The Challenge of Rearing Three French Boys
As told by Paul Petit
MY WIFE Andrée and I were living in the prosperous industrial town of Tourcoing in the north of France, near the Belgian border. I was an accountant, and I would study late into the night with the goal of becoming successful in business.
We had recently become parents to three sons, Jacques born in 1946, Paul in 1948 and Pierre in 1950. We wanted to prepare them to become successful in life, which, most people seemed to believe, would depend on their ability to make a lot of money. But then something that we learned completely changed our views.
A REAL MEANING TO LIFE
I’d always believed that there must be a God; I was a practicing Catholic. Yet God was not that real to me; I felt no personal relationship with him, nor did I feel that he had a purpose that involved us here on earth. But then my wife and I began to study the Bible, and what we learned completely changed our outlook.
The Bible teaching that especially impressed us is that God is not the ruler of this system. (2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:31) In fact, Jesus and his disciples spoke about the “end of the world,” meaning, as we came to appreciate, not the end of our planet Earth and the starry heavens, but, rather, of this corrupt, worldwide political, commercial and religious system. (Matt. 13:40, 49; 24:3, 14; 1 John 2:15-17) We also learned about God’s purpose to form a righteous new system, and we came to have full confidence in what the Bible teaches about this: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.”—2 Pet. 3:13.
What would we do now? This knowledge presented a challenge. If we really believed what we were learning about ‘the end of the world’ and the bringing in of a new system under God’s kingdom, we would have to do something about it, wouldn’t we?
In September 1950 I dedicated my life to serve Jehovah, the God of the Bible, and symbolized this by water baptism. Two years later Andrée did likewise. I quit the courses of study that were taking up so much of my time, and we devoted ourselves to helping others appreciate the wonderful things that we had learned. Over the years our attitude of considering God’s will in all our decisions and actions made a lasting impression on our boys.
Rearing three young boys is never easy. But what made it especially challenging is that in 1953 I was appointed “congregation servant,” as the presiding overseer of a Christian congregation was then called by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Taking oversight of congregational activities took much of my time and energy, so Andrée had to assume a large share of the early training of the boys. It was difficult managing them. At times it was necessary during meetings to take them outside for some discipline.—Prov. 23:13, 14.
From the time that they were small, Andrée also conducted a personal Bible study with the boys. This was a happy day of the week for them. After the study they enjoyed a special afternoon snack and then a walk in the park. Finally they all walked over to meet me as I left the office. When the boys became older, I conducted a study with the whole family.
Very early, too, my wife and I took the boys along with us in our house-to-house witnessing work. Often on Sunday mornings they accompanied a seventy-five-year-old Witness. How happy that elderly man and the boys were to go out in the witnessing activity together! They became firm friends, thus refuting the theory that only persons of the same age-group are suited to each other.
We instilled a sense of regularity in the boys so that it would not even occur to them to miss a meeting, or to miss sharing in the preaching activity, except in unavoidable circumstances. It was those years of early training, I’m convinced, that produced the results stated in the Bible at Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”
A MAJOR DECISION IN OUR LIVES
In 1958 Christian families of Jehovah’s Witnesses were warmly encouraged to move to areas where there was a greater need for Kingdom preachers. In northern France, where we lived, the congregations were spiritually strong and well supported by many capable Witnesses. But other parts of the country were crying for help, reminiscent of the situation in ancient Macedonia.—Acts 16:9.
Our conscience began to bother us. What was preventing us from answering the call? Was it our three young sons? their schooling? our cozy flat? our relatives? secular work? the congregation? Excuses were not lacking on each of these points, but they did not stand up to serious examination. So after praying for divine help and guidance, we finally decided to respond to the invitation to serve Jehovah elsewhere.
Moving was no small project. This became clear to us when we made an investigative trip to an area in the south of France where the need for Christian witnesses was greater. We discovered that accommodations were expensive and hard to find, secular work was scarce, and wages were low. Happily, we did not allow these difficulties to discourage us. Within a few months, a local family found a small place for us to stay temporarily. For solving our other problems, we put our trust in Jehovah.
Finally, in 1959, we left Tourcoing for Mornas, a community not far from Orange in southeast France. Adapting ourselves to the new situation was difficult in the beginning, but things gradually improved. The local traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses soon asked us to help a small congregation in Avignon about twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) away. We gladly accepted the invitation.
How did all of this affect our three lads? At their age, they were not aware of the difficulties. They rejoiced over the changes, the traveling and the momentary interruption of their schooling. For them it was all a big adventure!
