As Catholic parents, we have a duty to evangelize our children, to raise them to know, love and serve God in this life. Outside of our relationship, there are billions of influences in the world that will seek to draw our children away from God, to their own service. There are a few influences in the world that will help us, but we will have the greatest influence on our children. The world seeks to separate our children from us, but how can they succeed? How can strangers possibly draw children away from Catholic parents who love them sincerely and … Continue
Today is Tuesday, May 10. And this is William Michael, of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. I’d like to talk a little bit today about parenting and managing a household. I’d like to talk about how to actually do it, how to actually control a household how to actually manage the household, how to keep order in the household, how to discipline, children, etc. All of these topics really are all related and come under one meditation because there’s a key principle, a key practice, I should say, and if a father can get this right, everything else can fall into place.
Please note that this is an electronic transcription of the talk posted above, published for the convenience of readers. Please pardon typographical and/or grammatical errors.
There are a few preliminary issues that need to be established for us to think rightly about parenting. Once these are established, then the question is whether or not a man is actually able to get his household under control, and keep it under control, and do so in a way that’s consistent with a Christian life.
First of all, for these preliminary issues, one of the issues is that the order of a household is based on Nature. It’s not a Christian thing. It’s not a matter of faith. It’s a natural reality. The way that the household is organized, as a social unit, as a group, the building block of society, it has a natural order to it. The members of the household are all different. They’re different in their physical bodies. They’re different in their experiences. This difference reveals a real order in nature. If we arrange a household in a way that doesn’t agree with that order, we introduce all kinds of problems. But if we align our family life with this natural order, there’s harmony between our family and nature, and we enjoy the fruits of that harmony. Most modern families are set up in opposition to this natural order and the results are what they are.
This order was understood long before Christianity. This natural order of the household can be studied in an ancient Greek work. The work was written by a man named Xenophon, who was a contemporary and friend of Socrates. He wrote a book that you can find online, On Household Management or Home Economics. In this book on household management, Xenophon explains the natural order of family life. He explains that this is revealed in the actual bodies and functions of men and women. Man is designed to live and work outside of and away from the home. His body is tough. He’s mentally tough. He doesn’t need the comfort and protection of the home, whereas a woman is not–not that she is necessarily physically weaker than a man in her normal condition, but because of pregnancy and childbirth and and her own reproductive functions affect her physically. She doesn’t enjoy the same physical freedom that a man enjoys, which allows a man to work without distraction. And so, in the nature of the woman’s body, we can see a need to be closer to home and need to be protected in a home while pregnant, while nursing and so on. Xenophon explains that because the man and his physical body and functions operate well whether he’s at home or away from home. and because a woman’s body and functions require her to be in the safety of the home or close to the home, the natural relationship between the husband and wife can be understood. It’s clear that a man is expected to go away from the home, to work and to war, as it were, and the woman, to provide the best conditions for her own life and for the care of children, is to stay home. It’s also to be pointed out that the nourishment for the child is present in the woman. She is the source of the nourishment of the children, which further demonstrates the natural expectation that the woman will be in or near the home with the children who, because of their weakness, also depend upon the protection of the home. And so we see this natural order in the family, and that’s why it’s expected that a man takes responsibility for the work that’s to be done away from the home, and he brings his earnings, whatever they may be, whatever form they may come, in to the home. The wife’s primary work is to manage the resources that her husband earns to manage the household. He provides for the household, she manages and seeks to preserve and prudently make use of the resources earned by her husband. This is the natural order of family life.
Like I said, if you don’t establish this order, or if you live in opposition to this order, it’s like trying to push water uphill, you’re going to constantly be struggling, you’re going to deal with all kinds of problems that are caused by your family’s arrangement. There’s no advice for a life that sets itself up contrary to nature. Eventually, nature is going to win. Like I said, the illustration to keep in mind is like trying to push water up a hill. It’s not natural, and it’s not going to work.
