Our granddaughter, Gracie, is what many people call “a handful.” Her eyes are alive with investigation, always searching for opportunities to change her environment.
She discovered her autonomy early, and now at sixteen months old, she is full of preferences. Yet Shalom her mother, has her firmly in hand. Gracie will stop on a dime, come when called, lay it down, and not touch it, all with enviable consistency. “How do you do it?” I asked Shalom.
She told me things I knew, some I had forgotten, but put together in such a way that it was fresh and original, with all the fat trimmed away. I was hearing her ideas, her wisdom. I was WOWED! There is nothing like coming fresh from the battle to have a clear perspective, free from academics. She spoke of commands, and switches, and consistency, but most of all she spoke of participation. Gracie participates in her mother’s life. She is never pushed aside. When Mama is working, Gracie has her little broom or dishrag and is right there doing her share. Gracie is needed, and she knows it, because she is included in the daily operation of life. She is not waiting to join the human race; she is walking the road of social responsibility right now at sixteen months of age! Gracie depends on the fellowship of life for her pleasure, not on the toy box off in another room. She is addicted to the communion of family and friends. She has a will to abide in their light.
Like any human being, Gracie is possessed of selfish flesh. She is a potential devil-in-waiting, but her parents will not tolerate a single act of disobedience. When she shows a propensity to break with fellowship and act selfishly, she is rebuked and, if necessary, spanked immediately. She knows that she is not the final authority—that all her decisions are subject to her parents’ will. As she walks with her parents in the fellowship of life, she must follow the rules like everyone else. She expects this. It is the price to pay for walking in the light.
You know instantly when this fellowship of life is missing in children. Rather than possessing a will to cooperate, they develop and display a will to defy. We see those children assume the most obstinate position they can find and then dig in against an assault. Children who never find pleasure in participation, seek pleasure in confrontation. It is a way for them to stay at the center of things and feel alive. You cannot spank that child into a state of grace. They view all discipline as confirmation of the state of war that exists between them and everyone else. The child walking in darkness may “obey” some of the time, but only to gain a little respite from the toil of war.
Some children use different weapons. Some may express their rebellion in passive ways, while others communicate that they are hurt or misunderstood. To many of them, life is just a pain that makes them feel like crying all the time. Mother pities them, and they walk on in unhappy darkness, needing the fellowship of life but finding only aloneness. Mothers may smother these children in kisses and praise, yet fail to invite them to participate in the fellowship of life. They are living parallel lives in the same house.
There is nothing worse on a child’s self esteem than to be treated as one not yet ready to join the human race. When you don’t give children a focus, they focus on themselves—a most unhappy condition. When Gracie is rebuked or spanked for not obeying, she sometimes gets upset—emotionally wrought. At that point her parents find it difficult to communicate with her. She is no doubt thinking how mistreated she is, how deprived. She wanted her way—some forbidden pleasure—and “the big guys” are again constraining her to a behavior she would never choose for herself. There is a danger at this point that the child will succumb to a willful desire to defy. But Shalom handles it with wisdom. When she sees that Gracie is upset for having her will thwarted and is wrestling with the unpleasantness of losing the confrontation, rather than to dwell on the unpleasantness and demand that Gracie get her attitude right, Shalom turns to her and unemotionally commands, “Gracie, take these clothes to the laundry,” or “Gracie, pick up your toys.” Shalom said that Gracie is so well conditioned to participation in the everyday family chores, that she will unthinkingly turn to obey any command. In so doing, she forgets about herself and steps back into the fellowship of life. Her mother’s goal is to restore Gracie to a walk of compliance, and as quickly as possible. Rather than allowing Grace to slump into her disappointment, she is led to step through a less emotional door, back into the path of cooperation and obedience. Any single true act of obedience translates into an obedient child.
Spanked as needed, Gracie is never broken; she is moment-to-moment subdued. Like a horse in harness, if the restraints were removed she would immediately run willfully. As long as she feels her parents’ hands on the reins, she knows she is in a subservient role, that there is no alternative. Her little eyes dart about with imagination, seeking opportunity to ride the wind to new delights. Just look into her face, and you instantly know that this little controlled explosion is having more fun right now than you have had in the last ten years. She is confident that her world is as secure as it is fun. She expects to share what you are eating and never fails to offer you a bit of hers. When she gets ready to go outside, she graces me with a gesture that says, “OK, Big Papa, it’s your turn now; I’m ready when you are.” Who can resist? I have just been waiting to go outside and jump on the trampoline with Gracie.