Before I became a Christian, I did not understand what was the big deal about disciplining children. Humans are merely a type of animal, I thought, and young animals will act like animals until they figure it out someday through random osmosis. I was completely wrong. Disciplining children is the best way to prepare fallen little souls to fully worship their Creator as mature adults.
You should not be surprised to know that as a child I was never properly disciplined. I was beaten many times, with instruments such as brooms and sticks, and when I became a teenager, my mother found it more useful to throw objects at me such as flashlights, or whatever happened to be nearby, but not once was I disciplined. My parents never sat me down, told me why my behavior was wrong, the moral consequences of that behavior, and then—without passion—gave me a few methodical slaps on the behind. Instead, the beatings came when my parents had had enough, when they were in a bad mood, when they had a difficult day at work, or when they were angry at their lot in life. Throughout my entire childhood, I was beaten not only because of my behavior, but because of the turbulent emotional states of my parents, particularly my mother, who gave me 98% of my whuppings.
For example, for 29 consecutive days I could disobey my mother and not take out the trash. She would not say a word about it, but then on day 30, because she had a long day at work, she would be furious at my disobedience, and I would get a beating. As an insolent youth, I calculated that it was in my favor never to take out the trash, because the one-minute beating would come infrequently, if at all, and those beatings never came with any lasting punishment that required me to change my behavior. I therefore linked my beatings not to my behavior but to my mother’s mood. I became accomplished at reading my parents’ body language, tone, and facial expressions, but I never fully conformed to their will. I only obeyed them when I felt like it or needed something from them in return. I certainly was never taught a Christian morality that would keep me away from sin as an adult.
Recently I was invited for dinner at the home of a married Orthodox couple with four young children. I noticed something that I had rarely seen before: the parents verbally disciplined their children throughout the time I was there, and explained to the children why they were being disciplined. I never saw the parents just let things slide, even if they were occupied, which is what my parents did so often with me, because if the child learns they can get away with certain behaviors, perhaps if a guest is in the home or they are out in public, the discipline starts to lose its effectiveness and the little one develops a sneaky manipulation and willfulness.
What struck me about the disciplinary method of the Orthodox parents is the constant and consistent nature of it. Kids will be unruly and brazen, and so every few minutes something happened that was an opportunity for discipline in a patient and loving way, never in anger like with my parents. The fruit of this discipline was obvious. The children, in spite of their minor mistakes, behave like angels in my eyes. They have no flaws that I can perceive. Without exaggeration, I can state that they are the most well-behaved children I have encountered in my life, and they are also sweet and kind, but they weren’t born like this—they were molded through the Orthodox faith of their parents, who know that the discipline which demands parental obedience prepares them to obey God and one day enter His Kingdom.
Without any discipline, a child grows up to be a feral adult, chafed at following any type of authority, whether human or divine, developing a level of pride that is even higher than God Himself. It’s no shock that males grown up in single-mom households, where discipline is often lacking, grow up to be derelicts and criminals, and while I saw my father weekly after my parents’ divorce, I did not receive discipline from him, and went on to become a derelict myself and cause incredible damage to the world by enabling tens of thousands of men to commit sin. In my case, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” became “Spare the rod, watch your child become a demon.”
Imagine a woman who wasn’t disciplined as a child. She was always treated like a princess and trained to develop self-esteem, self-confidence, and masculine aggression. She did not obey her parents to not get those tattoos and she certainly doesn’t obey God, but one day she will faithfully obey a man who becomes her husband. Hah! Such an assertion only exists in the mashed potato mind of the lustful man who wants to passionately possess her body. She will put on the veneer of obedience so that he falls in love with her and gives her a fairy tale wedding, enhancing the narrative in her mind of a woman who is worthy of a man’s devoted love, but how long will that pleasantness last before she morphs into a terror? Five years… one year… maybe one month?! If a woman doesn’t obey God, her Creator, she will not obey a mortal man for long, no matter how attractive or rich he is.
I look at the little children of the Orthodox family and see that they possessed stronger will than when I was a grown man, all because they were disciplined from the beginning while I was not. How lucky will they be to start off adulthood with not only the knowledge of God that is taught to them through the Orthodox Church, but also the mental and emotional faculties to follow Him. I’m 42 years old and still straining to develop those very faculties.
I do not lament my past and the fact that I was brought into the Church at the 11th hour. Based on my secular and lax upbringing, I consider myself lucky, because how many people, whose parents did not discipline them, get so lost in their disobedience against God that they never come to develop the faith? In such cases, the failure of the parents will lead to the condemnation of the soul of the child. If I ever have children, I will not be their friend or “cool” dad—no, I will be the loving drillmaster, and grind away at their fallen and evil will so that it is supple enough to obey God’s will, and may they then receive God in all His grace like their old dad.
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