So the first thing to consider, as we’ve talked about ordering and managing a household is whether or not your family life is actually arranged in harmony with nature. I know that people will argue with me about that, but they’re arguing with nature and I’m really not interested in pursuing those arguments because experience will prove who’s right and who’s wrong. We can look around ourselves today in modern society and see the answer written in black and white letters. You cannot live contrary to nature. That’s the first concern.
The second concern, or the second preliminary issue, I should say is that the authority of parents is real. The authority structure of the family is not artificial. It’s not based on religion. It’s real and it’s based on justice. The order of the household is a matter of justice. When the natural order of the family life is established, when the husband is charged with the burden of working to provide for the family, the possessions are his, the earnings are his. It’s on that grounds that he is given authority in the household, because the household makes use of his earnings. If you believe in the right to private property, what you believe is that a man has the right to decide what’s done with his lawful possessions and his earnings are his lawful possessions. Because of this right to private property, because of the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”, and the commandment “Thou shalt not covet”, the man who earns the resources of the household has authority over those resources. That’s really what the authority of the head of the household is about. He has the right to say how things are done, he has the right to make rules, because the possessions are the fruits of his work, they’re his private property. His wife receives them from her husband and he entrusts them to her care to make prudent use of. They’re not hers to do her own will with, but she’s to manage those resources with a view of being a blessing and help to her husband, so that he can work with confidence and trust, that the resources that he earns and brings home will be safe in good hands. This is where a man’s respect and admiration for his wife is earned by her prudent management of the household. This is all through Sacred Scripture. I recommend you read chapter 31, of the book of Proverbs, if you want to see a celebration of the valiant woman, the wise and good woman–Proverbs 31.
So two preliminary issues. One, there’s a natural order to the family that has to be observed in a household where the household is just going to be set up to fail. And secondly, the authority in a family is real. And the authority is a matter of justice.
When children are born, and grow up in a home, they have to understand and appreciate the reality that those possessions belong to their father. He had to work to earn them. He has to pay to maintain them. They’re not free. They’re certainly not the possessions of the children themselves, but they belong to the Father. That’s why their use of those resources is to be governed by the rules of the household established by the father and enforced when the father is not home by the mother. That authority in the household is real, and as a matter of justice, and parents need to learn how to communicate that to the children. So they can understand why they should be respectful to their parents, and obedient.
It’s also important to explain to the children that their time of, of obedience and subjection is limited to their childhood and that once they become adults, when they begin to work, and they begin to earn their own resources, they are going to be or they are going to have authority over the use of those resources. So, if a child disagrees with a parent about something, the child has to be taught that that situation is temporary and when the child earns and has his own household, he can do with those possessions as he judges best. But he can’t do his will with his father’s possessions, because that’s not just. So it’s a matter of justice, not to be argued about. When that’s taught and explained to children, it’s pretty clear and easy to understand. Usually, by the time children start to become trouble at home, in their teenage years, it’s not really a big deal because they’re approaching the years of their independence. Parents need to be patient. Kids also need to be taught to be patient because this relationship of children living under the authority of their parents, in their parents home, is a temporary arrangement in life; it’s simply a phase of life; it’s not permanent. Kids have to be taught not to make a big deal about it.
We also have to realize that children’s disagreement with us isn’t necessarily evil. There are many rules in my household that exist, not because I’m a Christian, but because of my the kind of work that I do, the resources that I have, resources that I don’t have, things I can afford, can’t afford, and so on. Many of the rules of my household are unique to my circumstances. So if my children don’t agree with something that I do, it’s really not a big deal. It’s not a moral crisis. It’s a matter of management, it’s more of a political issue, then a moral issue. The children need to understand why the rules exist, and again, that they’re temporary and limited to my household.
So those are two preliminary issues, we have to keep in mind. There’s a natural order to family life that we have to observe as we arrange our household. And secondly, the authority of a man over his household is real. And it’s rooted in the virtue of justice.
