Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Robot Parents

I know my last blog post was about asking for parenting advice.  And I still stand by that encouragement.  Just watch out for legalism, primarily your own.  Let me explain.

I read a lot of parenting books when my kids were babies on up through the years.  Some might consider some of the books and materials I followed as controversial, but I don’t think they really were.  I think what made them controversial was legalistic robot-Christians.  Following advice legalistically without using your own Biblical research, discernment, and common sense is foolish. 

I will give myself as an example.  When we were new parents we listened to tapes from popular Christian-parenting literature of the time, Growing Kids God’s Way and Preparation for Parenting by Gary and Ann Marie Ezzo.   The information was good.  I think many of the principles would be wisely taken by many parents today (things like respect for people and property, gradually allowing independence in your child, etc.) The controversy came in their advice regarding scheduled feedings (and their own legalistic views regarding their own advice, “God’s Way”, and eventually apparently their own pride.  Their material was particularly “cold” as well. )   Their advice for babies was to feed your child every 3 hours on a schedule.  It made sense and it actually worked.  Our first child slept through the night and ate on a schedule by 2 months old.  The problem?  She did not gain an ounce for a month (or was it two?).  Now, I don’t blame the Ezzos or necessarily their materials. Even my pediatrician said, “well, she’s not hungry if she’s sleeping through the night.”  I do think, though, that if I were more in tune with my child and less concerned about a schedule, her weight may have been normal for that time period.  She’s 18 now, with no known eating disorders ; ).   Around that time, accusations started coming towards the Ezzos regarding parents with failure to thrive infants using their materials. 

Really!? If your child is wasting away, you still follow a schedule?  I’d like to think that I was at least smarter than that....maybe I wasn't.  The advice wasn’t bad.  In fact, the advice was PRINCIPLE. 

At any rate, my mistake caused me to come to the conclusion that most advice is just that, advice.  With my subsequent children I did still follow Preparation for Parenting principles, but I was a little wiser.  I made my own modifications (if you're interested in the details, I think I have them documented somewhere).  This did work to gradually shift the “eat now” body clock to the day and the “sleep now” body clock to the night.   It took a little longer with them, but they were still sleeping through the night by 12 weeks or so.....and happy and well-fed babies. 

Another controversial book To Train Up a Child, was given to me when Aidan was about 3 years old (He’s now 16).  Again, the Pearls book became controversial  fairly recently when the book was found in the home of parents who abused and beat their child TO DEATH. 

Really!?  You beat your child supposedly based on someone’s advice so far as to kill him or her?   This is not even robot behavior.....they were most certainly NOT following the Pearls’ advice.  I'm not sure if this is the parent's testimony or if it was just the media grasping for the “why” in the minds of abusive parents and finding the book in their home as a clue. 

I saw the Pearls’ materials as a major milestone in my relationship with my children.  People isolate and criticize their teaching on spanking, but what I really noticed in their newsletters and other materials was the relationship they had with their children.  And the extremely convicting articles that they wrote to parents challenging them, not to beat their children, but to repent and change themselves and their own thinking.  That “tying strings of fellowship” with your children was by far, the most important thing.  I was really struck by the encouragement to invest in my children.   They didn’t say, “make your children do chores”.  They said, “do chores with your children.”  Their methodology advice is loaded with principles of relationship.  I realized that my relationship with my children was not what it should be.  I was selfishly just trying to manage them instead of investing in them, training them, enjoying them.  I had my own behavior issues, specifically anger.  The Pearls told me I was the problem (well, not personally).  I never concluded that I had to discipline my children more, I concluded that I needed to realize that I had the power to change me and I should do so.

Their books also helped me to see practically and creatively, how I could train and discipline my children.  After implementing their ideas AND changing myself, I realized that I hardly ever spanked my kids anymore. I didn’t see much change in my kids until I wasn’t such a pissy-parent any more!  Now, my teens are a little resentful that their little sister is hardly ever spanked.  Sorry, it took me a while to change sorry.  Thankfully, they are laughing at me now, instead of hating me.

