I was reading an article about the Duggars this morning. People were commenting about how “happy” the children were, and how that was evidence of a healthy, well-balanced upbringing. It reminded me of my own upbringing, and how “happy” we always looked…to outsiders.
This was because we followed one of the cardinal rules of Godly Christians (as defined by Mr. LaQuiere). You may not know this rule, because, poor you, you probably grew up without the benefit of Mr. LaQuiere’s Super-Christianity, so I’ll just tell you right now what it is: ALWAYS SMILE! This is because the only godly facial expression is a smile. It’s true that there are multiple godly emotions….happiness…gratefulness…sorrow over your sin…but they can pretty much be covered with the one facial expression (some lenience can be given for the “sorrow” category, but only if it’s the right kind of sorrow). Not only is a smile important because it portrays our proper gratefulness to God for all our blessings, and because it provides a “good witness” for God, and our parents, and godly large families, and homeschoolers, all of whom we represent…but it’s a way to change how you feel on the inside!
I’ll show you what I mean. The following was written by the mom of the K family I mentioned earlier, who has her own website (www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com) and book about raising godly children (it’s not a gardening book, though gardening can also be a godly activity, if done correctly):
THE OUTSIDE REFLECTS THE INSIDE
One cherished, but highly erroneous belief is that a parent should not correct a child for displaying a wrong emotion, because the child will “suppress” the emotion rather than change it. Experience convinces me otherwise. Require young children to display the right emotions outwardly and their hearts will change, producing the right attitudes and emotions inwardly as well.
Of course you can’t simply order your children to “be happy”. If the child is small, it works much better to tell him to “smile” or “straighten up your face.” If the child is very young, I’ll cheerfully say, “Let’s see a smile now”, or “Where is your smile?”
The child may initially resist, but when he finally obeys, the resulting smile will often break into a radiant grin, accompanied by sincere laughter and other expressions of genuine joy. It is hard for a small child to hide his true feelings. It is equally difficult for him to display an emotion that he does not really feel. Get him to smile on the outside and invariably he will smile on the inside.
A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken. Proverbs 15:13
(excerpt from http://www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com/ch09.php)
So, to recap, in order to avoid showing the “wrong” emotions, if you require your small children (and the rest of them too) to “smile on the outside”, you will change their hearts and get them to have the “right” emotions and attitudes instead. Also notice the verse at the bottom, which clinches it: if you have a joyful heart, you’ll have a joyful face! (This may sound somewhat different from the lesson “if you have a joyful face, you’ll have a joyful heart”, but that’s just semantics. Don’t be so nit-picky, for gosh sakes!)
You can easily see that smiling is the first line of defense against all attitude problems. Smiling will change your heart – smiling will make you happy – smiling will help you be godly!
This necessity to smile was tacked on to most requirements: instant obedience…with a smile! Do your chores…with a smile! Finish being spanked…now smile!
You can see how “smiling” and “looking happy” becomes the necessary mask that all children raised in this belief system must wear. (The Duggars also follow this, by the way – read up on Bill Gothard’s ATI character-training program, which they are a part of, and you’ll find plenty about having a “bright countenance”, and how looking unhappy is publicly shaming your parents/authorities.) It’s not a choice, and it has nothing to do with how ‘happy’ they really are or aren’t.
The main problem I have with this type of training is that it not only separates all emotion into two categories of “good” or “bad” – but it also teaches children from the earliest possible ages to stuff their emotions.
This happened to me (to be fair, it was already happening to me to some extent before I met Mr. LaQuiere, because my dad was very anti-emotion…but it was reinforced and drilled home by the training I received from Mr. LaQuiere all through my formative years). I learned that not only should I not ever express negative emotions like anger, or disappointment, or unhappiness, because they were sinful (unless it was, say, “righteous anger” – but somehow only our dads ever managed to feel this one, while disciplining us, go figure), but I learned how not to feel those negative emotions, disassociating myself from them for years. This latter part wasn’t expressly taught to me, but being a smart kid, I figured it out on my own. I taught myself to “think my way out of feeling”. Any bad feeling I had, I thought through logically, analyzing it, until the feeling faded, and only the analysis remained. I also discovered that if I held my breath, the overwhelming emotion would fade. I trained myself to stay calm and not cry, or get angry this way. I got so good at this that it became second-nature. Anytime something bad happened that would trigger a negative emotion, part of me would just “shut down” all by itself, and I felt…nothing. Not happiness, not sadness, not anger…nothing at all. It was like being in an alternate reality where no emotions existed.
I’ll touch more on this later, specifically on the journey God had to bring me through to learn to feel things again, but I’ll just say now that living emotion-free is not healthy for anyone, and especially for a child. Emotions are sign-posts of what is going on beneath the surface. Emotions tell us to look deeper and see what need is being missed. Telling a child who you’ve just severely punished to smile…as tears stream down his face…does not teach him to have a joyful heart. It teaches him to hide, even from himself, what he really feels, and who he really is. If you don’t know what you really feel anymore, you lose your God-given signposts meant to alert you to danger. Instead of a built-in-warning-system for unmet needs, or dangers to be avoided, you learn rigid control over your outward expressions, and you start to live on the surface only, without even realizing it. But it makes it easier for parents to avoid difficult situations with their children…to avoid dealing with difficult emotions their children are experiencing…it makes parenting easy, because you only have to enforce a one-size-fits-all set of rules, not deal with the complexities of childhood and individual needs. This is why I was told there was “nothing to be sad about” when I watched my brother being severely beaten, and told not to cry when Baby J was being suffocated in couch cushions. I was taught to ignore my strong emotions that told me this was bad and wrong, and to put blind trust in my authorities instead, who told me it was right and good. In retrospect, it’s little wonder I learned it was safer to divorce myself from emotions entirely.
I don’t smile as much today as I did back then, but when I do, at least it’s genuine! And my children? They cry, or feel grumpy, or are happy, without having their emotions prescribed for them and enforced through threats and punishment. We’re working on learning parenting techniques together that affirm them for who they are, and address their needs, instead of placing their only value in being a “happy” advertisement for me or God.
I love when they smile! But I will never tell them to.