Bringing up liars

Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe,––the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making. Mothers are on the whole more successful in communicating this knowledge than are teachers who know the children less well and have a narrower, poorer standard of measurement for their minds. Parents do not talk down to children, but we might gather from educational publications that the art of education as regards young children is to bring conceptions down to their ‘little’ minds. If we give up this foolish prejudice in favour of the grown-up we shall be astonished at the range and depth of children’s minds; and shall perceive that their relation to God is one of those ‘first-born affinities’ which it is our part to help them to make good. A mother knows how to speak of God as she would of an absent father with all the evidences of his care and love about her and his children…We recollect how ‘Arthur Pendennis’ walked in the evening light with his mother and recited great passages from Milton and the eyes of the two were filled ‘with tears of holy joy,’ when the boy was eight…

You see my title and then read my quote and may wonder what in the world is the connection. The thought I intended to share is from the title, but this morning the quote above came up in my FB memories from a query I had made a year ago about Charlotte Mason quotes concerning ‘what a mother can do’. So let me address this quote and then ease my way into the title topic.

Not at all in the spirit of current congressional shenanigans of erasing gender-specific terms, I would like to substitute ‘parent’ for ‘mother’, or let’s just add ‘and father’ because I believe both parents have a significant influence on the heart of their children. Parents know their children — or they ought to know their children. They certainly have more opportunity than the children’s teachers. Knowing the mind and capabilities of children — and their children in particular, a mother or father does not talk down to a child, nor does he play manipulative mind games with a child, nor does she show disrespect for the child as a fellow human being in any way. Parents and children share their hearts and thoughts about the realities of life, seen and unseen, from the get-go.

I’ve been observing children and the effects of their relationship with their parents my whole 59 years on this planet. I grew up in church where parenting standards varied even amongst a people that claimed to be following the same ‘blue-print’/manual. I saw children very close to their parents, who would and could talk to them about anything, and others that seemed to have very little connection to their parents. Long before I read any ‘Charlotte Mason’ I had determined that children were quite capable, but very few parents knew those capabilities nor saw their own responsibilities for being involved in directing the hearts and minds of their children toward the good. When my husband and I became parents relatively late in life, we both had many adults years of observing various parenting and were determined to practice some intentional parenting. We’re not done yet, but I believe our ‘experiment in parenting’ has been quite successful as we near the eighteen year mark. We 3 are quite the team. We have respected the personhood of our son from birth, and he knows it.

Several days ago I noted to my husband that I believe people train their little ones to be deceitful by making ‘getting in trouble’ be a scary thing. The child develops the habit of immediately trying to hide the fact that they did the deed, they blame someone else, they make excuses, hide the evidence, claim ignorance. Why? What is so horrible about owning up to it and taking your licks? And how does this little game prevent the child from doing ‘the bad thing’ again? From the first ‘ooh, you’re in trouble’ (adding in the taunting of the other children) the child begins the practice of ‘fixing things’ to avoid the punishment. The poor child doesn’t get to experience grace because this idea of the punishment is so huge and scary. And note the word Habit. It becomes his unthinking practice to immediately deny responsibility. And so the child grows into a deceiving adult with this automatic response of denying responsibility.

As we were traveling home from our recent cross-country road trip, we drove through yet another fast-food establishment. It was very early morning and yet the line seemed to be moving slowly. We got to the second window, after paying at the first window, and all our items were given to us except one. The window closed and the person disappeared from that spot. Perhaps she was retrieving that last item. But she didn’t reappear for many minutes. The item was a bottle of water; how hard could this be? Were we going to have to wait for her to reappear as she was delivering the items for the car behind us? Still not there, still not there. Jack finally resorts to the horn. She appears at the window. He explains we still had one more item, and she says, “Oh, I was in the back.” What did that have to do with not completing our order in a timely fashion —- before you went to “the back”? None of us recall her even saying “sorry”; she just spit out what she thought was an excuse. As we drove away, I thought (and said out loud) how this was a good example of how some are trained to deceive — it’s an automatic, unthinking response to make an excuse without any indication of sorry —and to people she will never see again. What’s so hard about saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I hadn’t completed the order before I left this station and went to the back for something. My apologies.” Most likely whatever frustration/inconvenience we were feeling would have been alleviated by this simple show of humility and honesty. But you see this kind of thing everywhere. Why are people afraid to own up to the least little thing, over which the consequences would be so tiny, and maybe even disappear with the simple act of honesty? It really is an unthinking habit. What a ridiculous way to live. And it starts from the stupid manipulative games parents, siblings, and teachers play with kids.

On our trip to the other side of the country, we had the chance to visit with my niece and her family. Lovie is the mother of two boys, age fifteen and nine. Without giving away too much of family talk, a comment was made along the way in discussing dynamics of cousin relationships, that the nine year old often went to his mother crying about some situation. One relative said that he does this because he is trying to overcome whatever temptation for bad behavior/retaliation. I believe this. I am confident that Lovie and her son have this kind of relationship, and that the boy sincerely wants to do what’s right and understands the struggle that it is. I know that Lovie (and her husband) practice intentional parenting. I’m also familiar with the books and studies that the boys do in school because I have used the same with my son. It is possible to use this curriculum (just follow the book list) and fail to fulfill the aim of the education, but I know that Lovie gets the whole picture. The books and music studies and nature study and art study are used with the goal of touching the heart of her children. She gets that it is not about how much do they Know, but how much do they Care when they finish their education. I was extremely encouraged by my great-nephews in the week we got to spend with them. I’m very proud of the standards of my niece and her husband, and their honest relationships with their sons. You can see results already, and I know the years will show some unusually (for this culture) honest and caring men.

We recollect how ‘Arthur Pendennis’ walked in the evening light with his mother and recited great passages from Milton and the eyes of the two were filled ‘with tears of holy joy,’ when the boy was eight..

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