Thursday, 14 August 2008

How to Really Love Your Child

I have read a few books on being a parent, but 'How to Love Your Child' is one of the best. The title reveals what the author considers the basic way we are to relate to our children – love. This in itself was thought provoking. We can easily think of discipline, training, parenting or raising children, but Campbell wants us to see that the fundamental way we must relate to our children is by loving them.
However, insightfully, Campbell points out that there may be a gap between our love for our children and their perception of it. He gives countless examples of children growing up in families where they were obviously loved by their parents but where the parents did not work hard at communicating that love. As a result the children reach their teenage years smouldering with resentment.

Accordingly, Campbell identifies the ways in which we can show our children how we love them: Eye contact, physical contact, focussed attention and discipline. His treatment of each of these is very helpful, practical and, perhaps most importantly, realistic. I had never realised how important eye contact was and am now trying to engage each of my children more deliberately. (They are probably getting a bit freaked out by their Dad suddenly staring at them....) Perhaps the hardest one to put into practice is focussed attention. In our age of DVDs etc., it is all too easy to try and satisfy your children's needs in a very lazy way by putting them in front of a TV and to assuage your conscience by making sure that the program is at least educational. However, it is only deliberate, focussed attention that will reinforce to your child that you love him or her.

In terms of practical ways to show your child you love them, then this book cannot be faulted. The question , however, is whether Campbell is right that the fundamental need of a child is to know that they are loved. This is obviously a Christian book but there is not a great deal of detailed interaction with the Bible. However, I do think that Campbell is on to something. He has taken the most basic command of Scripture – to love one another and basically expounded it in the context of parents relating to their children. In that sense, it is a thoroughly Christian book. Campbell does not shy away from treating the whole area of discipline – he devotes three chapters to it and cautions against both dealing with misbehaviour too permissively or too harshly And although he does not see the idea of 'training' children as fundamental, it is there – so there is a chapter on 'Helping your child spiritually'.

In general then, I do think this is one of the most helpful books I have read on parenting. However, I did have one main area of concern. I wonder if there may be a very subtle downplaying of the doctrine of sin. Campbell seems to argue (almost exclusively) that when a child is misbehaving it is testing our love: 'Most behaviour in a child is determined by how much he feels loved [...] a child continually tests our love by his behaviour [...] It stands to reason that when anyone is desperate enough, his behaviour may become in appropriate. Nothing makes a child more desperate than the lack of love. This is the primary cause of misbehaviour in a child.' [106-107] Surely, while this is a helpful insight into the nature of some misbehaviour, it fails to take account of the Bible's testimony of human sinfulness. As such, while I heartily recommend this book, it is with the caution that even if we follow it we will not create perfect children. Fundamentally, parenting involves prayerful, humble dependence on God to change our children. As we do that then we are really loving our children.

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