When we have those things in mind, a man who’s thinking about getting married and starting a family has to think about whether he will be able to govern a household, to manage a family, whether the woman he chooses to marry will be able to fulfill the role of a wife and mother, etc.. He can’t marry a girl simply because she’s good looking, or because she’s fun. He has to think whether or not the woman will be interested in or willing to take on the role of a wife and mother, and whether she’ll be able to actually carry out the duties of one who’s responsible to manage the household.
When we go back into ancient history and look at advice about marriage and choosing a spouse, the number one quality that’s urged on young men to look for in a spouse is: temperance. Temperance was taught to be the most important characteristic of a wife, because the woman’s work really is to preserve. In order for a woman to do that, she needs to be a woman who is temperate. She needs to be a woman who herself is able to control her desires, not be wasteful, not be reckless. She needs to have herself and her desires, under control. She needs to be temperate.
How many men do you hear her talking about looking for a temperate woman to be their wife? But in the ancient world, wise men sought out a young woman to marry and of course they looked for beauty and they looked for charm, but more important than these, for marriage, was virtue. That’s why book of Proverbs teaches that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30). Man will naturally be attracted to a woman who’s beautiful, who has a charming personality, but more important than that for marriage, is that a woman be virtuous, that she be temperate, that she’d be just, that she’d be prudent.
So a man has to consider whether he’s capable of managing a household for providing for a family because if he has no means of providing for a family, how can a family be ordered? If he’s not able to go out and earn a living to provide for a wife and children? How can he possibly be the head of a household when that’s the primary function of the head of a family? And likewise, with a wife, if she’s not temperate, if she’s not content to be at home, managing the household? If she’s a social butterfly, who has to be always on the run, always on the phone always out and about with the ladies, how is she possibly going to be a wife and mother? So those are preliminary issues to think about, before a household is even established.
One of the benefits that men have is that when they marry, things start out quite simple. It’s just a man and his wife. It’s assumed that they enjoy each other’s company and married life is very pleasant, especially early on. The husband and wife have to understand that that time early on in marriage can’t be wasted. Eventually, God willing, children will come and life will get busier. There’s a number of things that have to be set in order and worked out before children come, because if a husband and wife plan on having a family, the woman is more or less going to be knocked out of commission; she’s not going to be able to be depended upon for work through pregnancies and nursing. Those activities are going to take up the majority of her time and energy. There may be days where she’s just not feeling well, there may be days where she’s uncomfortable or sick or in pain. My wife struggled with sciatica throughout her pregnancies, and a man has to realize that once that childbearing childbearing phase of life begins, he may lose the help of his wife, because her physical condition, day by day, becomes unpredictable and she needs to be able to take it easy and rest. She needs to be able to take care of her body, to take care of the baby, make sure she’s eating well, make sure she’s sleeping, make sure she’s not over-exerting herself, make sure she’s not putting herself in dangerous situations where she could fall or get hurt. A man has to be ready for the reality that at some point, he’s going to lose the daily help of his wife and those days can be quite difficult, especially if he’s allowed himself to depend on her for lots of work, possibly even working outside the home (which is a bad idea). So a man has to consider whether he’s actually able to provide for a family and then once the man and woman are married, they need to make use of that early phase of their marriage when there are no children to get their family in order before the childbearing years begin. It’s an important time in their family life, and there’s a lot to do.
The husband and the wife, when they’re married, form the family. One of the great pieces of advice that we got when we were first married, was to realize that man and his wife are the family and a baby is born into an existing family, into an existing culture. We don’t sit around waiting for the baby, waiting for the children, to build a culture around the children–that’s unnatural and upside down. Rather, we establish the culture as a husband and wife, and the children are born into that culture. So that period of time early on in marriage, before the children come, is important for establishing that order, that culture, establishing the schedule of the household, establishing devotional life, work routines, and so on–establishing the order of family life in the household.
