Parenting

Virtue and Vice

Have you ever had one of those undertakings that caused you to turn around and say, “What was I thinking?”  As I look at my attempt to condense and relay wisdom from this man Fenelon who lived in the 1600s, I am feeling like a child trying on his father’s shoes.  What have I gotten into here?   Nonetheless, I’ve jumped in the pool, so I may as well swim.  Fenelon has influenced my parenting through such nuggets of truth which carry on even to this day.  I want to bless you with a few more here.

Today we are looking at several additional principles he set out about education (rearing) of children.  Let’s set the stage by discussing this idea:

Our chief concern must be in giving them an agreeable and charming idea of virtue, and a frightful idea of vice; this early precaution would wonderfully facilitate the future practice of every virtue. {Principle 4 in his plan of Education}

And, how does he suggest we do this?  He talks about the way WE ACT.  We caregivers are setting the stage as to how our children will learn to behave by the way we carry ourselves in our difficulties.  If we are prone to tantrums and outbursts when we are frustrated (no matter whether they be “mature” forms of these) we are training our children to do likewise.  Modeling is one of the most important aspects of our parenting.  Children will invitably do what we do rather than what we say.

The next point he makes is that we should engender a love of truth and honesty in our children.  He says:

Every word that is said to them should go to inspire a love of truth, and an abhorrence for all dishonesty.  Thus we should never make use of any scheme or trick to appease them, or persuade them to do what we wish with, for by this we would teach them a sort of cunning and finesse, which they never forget.  

His eighth principle of Education, by which we mean the raising of a child, was that we would use no dissembling arts to pacify or persuade our children.  His ninth principle went right along with that: Recommend an open, sincere character, and show a just abhorrence to duplicity.  In other words, if we are tricky with them, we are teaching them to be tricky (dishonest).  Best to be up front with our children and not attempt to manipulate them into doing as we wish.  Don’t say one thing and act on another.  Parents who hide, lie or gossip are training children in poor habits which make them feel dishonesty is an acceptable way of life.

Thirdly, Fenelon warns us against raising children who think too well or too often of themselves.  You know how easy it is for a child to assume the earth’s axis is hinged upon their very existence.  We are never to neglect our children, but we ought not make them the center of the world either.  His thirteenth principle is to promote useful curiosity, but supress every sentiment of vanity and self-conceit.  With regards to this, he suggests:

Balance compliments and encouragement with the knowledge that God is the source of all blessings.  “For in Him we live and move and exist.” (Acts xvii, 28) 

In our home we have implemented this principle by saying things like, “That is a special talent you have.  Isn’t it wonderful how God made you with that ability.  God made everyone special in one way or another.”  We can praise our children while simultaneously giving greater praise to God.  Our children can appreciate the gifts God has placed within them without feeling they are above others and without taking a prideful credit for their own goodness.

Lastly (for now), Fenelon points to the fact that children should be trained to perceive both thier grasp of knowledge and their current lack of capacity to understand things simultaneously.  They should be glad of what they know, but also know there is so much they don’t yet grasp.  This attitude will help them remain teachable and will mean they will be likely to seek wise counsel throughout their years.  He advises:

“You see,” you will say to them, “that you are more reasonable than you were a year ago; in another year you will know many more things than you do at present.  If, a year ago, you had pretended to judge these things which you now know but of which you were then ignorant, you would have judged erroneously … It is the same now with regard to subjects, of which you have yet to acquire a knowledge.”  

I hope you are gleaning some nuggets here which are causing you to stop and think through the roots of your parenting.  We can get so caught up in diapers, homework, meal preparation and home care that we don’t set aside time and energy to be intentional about the heart of our children and the cultivation of virtue in them.  I would love to hear your thoughts and what you are learning as we go.  

Photos Courtesy of Bing Images

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