Author: Ralph Moody
File Under: Read Aloud, Kids’ Problems
Many times when I’m thinking about the question of discipline, I think of this book. And since I often recommend it to parents, I thought I’d put it here in the Library Project for posterity’s sake.
What we’re all lacking in this day of experts is role models. We get a lot of advice on what to do — and I’d say that most of it is based on unrealistic scenarios and assumptions — and very little observation of actual families facing hardships, yet making it through. For us, for better or for worse, the right books are our real guides.
So, while Little Britches is high on the list of great reads for the kids — and especially for boys — I’d say that it will benefit Mom and Dad just as much or even more. Take this book and use it to ponder what it is that we are trying to give our children.
Many parenting and discipline decisions that are made are based on the idea that we will be there to protect and shelter our children, cushioning them from the blows of life with our concern and — even if we don’t acknowledge it — with our prosperity. We assume that we can shield them with riches.
Our culture is one of developing our children’s talents through activities, not of developing their characters by helping them overcome difficulties using their own resources.
Thus, we don’t really demand much of them — except something actually really almost impossibly unrealistic, which is that we get through the day with everyone being “nice” and with few disruptions!
But if instead we think of giving our children self control and real awareness of others’ needs, we will approach the whole question very differently. And if we consider whether they would make it in conditions of hardship, we see that it’s not a bad thing to require a lot of them.
Just today I was reading about a highly successful man who grew up in a town near Boston. His little bio included the information that he lived in an old farmhouse, “where everything was broken.” At the age of eight he was expected to get up early to torch the pipes, warming them up if there was ice in them, literally welding in a new piece if they had burst.
If I hadn’t read Little Britches I would boggle at this story. (The man looks like he’s my age, so this isn’t about the distant past.) But Little Britches had a job at the same age herding cows out of a neighbor’s field all day, for which he earned a quarter, as I remember.
Could your eight year old do any of this? Could the fact that you can’t even imagine him, say, working be at the root of behavioral problems you are having? In other words, is it that we expect so little of our children the cause of how aggravating they are? We don’t want to have to spank a child, we can’t get a child to obey, we don’t expect a child to contribute anything substantive. Our children grow up to be big babies. Look around — where are the manly men?
To readjust your perspective, just read this book, which is based on the life of the author (much in the same way the Little House books are based on Laura’s life — so you could think of it as a similar series of books particularly for boys). It contains so much wisdom about how a young boy reaches manhood, growing in responsibility and the knowledge that on his shoulders falls the protection of the family. This is because his father dies in this very book — so do read it before you read it out loud to your young ones, lest you grieve them too early. It’s sad, but it’s wonderful as well; the fatherhood of this man who leaves the stage midway in the story palpably influences his son — and the reader.
The process involved in becoming a man isn’t something that women grasp very easily. Ralph’s mother has a little trouble with it as well, but her unity with her husband stands her in good stead. (She learns as she goes, just as we do. It’s really very edifying.)
You will be instructed by their silence. With very little overt communication (as experienced by their son, the narrator), these two understand their own roles, their authority, and their children’s need for the stability of their authority. Pay careful attention to how Ralph’s father seems to know what is bothering Ralph without a lot of intrusive talk. He gets to the heart of the matter every time, instinctively relying on his place as father, and then he leaves Ralph to figure things out on his own.
Parents today desperately need this book (and the others by Moody). Like so many wonderful children’s books, they teach us adults more than we imagine!