Some couples will get married and barely be able to afford a small apartment, others may get married and have a decent-sized house ready for a large family. The details of the housing conditions will vary from one family to the next, but we’re talking about family culture, not organizing stuff in house; we’re talking about the actual culture of the family: work routines, schedules, devotional life, and so on. Into what environment do you want your children to be born? That’s to be established before those children come, not after. So that’s the challenge of the early years of marriage, organizing the family before the children come. Once the children do come, they are born into an existing family that should already have an identity, with order established in it. If it does, then things will be much easier when the children come.
Women have to make sure that they get good advice from experienced older women on caring for children, from women who have raised children with similar family culture. For example, my wife and I have 10 children. I never had to change a diaper. I never had to feed a baby. I never had to get up in the middle of the night and take care of a crying baby. My wife had everything under control from day one. We had good marriage and parenting advice. When we were young, my professional life, my studies and work were never interrupted by any of our babies, because my wife had it all under control. The babies were content because they were well cared for. And, like I said, we had 10 children and I never missed a night of sleep, never changed a diaper, never fed a baby. I was able to focus on my work, which benefited our whole family. That was my wife’s goal: to allow me to focus on my work because if I was able to focus on my work, the whole family would benefit–and that certainly has been true. Women have to make sure they get good advice from women who have actually done it well, not from fads and all kinds of wacky ideas about nursing and infant care that that actually cause chaos in a family and turn a turn the head of the household into into a helper for the wife or a babysitter when that’s not his responsibility. Women have to get good advice. Men also have to know that there are sources of good advice for their wives that will prevent these troubles from developing that comes from bad advice–bad ideas about motherhood and infant care.
Once the children begin to arrive, and they start to get older, into their toddler years, they’re going to begin to manifest their own will, and men have to realize that their young children are not yet at the age of Reason. They’re not to be reasoned with. They’re not reasonable, nor should they be expected to be reasonable. Once the children get into this phase of life, where they have their own will, and all of a sudden parents are responsible to deal with these new members of the family that have their own will; that wake up every morning with their own plans, the question of discipline comes up, and it’s obviously a controversial topic. One of the reasons it’s controversial is because modern society is crazy and they don’t believe that children should be subject to their parents. They don’t believe in obedience. They don’t believe in the 10 Commandments. The controversy that comes from those people, we just have to write off as craziness.
But there’s controversy also among thoughtful Christian people because there are passages of Sacred Scripture or other Christian writings that speak about disciplining children and the interpretation and application of those passages are subject to debate. Fundamentalists interpret these passages literally. So for example, when we hear, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”, it seems to suggest, in a literal sense, that a child has to be disciplined through corporal punishment. And yet, there’s much more meaning in that proverb than than a simple literal instruction to spank a child who’s being bad. (There’s a time for that.) But parents who rely on spanking are going to find that it doesn’t work. You can spank a child all you want, but if a child has a will to do something else, spanking is not going to change that will. It may make the child’s behavior change when you’re around, when you’re watching. But you’re not going to watch the child all the time, and they’re going to have lots of time, by themselves. So obviously, spanking is not the means by which a child can be disciplined.
Many parents get themselves into situations where they rely on yelling at the kids, or spanking the kids, punishing the kids, and so on, as the means of controlling the children’s behavior. But these parents are actually the cause of the trouble–and I’m going to talk about that in a minute.
Passages about the discipline of children can also be understood allegorically, and morally, more importantly, the “rod” simply refers to all forms of discipline and control. Failing to fulfill your responsibility as a parent–that is, “sparing the rod”–will ruin or spoil the child. Remember what I said before–the order of the household, the authority of parents over their children, is a matter of justice. It’s a real authority that’s rooted in justice. When parents don’t exercise that authority, they raise children who are unjust. They spoil or ruin the children by raising them in a spirit of injustice. This relates back to the authority of parents which I’ve talked about before.
So by not exercising authority as parents, by not maintaining that real authority of a husband over his household, and of parents over the children unjust children are raised, and they’re allowed to develop habits that are contrary to justice.
