Happiness Despite…

Purpose Found in the Dark

Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”


Tragedy befalls us all. Suffering is one promise life always keeps. There are times when we don’t see how the sun could possibly shine again. I would like to share the story of two very different women, whose experiences give us insight into how to move toward a brighter future even in the most desperate circumstances. Their lives give us hope that we can find happiness and purpose despite, and sometimes even because of, our adversity. Light can be found in the midst darkness.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”*

Sacrifice of Comfort and Well-Earned Self-Pity

As a young girl, Anne Sullivan was already well-acquainted with grief. At age five she contracted a painful eye infection which took most of her sight.  Her mother died leaving her with her abusive father. Her father soon abandoned her and her brother to an overcrowded and filthy almshouse where her younger brother soon  died. She said her experience at Tewksbury Almshouse left her seeing life as “primarily cruel and bitter.” She became prone to violent outbursts and terrors. Through stubborn persistence she gained admittance to school but became a defiant student and was nicknamed Miss Spitfire.  Despite her hardships and temper, she graduated from the Perkins School for the Blind as class valedictorian. She was soon recommended as the teacher to an exceptionally difficult six-year-old girl in Alabama, Helen Keller. 

Helen had been just 18 months old when she contracted an illness which left her blind and deaf.  She faced a lifetime of darkness, silence, and isolation. Despite a loving family and remarkable intelligence, Helen became extremely frustrated and violent due to her inability to make sense of her surroundings.  She behaved “like a wild animal” and her parents were at a loss of how to handle her. Anne Sullivan was to be her savior, but not without great sacrifice. 

In this clip from The Miracle Worker, you will see the stubbornness of both teacher and student brilliantly portrayed.  Anne was no pushover; she knew what had to be done – she had to get Helen to understand the concept of language. She knew Helen would live life wandering aimlessly in the dark until she came to that realization. Anne was willing to do whatever it took so Helen could gain that understanding. (Clip 2:30)

Anne’s efforts to tame this wild child were met with opposition from Helen’s indulgent parents and physical violence from Helen. Because of Anne’s own stubborn and aggressive nature she understood Helen and she had the temperament to do what it took. It was not a pleasant experience at the beginning. Helen “hit, pinched and kicked her teacher and knocked out one of her teeth. [Anne] finally gained control by moving with [Helen] into a small cottage on the Kellers’ property.” Anne’s daily efforts to teach Helen were met with anger and misunderstanding from an unruly and ungrateful child. Anne likely ended her days feeling unrewarded and unappreciated, yet she persevered. Anne later said, “People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved. ” Anne was willing to sacrifice her comfort, she was willing to be mistreated and unloved, because of the potential she saw in Helen.

But the young Helen also had to sacrifice.  She had a very well-earned victim card. She had an inexhaustible list of justified excuses, bitterness, and anger.  No one would have blamed her for achieving very little. She could have continued roaming the rooms, grunting and eating off strangers plates – that was the easier and understandable path.  But eventually Helen choose instead to see hope and purpose in the darkness and silence of her life. “I have made my limitations tools of learning and true joy.” 

These women did not ask what was fair or what they were owed; instead they began to climb out of darkness. How could Anne find trust and love when her life had only been suffering and neglect? How could Helen make sense of the world when all she experienced was unintelligible? They saw a purpose greater than their own momentary desires and they ultimately found happiness and peace in that pursuit. “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” For both women, the alternative to their sacrifices only led to more misery and suffering. Their path of sacrifice was difficult and required a transformation of their weaknesses into strengths. Their shared stubborn, aggressive, and disagreeable natures – developed in their suffering – had to be purposefully harnessed and refined to achieve true greatness.

Proper Love Exemplified

“When Queen Victoria of England pinned one of England’s highest awards on Helen Keller, she asked [her], ‘How do you account for your remarkable accomplishment in life? How do you explain the fact that even though you were both blind and deaf, you were able to accomplish so much?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, Helen Keller said, “If it had not been for Anne Sullivan, the name of Helen Keller would have remained unknown.’” (Vital Speeches of the Day, p. 42).

Anne Sullivan, “Miss Spitfire”, with her definite and contrary nature, was able to reveal the true Helen Keller; she helped her transcend the willful and uncooperative child and become the inspiration of millions.  Anne did not pity Helen; she did not accept her weaknesses because of her hardships. She “willed the good” of Helen more than her own, or Helen’s, momentary comfort. This scene of Anne attempting to train Helen to use good table manners shows her determination and dedication to getting the “good” out of Helen. (Clip 6:12)

What is love?  Love is compassion and acceptance. But love is much more than just this. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “willing the good of the other”.   Love is the ability to look inside a tormented soul and see the possibilities to be found there – the potential for goodness, and happiness, and strength.  Today’s mantras are “You are perfect just the way you are”, “Don’t change for anyone”, “Happiness is the goal”. There is some truth in these words, but there is much greater truth to be found outside of them. If we are willing to leave the world self-esteem and enjoyment and push into the darkness and uncertainty of our own discomfort, we may find a love and strength much more powerful than mere acceptance. “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Anne Sullivan didn’t accept Helen Keller as-is.  She saw her aggression, her disobedience, her willfulness, as impediments to achieving a brilliant potential.  Dr. Jordan Peterson recently shared the perspective he took as a psychotherapist, and one we may take towards those we “love”, “(Famous psychologist Carl) Rogers said you have to have unconditional love for your client…and I say, No! I have unconditional positive regard for the part of my client that is striving toward the light and I am an enemy against the part that is trying to drag that person down.”   

