Reading Esolen’s work, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, has made me step back for a fresh look at my own parenting and the parenting of others in various Christian circles. It’s not always a pretty sight.
What’s unsettling is not that we’re all struggling to train, instruct, discipline, guide, inspire, occupy, and in some cases even control our children. That struggle is normal. Parents have been struggling for centuries to get children to sit still for, say, an hour of worship, or thirty minutes of family dinner. Or to play outside for more than 30 seconds without pounding on the door. Or to finish a page of multiplication problems, or read a book. Or to stay by Mommy’s side at the store. Or to be quiet (in appropriate situations) the first time they’re told. What’s unsettling is how many options our modern world has supplied us for short-circuiting this struggle, and how many of us have bought into the options wholesale.
There are, of course, drugs. Not usually the first line of defense in Christian circles, but lots of parents do seem to have bought the lie that their children suffer from a sort of pathology that can only be treated by an expert. I’m not saying that’s never the case. I am saying there’s a fair bet that in most cases pathology is the fruit of parenting.
Then there’s the automobile. We can now be all over the place seeing all sorts of people and all sorts of stuff all the time. We don’t need to walk; we can drive. We can drive far and fast, and get our children involved in interminable social activities wherein they, for extended periods of time, become (more or less) someone else’s problem.
There’s also digital entertainment. The cloak: “my kids need to live in the 21st century.” The reality: Marie Winn’s “plug-in drug” is now handheld. It’s absolutely amazing. A child who’s bouncing off walls one minute can be reduced the next to a silent, unblinking, motionless bit of furniture, totally intimate with the thing in her hand, totally oblivious to everything else. It’s not fun that her “buzz” is even worse whenever she reenters the land of the living, but it’s the price we pay for a few minutes of peace. Some children will still sit and watch a feature length movie, but that drug is so yesterday.
How did parents (and kids) survive before all of these options, when all we had was face-to-face time, books, and dirt in the yard? And please. Don’t tell me the kids are happier now.
A short while ago, I walked upstairs to find my 21-month-old playing with the colored beads of an abacus. First words out of her mouth when she saw me (with enormous enthusiasm): “Shee, Duddy?” I do see it, girl. Fine work, even if your toy is seriously out of date. Long may your imagination prosper.