Here we are in our fourth week looking at Francois Fenelon. I have been wondering about these posts. I want to engage myself and you in this study of ancient parenting wisdom (read more about that here). It has so much to offer us as it has withstood the test of time.
Yet, this week I have been thinking how my writing style changes when I write about parenting approaches. All of a sudden this “teacher” voice comes out and I sound like I’m writing my Masters Thesis instead of just chatting with you, sharing my heart or poetically expressing my soul. I guess we could sum that up to the fact that both my parents were educators and my home was a virtual University to the best of my recollection (and we even lived on a College Campus!).
I really don’t want to be so formal. Well, whatever it is, here we go ….
In the section of the book we are tackling today Fenelon goes into the importance of proper modeling. He reminds us how impressionable our children’s little minds are and how they are prone to imitate any thing at all without any sense as to whether it is the right thing to copy or not. Suffice it to say my youngest son has tried this out on numerous occasions when he has seen a movie with words we don’t use around the home or has had a playdate with a friend whose family gives more leeway in terms of what words describe bodily functions! My son tried out a bunch of newfound words on us one day – nothing too much like a sailor, but still we had to talk about what we copy and what we don’t. For this very reason Fenelon gives us the warning that we are to be careful about the people who influence our children. He goes so far as to say:
None should be suffered to approach them
except those whose example is proper to be followed.
He also emphasizes that we are to help our child measure the character of others by way of showing the misery which results from sheerly pursuing our own pleasure. We aren’t to mock anyone or belittle them, but we can make a good point as to whom we copy and whom we do not and why. He emphasizes this by saying:
Convince them that it is their bound duty to bear with the defects of others, and to judge no person harshly; [Teach them] that such defects are frequently less than they appear to be and are often balanced by their good qualities and that nothing is perfect on this earth.
With regards to their incredible ease at imitation, Fenelon shines a light as to why they have this tendency:
Almighty God has given to children this pliability, in order that we may the more easily lead them to what is good. Often without speaking to them, we need only show them in others what we wish them to model.
I would add to this the reminder (to you and to me) that more is always caught than taught which means our children will model what we do more than they ever will listen to what we say. As a result we must always do our own growing and maturing and act in the very way we are asking them to do. If we want them to learn to manage anger calmly, we must show self-restraint when we are flustered. If we want them to love their enemies, we need to show mercy when someone offends us. If we want them to serve the poor, we need to step outside our comfort zone and let them see us reach out to those in need.
In Fenelon’s 30 points towards the education of a child, point #24 highlights the principles I have just shared:
Teach them to copy in themselves, what they most admire in their companions, and carefully to avoid what is particularly offensive.
God said it first: “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.” I keep it at a 5:1 rule. I really don’t know where I came up with that, but it seems to work. I try to balance the influences in my boys’ lives on a 5:1 ratio. I want them to be around people who influence them to the positive 5x as often as I do those who tend to bring out bad habits or try to engage them in unhealthy activities. It seems to offset any lasting influence when we tip the scales in this way. They have enough exposure to what is good that they are able (at these younger ages) to discern when others are not acting rightly and they can make choices to stand firm. I know it is only a matter of time before the season is upon us where their friends opinions matter more than their parents. That is a part of growing up. Because I am looking down the road, I am careful about how we spend our free time and who is making a mark on their hearts.
We don’t ever want to live exclusive lives. That would be so unlike Jesus Who welcomed sinners to the point of calling them friends. And, we aren’t Jesus — we ARE sinners! We just want to make sure we shore up what is good so we are strong enough to stand in the face of what is not as good.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and what you are doing to help your children make wise choices as to who influences their hearts and lives.
Photo of Wittenberg University courtesy of US News 2012; Photo of Woman and Children courtesy of Bing Images; Photo of Fenelon courtesy of Wikipedia