Anne was not concerned for Helen’s comfort – comfort was keeping her from progression. Anne had to make Helen uncomfortable enough that she was forced to find a new path forward. As the clip above shows, this was a painful and harsh experience – it didn’t look a lot like the “love” of compassion and acceptance, it looked like punishment, it looked like suffering. But Anne had faith, she knew that if Helen could simply grasp language, then she could see her ultimate potential, a potential full of hope, understanding, and influence.

In this incredibly emotional scene, Helen’s eyes are opened to language. The pieces finally fit together in her mind and she understands. As she discovers the staggering reality of the gift Anne has given her she is filled with Love for her teacher. She later recounted this moment, “‘Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten … and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! … Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house, every object … I touched seemed to quiver with life.” (Clip 6:12)

Not only did Anne’s love produce a miracle in Helen’s life, but Helen’s love for Anne transformed her teacher.  Anne was able to find peace and appreciation in her friendship with Helen that she had never experienced. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan became inseparable and were companions for 49 years.  “The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me.”

Sacrifice + Love = Hope

Throughout her long life Helen Keller faced each situation in physical darkness and silence. She could have remained insular and protective. Instead she was the first blind/deaf person to graduate from university, she wrote several books, became an influential activist, public speaker, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was named one of the most influential people of the 20th century. She was determined to find joy and meaning despite her physical limitations. “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I am in, therein to be content.”

Perhaps the memory of her pathetic state before that remarkable moment at the water pump kept her always conscious of her need for gratitude.  “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” Progressing onward, towards a great purpose – sacrificing our selfish desires and excuses for the love of someone or something – will always create a sense of optimism and hope. Self-pity and bitterness are left behind and we are hopeful for what lies ahead. We have gained confidence in our ability to overcome because we have done it before, and we know what it takes. 

We all can feel blind and powerless – like six-year-old Helen Keller. We may be groping in the dark for happiness and fulfillment, completely oblivious to the plans or purposes of our Teacher. We can choose to dwell on our limitations, or be content in our inadequacies – but our Teacher sees our potential. Sometimes the lessons He gives are incomprehensible to us; they may frustrate us and cause us to question His wisdom and love. Despite our lack of appreciation, He will keep working with us until we finally come to that great Understanding- when we realize what it all means and what we could be. Then our sacrifice of self will be insignificant to the majesty of our newfound life of hope and purpose.

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corintians 2:9

– Ally

*Quotes by Helen Keller unless otherwise indicated.

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Only a Dad

Only a dad, with a tired face,

Coming home from the daily race,

Bringing little of gold or fame,

To show how well he has played the game,

But glad in his heart that his own rejoice

To see him come, and to hear his voice.

 

Only a dad, with a brood of four,

One of ten million men or more.

Plodding along in the daily strife,

Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,

With never a whimper of pain or hate,

For the sake of those who at home await.

 

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,

Merely one of the surging crowd

Toiling, striving from day to day,

Facing whatever may come his way,

Silent, whenever the harsh condemn,

And bearing it all for the love of them.

 

Only a dad, but he gives his all

To smooth the way for his children small,

Doing, with courage stern and grim,

The deeds that his father did for him.

This is the line that for him I pen,

Only a dad, but the best of men.

 

Edgar Albert Guest

 

Despite the lack of respect many fathers receive from our modern culture, Fathers are, in some ways, more important to the development of a strong and resilient generation than mothers (link here). They also bear the incredible responsibility of modeling a child’s view of another Father, our Father in Heaven. If our father is kind and patient, we know that our Heavenly Father must be as well.  If our father is harsh and unforgiving, we may begin to believe God is also thus. If our father is absent, we may doubt the existence of any loving Father to protect us. George MacDonald said, “Words have an awesome impact. The impression made by a father’s voice can set in motion an entire trend of life.”  The words of a father, the way he conducts his life, the way treats their mother, will frame his children’s lives, and through him the future of the world.  Thank you to all the fathers who often unnoticed and unappreciated, sacrifice themselves for their families.

“Father!—To God Himself we cannot give a holier name.” –William Wordsworth

The Philosophy of Fatherhood: A Call to Adventure

Guest Blogger: Troy Flake

When our first kid was on the way, my wife and I were full of naive excitement and apprehension. We spent a lot of time and energy choosing names, painting the nursery, making plans, and predetermining every aspect of how we’d bring our baby girl into the world. When my wife was about 20 weeks along, the doctors discovered that our new baby had a serious, potentially fatal, heart defect. In order to have a chance at surviving, the baby would need a major open-heart surgery. Immediately, our nervous excitement became chaotic dread.

Shortly before her due date, my wife was devastated to learn that the baby would be whisked away by doctors immediately after she was delivered to be placed on life support. This was particularly hard on her. The doctor agreed to let my wife give the baby one kiss before they took her away. We knew this might be the only kiss my wife would give our little girl during her life. As this bleak reality set in, my wife turned to me and said “You go with the baby. Don’t take your eyes off her. Stay with her no matter what!”

