It’s for the Children!

I didn’t get much response to my post below about how children don’t matter as much as their parents do, so maybe I’ll go a bit further this time and see if a reaction is forthcoming.

There’s a commercial out – I think it’s a headlight commercial – that has a fellow stepping in and out of the headlights of a car, showing you how well the advertised car’s headlights illuminate things as opposed to other, less worthy headlights. The point is driven home as the man steps into the light again, this time with a small boy, saying “after all, I might not be alone.”

There’s another one, ostensibly about our profligate use of energy, showing a man on train tracks with a train coming, to illustrate the dangers we are apparently not facing about global warming, or some such foolishness, and that point is driven home as the man steps off the tracks in time, revealing, however, a small girl standing behind him who now does not have time to move out of the way.

A while back, there was a law in Utah that children had to be buckled into the car until they are roughly 41 years old, if I remember right, but there was (until very recently) no such law for their parents.

In each case, the point is subtle but sharp – we don’t actually care that much about adults. It’s children that really matter. Hit a grown man, that’s gonna put some nasty dents in your car, but HIT A CHILD!?!?!?!? UNTHINKABLE!

This is precisely wrongheaded. Exactly backward. Can we start with the purely economic analysis? (Is it even permissible these days to use economic analysis when talking about children?)

Strictly from an economic standpoint, children are a drain. They produce nothing (are destructive, even), earn no money, cannot defend themselves, and have no real capacity to generate value (other than entertainment), except by becoming adults. They cannot even make more of themselves (although I confess, it doesn’t look that way when my kids come in from playing outside on a hot day. I’d swear there are hundreds then, multiplying every minute). Adults, on the other hand, have useful skills, usually produce significantly more than they consume, and have the inestimable value of being able to generate copies of themselves (which is one reason women are so much more valuable than men: ten women+one man = ten potential children; ten men+one woman = nine likely homicides). By any economic measure, then, the adult is much more valuable than the child is.

How else can we examine this? Socially? Anyone ever run a nursery? Sociality is created by exchange of information and ideas, two things small children have almost none of. Productive sociality is created by work (quilting bees, corporations), two things even quite large children are terrible at. A nation of children would be 1) almost unthinkably primitive and crude and 2) overrun in minutes by ten grown men (or three experienced mothers).

And I beg leave to ask – if adults are simply there to protect children, what is the purpose of the children? After all, once they grow, they’ll become simply protectors of new children. What is the point of all this?

I’ll say it, even if nobody else will: adults are what children are supposed to become. Productive, interesting, honest, useful adults. That is the purpose for which we have children, to create quality adults. The purpose of assembling a car is to have a finished car. An embryonic car is a pile of corrodable junk. A child that will not become a productive adult is a fantastic waste of time, money, and potential.

Given this, given that when we’re growing anything else into something useful, we spend time, energy, and incredible sums of money making the environment in which the thing will grow as conducive to growth as possible, I have a serious question: why do we suck so bad at doing this for our kids?

Sticking with the car analogy, you don’t make a car into a car by letting the steel take whatever shape it chooses. This is perhaps a bad analogy here, as children do most certainly choose things and steel, in the main, does not. Nevertheless, I think the analogy has some use. Car steel is to become a car, not a train, not a fencepost, not a girder. A car. What kind of car, well, that depends. There are lots and lots of different kinds of car. Similarly, I don’t care if my children are chemical engineers or mathematicians or mortgage brokers or music teachers. Don’t care one little bit. All they have to do is become productive. Add something to the world they live in. Create, not destroy. But make no mistake, they do have to become adults. That is their purpose. That’s why they came here.

What is the first thing to do when you want to create something? Find the pattern of the thing you want to create. Might just be in your head, if it’s never been in physical form before (my sister Allison created a novel, a novel that had never been before she created it out of her head. I cannot express my continuing sense of wonder at the majesty of that act). But the pattern has to exist. In our case, we do have a pattern to follow in creating adults, and His name is Jesus Christ. But leave that aside for a moment, and consider that the pattern most likely to be used in molding children into adults is the parents of those children.

