Advice


Here’s some advice about relating to ‘younger people’ from Karl Barth to his friend Carl Zuckmayer:

  1. Realize that younger people of both sexes, whether relatives or close in other ways, have a right to go their own ways according to their own (and not your) principles, ideas, and desires, to gain their own experiences, and to find happiness in their own (and not your) fashion.
  2. Do not force upon them, then, your own example or wisdom or inclinations or favors.
  3. Do not bind them in any way to yourself or put them under any obligation.
  4. Do not be surprised or annoyed or upset if you necessarily find that they have no time, or little time, for you, that no matter how well-intentioned you may be toward them, or sure of your cause, you sometimes inconvenience and bore them, and they casually ignore you and your counsel.
  5. When they act in this way, remember penitently that in your own youth you, too, perhaps (or probably) acted in the same way toward the older authorities of the time.
  6. Be grateful for every proof of genuine notice and serious confidence they show you, but do not expect or demand such proofs.
  7. Never in any circumstances give them up, but even as you let them go their own way, go with them in a relaxed and cheerful manner, trusting that God will do what is best for them, and always supporting and praying for them.
– Carl Zuckmayer, A Late Friendship: The letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer (Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 45.
[HT’s: Travis; Image is of Carl Zuchmayer with his family, Berlin 1928]
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BBC Radio 4 will be hosting a 4-week series about parenting called Bringing up Britain which starts this Wednesday 2 April at 8pm. It will be presented by Mariella Frostrup.

[Note: I’m not sure if those outside of Britain will be able to listen online]

There’s a wee passage in Carl Zuckmayer’s correspondence with Karl Barth in which Zuckmayer offers the following comment on American parenting:

If one has lived in America and seen in countless cases what injustice is done to children, one has enough of it. One sees too much that someone, hidden behind misunderstood psychoanalytical maxims, allows them to become little tyrants and ill-humored despots, despots whom adults crawl in front of for pure convenience, only to get peace; and one sees how this takes effect in the unfortunate adolescents when they, brought up without authority, are confronted with the difficulties of life. – A Late Friendship: The Letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 47.

HT: Travis

Trevor Cairney has recently shared on how research on families and demographic trends have demonstrated a number of significant changes in families and parental practices in recent decades. He summarises the trends under four headings:

  • Family structures are changing – e.g. there are less children in families, women are having children later in life, there are more sole parent households, there are more blended families, children stay at home longer (and many more return as adults) etc.
  • Employment structures are changing – that have an impact on families, with more parents working in multiple jobs, more women back in the workforce, many workers working longer hours, more people working from home etc.
  • Fathers and mothers have changed roles and levels of engagement as parents – While there is a trend towards some fathers spending more time caring for children, for others longer working hours have affected family life. As well, the increase in women doing paid work outside the home has led to more children in the critical first five years of life being placed in childcare.
  • Research has highlighted the critical role that fathers have – For example, fathers have a significant impact on their children’s learning and behaviour. The influence on children’s education alone (the quality of which is also correlated with many other behavioural factors) is significant, as a UK centre on fatherhood has outlined.


In a synthesis of five key UK studies Goldman (2005) concluded that higher involvement of fathers in their children’s learning alone is associated with:

  • better class and exam results;
  • higher educational expectations & qualifications;
  • better attitude to school, attendance & behaviour;
  • less delinquent & criminal behaviour;
  • higher quality family relationships; and
  • better mental health.

Other research has suggested that the influence of fathers and family structures flows well beyond children’s learning. Qu and Soriano (2004) conclude that family formation has important implications for individuals and society in relation to health and wellbeing, financial security, life outcomes for children and population growth.

Research also suggests that fathers who show affection, give support and yet offer an authoritative parenting style, have a more significant impact on their children, when compared with fathers who adopt a more authoritarian and detached style. Other evidence indicates that who the father is, and what he does in life makes a difference. For example, Goldman reports research that suggest that high levels of antisocial behaviour (eg, not paying bills, aggressiveness and so on) in fathers were associated with sons displaying more difficult behaviour at home and school.

In summary, what many research studies show is that fathers have a significant influence on the cognitive, emotional and social development of their children and that this is even more significant for boys.

What the Bible says about fathers and families?

The importance of families and the critical role of fathers are seen throughout the Bible. The concept of family is central to God’s plan for his creation and its restoration. The Bible teaches that relationships, like creation itself, were affected, disrupted and dislocated by sin in the Garden (the book of Genesis describes what happened). But God sustained his people in families and sought to restore them to their rightful place and adopt them into his own family (Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 1:4-5 talks about this). He continues to do so in spite of the curse that has been placed on family relationships as a result of sin, and the struggle that ensues between men and women (Gen 3:16). God’s plan to rescue his people ultimately involves family – his family!

Throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments, family is important. The nation of Israel was one family, descended from Abraham. Within the nation that would rise up as a result of God’s promise to Abraham, there would be tribes defined around family lines and ultimately families within the family, all linked through fathers. Fathers are central to families in the Bible. Marriage in turn is seen as necessary to create a nuclear family – a man and woman, committed to each other in a covenant relationship, who seek to have and raise godly children (Mal 2:14-15).

Some practical implications

I can’t cover lots of implications in one post (but I might over a series of posts). There are many places I could turn to in the Bible for guidance, but there can be no better place than the advice that God gave to Moses to pass on to the Israelites in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. Having exhorted them to fear God and obey his commandments and to take care how they live (Deut 6:1-3), God gives instructions on how this is to be done within their families.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house
and on your gates.”
(Deut 6:4-9)
God expected the men of Israel to obey his commandments and to love him with all of their being – heart, soul and strength. He also expected them to teach God’s commands and expectations to their children in the ‘everydayness’ of life. To talk about God when they sat together at home, when they walked from place to place, when they were preparing for bed and rest, and when they rose in the morning. They were to speak of God’s ways, to wear the words of God’s law on their foreheads (no I’m not about to suggest we re-introduce this practice that is still followed by some Jewish people), and write them on the doorposts and entrances to their houses, so that they would not forget them and so that they could teach them even more effectively to their children.

Here is a picture of a father with a right view of God, who trusts, obeys and serves his God and who seeks to teach his children to understand the wisdom of God and to follow him. This is also a picture of an involved father. If we were to translate this biblical picture into contemporary terms, we would see a father who seeks to obey and honour God, who sets a good example for his family, who models what it is to be a child of God. Such a father spends time with his children (indeed will ‘waste’ time with them), listens to them and shares godly wisdom at meal times, while resting, while together at home, while travelling.

(HT: The Importance of Fathers)

Is it really stupid (you’re allowed to say ‘yes’) for me to be contemplating a 30+ hour plane flight next March with a 23 month old? I did it about a year ago and it was exhausting but fine. Now my daughter is, of course, much more active and I’m anxious how she (and I) will cope. It will probably be just the two of us (and a plane load of wierdos). I am really keen to hear from others who may have been (or still are) similarly mad and if you have any tips.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve got few clues about most things …

I was chatting recently with another dad about the issue of disciplining our kids. It was a really fruitful conversation and I thought some of the things he was saying were worth sharing here with a view to encouraging conversation on this long-debated topic. He wrote …

”Carol’ and I use talking and reasoning as our primary way of correcting our children’s behaviour, figuring that if they’re too young to reason they are not necessarily doing something with mal intent. Our positive role models of parenting have been those parents who explain to their children why they are not to do this or that. We have also found that channeling our children’s energies into positive actions is often the most effective way of keeping them from bad actions. Often kids act out because they are bored or want attention, so helping them find something creative and showing them affection can often be a much better solution to their seemingly bad behaviour than some form of punishment.

There are also just plain physical reasons a child might act out – ­tiredness, hunger, etc. It’s good for us to be in tune with ‘Jodi’ and ‘Clare’ to know why they might be acting as they do and it makes us more understanding as well. Punishing a child when they are actually just bored or hungry is not wise parenting­ after all; we are the parents and they the children. We should be more wise to those things than they are, even though it is their own disposition we are dealing with.

We do spank but we use this as a rare last resort and are very cautious when we do spank. There have been times we have spanked ‘Jodi’ for doing something we thought was dogged disobedience only to learn minutes later that ‘Jodi’ was acting that way for good and logical reasons. So we have encouraged ‘Jodi’ to explain to us why she is doing what she is doing. We try never to spank out of anger. In fact, I have found that gentleness goes much further in correcting behaviour than any physical or verbal harshness. I also believe threatening a child with physical punishment is detrimental. Therefore, whenever we do get to the point of spanking, we give ‘Jodi’ options like, ‘You have some choices: you can listen to Mommy and Daddy and here’s why we want you to do such and such, or you can get a spanking and here’s why we don’t want you to do such and such. Which do you choose?’ It is important to explain to a child why they should do the right thing or why they should avoid the consequences of the wrong choice. We also try to persuade her of why it is beneficial to her to do the right thing and disadvantageous for her to disobey. This instills in ‘Jodi’ not only the ability to communicate her feelings and reasoning to others, but also teaches her to make wise choices.

In the end, I think there are far more constructive ways to discipline than spanking, but I don’t see why spanking should be ruled out if administered properly. Depending upon the issue, there have been times we have just let ‘Jodi’ work through her disobedience without our physical intervention; at other times, we have felt a spanking was necessary in order to let her know there are certain boundaries she should not cross. The ultimate rule is, ‘What is most beneficial for the child in each instance?’’

‘The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously’. – Hubert Humphrey, cited in Craig R. Smith, Silencing the Opposition: Government Strategies of Suppression of Freedom of Expression (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 195.