Have you ever bribed your children to eat broccoli? I know, I know, some moms are bragging right now about their children loving vegetables from the womb. Sure, we can argue that some do, but many do not, and so getting them to eat their broccoli is all about cultivating their taste.
When I was just a wisp of a boy, my mom put cheese on broccoli and cauliflower to get my brother and me to eat it. We absolutely gobbled those veggies down when they were slathered with cheese. We enjoyed them so much that we began to look forward to getting them. After a while, mom began to serve them without cheese—not every time, but sometimes. We grumbled at first, but eventually we admitted they weren’t too bad. Over the course of a couple years, the cheese went away, but the veggies remained. To this day my brother and I eat our vegetables, and not just because we have to, but because we now love them. My mom patiently, methodically, and lovingly cultivated and trained our taste for vegetables over time because she knew they were good for us.
My story is not unusual. Parents have been training their children since the dawn of time to do things they would not do if the decision was left to them. That is what parents do for the good of their children. It is called parenting. A small child does not know what is good for him. That is why God gave him parents. If my mom had left me to decide what I would eat for dinner, it might have been Mountain Dew and Fritos every night with a Moon Pie for dessert. I don’t have to tell you where that would have left me. Raising children to love the right things is the same as getting them to eat their broccoli: it is a matter of training their tastes, or cultivating their affections.
The question now becomes, what is it that we should want our children to love?
May I suggest Philippians 4:8 as a fine place to start? There Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” In the world of classical Christian education we paraphrase Paul’s list as the true, good, and beautiful. Those are the things people ought to love. Those are the things that cause us to flourish.
An example of something both good and beautiful is classical music.
Growing up, I loved George Strait. To me his was excellent music, and I still like it. When I was introduced to Bach, I did not love it immediately. It was like broccoli. But someone who loved me pressed the issue and required me to listen to it occasionally. Over time, the beauty and order present in the music was explained to me. The genius of the composition became apparent. The more I listened and learned, the more the skill required to play it became evident. Over the years, I began to choose Bach over Strait at times, and I even began to love it. My affections were trained to love it.
George Strait is Mountain Dew and Fritos, and it still has a place in my life. Bach is broccoli and cauliflower. As those veggies nourish my body, so Bach nourishes both my mind and my soul, but that is a direct result of someone training my affections, someone parenting me. Let me encourage you, parents, to train your children’s affections for the true, the good, and the beautiful. Man cannot flourish on Mountain Dew and Fritos. Put cheese on the broccoli and be patient. Train your children to love the right things.