Sort of Parent Every Child Needs
By Johann Christoph Arnold
back with a grandfather's perspective, I can see that I
had the best dad a child could wish for. Of course, I didn't
really appreciate that fact until I found myself agonizing
over my own teenagers. I've had eight. But when parents
ask me for advice, I tell them about my father.
father, theologian Eberhard Arnold, once said that raising
children should mean, "helping them to become what
they already are in God's mind." My siblings and I
received such consideration from our father throughout our
upbringing, and the result was a relationship of mutual
love and trust that lasted, unbroken, to the end of his
this relationship was grounded in plenty of old-fashioned
discipline, including scoldings so loud and dramatic (especially
if we sassed our mother) that we would be shamefaced for
hours, certain that the neighbors had heard every word.
Name-calling and mockery were cardinal sins in our house.
Like boys and girls anywhere, we sometimes made fun of adults
whose peculiarities made them stick out. But my father failed
to see any humor in it. He had a nose for cruelty and would
not tolerate it for a minute.
his temper never lasted for long. Once when I was eight
or nine, I angered my father so much that he threatened
to spank me. As I waited for the first blow, I looked up
at him and, before I knew what I was doing, blurted out,
"Papa, I'm really sorry. Do what you have to do - but
I know you still love me." To my astonishment, he leaned
down, put his arms around me and said with a tenderness
that came from the bottom of his heart: "Christoph,
I forgive you." My apology had completely disarmed
incident made me realize how much my father loved me, and
taught me a lesson I have never forgotten - one I drew on
in dealing with my own children years later. Don't be afraid
to give a child a straight word, but the moment you feel
he is sorry, be sure there is immediate and complete forgiveness
on your part.
Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky writes, "There is nothing
higher and stronger and more wholesome for life in the future
than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood,
of home. People talk to you a great deal about education.
But some good, sacred memory preserved from childhood -
that is perhaps the best education. For if a man has only
one good memory left in his heart, even that may keep him
from evil...And if he carries many such memories with him
into life, he is safe for the end of his days."
child of European immigrants who fled to South America during
World War II, I grew up in what I now see was poverty. For
the first several years of my life, I was often hungry.
Yet, I would find it hard to imagine a happier childhood.
Why? Because my parents gave us children time and attention
on a daily basis. For instance, they always ate breakfast
with us before we went off to school each morning, no matter
how hectic their schedules. They did this until my youngest
sister graduated from high school.
was a gifted pastor and spiritual writer. But when, as a
refugee, the only job he could find was gardening in a leper
colony, he made nothing of it. He said only that there was
honor in doing the humblest service for others, and doing
grew up, hard physical work was part of daily life. One
did not need to look for it. There was no indoor plumbing,
no central heating, and, for many years, no electricity.
Meals were cooked on an open fire, and there was always
wood to split and stack and water to carry. As a teenager,
I grumbled incessantly about the never-ending chores, but
my father had no pity. And in retrospect I am grateful.
I see now how his insistence taught me self-discipline,
concentration, perseverance, and the ability to carry through
- all things you need to be a father.
parents I know carry water anymore, but they're fooling
themselves if they think raising a child doesn't involve
hard work. Janusz Korczak once wrote, "There are insights
that can be born only of your own pain, and they are the
most precious. Seek in your child the undiscovered part
Verena, and I gained plenty of "insights born of pain"
in the course of bringing up our children. Like most parents,
there is plenty we would do differently if we had the chance
to do it again. Sometimes we unfairly assumed bad motives;
at other times we had the wool pulled over our eyes; one
day we were too lenient; the next, too strict. Of course,
we did learn several basic lessons as well.
wisdom goes, teenage angst is "just a phase."
Adolescents have always chafed under parental authority,
and they always will. When rebellion becomes a way of life,
however, we cannot just brush it off. What is it that today's
children are rebelling against so vigorously, and why? To
me, the answer is simple: Far too often, children are taught
to "do as I say, not as I do."
a father, I know how hard it is to be consistent - and how
easy it is to send confusing signals without even realizing
it. Having counseled hundreds of teenagers over the last
three decades, I also know how sensitive young adults are
to mixed messages and inconsistent boundaries, and how readily
they will reject both as clear signs of parental hypocrisy.
I have also learned how quickly the worst family battle
can be solved when parents are humble enough to admit that
their expectations were unclear or unfair, and how quickly
most children will respond. Few experiences brought me as
close to my children as the times I overreacted but then
realized it and asked them to forgive me.
from my own experience as a teen, I don't know what I would
have done without the trust my father showed me, even though
there were plenty of times when I frustrated or disappointed
him. Rather than distancing himself from me over those incidents
or taking them personally, he used them as occasions for
deepening our relationship. My father used to tell me -
and this has always stayed with me - "I would rather
be betrayed a dozen times than live in mistrust." There
is nothing that draws a parent and child as close as such
Johann Christoph Arnold is a family counselor and author
of ten books, including "Endangered: Your Child in
a Hostile World." Buy it at http://www.plough.com/pp/books/Endangered.htm.
Write to the author at JCA@plough.com.
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