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EXPELLED FROM PARADISE BY AGE 3

In Genesis 2 and 3, Adam and Eve -- after being told not to do so -- eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When God discovers what they have done, he has no choice but to expel them from paradise.

Thus begins the Torah -- the first five books of Hebrew scripture.

At one level, Genesis 2-3 is an ageless parenting story that speaks to all humankind, regardless of creed. What does it tell us about parental responsibilities?

During the first two years (or thereabouts) of a child's life, responsible parents create what is, in effect, a paradise. They place the child at the focal point of their attention and act as if the world turns around him.

When he raises his voice, a parent appears, determines (divines?) the problem and quickly remedies it. Her Majesty is rolled through public places in a portable throne before which total strangers kneel and ask for her blessings in the form of a smile. And so it goes. Parents function as caretakers. Their job description can be summed in one word: serve.

Around the child's second birthday, it becomes necessary for the parents to shift out of being caretakers and become socializers. They will still do a certain amount of caretaking, but their primary responsibility becomes teaching social values.

To accomplish this, they must expel the child from paradise. Their most immediate task: to persuade a child who has only received attention, to pay attention.

In the garden, Adam and Eve paid no attention to Yahweh -- he gave them no reason to do so. And like toddlers, they did exactly what God had told them not to do. When God discovered that his children thought themselves to be like gods (egocentric hedonists), he had no choice but to discipline them, thus causing them to pay attention.

Likewise, parents must place themselves at the center of a child's attention by expelling him from paradise -- they must begin to discipline. Unfortunately, today's well-intentioned parents create paradise (as they should) but never truly expel.

They maintain their children at the center of attention, they continue to serve, and they give and give and give some more but expect next to nothing in return. Too often, they reap what they sow.

People of my parents' generation consistently tell me yesterday's typical child did not throw tantrums, yell at parents (much less hit them) or openly defy parental authority after his third birthday. He paid attention and did what he was told, because he was told to.

Mental health professionals have persuaded us that yesterday's parents created compliant children with beatings and the threat of them. So I've been polling audiences, composed primarily of thirtysomethings, thusly:

"Raise your hand if you think you were a reasonably well-behaved child." Eight of every 10 people raise a hand. Then, "Keep your hand in the air if, by your estimate, you received fewer than 10 spankings in your entire childhood." Ninety percent of the hands stay up.

It's reasonable to suppose the average number of spankings received by my respondents as children was around five. That hardly explains their good behavior.

What was it, then? I think the explanation is simply that these folks, like most children of my generation (and before), were expelled from paradise by the time they were 3. From that point on, they were held accountable for their behavior, punished when they misbehaved and expected to do chores around the home. Most significantly, they were expected to pay attention to parents who understood that you can't make a bona fide human being out of a child who continues to live in the Garden of Eden.

Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.

If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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