Those are only two of the many, many books that I read over the last 18 years, but definitely the ones I learned from the most.....for bad and for good.  Here are a few others (and there were many more.)
Shepherding a Child’s Heart  by Tedd Tripp. A great principle book, as I said in my other blog post.  He hits the nail on the head in that parenting is about the heart....but such a difficult thing to know how to implement, because it IS about the heart!  

Say Goodbye to Whining Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in you and your kids! - by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.  A book about teaching respect in the home, also focusing on family relationships.  No corporal punishment mentioned (that I can remember.)

Making Children Mind without Losing Yours by Kevin Leman.  A natural consequences book. 

Age of Opportunity by Paul Tripp.  Don’t remember much about this book.

Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson.  What it says.

Changing Your Child’s Heart by Steve Sherbondy.  Using tools (chores and tasks, mainly) to change a child’s attitude.

For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhan.  A poll of the insights and opinions of teenagers of all backgrounds.  Very enlightening.

After all of this reading, I found (in some cases it was NOT included in the book!) the most essential element of parenting is relationship, relationship, relationship.  Building relationships is difficult to teach.  You can give specific ideas for the robot-parent to follow, but it comes down to a parent’s heart for their child and what they DO with that.  Tedd Tripp’s book does teach about this and yet I could not apply it at the time I read it.  I think my kids were too young; I could not see practically how to implement it.  Maybe I need to re-read it.  It was the stories of love and investment in the Pearl’s materials that made me see what I was missing, that convicted me, but I did read that when my kids were a little older.

I also found the biggest deterrent to a good relationship, parental hypocrisy.  Find it and repent.  I saw this in many articles and letters that the Pearls answered in their newsletters and also in the book Already Gone by Ken Ham.  Interestingly, Ham’s conclusion as to why the church is losing children to the world was lack of teaching about origins, but the raw data in the back of the book, I thought,  told a different story as to why kids leave the church - parental hypocrisy. 

The early years were filled with training experiences and quite a few spankings (especially for the boys), but they were also (eventually) filled with an investment of time.....lots of time.  Time spent in our own little stories that built our friendship. Yes, friendship.   Now, three of them are teens and our fellowship is sweet (okay, mostly we laugh....still sweet.)

One friend when praised for her older daughters’ faithfulness to the Lord, righteous living, good choices, etc always says, “Oh, they still struggle and face temptation.  I pray for them every day.”   Another investment, perhaps more essential than all others.   

My story is far from over.  I cannot rest, but must continue to repent, invest, and pray.


  1. Ditto what Dawn said. Glad she chose to share on FB.

  2. I've read many of the books you listed plus a lot more that you haven't. I think you are right that the common denominator is relationship. I didn't understand that when my oldest was a baby. I thought my job was to teach and train and produce a "good kid." Now that he's 8 (and I have 3 other kids) I see he's not a product but a relationship. That doesn't mean I don't train, teach and discipline. I just do it a little differently.

  3. Great deductions! I have also found hypocrisy to be a huge factor in putting a wedge between my kids and myself. When I apologize and explain I need forgiveness just as much as they do, they understand life better as well as themselves. Prayer is also key in working on our kids' hearts where we can't reach, only God can. The Holy Spirit works in their lives that speaks so much louder to them than I ever could because He knows their innermost thoughts and motives. It's so cool to watch Him at work. All of this helps in our relationships with them to grow deeper and more real.
    Thank you for your insightful thoughts!

  4. Totally agree Amy. One thing I will add, is Age of Opportunity by Paul Tripp was the book that helped me the most bar none. One of the things he says at the beginning of the book based on Ez. 14, is that parents have to get rid of the idols in their own heart first. He mentions some common ones, "respect," "family name," "appreciation," "comfort," etc. Then after a parent has done this they must realize that the sins their kids commit are opportunities to preach the gospel. This is indeed why Christ came! This book was so incredibly helpful to me, as are all Paul Tripp's books, but particularly this one. He is like a modern day puritan --- their works were so rich with truth and God given insight --- as our his...