I suddenly felt a transformation. I was still afraid, but I was no longer a passive observer to the drama that was about to unfold. It was now up to me to provide protection, comfort, bonding, and love to this little girl in the critical first moments of her life. I could also feel that my wife was relying on me, trusting me, turning her most precious possession over to me. Along with fear, I felt a purpose. Fear with a purpose feels a lot better than fear alone. This responsibility was a gift from my wife.

A few days after she was born, they performed the surgery. It was 7 hours long and our little girl’s heart was stopped for 3 of those hours. After the operation, she was in extreme peril. The surgical team was crowded in her little room, refusing to go home in case she crashed. There was only enough space for one parent to sit in the corner and watch. With great difficulty, my wife wisely turned these critical hours over to me. There was a real chance these would be the last hours of our little baby’s life. But my wife knew and showed me that she knew that my fatherhood was equal to her motherhood. As hard as it was, she let me act not only as the protector of our child, but as her hero and full partner in parenting. This was an amazing start to fatherhood.

I believe a major part of the bond a man feels for his children comes as a result of his relationship with their mother. Sadly, many fathers walk away from their children when a marriage breaks up because the bond has been severed. Even in stable marriages, the father’s bond can be weakened when the mother doesn’t foster the bond between father and child. When I see a father who is not especially helpful and engaged with his kids, I almost always see a mother who is mistrustful, overly particular, and critical. Both parties likely bear some blame for this dynamic.

I think the moms usually have good intentions — they want their kids to eat right, look right, play safely, avoid all risks. And they probably think they are doing a favor to the husband by providing instructions. But a mother trying to control every aspect of her children’s care is not signaling her trust and admiration for her partner’s role as a father. Or she may have a darker agenda. She may have contempt for her husband and feel threatened when she sees her children forming a bond with someone else. The “devouring mother” doesn’t just devour her children — she devours their father too.

The disengaged father might feel that being lazy is his best choice because whatever he tries is wrong, disappointing, and counterproductive. He is failing to adopt the responsibility presented to him. He is to blame for this. But it is harder to adopt responsibility when it doesn’t seem like you get any credit for it. A father may even resent his wife for criticizing him when his efforts to help fall below her standards. As Dr. Jordan Peterson says, “If you really want to create misery, punish someone when they do something good. That will ensure they never try again.” Sadly, I know men who have bitterly resolved to prove to their wives how useless they can be with the kids because they felt slighted when their effort resulted in criticism.

The popular narrative is that there should be more equality between men and women in child rearing. I think this is a good development from the (probably apocryphal) 1950’s “I don’t change diapers” attitude. Fathers can and should adopt as much responsibility for the care and upbringing of their children as they possibly can. Caring for children is one of the most meaningful things a person can do and men who fail to take that chance when they have it will pay for it dearly. Men get told a lot that they should be better fathers.  Some women complain, demand, or dictate. They tell their partners that they owe them or compare their burden with their husband’s. Some women are picky about how the husband interacts with the kids. They might correct him (often in front of the kids) and then resentfully say “ugh, I will just do it myself.” This kind of attitude can rot the bond between the father and his kids.

Men thrive when they are called to adventure. We’re all familiar with the motif of the hero who goes forth to slay the dragon, save the woman, and get the gold. Moms, do you frame caring for child that way to your husband? Do you let him know that every time he changes a diaper, he has bravely met a horrible beast? That when he soothes a crying baby, he’s used his talents to gain a treasure? That when he gets up with a sick kid at night, then goes to work the next day, he is climbing Everest in your eyes? That he is a hero to you every time? Do you let him figure things out for himself so that his victories are his? Do you let go of enough so that he can use his creativity and ambition in the way he interacts with the kids?

Here’s an experiment. Tell your husband you want to do a girls night and ask him if he wouldn’t mind running the show for a few hours. When the time comes, walk out of the house without saying anything. Or just say “Thanks! I’m so excited to have some time with my friends.” Resist the urge to give instructions. Don’t tell him the bedtime routine. Don’t tell him to keep them out of the street. If he asks what to feed them for dinner say “It’s up to you!” Don’t text him to see how things are going. Just walk away. And when you get back, don’t ask how things went. Just tell him how much fun you had and then go on and on about what a great dad he is. Tell him that you told your friends how great he was. Tell him you told your mom what an awesome dad he is– he will really like that.

You might be surprised, but I promise your kids will survive. They’ll probably eat more sugar and watch more TV than you want, but they’ll survive. The real shock might be the effect that has on your husband. See what happens when you show him that you trust him. You will be presenting him with a challenge that he can solve. When he succeeds, he will feel like he has accomplished something and most importantly, gained the esteem of his wife. This will bond him to you. It will bond him to your kids. That day in the hospital, when my wife turned our little girl over to me, it cemented me to them both. Fatherhood became an adventure and I was the hero of the story.

The Shadow of Parenthood

Young Mother and Her Children, Paul Delaroche

“The best thing about not having children is that you can go on believing that you’re a good person.” Fay Weldon.

Raising children can bring out the worst in us, but also potentially the best. Because of children’s ability to expose our weaknesses, parents are given a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge our faults and attempt to change them. It is important to recognize our own “dark side” so we can conquer it. Change is extremely difficult and can even seem impossible – however the love we have for our precious and innocent children (and our desire to not screw them up) is one of the best motivators for personal progression.

