Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: children

On Abuse and Hell

I’ve heard it said that teaching your children that Hell is real is a kind of child abuse. That jarred me. Billions of people believe in Hell—most of the disagreement is just over who has to go there.

But I can see how belief in Hell can be hurtful.

It teaches that the most loving being in the universe is still cruel enough to hurt you forever.

Stop. Don’t throw down your easy reply about the holiness of God just yet. Let it sink in that the Author of love is willing to pour eternal misery on you.

What kind of love is learnt from a Father like this?

Of course, if Hell is real and the go-to place for those of us who can’t muster belief, then not telling people about Hell is abusive.

Praise be, then, that it’s not a Biblical concept in the first place.

Hey Ruth, I registered the kids for swimming

It’s neat being alone with a single child. You know the pulsating mass of primal energy that we are accustomed to: ChildrenChildren are hard to deal with. Impossible to control. Kinda crazy. Most folks figure there’s one way to deal with children: Control. Correct. Coerce.

But now it’s really quiet. And instead of a mass of children, I see Asha. And since the the backdrop of chaos is gone, I can look into her eyes when she speaks to me. And I can see that she really her own person, distinct and independent from me. A person with internal, unspoken thoughts and desires and urges.

I think there’s only one way to deal with a person, and it has nothing to do with control. The golden rule still cannot be beat: Do as you’d be done by. Asha (and Joe and Dev) is a thoughtful, willful, powerfully complex person. If I were that kind of person, I’d want the people I lived with to look at me. To treat me like a peer–a fellow sentient being stumbling through existence. I’d want the people in my house to listen when I spoke, and to speak with me in return. I’d want to feel included and accepted and I’d want to have the freedom to withdraw when I chose. I’d want a place where I didn’t have to feel ashamed for the things I thought and felt. And I’d want those who’s been around longer than I to let me in on whatever they’d figured out so far.

I’m preaching to the choir, of course. In the midst of children, you are the one who remembers they are people–peers. And I’m so glad that you do. It’s a little crazy to treat children like peers. But, in the words of Michel de Montaigne:

A man must be a little mad if he does not want to be even more stupid.

Have a child-like third day, Ruth. I’ll say Hey again tomorrow.

The greatest sins we commit on our children.

We destroy our children almost as soon as they are able to speak.

The children who use persistence to achieve their goals are called stubborn and strong-willed.  We beat it out of them.  We threaten them.  “I said no!  If you ask me one more time…”  We are determined to break the strong will.  To win against the child.

Never mind that the world needs more good people who are stubborn and strong-willed.

The children who question are called rebellious and irreverent.  We frown when they ask the most sacred questions (“why?  why not?”) and give them the most pathetic answer (“Because I said so.”)  We teach them to obey.  To submit.

Never mind that the world needs more good people who are rebellious and irreverent.


And then we tell them to work hard, just not against anything we have done.  We tell them to be themselves, unless the themselves are too different from what we’d like them to be.  We tell them to fight evil and worldliness, as we define them.  We make them into ourselves, only younger and better-looking.


I cannot think of a greater joy than this:

My children stand at the Edge and look over all the things that were made before they were born.  At the philosophies, the causes, the works and religions and arts.  And they judge them.  Some are better than others.  Some are worse.  They can tell because they were taught to ask and to be satisfied only with reasonable answers.  They can tell because they do not love a thing for being old or hate a thing for being new.  They can tell because they were taught to chose a path, not follow a well-worn one.  They can tell because they were trusted to think, not carried.

And as they look, they pick up the things that speak to their souls.  And after collecting as much or as little as they want, they look at it all, they look at the world, and they say to each other:

“We can do better than this lot.”

They leave me and my naive little world

And create a better one.

Kids and the Raising Thereof

     I’m no expert. But that’s okay, because neither are you.
     You might disagree. You might think you’re an expert. Maybe because you’ve read all the guidebooks that other ‘experts’ have written. Maybe because of your devotion to your religion. Maybe because your kids do whatever you say or get great marks or have good careers. But you’re no expert. And those folks who wrote all those books? They’re no experts, either. No one is. In the end, parenting is a grand and glorious experiment.
     But I’ve learned stuff along the way. Some of it is obvious. But a lot of it is so counter-intuitive that it blows my mind.

