Husbands should try to make home happy and holy. It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest, a bad man who makes his home wretched. Our house ought to be a little church, with holiness to the Lord over the door, but it ought never to be a prison where there is plenty of rule and order, but little love and no pleasure. Married life is not all sugar, but grace in the heart will keep away most of the sours. Godliness and love can make a man, like a bird in a hedge, sing among thorns and briars, and set others to singing too.
It should be the husband’s pleasure to please his wife, and the wife’s care to care for her husband. He is kind to himself who is kind to his wife. I am afraid some men live by the rule of self, and when that is the case, home happiness is a mere sham. When husbands and wives are well yoked, how light their load becomes! It is not every couple that is such a pair, and more’s the pity. In a true home all the strife is who can do the most to make the family happy. — C. H. Spurgeon, John Ploughman’s Talk, pp. 79-80.
I was thinking some more last night about the two family models that Lou Priolo presents in his The Heart of Anger: the child-centered family and the God-centered family. Right now, my wife spends most of her day (and night) with our two-month old daughter. A lot of that time, she’s holding her and if she isn’t, then I am. Our schedule is shaped to a large degree by the needs of that little girl. I can’t simply walk into the room where my wife is and start talking to her or I’ll wake the baby.
Does that make us a “child-centered family”? Certainly, a lot of our life centers on that one little child and her needs take precedence to our own needs or wants. Maybe we do run afoul of some of Priolo’s warnings: a child-centered home, he says, is one in which the children are allowed to “dictate family schedule (including meal times, bedtimes, etc.” and to “take precedence over the needs of the spouse” (24).
“Now, hold on,” you might say. “You’re talking about a little baby. Of course, a baby has lots of needs that take up time. Babies wake up crying, and so we adapt our sleeping schedule to deal with them. But if your daughter were a teenager — or even a younger child — and still shaped your schedule the way you described, there would be a problem!”
True. But notice that we’ve suddenly introduced time into the discussion, and along with time, maturation. We expect that a baby will take up more time. We expect that a child with Down’s Syndrome will have needs that shape a parent’s schedule significantly. But we expect that most of our children will grow up over time and become increasingly mature. What would be appropriate when a child is a baby wouldn’t be appropriate when that child is fifteen.
But Priolo’s presentation of the two models includes a subtle shift. When he talks about the child-centered home, is says that it’s a home in which “children are allowed to commit the following indiscretions” (24), and then follows his list. But when he talks about the God-centered home, his presentation isn’t exactly parallel. He doesn’t say that a God-centered home is a home in which “children are allowed to…” Rather, he says that a God-centered home is one in which “children are taught the following” (27). And the list of what they’re being taught includes things like obeying cheerfully the very first time they’re told to do something.
Now it seems obvious to me that a home in which children are being taught something is not the same thing as a home in which children always do the right thing. One might be teaching children to obey cheerfully the first time they’re told to do something and yet have a home in which children have to be told more than once to pick up their toys or put on their underwear before their pants or stop poking the baby. And that’s not necessarily because the children are rebellious or wicked. A lot of it is because children are immature.
It would be possible, I submit, for a parent to read Priolo’s two lists and think, “Oh, dear. The first list seems a lot more like our house. The children do dominate the schedule a lot of the time. I have to tell my children again and again and again to shut the door of the house when they come in, and they still leave it wide open and stare blankly at me when I tell them to close it. I must have a child-centered home.”
Not necessarily. It’s entirely possible that such a parent has a home in which he’s still teaching his children and training them toward maturity. You can have a home in which X happens and have it be, at the very same time, a home in which you’re teaching children not to do X.
Some of what Priolo describes as being taught in a God-centered home will be taught over and over again throughout all the years the child is in your home. Take esteeming others as more important than yourself. I agree with Priolo that a God-centered home ought to teach children to do that (though I’d want to stress that the best way to teach that is to model it as parents by putting your children ahead of yourselves), but that’s a lesson you’ll need to continue to learn even when you’re old and gray, I suspect. As your children mature, you ought to see more and more of this sort of thing in their behavior, but you shouldn’t conclude that your home isn’t properly God-centered if your five year old thinks primarily of herself and not of others. She’s five. You’re how old and still selfish sometimes? Keep working on it.
So Priolo’s two models, helpful as they may be, aren’t exactly parallel: the one list includes what children are “allowed” to do, while the other list focuses on what they’re being “taught” to do. The first list describes behavior one might see in the home, while the second list describes the behavior one would like to see.
We should pay attention to the word “teach” in connection with Priolo’s description of the God-centered home. Teaching takes time. It involves growth, progress, setbacks, maturation. You may not take a snapshot of a home and conclude that it isn’t God-centered because it doesn’t exemplify everything on Priolo’s list. Rather, you need a motion picture instead of a snapshot: What are the parents working on? What are they trying to teach?