In the short clip below Dr. Peterson helps us recognize our own dark potential in parenting, and how we can use this truth to teach our children.

*His rule, “Don’t allow your children to do anything that makes you dislike them” sounds harsh but there is great truth in it. However, it is important to note that the application of this rule is dependent on the maturity and progression of the parent. If a parent “dislikes” harmless and appropriate behavior in their children then he/she is not ready for its application. Clip 3:48

Becoming a Pleasant Mother

Many of us moms may be picturing the nine weeks of summer before us with equal parts excitement and apprehension. Having our beloved children home all day is an “awesome” opportunity – we get the freedom to plan our own adventures; but we also have to, plan our own adventures. We have to entertain our kids for 13+ hours a day and face the guilt of potentially doing it wrong. In past summers I have found myself getting snippy with the kids by the end of the day – too much noise, too many fights, too much chaos. I am often disappointed by my irritability with my children, I never want my children to doubt that I truly enjoy their company. When they are grown, I want them to remember me not as just a good mother, but a pleasant mother. My own mother raised seven children and learned a lot of difficult lessons along the way. I asked her to relate her experience in improving her own interactions with her children and making her relationships with them pleasant – even through the long days of summer.

George Herbet and his Mother, Charles West Cope

From our Guest Blogger, Jana Flake

When I was in the trenches of young motherhood, I noticed that I had turned into a negative person.  I had read a book by psychologist, John Gottman, which described the necessity of the 5 to 1 ratio for a happy relationship.  For every negative statement towards your spouse, or child, you need five positive ones, to keep the relationship flourishing.  I realized that I probably had that ratio flipped.  I became weary of the sound of my own irritation. I often spoke to my children in annoyance, telling them to do something, to hurry up, to fix something they had done incorrectly, or to stop doing something. One day I had a conversation with my eldest daughter who was deciding what to do about college and her future. I asked her if she wanted to be a wife and mother and she quite assuredly said, “Why would I want to do that? You aren’t having any fun at it.”  That response really woke me up to how I was being perceived by my daughter.  I loved my children; they were everything to me, but the daily communication of that love was getting lost. I had come from a long line of negative, worrying women and I didn’t want to pass those traits onto my children. My daughter’s statement was the catalyst that put me on a path of educating myself on parenting and communication, which resulted in a happier life for me, my husband, and children. Here are a few of the most important things I learned and applied in my parenting which I believe helped me to be more pleasant.

It’s the relationship that counts

I noticed that whenever one of my children needed discipline, I was always very negative and often created distance between us by the way I talked to him/her. William Glasser, a psychiatrist and author of Choice Theory recommends that whenever we are facing a difficult situation with our child, we should ask ourselves, “If I do or say this, will we be closer or farther apart? You need to do what you can to keep close to your child. The relationship should take precedence over always being ‘right’. Establishing trust means that there is nothing the children can say or do that will persuade you to reject them.” I decided to think before reacting in stressful situations, to reflect on how I could help my child solve the problem in a respectful way. I realized that if I was intentional in my parenting, I could discipline my children and not hurt the relationship. They might not be happy with me, but because we had worked out potential problem areas, solutions, and consequences in advance -they would not be sulking in their rooms thinking I had treated them unjustly. When it came right down to it, most of my annoyance and harshness came because I was thinking of myself and not my child. William Glasser said, “Few of us are prepared to accept that it is our attempts to control that destroys the only thing we have with our children that gives us control over them, our relationship. Don’t choose to do anything with a child whom you want to grow up to be happy, successful, and close to you, that you believe will increase the distance between you.”

Create a No-Problem Area with each unique child

When I was working with at-risk high school students, I would often have their parents and student in my office trying to figure out how to help the teenager get serious about their deteriorating behavior. After assessing the problem, I would ask the parents what they did with their son/daughter in the “no problem” area. This is a philosophy of Dr. Philip Osborne (Parenting in the 90’s) that has the potential, if implemented by parents, to change their students’ lives as well as their relationships with them. There are four problem areas of interaction between parents and children: parent’s problem (“Clean your room”), child’s problem (“My friend won’t speak to me”), mutual problem (“You need to study so you will pass this class”), and the no-problem area (problems are not the issue – relationship is). I would ask the parents to create a safe space where they could relate to their child in an enjoyable and meaningful way where no areas of conflict were discussed. I noticed that most parents knew they needed “bonding-time” with their kids like going fishing, fixing a car, playing sports, going shopping, etc. but most of the time they would be talking about their child’s problems. I would encourage the parents to find some time when they could just enjoy being with their child. It needed to be a mutually enjoyable experience so the child didn’t feel like a “project”. As a mother I would often take one my children with me when I had errands to run, just to talk. My husband could overcome a dispute with his sons just playing sports with them – never talking about the issues of conflict. It was almost magical to watch. We have interests and talents which bring us great joy. Choose one of these interests that line up with your child’s nature and make this your way of playing and bonding with your child. If you love cooking – teach your child to cook. If you love reading – read with your child. If you love travel – plan a trip with your child. These areas of common interest will be the important “no-problem” zones. These moments with your child will be a safe haven in your relationship when hardships come and you and your child can share your joint-love of this interest throughout your lives.

