Christianity that any of us could think that was OK? :(

Keep writing your beautiful posts, please - you are such an amazing advocate for right!

dulce de leche said...

@CatholicMommy, Hooray! I can't wait to read it! <3

@Kelly, thank you so very much. I appreciate your posts so much. And that is such a good question. IME, most people who hit babies were hit themselves, so it is normal to them. If they haven't studied child development, they usually overestimate the infant's cognitive abilities, and they have a lot of fear. And in some cases, a lot of hidden anger that doesn't have healthy outlets. They were taught not to question those in authority, so if their pastor tells them to do this, it is hard for them to resist. I think most of them sincerely believe that they are doing the right thing, though. I read the statement that the father in the Wick case made to the police and it was heartbreaking. :(

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

Something you said in your last comment, Dulce, reminded me of something. A friend of mine was telling me that kids whose parents did not employ punitive discipline methods tended not to use them with their own children. So I like to think that I am training a future generation of grace-based discipline parents. :-)

dulce de leche said...

That is so true, Ashley! Statistically, parents who were not spanked themselves are not likely to spank their own children. The only cases I have known where they did were when the parent hadn't learned any other tools, and swung over to permissiveness. Then when things were out of control, they began spanking as a desperate attempt to bring order back. But by giving them positive tools, we are preparing them to gently parent our grandchildren. <3 <3 <3

Samuel Martin said...

Hi.... Really enjoyed this. Very inspirational and very powerful. Gets me in the mood to write:) In fact, I might not be able to finish this post :) Will share about this. Especially liked your suggestions about "the baby" Jesus and maybe the Lord having colic. I think there is so much more to be said here from a mom's perspective. Maybe there is the seed for a very interesting article. I can share more if you like.

One of your dear sisters said "your pendulum has swung just a bit too far too one side". This reminds me of the following quote.

"...we must bear in mind that the cause of learning has often been promoted by scholars who are prepared to take a risk and expose their brain-waves to the pitiless criticisms of others" (F.F.Bruce, "Modern Studies on the Judean
Scrolls," CT, I (11):5).

Please keep taking risks and sharing. You're one of those "scholars" Bruce talked about. :)

Sam Martin
www.biblechild.com

dulce de leche said...

Sam, thank you so much for the encouragement! I am so honored to be learning from and posting with parents and writers like you. I need the criticism, too, (although I am thankful that this wasn't pitiless, by any means). :). I have so much more growing to do. :)

Crystal said...

After reading your post: Wow. Just wow. I subscribe to Samuel Martin's newsletter, and he had a link I followed. I'm so glad, you wrote this with such compelling words. "Yes, we are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We are also sons and daughters of God. Which should we consider more important?"
My journey started with "The Continuum Concept" to Scott Noelle's work, and Dwight Pryor explaining the incredible love of God the Father, which made me read the Bible differently: God's kindness leads us to repentence (Romans); when you call I will answer (Psalms), etc. I realized that the way I was taught to parent is the opposite of how my heavenly Father parents ME! When I've been chastened, God has never taken ANYTHING away from me, has NEVER HURT me, and most importantly, NEVER SHAMED me. EVER.

Crystal said...

I'm so glad I followed Samuel Martin's link to this page, I read it and was floored by your compelling words. "Yes, we are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We are also sons and daughters of God. Which should we consider more important?" My journey started with 'The Continuum Concept', Scott Noelle's work, Dwight Pryor explaining the Fatherliness of God, which led me to reading the Bible differently: God's kindness leads us to repentance (Romans); when you call I will answer (Psalms). When I've been chastened by God, He has never taken anything away from me, He has never hurt/harmed me, and most importantly, He as never shamed me. Samuel Martin's book (I see he's posted above me-) has been revelatory and I'm going to do everything in my power to share this message.

Lisa said...

Thank you for writing this. I have also grown increasingly uncomfortable with the strong focus on the sinful nature of children, and the unspoken but underlying belief that corporal punishment can rid children of sin. I do believe in the sinful nature, but it is not the sinful nature of children, but the sinful nature of PEOPLE! Including parents with the rod in their hands. My job as parent is to lead my children to God, first and foremost, not to beat the evil out of them.

hjurgelis said...

I've seen a lot of posts lately that are against spanking, and I see merit in what you all are saying. My son is 8 months old right now, and I want to be sure that my husband and I will raise him right. But, I'm concerned with how to discipline him later. You are right that it is God's job to show our child what sin is, but we still need to teach them God's ways. "Train up a child in the way he should go...", you know?

So my main question is: How do you discipline a child without spanking them?

I'd love examples. Thanks so much!

Hannah J
dreamingofperfect.weebly.com

dulce de leche said...

Hannah, thank you so much for commenting! You asked such an important question! I have a series on Opening Up the GD Toolbox that you might find helpful. There are also some fantastic books by L R Knost and Rebecca Eanes that are extermely practical and give real-life situations (and both of them are devoted Christians). One of my favorite resources is www.gentlechristianmothers.com. The message board there is soooo helpful in addressing individual situations. Also the Hippie Housewife How's of Discipline Post is excellent. I can't link right now, but there are links under the Christian Resources tab on the home page. :)