What I often talk about with my wife is that when we look at the political landscape in modern America, we often ask, “Are these people crazy?”. People will say, “We should vote so that everyone gets free cell phones; everyone gets free college education; student loans can be canceled; we can send billions of dollars all over the globe to help, etc.” Some of us look at these things and say, “Who’s paying for these things? How can we afford to do these things?” Someone somewhere, has to work and earn a dollar. Someone has to turn a profit. At some point, we can’t just have an entire nation (300 million people), all looking to receive free resources from some imaginary “government” that has no money of its own. Someone has to actually work and pay for these things. When we listen to these people, always yelling for more benefits, and more free things, free services, free resources, what we see is a nation that has been raised with a spirit of injustice. These are spoiled children. They have not been raised under the authority of just parents. This concept of justice that’s supposed to be present, in the order of the family was not a part of their upbringing, and the saying is fulfilled: “Spare the rod spoil the child.”. We live in a society of millions of adults who are simply spoiled, or ruined, children.
However, many of the faults of these people that we see in political controversies are present in Christian homes. They’re present in Christian homes. The principles of communism, for example, can be found in Christian homes, where everyone treats Dad’s possessions like they’re their public property. Everyone pretends that Dad has no right to private property, that anyone can take anything they want, even without permission. They can sit around and throw tantrums and complain they want more, not realizing that their behavior is breaking the commandment, “You shall not covet.”. Taking things without permission is breaking the commandment: “You shall not steal.”. These principles of justice are present in the family and in many Christian homes, the Commandments are trampled on, but it’s not considered sin. It’s just considered normal family life.
Fathers who are afraid to establish and maintain their authority, allow their children to grow up with no regard for justice. Women often do the same thing. Many women use their husband’s resources, not as they’re supposed to, but as a means of making their children like them, and this is injustice. Many women disobey the will of their husbands and use their resources in a way that they don’t approve of. A family has to learn that the commandments and these principles of justice and social order are often violated in regular Christian family life, but because our society is so unjust and spoiled, we don’t realize that we’re doing these things every day, in our own homes.
Now, when a man finds himself in a situation where his wife doesn’t listen, she does her own will even though the resources are produced by his work. When he finds his children not listening, doing their own will with his resources, breaking his stuff, taking his stuff, using his stuff in ways that he doesn’t approve of, with no regard for the burden that it places on the father to work and earn and maintain these things, a father will be provoked to anger. He’ll become very frustrated living in a family like that. What he’ll normally do is choose one of two different courses, both of which are wrong. He’ll either decide to fight for his stuff, and try to establish his authority by arguing and yelling or physically punishing the children. But that’s not going to work. Other fathers choose to just surrender. They just say “I don’t care.”. They let the household do what it pleases. That also won’t work, and it’s evil, because the man is essentially forfeiting his role as the head of the household which he really has no right to do. Most men we see in society choose one of these two opposite extremes. They either try to establish their authority by violence by arguing and fighting, or they simply surrender their authority, and just say, “I don’t care.”.
The challenge that I don’t think many men know how to overcome is how to prevent that situation from developing. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Many people spend all of their time surrounded by problems that they could prevent, but they don’t prevent. Then they pretend that fighting about the cure is wisdom, when it’s not wisdom. Eliminating the cause of the problem is wisdom.
In ancient medicine, people didn’t go to the doctor to get medicines to conceal all of their symptoms. They went to a physician in the ancient world to try and figure out what the cause of their sickness was, so that they could remove the cause, and then allow their bodies to recover, and return to health. This is how moral and household problems are solved as well. When we look at a family that’s fighting over stuff, kids are greedy and selfish women are blowing money all over the place, there’s no order. The husband feels like he has to work constantly, and every dollar he earns is consumed as quickly as he can earn it. He has to realize that his authority in the household is real, and he has to ask himself how he can order his household, not with fighting, not with arguing, because that’s not beneficial to the household nor to himself. He doesn’t benefit by having a two hour long argument with his wife about money being spent here or there. That argument is a huge waste of time and energy.