But we should also pay attention to the word “allowed” in connection with Priolo’s description of the child-centered home. I think it means not only that the children do the stuff he lists but also that they do so without the parents trying to change that behavior. But what sort of change is in view? The change that happens as a child moves from being a baby that needs holding for most of the day to being a toddler who runs around on his own? Or does Priolo have in mind something more like chastisement?
By using the word “allowed,” is Priolo indicating that the behavior he lists should be prohibited (and that a child who violates the prohibition ought to be disciplined for doing so)? If so, then it seems to me that he hasn’t taken maturation and time into account. My baby daughter doesn’t need to be prohibited from dominating our schedule; she needs to grow up, and she will in due time. Likewise, some of the other behavior that Priolo lists (e.g., interrupting parents) may not be necessarily sinful but may simply be immature.
So in a God-centered (but not parent-centered) home, a lot of stuff might happen that looks “child-centered,” especially when the children are younger. Little children dominate parental schedules. Little children tend to think of themselves first. Little children who are bursting with their own thoughts interrupt parents and aren’t spanked for doing so, so that it might appear to an outside viewer as if the home “allows” children to interrupt. But the parent who has learned wisdom from God knows that the solution isn’t always prohibition, let alone the sort of prohibition that leads to chastisement if it’s violated. Much of the time, the solution is patient training toward maturity over time.
Recently, I’ve been reading Lou Priolo’s The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children. Before I go any further, let me say that I haven’t finished the book yet, so whatever I write here is preliminary, and that I’ve gleaned quite a bit of wisdom from the book and especially from the chapter about how parents provoke their children to anger.
What struck me, though, in the first chapter was this: Priolo presents two family models, inviting you to determine which one best matches your family.
The first one is the “Child-Centered Home.” In this home, children are allowed to interrupt adults, use manipulation to get their way, dictate the family schedule, demand excessive time and attention, escape consequences of their sins, be coddled (rather than disciplined) out of a bad mood, and so forth. Priolo writes: “A child-centered home is one in which a child believes and is allowed to behave as though the entire household, parents, siblings, and even pets exist for one purpose — to please him” (24).
The second one is the “God-Centered Home.” In this home, “everyone is committed to pleasing and serving God. God’s desires are exalted over everyone else’s” (27). This home, as Priolo presents it, doesn’t permit the sort of behavior the child-centered home allows. Instead, the children are taught to joyfully serve others, obey parents the first time and do so cheerfully, adapt to the parents’ schedule, and so on.
Here’s what jumped out at me. You might expect that the opposite of a child-centered home would be a parent-centered home, but Priolo spends no time at all on that possible family model. Given that the section on the God-centered home starts with a discussion of how the husband-wife relationship is the primary and permanent relationship in the home and the parent-child relationship is secondary and temporary, it might be that Priolo means to identify parent-centered with God-centered. Or perhaps he hadn’t thought about that as a possibility or, for some reason, didn’t want to discuss it.
Be that as it may, it does seem to me that it’s easy for parents to mistake a parent-centered home for a God-centered home. Take, for instance, what Priolo says about schedules. In a child-centered home, he says, the child determines the schedule, whereas in a God-centered home the child fits his schedule into his parents’ schedule. Now there’s a certain sense in which that’s correct. On Sunday morning, the God-centered family is going to go to church and the children need to fit their schedule into the family’s plans.
But I can also imagine a home that is parent-centered and not God-centered. In this home, the parents get to do whatever they want whenever they want and the children must adapt to the parents’ schedule. If Dad is reading his book, his daughter must never ever ask him a question or request that he read to her or make a sound in his presence. If Mom and Dad have put the children to bed, the children must never ask for a glass of water. Mom and Dad want time to themselves and the children’s requests are seen as sinful attempts to dominate the family schedule.
In this home, Mom and Dad want the children to learn to be self-sacrificing and to regard others as more important than themselves, and the way they’re attempting to instill these traits is by making the children go without and by making sure they know that Mom and Dad are the more important than they are and act accordingly. Or, to put it another way, Mom and Dad act like tyrants in the name of teaching biblical virtues to their children. Their home is centered on themselves and their needs and their desires, not on their children and not on God.
Priolo may be right that a child-centered home can lead to anger on the part of children. But surely a parent-centered home can too. Priolo knows this. His second chapter focuses on ways parents provoke their children, including not making time to listen to them. But it would have been good if he had indicated that the home should neither be child-dominated nor parent-dominated but rather be submissive to God, who wants parents to regard their children as more important than themselves. Parents who follow that model may, in fact, look “child-centered” a lot of the time. But they’re laying the foundation for their children to follow their example.