The other day, while reading the first chapter of Beezus and Ramona (where Ramona gets a library card), I asked the boys if they knew what kind of work Daddy does. Gavin was quick to answer: “[He] hammers.”
That makes sense. When you’re 2.8 years old, pounding walls with a heavy object looks pretty fun. No wonder Gavin totes that toy hammer all over the house taming every imaginary nail he finds.
I was too charmed by his answer to ask him what he thinks Mommy’s work is. Sometimes Mommy’s not so sure herself. My recent vocational change to a stay-at-home-mom is so new to me that I’ve been reading about motherhood and childhood. I’ve been immersing myself in the typically-recommended conservative evangelical parenting manuals while studying the history of the parenting advice in the United States.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that our just-previous generation wouldn’t recognize the stuff that passes for “normal” anymore. We’ve regressed — and not in the typical dispensationalist way that you think I’m going to say. It’s not that we’ve gotten way too permissive. We’ve gotten way too punitive — a shift that’s so unexpected that it sneaks past us. There seems to be a backlash even from just 20 years ago to today. I’m trying to figure out what happened.
In 1994-1995, Michael Pearl published To Train Up a Child, Gary Ezzo published BabyWise, and Tedd Tripp published Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Ezzo’s Preparation for Parenting had been around for 10 years before that, so Babywise was a “lite” version of his program sans Scripture references (a version that was covertly but strongly encouraged for new mothers working for my previous employer). And while Tripp is, I’ll grant you, the most widely accepted and the only actually educated man in the trio, all three men argue for the same lousy theology. All three claim that Scripture mandates specific and painful parenting rituals, all three claim that parents redeem their children through those parenting rituals, and all three insist that the spankings start in infancy. Yes, spanking babies. For the most-recommended Tripp, it’s a bare-bottomed spanking for an 8-month-old who does a developmentally normal thing like wriggling on the changing table (154). These three make Dobson look like a hippie and make life in the Banks’ home look like a rave party! Heck — even Jonathan Edwards would be appalled!!
What happened in the early nineties to throw us back to the foolish fantasy of “my slippers, sherry, and pipe are due at 6:02” (only without David Tomlinson’s charm!)? Was it the Clinton presidency? Bart Simpson? Real World? The first Gulf War? The WWW? When you read these books and then you read the books authored by the people who recommend these books, you get a pretty clear picture of their ideal family. Detached dad and mom, parenting reduced to a chore for hired hands, order/schedule above all else, a quaint archived portrait of an idyllic past with the kids nowhere to be seen or heard or even protected. And no parent really wants that. Even Mr. Banks eventually realizes that’s not what he wants in his family. But the ideal is preached and pushed to goad us and infuriate us and to drive us to kill off some part of our souls in the process. We transport the corporate world’s ideals of order and schedule and top-down management theory to domestic life as if it’s going to work or that God commands it!
Boy — do we need another Mary Poppins!