Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Couple More Dots . . . and they don't connect either.

Dot Three. This dot has to do with Christian child rearing. I've talked about this many times.  What provoked this idea this week was the fact that a lady whom I wrote about before (but I won't mention her name here because last time her husband was able to find me and send me personal messages) was on "Katie" this week.  She had an adoptive son (the adoption wasn't complete) whom died from salt poisoning.    I was drawn to her case because an old college roommate of mine, and someone who I was very involved with in an evangelical group, is one of her pastors and has fought for her in the media.

This same pastor/friend of mine and I had a falling out a few years ago when he was selling "God-inspired" supplements that cure all known diseases including cancer.  It was part of a MLM scheme. I became furious when he told one of our old college friends that she should stop her chemotherapy for breast cancer and buy his supplements because that is what God would want.  But that's another story.

So I wrote about this lady and her case. She has been sentenced to life in prison for murder for supposedly force feeding her son salt as a punishment, which killed him.  After watching the piece on Katie, I felt a wave of guilt as I was quite hard on her.  I said in my first post that, a) I know she loved her son, b) this wasn't murder at all BUT, c) I thought they were stupid in the way they practiced evangelical child-rearing.  I regret such a strong statement.  I am clearly on her side but with reservations.  Of course there was a travesty of justice that a mother would be sentenced to life for murder when, at most, the child's death was accidental.

But here is where I have my doubts.  I spent 25 years deeply in the pit of evangelicalism and I raised five children within that pit. Thankfully, I was coming to my senses about a lot of things well before I walked away from evangelicalism and before my kids were seriously damanged. In the beginning I was a totally conformist parent. But as I started to buck the evangelical (James Dobson, Bill Gothard) norms, I was highly criticized. I've mentioned this before but some of my harshest critics now have grown children who are a complete mess. I'm talking about addicted to Oxycontin, prison time, multiple marriages, alcoholism and etc.   I am quite proud of how my kids turned out.  Four are in graduate school and the other, the artist, is a musician and house painter.  None of them have substance abuse problems, divorces, suicide attempts, alcoholism or anything close. So, surely, by God's grace, we did something right.

Now back to my point.  In the story about the mom (the mom who had an old friend of mine as a spiritual adviser) I smell the same evangelical sub-culture that I had been part of.  She admits that for punishment that she put hot peppers in her son's mouth and the day he died, she had given him a salty seasoning to drink as punishment.  This was the culture I was in.  Now she also claims that she didn't give him enough of the salty drink to kill him, but that he had eaten salt on his own.

 We were taught to beat our kids with wooden spoons. I think this was a Bill Gothard idea. Supposedly  the hollowness of the spoon would inflict a lot of pain, but the spoon would break just before you did serious damage (such as deep bruises that would show up at the pediatrician's office and force him to call the authorities).  I had friends on the mission field that also punished their kids with hot sauce in the mouth.

But I want to move beyond the technical aspects to the philosophical.  I want to try and make sense of the why.

In our old way of thinking, and in harmony with the point of this blog, we were deeply dualists.  We saw everything in life as either from God . . . or the devil.  So, all behavior of children had to come from one of those places.  We were taught that it was actually demons that where trying to take over our children. So, to rid them of the demonic influence we had to take punishment very, very seriously.  With that mind set you can see that the beating of the children was out of love (love + stupidity) in the same way that witches were burned because of the fear they would ruin a whole village.

But when you look at child rearing from a non-dualistic point of view, where behaviors can be explained as a consequence of learning and genetics as well as prior experiences, rather than demons and angels, you can take a rational approach rather than having to beat the hell (literally the "hell") out of the child.  There is also more patience.  In my early parent days,we thought that if we did one thing wrong, the child would be "spoiled" forever and their soul in hell would be our fault.  That is an unbearable pressure to do something . . . anything.

My wife and I are having a conflict over my Saint Bernard.  I regret getting him, even though I love him to death. But my wife hates him and sees him as evil and certainly not a saint.  She is mad at him because he sheds hair.  She is mad at him because he climbs on the couch and our bed. But most of all she is mad at him because he chewed up some really important books.

We see him differently.  She sees it as a moral problem. He thinks that her name for him is "Bad boy!"  I see it as a behavior problem that we must correct (except for the hair shedding) but that is isn't a moral problem. I see it the normal conflict of an animal dwelling among humans. So, I find it frustrating at times but I don't blame him and it doesn't make me hate him as I see things from his perspective.  He sees us sitting on the couch and the floor is hard. He likes to climb up to be close to us and etc.

So this is the child rearing attitude that I think is the problem (don't take me wrong. My wife didn't see our kids the way she sees our dog). So, this is why one passage in the whole of the Bible "Spare the rod and spoil the child" has created a whole industry about punishment for children.  Okay, enough for a day.

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