Fonticulus Fides

Friday, October 07, 2005

Where not to go for parenting advice

This story is supposed to be about how Dr. James Dobson has gone from parenting expert to political-force-to-be-reckoned-with. But there is enough in it that good people should wonder why the man is considered a parenting expert at all. Excerpt taken from a phone call made to his "ministry" by a distraught young mother:

"I don't know where else to go," one young mother told social worker Sarah Helus, breaking down as she described her headstrong 3-year-old.

"I've tried spanking him with a switch like Dr. Dobson says, but it hasn't been effective," the mother said. "I've tried explaining to him that Mommy and Daddy make mistakes too and we all have to ask Christ's forgiveness. Nothing works. And I just lose it."

As her son howled in the background, the woman said she had read three of Dobson's parenting books, including "The Strong-Willed Child," several times. They hadn't much helped, but she hadn't lost faith. She begged for a few minutes to ask Dobson how, precisely, she should respond if her son throws a fit in Wal-Mart.

Look, lady, you're almost certainly not reading my blog, but here's some REAL advice for you.

You've been trying "The Strong-Willed Child" approach and it's not working. SO STOP. Get rid of the switches, because they are just turning your son away from you even more. He doesn't respect you, because you're following Dr. Dobson's approach to punish hitting with hitting. It doesn't make sense. And fortunately, you have a little guy who is bright enough to figure it out.

If has a melt-down at Wal-Mart, calmly pick him up and get him out of there. Take him home. Don't worry about the cart full of stuff -- there are people paid to restock that stuff. And then work on preventing melt-downs in the future. Don't take him when he's hungry. Don't take him when he's tired. Don't take him if he's easily bored and you expect him to ride strapped into a car seat for 20 minutes, then strapped in a cart for an hour while you shop, then strapped in a car seat for another 20 minutes on the way home. Let him walk and help you get stuff off the shelves and put it in the cart (my three-year-old loves to do that). If that doesn't work, WalMart and other similar situations must be too over-stimulating for him at this age. So go alone when Daddy is home to care for the kids. And you shouldn't be shopping at WalMart anyway, because they sell cheap, shoddy goods made at slave-labor wages and put honest local proprieters out of business, but that's another post.

Instead of immediately reaching for the switch when he misbehaves, take a second to look at the situation from his perspective. Is he bored? Frustrated? Unable to verbalize what he wants to say? Trying to get your attention? Hungry? Sleepy? Do you expect too much of him? Do you expect to little of him?

Listen my friend, my peer -- Dobson has it all wrong. He thinks children are depraved in ever sense. He thinks you have to beat the evil out of them and then replace it with "good" -- but he defines "good children" as mindless idiots who do as they are told. Those are the kinds of kids who fall for peer pressure later. Those are the kind of kids who believe the biology teacher who tells them that the human fetus isn't a person. Those are the kind of kids who believe the philosophy professor who says there is no God. Those are the kind of kids who have learned to quench the natural goodness God has given them -- the ability to be creative, to think independently, to courageously try new things.

Dobson has no use for the creative, intellegent, courageous child. He calls them brats. He coaches parents to switch those kids by telling them how he trained his DOG. Yeah, that's right. Dobson's parenting techniques are straight out of dog obedience school. I remember one passage in particular about him beating his dog with a rolled-up newspaper every night until she went to bed on command. And that, he says, is how you "discipline" children! Why, he even says that a child who cries for "too long" after being switched needs to be switched AGAIN because their crying is disobedient! As if pain was not a legitimate cause for tears.

Your son is only three. He's a bright little guy, it sounds like. Even Dr. Dobson admits that the kids with the strongest wills are the brightest of the bunch. What you need to do is stop looking at this precious child as though he has been cursed. His personality is a gift from God. You job is not to beat that out of him. Your job is to help him shape it to it's fullest advantages and learn to overcome the pitfalls that may accompany it.

Parenting isn't easy -- I think we all have to agree on that point. But you make it harder on yourself when you reject the GOOD that God has given your child, simply because some quack wrote a one-size-fits-all book on parenting. There IS no one-size-fits-all.


P.S. If Dr. Dobson or any of his staff stumbles across this blog and reads this post, I would be more than happy to welcome comments.


  • Thanks for your reply, Sparki. I have a friend that is a big Dobson fan, and it makes me really sad. Good to hear such a thoughtful and loving riposte :)


    By Blogger mandamum, at 5:02 PM  

  • Well said! I've always found Dobson to be a pompous ass, and his child-rearing advice is borderline sadistic. Nothing Christian about it ... Your comments on strong-willed children are right on the money... I just discovered your blog, and will return to it regularly. Thank you for a well-written, REALLY Christian post!

    Patricia Gonzalez
    Hudson, Quebec, Canada

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:34 PM  

  • Thanks, Amanda. Thanks, Patricia & welcome!

    By Blogger Sparki, at 7:08 PM  

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