For man as the head of the household, he still has work to do. At the end of the day, he can’t afford to waste all of this time and energy in arguments about these things. The same thing is true with dealing with children. He can’t spend all of his time yelling at his children, chasing kids around, punishing children, on and on–he has work to do. He can’t spend all of his time fighting and arguing with his wife and children. He has to defend his own freedom to work and study and fulfill his own obligations, or the whole household will fall apart. He has to be very careful about how he uses his time and energy. He has to recognize that his authority is real. He has to cut problems off at their causes, to cut off the source of the stream as it were, at the top of the hill, not try to fight the floods down in the valley. In order to do this a man has to have control over his stuff. He has to have control over his finances, he has to have control over his possessions, over things in the house.
Most of the things that kids and parents fight about, the parents bought and introduced and allowed to create the whole situation that they then spend time fighting about. They have to learn not to make those mistakes.
What I recommend for men is to realize that their desire, the men’s desire, for a comfortable, luxurious life, filled with creature comforts, will prove to undermine their household. I’ll repeat that: Men’s desire for comfortable homes, delicious food, entertainment, recreation, and so on, will unravel their household. It’s a form of hypocrisy, because the men will seek to indulge themselves and they’ll justify it by saying, “Hey, I work, this is my stuff, I earned this stuff, I work hard, I have a right to indulge my desires.”. It’s really dangerous to get into that mindset because what a man has to consider is what effect that indulgence will have on his wife and children. A man has to learn that if he does that, if he indulges his desires, if he chooses to seek a comfortable, luxurious home environment–and by luxurious, I’m not talking mansions, I’m talking comforts and unnecessary things, possessions that he doesn’t need, toys and electronics and all kinds of stuff in and around the house, the most delicious foods and so on–If he chooses to live that comfortable life, he’s going to introduce problems in his family life, that he’s not then going to be able to fix. He will not be able to remove the the source of those problems, the source of those quarrels and troubles between him and his wife and children, are going to be traced back to its cause, which is his lack of self control. That’s going to be the cause of his family troubles.
When a man indulges himself, his wife thinks that she should also be allowed to indulge herself. When children see Dad indulging himself, they think to themselves that they would like to do that too. So this desire for self-indulgence spreads from the head of the household, to all of its members. If the head of the household disciplines himself, and says, “I’m going to be a model of the simplicity of life, and discipline, that I want to characterize my entire family.”, much of that or all of that is simply taken away.
When a man who goes out and earns a living, and then comes home and chooses to use his earnings wisely, not to indulge his own desires, but to share his earnings for the good of the family. or to invest them in nobler pursuits. his wife is going to know that she should do the same thing. Obviously, unless she is crazy, she is not going to argue that she should be allowed to indulge herself with his earnings. So she is encouraged to be temperate and more noble, like her husband, by her husband’s example. The same is true of the children. So, rather than fighting with one’s wife and children, a man has to realize that he can eliminate most of the trouble in the house by living a simple life, and if he’s a devout Christian man, he should be pursuing this to begin with.
This is the culture that should exist in the home even before the children come. But when the man abandons this Christian culture, and decides that because he’s married, and because he works and earns a living, he deserves all of these worldly comforts, he’s going to have a wife and children who also desire worldly comforts, and they’re going to fight because the resources are going to be limited. They’re all going to be fighting against each other. That’s where most family fighting comes from.
Dad has to set an example of unselfishness of simplicity of life, the family diet has to be established to be simple, so we don’t have a family of gluttons fighting at the table for who gets the last hamburger. Activities are scheduled and prioritized according to spiritual, intellectual and cultural responsibilities, not just around eating and playing. If a man lives a disciplined life himself, he’ll find that his family will also be disciplined, and temperate. He sets the example for the whole family and anytime his wife or children have desires of their own, they’re going to look at his example and realize that he himself doesn’t take these privileges. They’re going to realize that they shouldn’t seek them either.