To help our boys to become well-balanced adolescents, we realized that the daily presence of their father was important. So we acquired the habit of having our three meals together every day. Although I was working more than fifteen miles (25 kilometers) away from home, I came back for lunch. I felt that the cost was more than outweighed by the advantages of a family meal.
What a lot of problems were solved around the family table! Everybody felt free to express himself. Mother told me everything about the children, whether favorable or unfavorable. Mealtime was the time for setting things straight. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Is it not true that over a good meal you feel less aggressive and more understanding? Those regular contacts, three times a day, were very beneficial and contributed greatly toward the success of the children’s training.
Another helpful part of our sons’ upbringing was the time Andrée would spend with them reasoning on their failures and disappointments. Naturally, each had his own qualities, and shortcomings. For instance, one was very touchy and could suddenly become inflamed with anger. He became red in the face one day, as his anger mounted. Then smash! His elbow crashed through a windowpane.
On that day verbal reproof was not enough. The “rod of discipline” had a literal application, in keeping with the inspired advice: “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.” (Prov. 22:15) No more broken panes after that!
Yes, three sons, three different personalities, each requiring special, individual attention. We admit that we sometimes felt discouraged at endlessly having to repeat the same things to them over and over again. But we remembered the words of Paul to the Philippian Christians: “To be writing the same things to you is not troublesome for me, but it is of safety to you.”—Phil. 3:1.
Andrée and I believe that something else contributed to the success in rearing our sons. We encouraged them to get to know the other children in the congregation. We allowed them to engage in wholesome entertainment, but, at the same time, we endeavored to exercise oversight so that this did not become detrimental to their spirituality.
What about schooling? Schools have a strong and not always good influence on children, particularly when it comes to morals. So we sought and found a solution.
Since schooling was then compulsory in France only up to age fourteen, Andrée and I decided to take the boys out of school at that age. We then arranged for them to receive extra schooling by means of government-approved correspondence courses.
What subject would they study by means of the correspondence courses? We chose bookkeeping. Being an accountant by profession, I was able to help them with their homework. They eventually obtained diplomas, which later enabled them to find secular employment. Thus, our three boys spent their teens at home under our guidance. Sharing their company at all times, we got to know their personalities better, and this helped us a lot in training them.
Since the home instruction program left our sons free time, they were sometimes able to engage in temporary full-time preaching work. In 1964 Jacques, our eldest boy, began to “pioneer,” continuously devoting a hundred hours a month to public witnessing. In 1966 Paul also started in the full-time witnessing work.
COURTING AND MARRIAGE
We thus managed to bring our sons successfully through childhood and adolescence. One final stage was yet to come and, intuitively, we keenly observed its developments. We could see their interests turn toward the opposite sex.
I don’t know if the same thing happens in every household with grown-up, marriageable sons, but in mine, when one caught the “virus,” it somehow spread to the others. One after the other, our sons contemplated associating with persons of the opposite sex. Limits were imposed on them, with appropriate explanations given. How happy we were for the timely counsel provided on the subjects of dating and courtship in The Watchtower and Awake!
Eventually the three boys married Christian girls, “in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) Two of them now have their own children. All three are elders in the Christian congregation, and one of them is a traveling overseer who visits congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the south of France.
JUST THE TWO OF US—NOW WHAT?
The year 1974 saw our household reduced to two persons, Andrée and me, with twenty-nine years of happy marriage behind us. One day, after our youngest son had married and left home, I found a phonograph record that had been slipped under our front door. It was a present from a friend. He had chosen that particular French song because its words go: “Our youngest son has just got married. Our children are now happy without us. How about now giving some thought to ourselves?”
Actually, long before receiving that disc, we had been thinking about our future when the boys would be gone. Our secret desire, if circumstances allowed, was to serve full time in the preaching work. But we were now both well over fifty. And we had no retirement benefits, nor any financial resources. Many questions rushed into our minds, and excuses were not lacking.
But after prayerful consideration, in October 1974, one month after our youngest son’s wedding, our application for “pioneer” service was accepted. We were appointed as special pioneers. Later I had the privilege of serving as a temporary circuit overseer, accompanied by my wife. At present, my activities are limited by a very painful disease called polyarthritis. But with Andrée’s devoted help, I still do my utmost to serve Jehovah.
Looking back over the years, my wife and I are aware of the amount of work, and sometimes grief, worries and problems involved in rearing three boys. (Eph. 6:4) But faithful to his promise, Jehovah never abandoned us, neither materially nor spiritually. (Heb. 13:5) All the effort has been more than compensated for by the joy of seeing our sons walking along the road to life. Now, with God’s promised new system so near, we look forward confidently to inheriting everlasting life, along with our children and Christian brothers and sisters world wide.—Isa. 66:22.