Look to understand what is behind their behavior

While pursuing my Master’s Degree in Psychology I did an internship in Germany with Dr. James Barton. He explained to me that all behavior a child exhibits is normal if you just understand the world they are living in. That idea has stopped me short many times in my life when I have a knee-jerk reaction to another person’s negative behavior. To help understand the child’s world, Dr. Jane Nelson in Positive Discipline maintains that most negative behavior in children can be understood if we look at their world and what needs they are trying to meet. The goal of a child is to belong and to be loved. Sometimes they will do behaviors that seem to be the opposite of that but if we look beneath the behavior, we can understand their world. Dr. Nelson puts these behaviors in four categories: negative attention (No one is paying attention to me, I will get their attention); misguided power (No one listens to me around here; I have no voice or control; you can’t make me do it); revenge (I’ll get even, I will make my sister cry); and assumed inadequacy (Oh, it’s just not worth it, things will never change; I am just not worth it). I would ask myself when a negative behavior would come up: “Does he need some of my time?” “Is she feeling like she has no control over her life?” “Why is she trying to get back at me?” “Is he feeling like he is not good enough?” If I looked beyond the behavior to what the child was really saying, it helped me calm down and use my problem-solving skills rather than my negative emotion to respond appropriately. Again, getting myself out of the picture helped. (Link to a helpful chart on what drives our children’s negative behavior by Dr. Jane Nelson.)

As I became more mindful of how I spoke to my children and learned to apply these concepts, I began to be a more pleasant mother.   I started to look for opportunities to bond with a particular child and spend just a few minutes one-on-one with them and enjoy their companionship.  Before I began this re-education, most of my interaction with my children involved speaking to them about a problem. I started to have more fun with them. I had been too serious and over-focused on the tasks of running a household. I had missed much of the joys of relationship.  As I look back at the pictures of myself and children before my “awakening” I regret the good times I missed. My daughter’s blunt rejection of the prospect of being a mother was my motivation to change. It must have worked, she now has a large and happy family of her own.

The Blessing of Sorrow

“I walked a mile with pleasure;
She chatted all the way,
But left me none the wiser,
For what she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.”
Robert Browning Hamilton

Modern philosophy tells us to avoid pain and hardship at all costs, and we are happy to oblige.  However, a life devoid of difficulty has no power to transform us into a greater version of ourselves. True confidence comes in overcoming a challenge and standing bravely in face of hardship.  Along with joy, parenthood brings adversity we may otherwise avoid, and with it many opportunities for change and growth. If we can be grateful for these wisdom-producing tribulations, and not just the love and joy our children bring, we can deepen our experience as a parent.  C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

A May Morning, James Thomas Linnell

The Quest for More

“The world says: ‘You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.’ This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The quest for “more” may bring purpose and pleasure to some, but the desire is ultimately never satisfied. We are left longing for a greater purpose – one which creates rather than demands. If instead of focusing our energy on material desires, we turn our attention to raising a righteous posterity, relieving the suffering of others, and the development of our own character – we will find true freedom. We will also give our children an example worth emulating, thereby preventing the further moral disintegration Dostoevsky describes.

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

“A century ago, men were following, with bated breath, the march of Napoleon, and waiting with feverish impatience for the latest news of the wars. And all the while, in their own homes, babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles.

Master Baby, Sir William Orchardson

“In one year, lying midway between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! During that one year, 1809, Gladstone was born at Liverpool; Alfred Tennyson was born at the Somersby rectory, and Oliver Wendell Holmes made his first appearance at Massachusetts. On the very self-same day of that self same year Charles Darwin made his debut at Shrewsbury, and Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath at Old Kentucky. Music was enriched by the advent of Frederic Chopin at Warsaw, and of Felix Mendelssohn at Hamburg, Samuel Morley, Edwin Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Francis Kemple. But nobody thought of babies. Everybody was thinking of battles. Yet viewing that age in the truer perspective which the distance of a hundred years enables us to command, we may well ask ourselves, ‘Which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809?’

“We fancy that God can only manage His world by big battalions abroad, when all the while He is doing it by beautiful babies. When a wrong wants righting, or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. That is why, long, long ago, a babe was born at Bethlehem.”

Frank W. Boreham (Mountains in the Mist)

The Heroic Mother

Many years ago, there lived a woman named Sally. She was a widow with three children. Life had been hard and she would have welcomed a change for the better if it came. She thought she saw it come when a man, who was a widower from her past, returned with a proposal of marriage, in his nice suit of clothes, with talk of a prosperous farm. The thoughts of a better life were inviting and she heard him mention servants and that he was a man of substance. She accepted and crossed the river with him to view her new possessions: What she found was a farm, overgrown with wild blackberry vines and sumac, a floorless, windowless hut. The only servants were two thinly clad barefoot children. Their father had borrowed the suit and the boots to go a-courting in. Her first thought was the obvious one: go back home! But she looked at the motherless children, especially the younger, a boy whose melancholy gaze met hers. For a moment she paused, then, rolling up her sleeves, she quietly spoke these words: “I’ll stay for the sake of this boy.” Oh, Sally Bush, what a treasure stood before your eyes that day. She didn’t know when she looked at that melancholy face of ten years, that her stepson would save this nation, and become the immortal Abraham Lincoln. He was speaking of her, when he later said, “All that I am, and all that I ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

Every Mother’s Day my father would read this story. For me, it has come to symbolize the Heroic Mother and the influence she can have on the world. (It still makes me cry every time I hear it.)

