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In parenting, who trains whom?

Family

My son recently posted a short video of his new baby girl with this caption: “For my whole life until about three months ago I would have thought this was entirely boring. Now I can’t stop watching it.” What comes naturally for most women is a mystery to men (you never see the guys clustering around the latest newborn at church, making silly faces and high-pitched noises)—until the product of their own genes is taking up room in the house and an even bigger place in their hearts and minds.

Of course, I go nuts over babies, and so does roughly half of the Facebook universe. Every time one of my friends posts a photo of the latest grandchild you can check off the adjectives that are certain to appear: Adorable! Precious! Beautiful! Such fun! And so on. It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t say much about babies, and certainly not in cooing terms. Babies are very serious business there: Specifically promised or providentially planned, each one takes his place in the lineage of God’s people and is expected to grow up as soon as possible. “Children” are referenced far more than babies—one reason, obviously, because they don’t stay babies very long. But also because children are both a privilege and a problem.

Contemporary adults who are serious about “parenting” understand this, even if they wouldn’t use the word “problem.” That’s why James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline is still in print, and theories as diverse as To Train up a Child (Michael and Debi Pearl) and Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) attract leagues of fans and proselytizers. Another Facebook friend with a 9-month-old boy just posted a link to the Natural Child Project, which leans toward the democratic parenting advocated by the late Thomas Gordon. My friend linked to an excerpt from Gordon’s Discipline That Works, titled “Children Don’t Really Misbehave.” It seems that “misbehavior” is just a label we adults slap on when the kid isn’t doing what we want him to: “The adult experiences the badness, not the child. … When parents and teachers grasp this critical distinction, they … begin to see all actions of youngsters simply as behaviors, engaged in solely for the purpose of getting needs met.” (Emphasis in the original.)

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I’m not sure what need my son—the same one who now can’t get enough of his baby girl—was trying to meet the day he ganged up with a little friend to push down and kick a third boy, who was only a toddler. We three moms were very upset, and it wasn’t because of our adult hang-ups. What the two boys did was wrong. They knew better and did it anyway. The transgression was the attraction. This is the soul of depravity, in the heart of a 3-year-old.

That’s not to splash cold water on cooing babies, who are undeniably precious. Love them, cuddle them, talk to them, because they desperately need that. Just remember it’s the parent who does the training, and not the other way round.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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