  • Breaking your child’s will dangerous and stupid. I was always told that strong-willed kids need to be broken. But that’s about as dumb as saying a clever kid needs to be turned stupid because she is a smart-ass. My son is just about the strongest-willed child I know. And I love it. I want his will to be stronger, in fact. A strong-willed child grows up into a strong-willed adult. And strong-willed adults change the world. A broken child doesn’t. A broken child can only follow.
  • Defiance and rebellion is sometimes a good thing to nurture. Because authorities are often wrong. Kids need to know that and they need to learn how to spot it. I often tell my son that if I ever tell him to do something unkind, he ought to disobey. He’s seven and he’s clever enough to know the difference between what is kind and what is unkind. He has permission to disobey me when his conscience demands it. People often tell me that they are worried my son might abuse that idea, but he never has. Ever.
  • Punishment is easy. Nurturing is hard. And since punishment is easy, its benefits are severely limited. All parents have that primal urge to lash out at a child who lashes out. We yearn to throw a tantrum at the child who throws a tantrum. But it’s so much more effective and life-building to stop, breathe and talk. Children are not stupid. Anyone who says that has never really sat down to talk with their child. I haven’t ‘punished’ my children in ages. There’s no need. I cannot remember the last time I had a conflict with my children that could not be solved by a good, mindful conversation.
  • Internal motivation trumps external threats. I have no desire whatsoever to have a child who obeys me because he fears what I may do to him if he doesn’t. Frankly, I’d rather him disobey. If I want my children to act in a certain way, I convince them of its benefit. I trust that they both have the mental and moral capacity to see the attractiveness of a love-filled life. And it works. Every single time.
  • Physical coercion breaks things. I know, I know, we’ve all been hit by our parents and we’ve all turned out fine. That’s what we all say. And we’ve got our Bible verses to back it up. But my road has shown me that demanding obedience by threat of physical pain causes anger and confusion. There is no violence in my house. Not even the socially acceptable violence of corporal punishment.

     But I’m no expert. I don’t think you’re a bad parent if your experiments have led you to different conclusions. And I’d never try to tell you how you ought to raise your children. I’m just sharing what I’ve seen. What have you seen?


Have you ever been here before? Your kid is on the playground, having a blast with the other urchins (not sea urchins, mind you – they are not for children). Something happens. Someone gets hurt. Someone’s in trouble. A child goes to complain to his mother and, the next thing you know, you are in an awkward situation where a parent is telling you that your child has done wrong and something needs to be done about it.

And what is expected of a parent at this point? A stern look married with stern words. Perhaps some sort of disciplinary measure. And, the most important thing of all, an apology from the offending child to the crybaby offended child.

And that is where everything, for me, falls apart. Because I am a rogue parent. I commit a great sin whenever my child does something he oughtn’t. I never, ever force him to claim he is sorry for something he has done.

Do you think that’s dumb of me? Hear me out first.

  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, 95% of the time I’m telling him to lie. He’s not really sorry. In the heat of the situation he doesn’t care much about the offended sensibilities of the other kid or the angry mother.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I devalue the entire idea of regret and remorse. It means nothing if it can be forced out of you.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am teaching him that saying certain words will get him out of a bad situation.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am robbing him of the inhibitions that we all have to keep us from doing things artificial.
  • When I force my child to ‘say sorry’, I am dancing to the beat of another parent’s drum. I care more about getting our of an awkward situation than about my own child’s development.
  • My kids don’t say sorry nearly as often as others, it’s true. But that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Because when Joe, having done something wrong, comes up to me and says “Papa, please forgive me” (and, yes, he actually uses those words!) I can see in his eyes and tone that he is serious. When my son says that he feels remorse and that he is sorry for something, he actually means it. That’s worth a handful of awkward playground experiences, yes?