In a neat little book entitled, Successful Fathers James B. Stenson highlights several ways in which the modern father is at a disadvantage when trying to raise Godly and virtuous children. To show this, he highlights the environment in which parents raised their kids in previous generations and by doing so, challenges us to find ways that can work today. So useful have I found Stenson’s insights that I thought it would be worthwhile to pass on what might cause a small revolution in your parenting.
1. For much of human history up until quite recently the home was also a place of work. Where one lived was also the place where one worked, whether on a farm or in a trade or some other venture that could provide for the material needs of the family. And so, the children grew up in a home where hard work was a part of life, theirs as well as the parents’. Work was not just something that parents talked about; it was visible. Contrast this with today where the vast majority of children only see their parents at leisure. Parents just seem to relax and yet stuff can be had. The sense of entitlement is born.
2. The children played a part in the family business. From the earliest stages of life children in the family had a small but vital role to play in the success or failure of the family enterprise. With each new year the strength and vitality of the children added productivity to the efforts of the parents. Leisure time could be increased and family bonding both at work and play were reinforced.
3. As the children grew they would take on increased levels of responsibility in the enterprise. This growing sense of responsibility gave generations of young people what many so sadly miss today, a daily sense of purpose and worth. On a purely social level growing children would be more and more aware that their contribution was not only appreciated by the family but needed.
4. People had to wait for things. For the most part families did not have the financial or material resources to get whatever they wanted when they wanted them. The time of waiting then was an occasion for much growth in the virtue of patience, but it also encouraged a spirit of gratitude that is very difficult to find today among our young.
5. Every family was closely tied to a community, which meant that there were other adults both male and female who reinforced the values that the parents were trying to imbue in their children. In other words, mom and dad were neither the uniquely strict parents nor were they the weird ones. Instead, mom and dad had an approach that may or may not have been unique to achieving the same goals as the rest of the adults in the child’s life.
6. Conversation and reading were the child’s most available sources for learning about life outside of the family. But this only reinforced the bonds in the family and communal relationships. It also once again encouraged hard work and patience as one would have to be proficient at reading to benefit from the resource, which of course could take considerable time in an era when kids are not full time students.
7. Because the child’s future occupation was more or less fixed, parents gave little to no thought of it. Instead, parents thought and spoke much about a child’s future character. Contrast this to today where adults tend to bombard our young with the question, ‘what do you want to be / do when you grow up?’ While an interesting question to be sure, the question ‘will my son be a man of good character?’ is infinitely more valuable because if it is answered honestly it has the power to change how we parent.
8. Families and communities were united in prayer and religious conviction. There were no homilies about the woes of youth from Much Music, and there were no lessons from the movie industry on the value of a human being. God was a fixed point of reference in the life of the family, and the parents’ articulation of life under God, for better or worse, was adopted by the children.