His Majesty, the Baby

The first thing a baby does when he comes into the world is to establish his kingdom. He, of course, is the king. He is Number One. Because there is none higher than himself, he is in the position of a god.

Babies do all this their first day among us.

Shortly after birth, the baby is hungry. He is exhausted by a humiliating eviction from quarters which, quite frankly, he thoroughly enjoyed. Besides, his source of food is cut off. A complaint must be registered immediately.

The baby cries. He wants service.

A weary mother hears, understands, and responds, for nothing in all the world is more precious than her baby. The little fellow is introduced to the breast, and though he is not too happy with the considerable effort which is now required on his part, his stomach is soon satisfied.

But now our little friend has a new problem. There is an uncomfortable feeling around his buttocks, and because his skin is very tender, he again lets out a cry. Mother quickly responds. She changes the diaper, caresses her beautiful baby, and lovingly places him back in the bassinet.

Each time the king cries out, he is obeyed.

In a typical day, the king has about six feedings and three bowel movements. Roughly nine times each day, he tests the authority of his kingdom, and each time he is gratified with the results. All he has to do is cry, and someone will come running to attend his needs. Obviously, he is the center of the world. The world exists for him.

He is a god!

The days which follow are equally successful. A number of other people, besides mother, enter the baby’s world. He soon senses and enjoys the love of one whom they call daddy. There are also those referred to as brothers and sisters who are marvelously sensitive to his every need. The world, beyond any doubt, is a lovely place. Not a single demand is made upon him. Apparently, he is the center of the world-a world which seems to exist for his sake.

As His Majesty, The Baby,* approaches his first birthday, he is aware that things are changing in certain ways. He can’t quite put his finger on it, but it has to do with the attitude of his parents. Specifically, he is being restricted by such things as being placed in a playpen when it is not at all to his liking. And then there are such interesting objects as cigarette butts and lamps which are not only snatched out of his hands, but that action is followed by an angry rebuke. The good old days of unrestricted freedom are a thing of the past. The king has no doubts about the love of his mother, but her respect for his authority certainly leaves something to be desired. In fact, His Majesty wonders at times whether mother is becoming a rival authority.

*Sigmund Freud was the first to describe the infant in such terms.

Somewhere around The Baby’s second birthday, a real problem arises. The problem is mother. She begins something called toilet-training. The king is furious. Not only is he not consulted about this embarrassing inconvenience (after all, what was wrong with the diaper?), but even worse, his earlier fears about his mother are confirmed. No question about it-she is presently an enemy!

This means war!

It is a war between two Kingdoms, each authority wanting his own way. Mother may have more strength, but the king controls the bodily functions. What’s more, he has one thing she hasn’t reckoned with strength of will. And a king that won’t be beaten, can’t be beaten. Sometimes these toilet-training wars last for years. Fortunately for civilization, however, this particular battle usually ends after a few weeks or months. But not the war. The beloved enemies are known, yes, and hated when they assert their authority. They are the parents, of all people! They are an alien authority which is continually imposing its will, its terms, and its power against the kingdom of the royal infant.

The egocentric life, of course, is not something a child inherits or learns by imitation. He learns to be self-centered by the necessity and very nature of coming small and undeveloped into the world. Babies are supposed to be egocentric kings and queens. By the wisdom of the Creator, a baby in this way copes with all the rigors and dangers of the maturational process. This helps us to understand very early in our discussion that our problem as human beings is not that we are intrinsically defective or damaged or malformed or evil. Babies are inherently none of these. They are simply mis-positioned-fortunately for them-while they are young, but, we hope, temporarily. Our position should change in the adult years. Our basic problem in the adult years is that we stand in the wrong place in our world long after there is any justification for it.

Our place as fully developed human beings is not in the center of this world. That position is fit only for God. Only God Himself has a right to be the Center. The place for us human beings in the world is together, equal and united, under and around God.

What we see in an infant is this—
his majesty the infant

The adult egocentric patter is—
adult mentality

Diagramatically, a theocentric world looks like this:
theocentric life

The Kingdom of Self, however, is not made out of straw. Every parent can testify to the unbelievable strength and persistence of a young child’s will. The tragedy is, of course, that when a child wins the contest of wills, he loses. When the will of the child predominates, the result is a spoiled child.

