web analytics

A Time to Love . . . the Child

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!


15 thoughts on “A Time to Love . . . the Child

  1. did you only read one chapter of Tripp? tons of good stuff there even if you dont go all the way with him on the spanking aspect. but way to go straight for the stereotype and toss the baby with the bathwater…

  2. Great post. I had to ask my own 2.75 yo the same question. 😉

    Gwen’s answer to what kind of work daddy does… “Work! Worky-worky work.”

    Gwen’s answer to what kind of work I have…”You don’t have work.”

    Puzzled… “I don’t?”

    “You don’t have ye own work… you have ye own house!” (gesticulating, waving a pen around)

  3. Oh no, Bob. I read the whole book. Cover-to-cover. I know that Tripp enjoys a monopoly in conservative Evangelicalism, but I find very little to recommend in there. He sets up an antagonism between parent and child (far from shepherding), and he insists on “first-time obedience” as the Scriptural ideal. Any program that insists on consistency is setting up the parents and the children for failure.

    The keep-the-meat-and-spit-out-the-bones mantra sounds great on paper. But . . . it’s not good in the end. I’ll have more blog posts on that in the near future.

    So it’s not a stereotype at all. It’s his text, his advice, and his gestalt.

  4. Besides Bob, do you agree that a parent’s actions redeem the child like Pearl, Ezzo, and the respected Tripp argue? Is that something to just pass over as “stereotypical”? That’s pretty bad stuff theology-wise. Really bad.

    I continue to be a little bit stunned at how quickly we dismiss bad theology because the rest of the words are so . . . familiar. Tripp should know better. He really should. But we give him a pass ’cause he’s one of us . . . or something.

  5. now we’re getting somewhere 🙂 (I’d rather go straight for the stuff you’re getting at in these responses than start with “these guys spank so they’re [whatever]”)

    anyway, I’m no Tripp apologist, and I havent read the others (and you’ve prompted me to re-read Tripp, with a more critical eye). but I’d say the antagonism you mention is stated more as lamentable fact to be overcome (if I recall, which is a big “if”), and I have a hard time finding a good Scriptural alternative to first time obedience. but I miss a lot, so I’m all ears. and no, I dont agree that a parent can redeem a child, but rather (hopefully) point toward redemption in Christ.

    this is the part of the show where I say something like: this would be a great conversation over tea/beer/whatever, but kinda tiresome in this medium (for me at least). but I’m adding you to my google reader, and looking forward to your future posts on the matter.

    take care.

  6. Hmm. Can’t say you’ve convinced me yet. I do agree that there is a cult following of Ezzo, and he tends to be divisive in the way he teaches his stuff. I also believe, that parenting is an art best developed following scriptural principles and asking for daily wisdom, which is promised to us.

    Proverbs, which has the (three?) rod of correction verses is not a hard-and-fast book. It is a compilation of wise sayings. Spankings will always fail when not applied in the correct, consistent manner. But, we can’t negate the fact that “spare the rod and spoil the child” and the “rod of correction will drive foolishness away from the heart of the child” is a wise method in parenting. I don’t think you are saying that?

    I am also a routined, scheduled adult. So, Tripp and Ezzo appeal to my personality. I believe God followed a schedule as outlined in the course of the Bible, and it is a disciplined lifestyle. There is a time for everything.

    And, the Bible does ask believers to be redeemers: to redeem the time, to redeem the firstborn (Israel). But, I guess not in the way you believe Tripp is saying. I’ll have to pull him out and re-read.

    You’ve got me intrigued.

  7. I made those edits, K. No problemo. . . . 🙂

    There are several things about your comment that I would like to comment on. For instance, the almost “natural” assumption that the rod in Proverbs = spanking. That’s a cultural assumption that we’ve read back into the Text. The idea of spanking as we know it — hitting on the buttocks of an infant, child, or teenager — did not even exist in ancient Israel. Even as late as the 19th-century in the U.S., a father would have assumed the rod meant a beating on the BACK of a tween-age or teenage BOY or male servant (never a girl) not on the BUTTOCKS. We’ve changed. A lot.

    Add to that fact that the proverbial Rod is just that — proverbial, not literal. The Proverbs are not intended to be taken literally, just like we don’t mean that a stitch in time LITERALLY saves nine.

    Clay Clarkson in Heartfelt Discipline takes all this on and uses our familiar hermeneutic to deconstruct our assumptions about the rod passages in the Proverbs.

    The exact phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” doesn’t come from Scripture, btw. It comes from a bawdy Samuel Coleridge poem. The thought is too terrible to consider for our sensibilities, but it’s a jarring reminder that what we do is not always what’s been done or what even the Bible requires.

    I cannot prove from Scripture that spanking must be forbidden; nor can anyone show me a biblical command that I must spank my children. It simply isn’t there. And Pearl, Ezzo, and Tripp all make that mistake. All of them. They all add to Scripture. And they go further than even Dobson does. Dobson always used age 3 for such discipline to begin. Tripp suggests 8-months!

    I’ve been so thankful for my current church’s attitude toward this issue — spanking is one tool among many and not a required one at that. It’s a completely different attitude than I faced at Bob Jones University where I was called in for “discipline” myself from *my employer* for having and stating such alternative viewpoints.

  8. This discussion cracks me up and makes me sad all at once. I laugh and chuckle reading the posts and the comments because I see myself and my parents and my friends (and my alma mater) all over the place. I find it not so much funny as entertaining to see your keen observations, Camille. That makes me smile.

    At the same time it makes me sad. It’s taken us a couple of years to realize that the Supernanny approach (be it Jo Frost or Gary Ezzo) is nothing more than behavior modification at its finest. Might as well ring the bell and watch the kids salivate. I do have to admit that our family’s routine has been very helpful in providing our kids with a comfortable level of predictability. But we were so sold on that system of parenting that it became immensely frustrating to us as parents when it didn’t work and to our son, and now our daughter too, when we failed to modify the system to meet their needs. Adhering to the “techniques” was more important than loving the children. That makes me sad.

    So now we find ourselves almost completely at a loss in some respects, yet with great hope as well. We feel at times as if we don’t know how to parent, and at other times as if we’re finally getting it. We’ve had great success in the past as well as great frustration. Lo and behold, we still have periods of success and frustration. But I’m enjoying loving my children now rather than manufacturing my children.

    Our copy of Kimmel’s Grace Based Parenting just came in the mail. We can’t wait to dig in.

  9. We agree on Proverbs (and many other things.) I’m so glad you posted this because since I’ve been counseling mothers the last 2 years, I’ve truly begun to question the spanking-is-the-only-way style of parenting. In fact, my husband and I had a discussion on this yesterday! I know in our family, spanking is one of many tools we employ in reaching our children’s hearts, bringing them to Christ, and enabling them to be godly adults on day.

    I ordered the book and look forward to critiquing it and experiencing a possible paradigm shift.

  10. Thank you for this post. I enjoy “stopping in” from time to time and always leave with something to think about. As a young mother though, I am curious… how do you train instead? I was raised by the “Tripp” method and so was my husband. We were raised in good “fundy” churches. This is just one of the many issues we are re-exploring, but don’t really know where to turn. What helped you & Grant?

  11. C–
    Ever since experiencing our own paradigm shift, Steve and I have been amazed at the number of other Christian parents we’ve met with backgrounds similar to our own that are considering the same “wild” ideas! 🙂 We have an amazing peace and joy in our home, and are really enjoying these years with our children. So much more so than the first 12 years with our first son. God was good when He gave us an almost ten year break between the first two.

    I can say without hesitation–what now?? oh 10 or 11 years “post-spanking” –that we have no regrets. Yes, sometimes we do have frustrating moments as we prayerfully nurture, train and correct. But in reality, it is a different kind of frustration. A lack of patience at times more than anything else. NOT because the process is harder or longer, just that we still have sinful selfish moments as parents.

    I’ll be forever grateful for God’s work in our home and for when He showed us through careful study of His Word that our decisions should be more influenced by the work and ministry of Jesus Christ than the ideas of man.

    Glad you’re writing on this topic! Keep it up!