Now, this is not suggesting that a man live like Scrooge and make everyone miserable. That’s just spiteful and self-defeating. Remember the goal of this simplicity of life was to establish a happy household and to enjoy a family life that’s free from fighting. If a man loses his mind and runs to the opposite side of these errors, he’s going to find himself as a Scrooge who just wants to have all of his money locked away, and no one has anything. When we think about a man like that, I think the word is
penurious parsimonious, we have to ask the man, what is the purpose of his work? What’s the purpose of going to work and earning money, just to lock it all up? That’s not virtuous either.
So as with all moral issues, there’s a golden mean between these two opposites, and if you want to understand that golden mean, you have to study Ethics, you have to study Philosophy, and I invite you to do that. You can study with us in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. Study Classical Ethics, learn how to find the golden mean, and balance these things.
I’m not giving men encouragement to lock down the family accounts like Scrooge to be screaming at Cratchit every time he puts coal on the stove–that’s miserable. I’m talking about a man being responsible with his resources and setting a good example, not indulging his desires, but choosing to use his resources so that everyone in the family benefits–and not just the immediate family, but also outside of the family, one’s parents, neighbors, church, and so on. We have responsibility for more than just our little family’s comfort and we have to make sure that the resources we earn are distributed fairly among everyone who has some rightful claim to them. There’s balance needed in these things.
What I want to emphasize and stress is that many of the fights and the troubles in modern families can be traced back to its cause in Dad’s self indulgence, in Dad’s lack of self control. He creates a culture in the home that introduces all kinds of trouble and then he tries to deal with that trouble by arguing and fighting and trying to discipline and punish the kids, when the kids are actually following the example of their own Dad.
There was a TV commercial when I was a kid, where a father walks into his son’s room, and he finds his son using drugs in his bedroom. He starts screaming and yelling at the kid and asks the kid, “Where did you learn to do this stuff?” The kid looks up and says “I learned it from you. I learned it by watching you.” That’s the reality of many of the problems that we find in families and that’s one of the reasons why parents are provoked to anger by their children.
Parents know, even though they might not admit it, that they are actually the cause of the problem–and that’s what actually frustrates them. They know that the cause of this problem is in them and they are not willing to modify it. They’re not willing to remove it, and it makes them angry. They want their children to have self-control, even when they don’t. They want their wives to have self control, even when they don’t. And, when they see that if they don’t have self control, their wife also will not have self control, it makes them angry because they want both. They want to have no self-control, but they want their wives to have self-control. They want to be able to live loosely, and have their children practice self-control. When they see that they can’t have that, it makes them angry. They act as if it’s the kids fault. “If only the kids would be good, then I could have a nice life.” But it doesn’t work like that. It’s not for the kids, and the wife to be disciplined so the husband can enjoy an undisciplined life. The husband has to realize that peace and tranquility in his family start with his own self-denial, and simplicity of life.
Again, I strongly recommend that men take up the study of Philosophy, you’ll find great help in these issues. I recommend that you get into those studies because you’ll find them to be very helpful. As you go through your years of family life, you’ll need the comfort and the direction of the writings of history’s wisest men to guide you through those times, to help you avoid troubles that many have don’t even see coming because they’re so imprudent and ignorant of household management, of moral philosophy, and so on. I encourage you to study moral philosophy because it will help you manage your household. That’s actually what moral philosophy is for.
For so many of the problems, when it comes to governing a household, managing a family, there’s one very simple solution, one very simple cure for all of the problems that develop in families and it’s that a man live a holy life. The head of the household has to live a holy life. He has to be wise. He has to be temperate. He has to be prudent and just. He has to be virtuous. He has to live like a saint. He has to model every virtue. He has to live unselfishly. He has to work responsibly. He has to worship God faithfully. He has to pray without ceasing. He has to live and pursue Christ’s way of perfection. He has to live like a saint.
