Family matters

 

I was zapping through different television channels last Wednesday, and a photograph of a young boy playing a drum-kit caught my eye.

The child turned out to be a character, now an adult, who is a head of department. Someone had filched it from his drawer and sent as an e-mail to all the staff. He thought it was a slight, because he had a “reputation to uphold”. However, his half smile indicated that he actually enjoyed the ribbing that he got from his colleagues – and of course it was conducive to his solving the case in hand.

The episode – from a series the name of which I do not know since I chanced upon it towards the end – involved the usual shady character planning the murder of his wife. There was a twist to the hackneyed plot of hired assassins, though. He knew that each Monday, his wife deposited the takings from his saloon, at the local bank.

So he kitted out two of his henchmen as robbers, and sent them on a pretend heist, the object of which was to get his wife killed. This had to be an inside job; and the guard who shot himself point blank in the upper arm to pretend that the robbers had hit him conveniently forgot that the wound would be different from one that had been made from a distance.

But I digress; my point was that I felt for the person ragged as “Ringo Starr”.

This week, five people, in five totally dissimilar situations, told me I am “sweet”… an adjective that is hardly ever used in the same breath as my name. Frankly, this bothered me.

But my faith in humankind was totally restored yesterday, when someone told me I was being obstructive, obdurate, and deliberately argumentative.

It all began when someone in a writers’ group to which I belong, posted a link to the reality television show about The Duggars. This family of Independent Baptists – like the website called Raising Godly Tomatoes of Elizabeth Krueger – advocates several ideas of how to bring up children in a “godly” manner. This led to a discussion about similar lifestyles, mostly oft he Quiverfull style.

The Quiverfull movement takes its name from Psalm 127: 4-5; As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Natural Family Planning is anathema to the movement. Spanking, however, is often not; ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ is treated as Gospel truth. In fact, the line comes from Part 2, Canto One of Hudibras (“Love is a boy by poets styl’d; Then spare the rod, and spoil the child.”) What the Book of Proverbs does say about chastisement, however, is quite similar: (1) 13:24 He that spares his rod hates his son: but he that loves him chastises him betimes; (2) 19:18 Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying; (3) 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him; (4) 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beats him with the rod, he shall not die; (5) 23:14 Thou shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell, and (5) 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.

In my opinion, however it is fundamentalist to assume that the Bible insists you are to spank children to get hem to obey you, whether or not this is illegal, or classified as abuse, in your country. Cynics would say that it is also an easy way out; it stops the endless “why-why-why” lamenting of children who feel they have been hard-done by. It is the be-all “because I said so” ‘reason’. By the way – a girl should always do her “serving” cheerfully.

Systems like this, apparently, must be adhered to devoutly in order to work. There is no room for mix-and-match; and if you do not agree with certain phases in the system, you are judged to be against it in its entirety. Parenting systems that rely on regimentation usually contain references to “secular gurus” whose advice is as nearly worthless as does not matter. Some things, however, such as living debt free, and not having premarital sex, make perfect sense.

Does “reasonable discipline” include showing a baby a toy, and then smacking him for reaching out his hands for it? Likewise, Michael Pearl suggests tempting a child with a bite of their favourite food (placing a morsel within the child’s reach) and when said child instinctively reaches out for the food, their hands are smacked and the parents says “no”. This is repeated as often as it is deemed necessary – a sort of Pavlov reaction in reverse. The child then knows not to reach out for what he wants, but to seek parental approval, first and foremost, before doing this and anything else.

Such ruses are supposed to teach the child that he is in this world for the purpose of Joy – which, here, does not mean happiness, but (a) Jesus (b) Others (c) Yourself. We pray “lead us not into temptation” and then these people do it deliberately, to teach self-control. It is unfair, as I see it. Children must be raised in the same manner that tomatoes are attached to a stake, while being homeschooled, so that they will have no temptations to stray from the straight and narrow.

Incidentally, it is a part of the duties of older siblings to nurture and care for their younger ones, and older girls must learn to defer to younger boys because the latter are meant to lead. These ideas come not (only) from the aforementioned two systems, but from others similar to them in certain aspects. Adult women are not supposed to take paying jobs outside the home; girls may, however, start earning money by having home-based businesses. At puberty, a daughter will pledge her virginity (sometimes in writing) to her father who will match-make for her with a male from a similar background whom he finds suitable.

For some this Christian Patriarchal system is a way of life. For others, this radical, extremist side of “Evangelical” “Pentecostal” “Christian Right” “Fundamentalist” and “Charismatic”, and even “Fascist”.

I am all for sublimation (not submission) – but I also advocate dignity of the person. I am all for young to dress neatly and decently in order to deserve the name. However, I would never insist they wear dresses only to safeguard their femininity – or, as they have it “not defraud their brothers”. Some of the women also wear head-coverings; but this is extant in some cultures and religions too. Trousers may be as womanly as dresses, according to cut and fabric.

Maltese mothers, in our majority, tend to and watch out for my kids (and sometimes, by force of circumstance, those of other people too). However, a straw-poll among my friends indicates that as a general rule we do not spank, and when we do, we do it with the flat of the palm on the bottom (where fatty tissue will absorb the hit) rather than with a strand of electrical line.

Each system of nurturing offspring has its plusses and its drawbacks; I find that inculcating into a child that free will is abhorrent is not to my liking.

I also question the wisdom of bringing up children under the watchful eye of a television camera – but that, of course, is another story.

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