Suffer the Little Children

Jesus suffered (i.e. “permitted”) the little children to come unto him. Some were probably squalling.

Emily Kasky blogs about an inconsiderate mother who didn’t take her disruptive child out of Mass. I wouldn’t be so hasty to equate non-spanking with lack of discipline, or to equate spanking with the teaching of empathy. I don’t mean to excuse a parent who encourages misbehavior, but I do want to suggest that parenting is complex and stressful. (But thumping against other people’s seats? That’s definitely an actionable offense. I hate that.)

As the parent of two children whom my wife occasionally calls “your spawn,” I’ve developed the ability to filter out a certain amount of chaos. I no longer even notice behavior that once I might have found very annoying. I’d say it’s reasonable to expect parents to take fidgety children out of restaurants that don’t offer crayons, or concert halls where nobody is playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But at Old Country Buffet, or at a church service, some kid noise is going to be inevitable.

I remember riding in a car with friends in high school, when the driver, who dismissed my warning that he was about to top a rise too fast, crossed the yellow line and broadsided another car. I have a vivid memory of this kid squatting down by the side of the road, howling, “My dad is gonna kill me!” He didn’t even check to see whether anyone was hurt first, didn’t care that his moment of arrogance almost cost six people their lives. His immediate response was fear of parental wrath.

As a result, I tend to try talking through my children’s misbehavior. Even though that means they might not stop the bad behavior as quickly, they do get practice examining their conscience, recommending reparations, and suggesting privileges to lose. (Peter sometimes suggests “no videogames for four months,” which I think is extreme for poking his sister, but I digress.)

I can understand complaints about permissive parenting and calls for more discipline, but it’s a third parenting style that is associated with the upbringing of Holocaust rescuers — that is, ordinary citizens who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis. “Authoritative” parenting emphasizes reason and empathy over discipline and sternness. (See “Discipline Isn’t Enough,” a newspaper article that mentions research by Diana Baumrind, Fiona White, and Jonathan Glover.)

By the way, if you ever have a kid who acts up in public, I just might be the guy who’s smiling at you. I’ve been there. Suffer the Little Children (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)