If he lives a holy life himself, the influence of his virtue and the blessings received through his virtue will trickle down to the rest of his family. Most of the problems that plague modern families will be simply eliminated. There won’t be fighting over video games. There won’t be fighting over TV shows. There won’t be fighting over computers being used without supervision. There won’t be fighting over wasted money. There won’t be fighting over all of these different issues that married couples and parents with children fight about, because they can be eliminated by a family establishing a simple, focused life, led by the devotion of the head of the household.
One man that I encourage you to study is St. Louis of France. He was King in France and he lived a famously simple life. He was the king, he was the possessor of the entire realm, the King of France, at a time where France was very powerful and wealthy, yet he lived in saintly simplicity before the eyes of all the French people. He set the tone morally for the entire kingdom. In his royal house, he welcomed people off the streets to come and sit at his table, and eat dinner with him. Likewise, the ancient Stoics used to say that a king or general in an army should never have anything better than his subjects, as a sign of solidarity with them.
A man will learn that these issues are not optional. A man has to prove himself trustworthy to his subjects, to his inferiors (socially speaking). He has to show that his authority is not a means of hoarding pleasures and comforts to himself at others’ expense, but that his authority is simple and rooted in justice. He doesn’t use his authority for selfish ends, but he uses his authority for the benefit of everyone involved. And so this, as I said, saintly simplicity establishes the culture for the household.
If men will enter into marriage and family life, very carefully, not pinching pennies and complaining about money and things like that, but concerned about their own consumption, they’ll find that most of the problems simply never appear. And again, man has to choose whether he’s going to seek that happiness of life by his own simplicity and virtue, or whether he’s going to try to say one thing to his wife and children and do another himself–and that never works. He’s going to create relationships between himself and his wife, between himself and his children, where they envy each other, and they see each other as opponents, trying to wrestle for control of the resources in the household. That’s what most families fight about.
The man has to set the example of generous, unselfish living. When he does that, that spirit will be appreciated by his wife and children, and I believe that they’ll most often return the favor, maybe not all the time, but generally, because they’ll see Dad’s example, and it’ll make its mark on them. When there is an argument, they’ll quickly see that they’re being unreasonable, and they’ll think about those experiences when they saw Dad give up this, or not take this, or share this, and so on. They’ll remember those experiences, and they’ll learn from them. They’ll learn to appreciate and be respectful in most cases.
There will always be evil children, like Absalom in the Old Testament, who could have King David himself, a man after God’s own heart, as his father and still be wicked and perverse. But in many cases, the problems of family life will be avoided by the head of the household, exercising his authority, not like some kind of tyrant through fear and punishment, and fighting and arguing, but through love, through simplicity, through generosity, through temperance. That’s the way that a household is to be governed and managed. When a man lives that simple life, establishes a simple household, lives with simple tastes, doesn’t seek comfort himself, he’ll rarely find that his wife fights for those things.
I’ve never found my children to complain about simple meals or simple food. If they indulge in junk food, it’s because I bought it. I’m usually the cause of the troubles that I see among my children. I can eliminate those problems not by yelling at the kids and criticizing them, but by simply not bringing those things into the home.
So this is probably already quite long. You see if I can get a, we’re already over an hour. So I’ll wrap up here.
The topic of this talk was how to establish order and manage a home that’s consistent with the Christian life–not by fighting, arguing, divorcing–all this nonsense we see in modern culture, but by exercising authority as a head of a household, to enjoy a peaceful family life, to enjoy a good marriage. By governing the household quietly and gently with real authority, by example, and not by artificial attempts to govern with yelling and, and punishments, but by eliminating the causes of the problems, rather than trying to solve them after they’ve already been let in.
I’m sure that gives you a lot to think about. I know as I talk about it, I’m having some helpful thoughts myself. We can always get better in these things. One of the challenges of the Christian life is that we can always get better. Even if we understand things, we can get better at actually practicing them, which is the real test. So I hope that’s helpful. If there’s anything that you’d like to talk about or a tease out into more detail, let me know and we’ll continue the discussion.
God bless you,
Mr. William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy