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Taking A Right Hook On the Chin for the Infant Jesus

alec vanderboom

I read a child-rearing philosophy in the middle of an interesting autobiography that made my heart clench. These are "good people." They inspired a famous movie. They go to church. They "walk the walk." I like them. I'm sure most of my readers do too.

In their own words they talk about their parenting philosophy for toddlers.

"We were very strict: we practiced zero tolerance. If you asked (the Mom) what her parenting style was, she'd say, "Fear and repetition." There was no right or wrong to it--it was just our personal philosophy that strictness at a young age would preempt a lot of problems later.

We believed our children were capable of learning obedience as early as eighteen months. We taught them a few non-negotiable rules as preventative measures....

In our house, we never put anything up out of our kids' reach. We left the Limoges boxes and other knicknacks out. We didn't want to clear all the objects from the coffee tables and hide them from the children. With each child, it took several weeks of constant attention, and we spanked their little hands until they were red, but they learned not to disturb anything in the living room. "*

Reading that last sentence caused me to suck in my breathe. I'm a Mother who has spent many, many years with a toddler under her care. (May the good Lord give me many more.) I can think of three different relatives who flew into uncontrollable rages over my toddler acting curious in their living room. One person lost control in anger when I asked him/her to move a glass bowl to a higher shelf. One person flipped out because I let my toddler play with a plastic apple (not realizing that it had "special meaning" and could be "destroyed" by my nincompoop of a toddler.)

One incident that really stands out is when my 13 month old son figured out how to push the "off" button to a TV during a Redskin football game. My grandfather lost it with me. He became crazy angry. One of the reasons I remember it so clearly is because during his long, violent rant with me about how "out of control"and disrespectful my young son was to him, my grandfather  was holding the TV remote in his hand!

I remember thinking, "You can just push the "on" switch right now with your thumb and this problem is fixed! We don't need to have a 20 minute discussion over what a horrible son I have."

So while I was on the receiving end of this rage for my toddler "badness", I kept thinking that these three different people were making this stuff up in their heads. I mean, you can't discipline a 13 month old kid. You just pick them up after they turn off the TV, and say "Why don't you come play over here Honey."

So when I read this passage in the autobiography I thought, "Oh, this is an actual child rearing philosophy."  What I assumed was just some random pattern made up inside's someone's head--does actually exist in practice in some families.

So here is the deal--I'm not doing this childrearing philosophy.

I'm a Mom and this is not going on in my house.

The reason why this is important, is that I run into this child rearing philosophy all the time at Daily Mass. It's the old people. It's the young people. It's the middle age people. There are all kinds of people that I run into that I'm a horrible Mother because I'm not "spanking my toddlers hands red for weeks" whenever they do something that causes difficulty to some adult.

I'm fed up. I'm not going to feel guilty or conciliatory anymore. I'm going to take that scorn on the chin for my kids, and the kids (Religious Ed & Cub Scouts) that are under my care. I take the scorn, as the adult in charge, so they don't have to absorb it.

Here is the deal. I practice "the middle way." Our church sanctuary is Mary's beautiful parlor. There are precious things that can't be touched such as "The Tabernacle." There are moments of Holy Silence, such as the Consecration during Mass.

My job as a parent is to slowly and carefully teach my children reverence to these Holy Objects and Holy Moments in the Mass. I do not believe this happens within 16 seconds of a child during 18 months old. I'm not a permissive Mother--who lets toddler children run up the aisle for fun during Adoration because "she's a free spirit and doesn't Mommy Mary enjoy it". But I'm not stupidly strict, refusing to ever bring a toddler to Adoration even for 2 minutes because I'm afraid of embarrassing stares from people who are supposed to be experiencing an inner dialogue with Jesus, the Lord or Lords.

The middle way.

There are horribly, horribly anti-child sentiments inside many normal Catholic parishes. There should be no big 'shock' as to why adults don't practice their Faith, because we don't do a great job of nourishing their faith as kids. We either feed them Cotton Candy Theology (all fluff) in Religious Ed--or no kidding--a Religious Ed teach complained to me last year that "kids today are so ill-prepared because 5th graders can't read well enough to pronounce the Old Testament Prophets names right on the first try!" So too loose-goosey sucks. Too strict sucks.

The middle way.

Lord, I'm happy to take scorn on the chin if it means honoring you as the infant Jesus.

(footnote: this quote is from "In A Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving, by Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy--the couple who adopted an inner-city black teenager and were featured in the great movie "The Blind Side". I'm not trying to rip on the Tuohys. I think they did a great act of Charity. This self-description of their child rearing philosophy is typical of many, many people I see in Catholic church. I'm not trying to change "them." I'm trying to make peace that as a Mother of young toddlers, I'm going to run into this judgement that "your young children are wrong and you are at fault." I'm telling God that I'm making peace with taking that hit inside of church, rather than insisting that my kids be "perfect" before taking them to church.