In our modern age motherhood is often seen as demeaning and unrewarding work. Common expressions include, “Why do women have to be the ones to stay home with babies?” “I can be much more than just a mom.” These sentiments don’t offend me, they sadden me. The meaning and power of motherhood is increasingly being lost in younger generations. Mothers shape culture. The love and nurture children receive from their mothers can echo down the generations and throughout the world. Yes, women can do many important things outside motherhood, but no other work will be as meaningful as mothering a child in love and truth.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, and those who act as mothers, who, with their love and sacrifice, can transform the world.

-Allyson

Morality: The Tyranny of the Body (Part 2)

C.S. Lewis said, “There are two odd things about the human race. First, that they are haunted by a sort of behavior they ought to practice, what you might call fair play or decency or morality. Second, that they do not in fact act that way”. As the previous post examined, we all seem to have an innate sense of right and wrong, and the soul attempts to guide us in following these promptings of conscience. But there is still so much evil in the world, and in our own hearts. Why?

Almost weekly we see a viral video of teenagers ganging up on a defenseless victim while bystanders laugh, or refuse to intervene. It is a sad commentary on the state of our society. Where is morality? What has gone wrong in the inner lives of those capable of such behavior? How can we prevent this moral disintegration in our own children?

Sacrifice and Morality

Sacrifice is not a sexy thing to talk about; it also doesn’t sound very fun. But sacrifice is what makes societies flourish. Moral choices are decisions of sacrifice. Jordan Peterson explains it as, “giving up something in the present so you can improve the future.” When you have two competing impulses and your conscience tells you to choose the weaker of the two – you are sacrificing the realization of your stronger impulse, with the hope that your choice may eventually benefit you, or the world at large. As the previous post explained, returning Nutella required the sacrifice of my lazy nature, but it benefited society, my on-looking children, and my own sense of integrity. In order to get a handle on how to preserve Morality, when modern-times have enlarged the importance of Self, Jordan Peterson helps us understand that sacrifice is really for our own benefit.


Parental Duty: A parents’ example of sacrificing the “demands of flesh” for goodness, are influential in helping our children maintain their morality. The other day my sweet little toddler pointed out the window at a car and said, “Look at that Idiot!” I was shocked and said, “Sweety, Idiot is a mean word – we don’t say words like that in this family.” My older daughter said, “Mom, you say that all the time when you are driving.” Oops! We parents need to learn to temper our own emotionality and be examples of self-control. “You pass by a child, spiteful, with ugly words, with wrathful heart; you may not have noticed the child, but he has seen you, and your image – unseemly and ignoble – may remain in his defenseless heart. You don’t know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him and it may grow, and all because you were not careful before the child, because you did not foster in yourself a careful, actively-benevolent love,” Fyoder Dostoyevsky.

What is Good Anyway?

Not only is sacrifice of immorality increasingly rare, but the very concept of good and evil is questioned in an increasingly relativist world. Ben Shapiro pointed out that a cultural shift has been occurring over the last several decades, “Where children had once learned from Pinocchio to ‘always let your conscience be your guide,’ now they are taught by Frozen, ‘no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free, Let it go!” Children are told from a young age that they should do whatever makes them happy. Often that statement is not qualified with restrictions or exceptions. The end justifies the means. This leaves children guideless and at the whim of instinct. When their moral voice warns them against an action – which may in fact make them happy – they become confused. ‘Free choice requires a real distinction between good and evil, without that you don’t have free choice,” Jordan Peterson. A generation of youth have been inundated with amoral messages such as the motto of Assassin’s Creed, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”.

As Scientific Materialism is elevated to a new religion, goodness itself is questioned and the Self becomes god. With the view that we are simply a product of evolutionary impulses with no eternal significance, we can justify the conscious disregard of conscience. The words of Hamlet seem more applicable today than ever, “There is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” With this mindset there is no alternative but the supremacy of the natural Self’s desires. As C.S. Lewis explains in his prophetic prediction of the destruction of the Moral Law, The Abolition of Man, “When all that says, ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.” From our modern culture children can only expect justification for selfishness, moral guidance must come from us parents.

Hamlet, William Morris Hunt

When We Age-out of Morality

When he was teaching a group of disciples Christ placed a small child before them in said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Children have an innate humility and ability to recognize the promptings of conscience. My son scolds me quite often for my “small” lapses in morality. “Mom, that light was red!” “Mom, why did you say I missed school because I was sick; we went to the zoo!” His righteousness can get old at times, but since my conscience has apparently been dulled by neglect, he is a good stand-in.

However, the ability to consistently recognize the moral choice often fades with age. As time passes, the Self begins to dominate the Soul. When children become more socially aware, they seek the approval of friends, even if it means ignoring their internal morality. If parents emphasise the importance of friends, children feel pressure to conduct themselves in any way they must to gain acceptance. Knowing this threat, every morning when my sister’s boys march out the door for school, she yells after them, “Be a Leader, not a Follower!”

