A scan of Morgan's "His First Birthday" [1899]

Molding Our Betters, Not Stamping in Our Image

Successful parenthood is molding our betters, not stamping young souls in our image. If we do as we should, then they will be adults more virtuous and wiser than we are or were. We might be tempted to make freedom the goal: never crossing the will of our children.

Freedom keeps our children from liberty. Freedom says (and here I paraphrase the Bible, Plato, and the American founders) that nevertheless my will be done. Liberty is the right from God to do good. Freedom looks much like liberty, but freedom contains the cancer of selfishness, while liberty sets us free from immoderate desires that would enslave us.

A person who is liberated inside, who cannot be tempted by the world, the flesh or the devil, is free indeed. The man who wishes to do as he desires soon finds himself a slave to his desires, easily manipulated by those around him through those failings.

Lord have mercy!

As parents we discipline to liberate. We hope to teach moderation of desire, the ability to know the right thing to do at the right time in the right way. This trains our passions to seek the good, truth, and beauty: God.

This is so important that Hope and I were tempted to go to the other extreme when our children were small. Early on the temptation was to stamp the youngling with our mark: force them to be exactly as we wish them to be. This might work for a time with (some) small children. This is a losing game, not because as adulthood comes we will, generally, lose, but because if we won, we would lose. What do I mean?

As we age, our hope is for strong, independent, capable children that can face whatever the world is as adults. If you have a child in kindergarten now, there is no way to imagine what this little one will face fifty years from now. So much of what we think is “the way things are” will not be. If we have taught our children liberty, then they will do well in any circumstance.

Part of raising future adults is centering what must be done in the childhood on the moral law: the unchanging truths of Christianity. We can look to eternal things, the rhythm and patterns of Church and ancient truths that have lasted centuries. We must always point our children Godward. We can become signs to our children: this is the way, walk in it.

There is another deeper problem with moving away from molding a child to stamping our image on them. All of us are stamped with the image of God, a very icon to the world. To stamp anyone with our image is to take on God’s role in our children’s life: to stamp our image of Him over His image in them. This is not our role! Instead, we lovingly try to reveal what God has done in them.

Our children are all grown, but this weekend they discussed Plato, God, education, and other topics with me and our college students. They were insightful, independent, and decent human beings. I learned from them. Their Mother, responsible for most of the good practices we found, enjoyed participating with them in learning. In so many ways they are surpassing us in wisdom and in favor with God and man. Thank God they are becoming our betters, long ago taking over the job of shaping their futures under God.

We have lost children and gained adults.