  12. I so admire all of you dedicated parents, for your humility and honesty to ‘re think’ matters someone previously taught you, were supposd to be ‘carved in stone.’ Your children are so fortunate and blessed to have such wonderful parents. I know God is with you, and blessing your sincere parental love and committment. I wanted to comment on what I believe contributed to my late father’s ‘failure’ as a leader in the family home. ‘His’ father abused him as a child, gave him no love and affection, was mean to him, treated his own mother so badly, that he grew up to be a very, very angry man. I have gut feeling that grandpa wouldn’t let my father ‘play’ or’have any fun’ as a child. “Societies that are against pleasure, tend to violence.” My father took to drink, when I was about 6 or 7. He was a depressed, broken man, whose own father had ‘broken his heart’. What my grandfather did to my father as a little boy, adversely affected two generations. When God came into my life powerfully and radically as a 36 year old, I began to leave ‘my inherited anger’ at the Cross where it belonged. The point I am making here is, one angry man’s harshe, severe punitive abusive discipline, ruined his own son’s marriage and family. My grandfather’s abuse of my father, poisoned his marriage and our family, as my brothers and I were ‘robbed’ of a normal childhood, one with the peace, security and harmony we needed to grow into healthy individuals. Punitive, abusive punishment does not raise healthy children. It ‘does’ create broken adults who have to face life malajusted and psychologically handicapped. Punitive abusive discipline of children, has nothing to do with love, nothing to do with Christianity, nothing to do with the Gospel, and nothing to do with Jesus. It has everything to do with power and anger. The wrong kind of power. And the wrong kind of anger. I believe there are many parents out there searching for answers to this so important matter. I pray that God will use this wonderful Web blog and others like it, as well as good people like all of you who have posted on this thread, to be a breath of fresh air and blow away all the toxic cobwebs of this sick,dreadful, anti-child , inhumane, and evil, approach to child rearing and discipline. I am going to believe for a miracle of a reversal of all this dreadful teaching in America. I know that good people like you will be a part of that miracle. God bless all of you.

    1. I know I am adding to my post over a year later. But the phrase “societies that are against pleasure tend to violence”, has been coming to my mind lately. Many years ago, I read some words of wisdom about the very bad, negative effect on children, whom parents have ‘disciplined without any real affection’, ( an object relationship, children not treated as persons but as objects to control , exercise power over ) that discipline without any healthy demonstration of human love and affection, along with warm, close trusting parent /child relationship: “discipline without intimacy ( real love and acceptance ) BREEDS REBELLION.” Because there’s not much real love in toxic fundamentalism, it doesn’t take long to connect the dots, as to why we read of the tragic stories on line, of the exits from christianity, of broken wounded victim grads, of IFB type schools . Or why they have walked away from God at all! God wasn’t in their horrible school environments at all! All they got, besides a second rate education, was rules and religion without the true righteousness of any genuine demonstration of God’s Grace in God’s love. If their parents treated them the same in the home, my God, it’s a wonder they believe in anything anymore!

      One thing that I find scary about the spirit of the books discussed above, and a word ‘not once mentioned’ in one of the long posts about them, is that the word L O V E is not mentioned! So maybe I might add to the statement ‘societies that are against pleasure, that tend to violence’ are also ‘societies that are against love!’ In the mini culture of the family, in which every imperfect behavior, is assumed and seen as a sin and a disobedience, , if the children make a single mistake, that children are growing up in such societies that are also AGAINST LOVE? Jewish Scholars of the Old Testament, and Historic Christianity of the original Church, have always ‘condemned a literalist’ interpretation of Scripture. And I do not believe anybody tolerated or practiced literalist interpretation, until after the Reformation. Just look at the damage done by the misinterpretation of one verse from Proverbs! “Spare the rod and spoil the child!” A Literal interpretation turns ‘the rod’ into a physical object. And the literalist interpretation turns the verse’s meaning, into corporal punishment that we know has been severely abusive. . It concerns me that men who write books about discipline, do so from an assumed position of authority, which I do not believe God has even given to them. Nor do I believe God has ‘ever called them to write about parenting’, in any manner or spirit, that is so void of the mercy, grace, compassion and love of God, that it’s almost anti-christian! And that is what makes these kinds of books so dangerous. When we asssume a person is credible simply because he’s been published, we do ourselves a disservice. We have a responsibility to look at the background of these so called ‘experts’ who write these kinds of books, and discern whether we even want this kind of material in our homes, let alone in our families and relationships! When I found out what was ‘really’ in Dobson’s top seller on discipline, I was livid. You see, I assumed everything he wrote, was agreeable with my philosophy of parenting. A short comment critique was all I needed to have my eyes opened to my ignorance and blind trust. “That Dobson taught parents should make sure the spanking caused real pain and that the child had real fear about it. So pain and fear was ‘his’ discipline model for spanking! ” It still angers me to no end, how off base the man has been, and how ignorant I was, to not take the time to learn about what the man really stood for! So I’m telling on myself here. It’s a mistake any of us could make. When I heard about a book written by Dobson’s former right hand man and co founder of Dobson’s organization, I can’t wait to read it. It’s called “Dobson’s War On America.” A late uncle was severely beaten as a youngster for ‘whistling on a Sunday.” He became a very angry man and punitive father, who broke his sons’ hearts. Maybe we need to ‘re learn’ the truth of what God the Father is really like!

Comments are closed.