Christ Blessing the Little Child, Carl Bloch

When puberty hits, nature’s instincts become more powerful –  the body can behave like a tyrant. Raging hormones combined with parents and peers chipping away at our natural morality, can lead to disaster.  Parents counterproductive push of happiness-seeking rather than sacrifice, and peer pressure, are often at odds with “righteousness.” The loud demands of the natural Self can easily drown out the softer calls of a soul’s conscience. The soul may well lose this war.  But there are steps parents can take to help our children fight back against the often selfish and immoral calls of the body. As part 1 mentioned, emphasising the reality of the soul and “Moral Law”, as well as providing a strong example of living in harmony with conscience, will give children the proper perspective to fight back.  But how do we prevent the Self from becoming too powerful?

Arming for the Battle of the Body

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Romans 7

Often it can feel like there is a battle between our souls and our bodies; a battle between what is right and what is desired. Dr. Jordan Peterson has a chapter of his book, 12 Rules for Life, examining the idea of choice – and choosing the righteous call of conscience (meaning) over the selfish demands of the natural self (expedience). “Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient”. Each decision which leads us towards corruption, at the expense of conscience, is one step towards individual and societal decay. Unfortunately the body and soul are often at odds, “Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” Galatians 5:15

The body is often driven by the desire to survive –  our instincts. As a moral soul, we would correct Hamlet and say that these desires are “neither good or evil – it is in the doing that makes them so.”  In the moment of choice morality is found.  If we become a slave to our instincts, it is because we are following the call of “the flesh” at the expense of our moral self.  The calls of pleasure, of popularity, and self-preservation are all driven by our natural and selfish desires.

Parental Duty:  Here lies another responsibility of parents.  We must be as my mother’s voice was (see Part 1) – a feeling of guilt accompanying an immoral choice.  When the flash of conscience is not enough, values instilled by parents could well tip the scales. The knowledge of these values can stay with our children throughout their lives.  Our children may not follow the path we desire, but the principles we teach will remain as the echo of truth. Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Role Play and the Development of Morality

Studies indicate that role-playing, or acting out moral dilemmas, help children develop empathy and integrity. If we use our children’s own body in the development of values, morality can be built into their very muscle memory. When examining the horrors of history, such as the Holocaust, Dr. Peterson speaks about the importance of imagining yourself not just as a victim, but as a perpetrator. Children do this all the time as they play, there has to be a bad guy. As they pretend, children learn the motivations of the bad guy and the attributes of a good hero. As we attempt to pass values onto our children, it is helpful to use the imagination and physicality of children to aid us. In our family we like to act out scriptures stories after reading them. A few nights ago we learned about the Good Samaritan. The kids all picked their characters and proceeded to play out the story. It is fascinating to watch as children are able to pick up on motivations and intent not conveyed in text. My four-year-old daughter played the first traveler to pass the poor beaten man. As she passed by my son, disheveled and laying in a heap, she looked down in disgust and said, “Eww!”

The Good Samaritan, Van Gogh

Teaching values means speaking honestly with your children about impulses, threats, and temptations they may face and helping them work out solutions in advance.  When I was in high school, kids often offered me pot or cigarettes. They knew I was a “good girl” and so went out of their way to try and pressure me. I never felt tempted in the slightest, I had made my decisions years in advance that I would never do drugs or smoke. I knew, morally, that succumbing to such temptation was wrong; but I also knew drugs and cigarettes would negatively affect the plan I had for my life.  When children decide in advance what they want out of life, they can go out with courage into real life and resist temptation. Having a clear vision of your future makes sacrifice of popularity, impulses, and happiness doable. As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Awkward Conversations

A reader recently asked how I face awkward conversations with my children on difficult subjects such as sex, drugs, and suicide. I believe if we speak to our children from the very beginning (in an age appropriate way) about the realities of life, there is no need to fear any topic. The earlier children are introduced to life’s difficulties the more likely their innate and unsullied morality will guide them in the formation of their future decisions. An eight-year-old has no problem saying he will never do drugs, especially when he sees the realities of life for the addict we often pass on the way to school. This is not to shame or degrade the addict; on the contrary, it is to enable the child to see him as a child of God, who has been brought low by poor choices and circumstance. As we teach about the realities of drug addiction, we can also teach important lessons of respect and compassion for those who suffer. “One can tell a child everything, anything. I have often been struck by the fact that parents know their children so little. They should not conceal so much from them. How well even little children understand that their parents conceal things from them, because they consider them too young to understand! Children are capable of giving advice and the most important matters.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When examining our own poor choices we cannot simply blame our upbringing, our culture, or generation; we must look to ourselves. We must likewise teach our children that their choices have consequences. By refusing to shield children from the reality of life’s consequences in others lives and their own, they will see the power of choice. “A moment of choice is a moment of truth. It’s the testing point of our character and competence,” Stephen Covey. Those moments – where conscience tells us which way to act, and our body demands another course – shape our destiny.