Let’s abandon the analogy here, for children, unlike steel, have remarkable ability to mold themselves. Children, as much as they contend this is not true, will do what their parents showed them, to uncomfortable degrees. The single greatest environmental factor in child development is the parents of the child. Would it not behoove us then to make the parents as copy-worthy as possible? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to work on improving the model, rather than focusing all our time and energy on the child?

You want your children to have a happy, stable marriage? Have one yourself. You want your sons to grow up to adore their wives? Adore their mother. Often. Visibly. Audibly. In front of the kids as often as practicable and decent (and it is okay to stretch the bounds of what your kids think decent public adoration is. They’ll groan about it, but seeing you holding hands and hugging each other in public is something they won’t forget, and secretly, it pleases them). You think your daughters should be decently covered when they go swimming? Cover yourself. Your kids spend too much time on computer games? Turn off your computer. Find something for them to do with you. You want your kids to treat your grandkids with respect and love? Do that for them. Treat them like they are capable of becoming what you want them to become. Give them responsibility, not “space”. Give them hard tasks, not “time to be a kid”.

I’m not advocating never allowing your kids to play. That’s unreasonable and stupid. You play. Why shouldn’t they? Play with them, for Heaven’s sake. But you work, so why shouldn’t they? Why should they get the idea from you that they aren’t capable of producing anything, that work is drudgery and should be avoided, that their “needs” are more important than yours? What’s that going to lead to? I’ll tell you what it leads to. Paris Hilton, that’s what.

This is tough love, folks, and don’t I know it. It puts the responsibility for raising and molding these children squarely back on ourselves. We want our kids to be great, well, then we have to be great. As great as we can be. And here is where the model of Christ becomes especially valuable, because we have a perfect pattern to follow in creating ourselves. It’s very hard to do this, much harder than throwing huge 2nd birthday parties for clueless and indifferent toddlers, but it is worth it, and after all, it’s what we are meant to do. We’re meant to be adults, too, and were not finished yet.

5 Responses to “It’s for the Children!”

  • diana banana says:

    big brother…you should write a book

  • Alison Wonderland says:

    So wait, let me get this right. I have to be the kind of parent I want my kid to have? Dude, you’re killing me here. I’d much prefer to sit on the couch and yell at them. Any chance that’ll work?

  • Alison Wonderland says:

    PS What, no link to the fantastic blog of the majestic sister, Allison? but I’d like to read it, she sounds like a really super gal.
    But that’s fine, I see how you are (how you roll?). And I forgive you.

    READERS: See link above.

  • earlfam says:

    I would add a little bit of perspective to the other side of the outrageous birthday parties for young children. Quite true that sometimes (maybe often) they are opportunities for parents to show off how much money they have or what great parents they are or some equally self indulgent reason. But there are those who do the exact same thing-at least it looks the same from the out side-but it has a pure and virtuous (or at the very least benign) motivation behind it.

    In many cultures the first birthday has traditionally been celebrated even more than the birth of the child. Because if the child made it to a year there was a pretty good chance it would live to be an adult. Being born didn’t mean much, but making it to a year did. So families celebrated. It’s a tradition, it’s an excuse to get together, it’s a way of saying that they care about each other, it’s a way of saying that human life is valuable and should be treasured and rejoiced over. It’s a good thing even if it seems silly to those of us who have no such tradition.

  • Cj says:

    We do not happily tolerate additional perspectives on this blog, E. You should know that. :-)

    You make a good point. It isn’t as if I’m opposed to family gatherings, as you know. Nor am I necessarily opposed to birthday parties (though I’m less excited about those), and I am very supportive of rite-of-passage events. That said, I do not see the current extravagance of those parties as being evolutions of traditional grateful celebrations of milestones reached; rather, the ones I’ve seen (and the ones I’m chiefly inveighing against) are attempts to compensate for not doing the simple, every-day things that good parents do coupled with misplaced emphasis on the supreme importance of the child.

    I’m not suggesting that we as parents don’t mean well. We almost always do. But we’ve been so duped by the psychological babbling of Doctors of This and That that we forget these people almost never have any actual parenting experience. My mother never wrote a book, but she knew a whale of a lot more about raising children than Dr. Spock. And in my house, we had a community birthday party every FOUR YEARS.

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