Every sincere Catholic parent wants to raise saints, and we all know that in order to do that we have to raise our children in the school of virtue. When I was a very young mother I got a hold of a copy of David Isaac's book, Character Building, which is a one of a kind book that helps parents teach their children 24 different virtues, all geared toward raising happy, holy adults. I didn't really understand most of what he was talking about when I read it 15 years ago. I looked at the little chart that suggests which virtues to concentrate on when, and jumped right into teaching my under-seven-year-olds the virtues of obedience, orderliness and sincerity. Little did I realize how dangerous only a parital understanding of a thing can actually be.
Hold On To Your Kids has been for me a sort of Rosetta Stone for decoding the mysteries of parenting. Now that I have the key, I've been re-reading Character Building, and anything else I can remember feeling the same way about in my pre- HOTYK days. I believe David Isaac's book completes what for me is a syllabus of parenting.
If I'd only understood the importance of the parent/child relationship, the tantamount role of unconditional love, the damaging effects of fear-inducing anger, and the love-excluding nature of punishment, perhaps our family life up to now would have been very different. But since I cannot go back to change anything I must begin anew today.
Dr. Isaac's Character Building is a tremendous wealth of Catholic wisdom--much the same as
Hold On To Your Kids, only openly Catholic. And while he doesn't come right out and admonish parents against punishing their children, he certainly believes it to be a counter-productive approach to teaching virtue, since it relies on the child's own self-interest as a motivation to virtuous actions, which are necessarily directed toward God and one's neighbor. It is a method inherently self-contradicting.
Early on in the book he emphasizes that it is only in the family that we are accepted and loved unconditionally. The world will judge us for our usefulness, but in the family we are not judged for what we do or who we are. Our actions may be judged to be good or bad, right or wrong, but we, ourselves, are loved and accepted for just what we are--our parents' children. The surest way to protect our children from being seduced by the world is to create a haven as unlike the world as we can. Some parents argue that the world is cruel and unfair and that children are better off if they get used to it as soon as possible. Years later, they can't understand why their children don't want to come home. It's very difficult to distinguish between home and elsewhere when the environment at home was not starkly opposed to the ways of the world, in practice as well as in principle.
In the chapter on responsibility, Dr. Isaacs writes, "If [the child] is to act responsibily, in the true sense, he needs a motive for everything he is asked to do, a relationship with another person, for instance his father." While Issacs doesn't use the word "attachment" anywhere in the sense that we use it when talking about "attachment parenting," the principles are upheld throughout his book.
One of the great mistakes of our parenthood, a mistake in which I think we are not alone, was to view obedience as the highest virtue of childhood. We believed that if we could just teach our children to obey our orders instantly, everything else would so very easily fall into place. I guess I missed this line in the book: "I should clarify one more point: obedience is not a virtue designed for small children, it is not meant to make life easier for parents." After exploring several possible motives for obedience he writes, "What sort of motivation could we suggest to small children for being obedient and what is the best way to instill this motivation? A small child can obey because he intuitively recognizes his parents' authority. They give him security, affection, and a sense of well-being, and all this leads him to do what his parents want, even though he feels also inclined to disobey in order to test his own strength and his scope and ability to act independently." This is what Dr. Neufeld calls "mixed feelings," and what Dr. Craig calls "conscience."
In the chapter on prudence Dr. Isaacs describes the prudent person thus: "In his work and in dealings with other people the prudent person gathers information which he assesses in the light of right standards: he weighs the favorable and unfavorable consequences for himself and others prior to taking a decision and then he acts or refrains from acting, in keeping with the decision he has made." Prudence is the virtue which regulates conscience. It is necessary, along with fortitude, for the cultivation of all the other virtues which are at the service of love. When children are forced to ACT virtuously, the possibility of love is excluded from their motives.