Losing Free Will: The Death of Morality in a Mob

When I examine the behavior of teenagers beating up on a defenseless victim, I see no point of choice; I see no pause to consult morality. This is when the determinist view that there is, in fact, no free will, starts to seem more reasonable. These angry teenagers seem to have no control over their actions. Are we all just a product of our instincts after all? I believe in these instances the “moment of choice” has been compromised. Perhaps parents did not show a good example of sacrifice and proper behavior. Maybe these youth did not learn the principles of choice and consequence. Perhaps happiness was over-emphasised. Peer Pressure and tribal instincts were allowed to grow out of control, stifling promptings of conscience or any feelings of guilt. JBP clip on Free Will

Prematurely cynical children

Guilt is an emotion we would well be rid of, right?  Guilt is judgmental. As C.S. Lewis said, “All men alike stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own, and all men therefore are conscious of guilt.”  Rather than allow guilt to point us to our areas of corruption, we often would rather just drown it out. We give the Self the power to tyrannize the Soul. The causes of such nihilistic behavior are varied and complex, but having no “truth” and no “why” give ample reason.

When guilt and temptation cause us to “give up”, we begin to allow our body’s impulses to supersede the calls of conscience.  We look cynically on morality and take the easier road to self-satisfaction. This adaptation, or desensitization to “sin”*, has been measured by scientists. A robust finding in neuroscience over the past 20 years is that negative emotional responses to situations do not remain at the same intensity level if they are repeated. Instead they become less distressing over time, a biological process known as adaptation.”*  This process is followed by all of us at some level or another, but for some children who are not raised with knowledge of the soul, or examples of sacrifice of Self for morality, desensitization can start early and dramatically.  Despite our innate Moral Sense, the more often “sinful” behavior, (behavior which ignores the promptings of conscience), the weaker those promptings will become. The resultant cascade of bad choices often ends in addiction.

Our culture craves addiction. Video game advertising coaxes us with claims of being “the most addictive video game ever.” Opioid addiction, alcoholism, gambling, and many other forms of addiction are rising dramatically.* As parents we need to resist this culture of addiction. We need to protect our children from habits which compromise their freedom of choice.  We want our children’s souls and bodies free of the chains of addiction, free to choose, and to feel guilt when they err.

Perhaps these teenagers have had so little direction and example that they have lost their morality. Perhaps they have been so desensitized that they no longer have fully functioning free will. Maybe they felt justified in some way and rationalize their behavior. But we know what happens when bystanders lack courage or conviction to stand up for morality. We know what happens when good and evil become indistinguishable. Mob mentality is allowed to rule. The question is what comes first, the mob or the mentality? In a mob we outsource our morality to the group, and are therefore no longer responsible for our actions. “In a mob there is distribution of responsibility because everyone is faceless. A lot of what keeps people sane is being held immediately responsible for their actions. One-on-one interactions remain peaceful but you can remain faceless in a mob…you have the opportunity to let the worst parts of yourself manifest themselves without fear of being called for your actions,” Jordan Peterson.

Course Correction

Parental Duty: When my oldest son was two-and-a-half, we realized he was addicted to his pacifier. He couldn’t sleep without it and asked for it constantly; he begged for naps so he could use it again. We decided it was time to break him of his dependence. We told him that Santa needed his pacifiers so he could use them to make a fire truck for Christmas. Our son really loved firetrucks and loved Santa. He gathered up all his pacifiers and we put them on the front porch to be collected by an elf. He whined the first couple nights but within days his addiction was gone forever. Parents of young children have a unique power – they can take away sources of addiction. You can throw out the video game console – you can never buy Oreos again. The fault was ours, we never should have let our son’s need for the pacifier grow to that point. It was lazy and selfish parenting on our part, but raising little kids is tough and no parent is perfect. The ideal is to be aware enough to notice desensitization and not allow an addiction to form. However, parents may need to take drastic measures to stop bad habits and addictions while we still can. Our children may be angry with us, but our most important job is to raise moral, strong, and independent children.

Conclusion

Despite the prevalence of disturbing viral videos, as I have researched and pondered morality, I have found hope.  Hope in the knowledge that my children do not get their sense of morality from me alone. In fact examining their behavior can help me regain my own moral compass.  There is hope knowing they have the power to make correct choices.

However along with the hope is a knowledge of the great responsibility parents hold as guardians of morality.  We must be examples of sacrificing our own “happiness”, selfish desires, and acceptance by others, for what is right. We must consistently pass values onto our children and prepare them for moral temptations they will face. We must be aware of areas where our children may be deadening to the calls of conscience and free them of sources of desensitization and addiction.

Because of our children’s unique personalities and individual strengths and weaknesses, the tension between body and soul will present itself differently in each child. It is difficult to predict or prevent the struggles our children will face. However, I hope that by applying some of the parental responsibilities presented in the last two posts, we will be able to keep our children’s soul’s light shining, and prevent the tyranny of an untamed Self.

-Allyson

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*In using the word “sin” I referring to those moments of choice where we disregard conscience and choose instead to satisfy Self. “Righteousness” would be the ability to choose morality, even at great personal sacrifice.

Additional Resources

To Tell a Tale: The Use of Moral Dilemmas to Increase Empathy in the Elementary School Children

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1016585713774

Interesting perspective on role-play https://themilitarywifeandmom.com/role-play-for-preschoolers/

Role Playing Helps Kids Learn Moral Complexity, Christian Science Monitor. https://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0706/p15s02-legn.html

Constant  Cravings, Is Addiction on the Rise, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/09/constant-cravings-is-addiction-on-the-rise

Lies Breed Lies; Brain May Get Desensitized to Dishonesty, Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/56614-brain-may-get-desensitized-to-dishonesty.html