Saturday, September 24, 2005

Parenting woes

I cannot recall the reference, but I once read a story where the protagonist was recalling his childhood. He had committed some idiot atrocity. As I remember it, he had grossly endangered both his own life and that of his little sister for the sake of a physical thrill. It ended with his sister breaking her leg, when she could easily have died. To his credit, when the game went awry and she became endangered, the boy did everything he could to save her, hence her broken leg instead of an early death.

When his father discovered this, he gently called the boy out to the woodshed (after tending to the daughter), and announced he was going to strap the boy, and that with each strap the boy needed to cry out to God that the sister was OK. The boy willingly complied.

Later, the boy crept down the stairs of his house, to see his father weeping by the fire while being embraced by his mother, the belt used for the strapping burning in the fireplace.

Among the points I think the author was trying to make was that there are times parents have to use severe consequences to correct the behavior of their children, and that the parents don't like using the methods, may even outright abhor them, but the need to teach overrides all other considerations.

The infliction of pain, oddly enough, is one of those morally neutral behaviors. The intent determines its moral validity. When my son has a splinter in his foot, I must dig it out, which increases his pain. Yet, this is morally valid, in that I am subjecting him to some pain now in exchange for freedom from future pain. But, if I slap my son because I want him to know who is in charge, that is an act of domination, not one of love, and the infliction of pain is sinful. Sadism is clearly sinful.

But the pain associated with learning, so long as the teacher is doing it out of a genuine desire to teach, to discipline (from dictionary.com:
dis┬Ěci┬Ěpline Audio pronunciation of "discipline" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (ds-pln)
n.

1. Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.)(we might call this high discipline),
there the intent is one of loving correction, even if the methods are painful for the teacher. No truly loving parent or teacher enjoys seeing their children in pain, but sometimes that pain must take place for the child to learn whatever minor disciplines are required to achieve the high discipline defined above.


There are times I really dislike my job as a father. There are times when the stubbornness, defiance or foolishness of my children demands severe consequences, and I so want to not hurt them further, yet I know that if I do not discipline, the future hurt will be even worse. So I do apply the discipline, in the hopes that they will become disciplined themselves.

But there is absolutely no satisfaction in punishment. Right now, I fervently wish I would never have to punish again.

Sadly, my kids are still young. Now, after just having passed my 40th birthday, I understand the appeal of grandaparenting.



There, you are considered a good role player if you DON'T discipline!
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