I recall a situation in which a very small child was upsetting the entire family at mealtime by his spoiled behavior. The child persisted in throwing his food on the floor. Mother was kept busy mopping up spilled milk, father scolded the child, and the guests tried in vain to maintain a conversation. The child succeeded completely in capturing the attention of every person in the room.

What the father should have done was pick up the child and seclude him for a time without food or audience in a nearby room. It is absolutely crucial that the child does not win in its clashes with authority. The mother of John Wesley declared that the will of a child should be conquered by the time he is four years old. Susanna Wesley was a great success as a mother. Look at her family—among them John and Charles.

There are any number of times already in this preschool period when the will of the child prevails over a parent. Junior gets his way. He has power. Occasionally, the force of that power can bowl over a tired parent. The child soon learns that the bulldozer approach also works quite well when the parents are upset. True, brute force is limited in its effectiveness, but realize, too, that this is only one of a growing number of methods by which the young child copes with authority.

When small children cannot be powerful, they can be cunning and devious. The fine art of lying, as a means of outmaneuvering authority, is already in development at this stage. Nothing protects the king’s ego as well as a lie, if it succeeds. Detection, of course, unfortunately brings down the full weight of the parent’s authority.

It is amazing how sophisticated young royalty can become. Nowhere is this better seen than in the manner by which the child ingratiates himself with the authorities. The good-goody, the overly compliant child, is an example of this strategy with authority. Nothing disarms the alien authority as quickly as a little cooperation and affection. If one can add to that an exhibition of growing talent and even an eagerness to please the authorities, so much the better. King Self soon learns the effectiveness of these disarming tactics. They build his egocentric regime.

In summary, the preschool period is used to learn the basic set of games people play with authority. These games will become more refined and more numerous, but none will be more basic or more widely used later than these archetypal games of early childhood.

The authority issue—we might call it the “god-problem”—is the core problem in human life. And it is almost insultingly simple. It seeks to answer the question, Who is Number One? The candidates are only two: God and those who represent Him, and self.

Our universal interest in this issue is more than academic. It is personal and vested. Most of the precious time in our lives, from the very beginning of life, is devoted to a resolution of this difficult yet fascinating problem.

Looking at later childhood-roughly between six and thirteen-we now see further interesting developments in the Kingdom of Self. This stage is marked by three characteristics:

1. A great deal of time is spent using divide-and-conquer tactics on the authorities. This strategy in the life of the child is now developed to a fine art with the parents. The king/queen has noticed that at times it is possible to drive a wedge between father and mother. Being human, they do not always agree. Sometimes they openly oppose each other. One is usually more lenient than the other. These, our royalties have discovered, are perfect situations for getting their ways. When the parents are divided, it is possible to go through the breach. A marital war, extending over the years and finally culminating in a divorce, presents the child with a divide-and-conquer opportunity for which he does not even have to work! The parents do it for him.

The period of later childhood begins around the age of six with the introduction of new authorities called schoolteachers. A growing number of them present no problem, because they have long ago abdicated from all responsibility of functioning as an authority to the child. This sad situation has come about because the teacher himself is a god-player who now, in turn, encourages her pupils to become god-players. But if the teacher has not completely defaulted in the use of her authority, she is a legitimate target in the child’s war on authority. Teacher is a new authority, true, but she is in the same category as mother and father.

Somewhere in the educative process, the child will try to turn these dual threats to his kingdom—parents and teachers—against each other. Here is an example of how this maneuver often works:

Johnny: I have a note from my teacher. (The note says that Johnny is not putting forth any effort to do his spelling. Even worse, the teacher has found Johnny stealing answers from the other children.)

Parent: You didn’t cheat, did you, Johnny?!

Johnny: No! I wouldn’t do a thing like that. But you know what? That teacher has it in for me. Ask the other kids. She’s a crab! I never cheated.

Parent: All right. I believe you. But what about your spelling? She says you are not working.

Johnny: I try. (Tears.) I even ask questions. But that teacher-she doesn’t know how to teach. Sometimes she even makes mistakes on the blackboard. Ask any of the kids. Besides, she goes too fast, and when we ask her to go slow, she tells us to see her after school. She should go slow in class.

Parent: These new teachers! I’m going to call the school board! How can a child learn anything this way?

The king won that battle effortlessly by simply turning one authority against the other and then taking the more egocentric of the two as his ally. The parent in this illustration is simply attending his own needs to keep, even at Johnny’s expense, the affection of this child. “For, after all,” reasons the parent, “doesn’t a child need support and understanding?”

Not that kind. What Johnny really needed was a parent who would ally himself with the teacher for the sake of the child. This would mean conferring with the teacher. It would mean ascertaining the facts about Johnny’s cheating and, if he did it, punishing him. It would mean telling Johnny that it is not his task to judge the qualifications of his teacher. It would mean encouraging Johnny to find some way in which he could put forth a new effort in spelling. It means letting King Johnny know that he cannot divide and conquer his authorities. Ultimately, it would mean that Johnny could no longer be king.

Real love, as Bill Milliken has phrased it, is tough love. This is not to cast stones at tender love, or to ignore the child’s need for it. But in child-rearing, loving discipline is one of the highest forms of love.

2. There is increased kicking against the limits set by parental and educational authorities. Our little tyrants do more than test to see where the limits are located. Once the limits are discovered, an attempt is made to exceed them. Every father and mother knows the frightening strength a child can marshal against parental authority. Even strong parents tire and are often bowled over. The struggle goes on and on.

The war on authority is a strange and terrifying thing to observe. Sometimes a child will carry it on in the home but present himself as a perfect gentleman and a scholar to his outside world—or vice versa. This holy crusade on behalf of the Kingdom of Self may also be waged in the streets and community, in which case the police will be elected as the authority to be countered. Indeed, as more and more parents and teachers default in the use of the authority vested in them, the police become the last defense against the tyranny of the self-deified. The permissiveness and violence-promoting nature of our culture is producing a frightening number of children who are defiant and openly hostile toward their authorities.

Not all young children, however, are defiant and hostile. A Lord who is merciful to all the rest of us has spared us from absolute chaos. God gives us other children who are submissive and sometimes even docile. I know. As a child, I was reasonably obedient and externally respectful of authority. But I know now that my “obedience” was really compliance. Most of my submission was to protect my image as a “good boy” who was beyond criticism. Ordinary human beings came under criticism from time to time. I saw no reason why I should be subjected to the unflattering judgments of others. Looking back, I now see that I always made sure my compliance made a generous contribution to my egoism.

Are there no instances in the early childhood period when a child relates to his authority with a healthy obedience? There are many, thank God. Is the child always opposing the authority of his parents and teachers? Of course not. Children work episodically. Sometimes they work furiously, even fanatically, building their egocentric worlds. But then, the episode of protest passes, quite often because of sheer fatigue, and the child again positions himself under an authority not his own. Watch him closely, and you will sometimes detect a sense of relief in the king as he leaves his troublesome, fantasy kingdom to again subject himself to the authority of his parents and teachers.

The security and peace which the child experiences under authority, however, is short-lived. The demands of being one’s own king incessantly drive a person back to a conflict with any and all outside authority—parents, police, teachers, God. The child keeps on drifting back into this conflict which he can never win. If we ask him why he does this, the best he can answer is that he must do this in order to live. From his point of view, his life is at stake. He will die if he does not prevail.

Here we see clearly how very dear are the egocentric mental images we hold of ourselves. We would rather die than give up these dreams of being the ultimate authority.

3. The period of later childhood is also marked by long-range planning and calculation. I am thinking here largely of vocational planning, because the home and the school encourage a child to make up his mind as to his vocational future by the time he is fifteen years old. The expectation of parents and teachers is often that the child will not only decide what he wants to do but also that he will become president of something or other within his chosen field.

I have never done a study on the relationship between egoism and the selection of a vocation, but I am sure the two tie in closely. My own life is a case in point. My earliest recollection of “what I wanted to be when I grew up” was a military band leader. The fact that I knew nothing about music made no difference to me. I was, moreover, to be a leader of the band. Others could do the more ordinary things like playing clarinets and trombones.

