May 10, 2011

Child-Centered or God-Centered?

Category: Family :: Permalink

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:03 am | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Child-Centered or God-Centered?”

  1. alisa Says:

    Very thought provoking, on words, in the differences of the attitudes toward ‘allowed’ and ‘taught’. Whereas one seems to neglect activity with the child (in part or on the whole), and the other active in demonstration and leading to (the treasured attributes).

  2. Luma Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this Pastor Barach. Like many parenting books, I have read “The Heart of Anger” a couple of times and each time I walk away thinking I’m a terrible parent. I needed this wisdom SO much. I feel like I’m waking up from a slumber.

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