Somewhere along the line, I switched from band leading to the ministry as the goal of my life. There is a close connection. A minister is also a leader, and though I was unaware of my motivation at the time, I have since come to know that my choice of vocation was based much more on my egoism than on my pastoral abilities. No doubt a number who have endured my ministry would suggest that the only honest thing for me to do would be to demit from the clerical office. What has saved me from this just fate is the realization that a kind Lord uses even our sins and mistakes, turning them to our profit. The best we can all do, perhaps, is remain where we are and take on new and valid motivations for pursuing our careers.

Most of the egoistically oriented occupational plans are laid in the slow, long hours of waiting to grow up in the period of later childhood.

We are now ready to consider the adolescent period. It is turbulent, both for the royal child and his authorities.

There is a diabolical way to make this stage peaceful for a child. Peace will prevail if the authorities default in the use of their authority. A pseudo-tranquillity will reign if the parents and teachers, out of their own egoistic needs, never say no, never counter, never set the limits for the child. A child treated in this manner will initially bless his permissive parents, but not for long. Disrespect will follow, and then contempt, to be followed in many cases by an attempt to hurt the parents as well as himself. There is a cruel justice which ordains that if the parents do not do their job, the child will rise up to destroy first the parents and then himself.

The normal teenage child comes into some painful and oftentimes shocking conflict with his authorities during this adolescent period. There are two reasons in particular for the storminess in this difficult period of life:

1. As the young person stands on the threshold of physical maturity and independence from parental authority, he senses that it may at last be possible for him to be Number One. It is an intoxicating prospect. For many years, he has suffered under parental restraint, but now he is almost full grown. Fantastic physical changes have occurred in his body and mind. A whole new world presents unlimited possibilities for him and his contemporaries. His time has come.

The old, therefore, must pass away.

But the old refuses to stand aside; therefore it must be countered. The word “counter,” however, is far too weak to use in this connection. The old must be kicked over. A new regime, contemptuous of and disgusted with the old, is being established by our egoistic adolescent. He will soon be on his own. It is difficult to wait patiently for the day when he will live on his terms. And so, drunk on the fantasy of being his own god, the adolescent seizes what opportunities present themselves in this period to kick over the authority of his parents.

Eventually, the adolescent succeeds in breaking free from his parents, if not from being dependent on them, at least in being free from their supervision. The break is sometimes also a break from the family’s traditions, social standing, and religious affiliation. The rebelling adolescent is so intoxicated on his delusions that the suffering he is inflicting upon his loved ones does not even register with him. The king is sensitive only to his own feelings. He is obedient to none but himself.

2. A second factor which makes the teenage period difficult is the anxiety of the young person over his capability to be on his own. He wants very much to be his own ruler, but questions whether he knows how to rule. The misgivings are well-founded. He deserves his anxiety. He has worked long and hard for it.

But there is no turning back. To be sure, there are a few timid souls who retreat to the safety of parental authority, make peace with it, and forever remain in captivity as children. Their number decreases, however, as the mood of our culture is increasingly rejective of authority. Most adolescents we see today are rebels—not in the sense that they are always in rebellion but that they periodically declare war on their authorities. The time to attack, of course, is when there is some hope of victory. Victory means my terms, my freedom to do as I wish. The periods of infancy and childhood were patiently endured only with the hope of eventually being on one’s own. It surely makes no sense to turn back now.

But the anxiety regarding one’s capability for independence is enough to make any young person think twice. Will I measure up? What if I should fail? Maybe I’m different from most people. Will these legs carry me? Have I got what it takes?

And finally it happens.

The king in the Kingdom of Self hands himself the keys to his kingdom.

Can he open the door of his life with them? Of course he can, responds this young person in his earliest twenties. But these are drunken words. He is drunk on a delusion of his limitlessness and the fantasy of his omnipotence. He is intoxicated with the prospect of a freedom to do anything he wishes.

Let us turn to the period of early adulthood to see where all this leads.

Read Chapter 3

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