"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Friday, October 01, 2010

Discipline


There was a "likey" going around Facebook not too long ago that said "I'd rather go to jail for spanking my kids, than have them end up in jail because I didn't." I very nearly blogged about it at the time, but ultimately decided that it wasn't worth my attention. Its logic (or non-logic as the case may be) was so flawed that if it weren't so sad it would be laughable.

There are many such things on Facebook that make me a little bit crazy, but I can usually just shake my head, chuckle, and move back to my happy place.  I'm having a harder time ignoring the newest one though, as it continues to show up in my news feed as friend after friend likes it.  It says, "Those who love their children care enough to discipline them." 

I admittedly don't like the word discipline, because too many people use it interchangeably with "punishment."  When they say discipline, they mean spanking (or time-outs or counting or reprimanding).  Whether or not that was its original intent, it is surely what it's become.  A quick Google of "discipline" brings up words like train, punish, correct, control, and chastise..... none of which align in my mind with mindful, gentle parenting.  But the word discipline doesn't bother me nearly as much as the first phrase, "Those who love their children."  Meaning... what, exactly?  That those who don't "discipline" don't love their children?  That punishment equals love?  I can't decide if they're trying to guilt others into following suit, or if they're the grownup equivalents of the childhood bullies;  the ones who put others down to raise themselves up. 

A lot of time, energy, thought and research has gone into the way that I parent.  Parenting is a huge responsibility, one that no one should take lightly.  I could sit here and site studies and research and anecdotal evidence about why authoritarian parenting is not the answer, but I'd just as soon let my four happy (and ::gasp!:: well-behaved) children be evidence enough.  And everything that I do, every decision that I make when it comes to their care and upbringing, is because I love them.

 I was not surprised to see that the site that published the "those who love their children" quote was a Christian site.   Traditionally, Christian parenting advice is filled with many of these admonitions.  You must train your children, you must teach them to submit, you must show them who's boss.   It frustrates me beyond description.   Not only have I never found anything, biblical or otherwise, that leads me to believe that this is in fact a requirement (for lack of a better word) for a believer, but I find it to be the opposite of what Jesus would espouse.   Jesus loved children.  He wanted us to become like children.  He didn't punish or coerce.  He didn't use force;  didn't shame or belittle.  He led children by example in kindness, compassion, and respect.  Wouldn't it follow that we should do the same?

Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, when you love someone - truly love them - you care about how they're treated.  You want them treated with dignity and respect, with caring and kindness.  I think even the most well-meaning parents can get so caught up in their "discipline" that they lose sight of the person that's on the receiving end...  A small person with fragile feelings and a pure heart.  A person who can carry, for LIFE, the scars and humiliation that come from said discipline.

I was walking into an ice cream place last week, with all four of my kids, along with a friend and her two children.  A woman was leaving the store with her little girl, around 4 or 5 years old.  The mom was yelling, and the girl was wailing unhappily.  They were both yelling so much I couldn't make out what was going on.  From what I could tell, the girl didn't want to go until she told her mother whatever it was that was on her mind, and the more she resisted, the harder the mom yanked on her arm.  "But Mom!!"  "Let's GO!"  When they got out to the sidewalk, and the crying had really escalated, the mom knelt down.  I thought very briefly that she was taking a breather, giving herself a time-out, getting down at her daughter's level so she could talk with her.  But the new position, I soon found out, was so she'd have a better angle to rapidly spank her, three times in succession before resuming their march to the car.  The girl cried harder - understandably - and was still screaming when they left my line of sight. 

I have had bad days as a parent.  I have had frustrating days as a parent.  I don't know what kind of day that mom was having.  I don't know what caused the outburst, by either of them.  I don't know what the little girl did that made the mother so angry.  But I am very certain that it whatever it was, it did not deserve the pain and humiliation of a public spanking outside a restaurant.  I'm also certain that the discipline did NOT help the situation;  that neither the mom nor the daughter was better for it;  and that their relationship was harmed, and not strengthened.  My heart broke a little when I saw it, as it does every time I see a parent and child take another step further away from a loving, connected relationship. 

I love my children.  Because I love them, I try with all my heart to treat them in a way that's fitting for someone I love.  I wouldn't discipline my sister or my best friend or my husband for making a mistake, and I extend my kids the same courtesy. 

 I say we stop with all the spanking and discipline Facebook groups, and start a new one:

"Those who love their children care enough to treat them the way they themselves would want to be treated."





18 comments:

Sierra Mama said...

Like : )

redrockmama said...

I totally agree. My heart breaks and my eyes and I get teary-eyed when I see things like that. I can't understand it. Also, as you mentioned, I carry these awful memories, that bring back such strong negative emotions when I think back to how I was disciplined as a child.

I am NOT okay because of it. My parents did the best they could at the time, with what they knew (and how they were raised). But that doesn't make it okay, and it's our job as parents with intellect to make educated decisions on raising our children. It's our job as parents with *heart* to make emotional, loving decisions on how to raise our children. I loved your blog post, Jen.

I also struggle between what feels RIGHT (gentle, kind, compassionate parenting) and what has been ingrained (controlling, yelling, coercing). One feels right and is done the majority of the time, and the other flares up on occasion. The difference though is recognizing that it feels wrong, and that it's time to change and work on OURSELVES so we can be the kind of parents we want to be!!

Alice said...

Love the post, and Erika's response: "I also struggle between what feels RIGHT...and what has been ingrained." My feelings exactly. Every day it's a struggle, some days go better than others. But I'm looking forward to the day when what feels right is also what's ingrained. And even more importantly, that gentle parenting is what's ingrained in my own kids!

Lesa McMahon said...

Wonderful! :D

Rynalee said...

I LOVE this. How refreshing to read something written by someone who loves Jesus, and loves their children in the same way He loved people! I get so sick of hearing christians promoting harsh punishment "because they love their children". Is that what we want them to internalise? That it's ok for someone to hit and humiliate you as a way of showing love?

JoAnn said...

Fantastic post Jen!

Cookswife said...

I love this post but want to add that sometimes the thing isn't that the mommy you witnessed is having a bad day or the child etc. Sometimes it is that they literally have no other parenting tools. This what that mom knew. And no amount of efforts she was making were seeming to work- she very well might have felt like the only way to love her child enough to get the message across was the one that *seemed* most outwardly effective.
One should rewrite the FB anthem as "Parents who love their children, arm themselves with knowledge on how to guide them effectively" Period. When we have knowledge on *how* to handle situations with our kids, we can extend love and lessons to them in any situation. And NO parent should feel silly, or embarrassed to look for tools- ever. Yet that is the thing that such a FB message like the one that upset you perpetuates- the feeling of stupidity or lack of love when we can't properly teach our children through the only discipline methods we know. So sad :(

Victoria Gazeley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelsey said...

This needed to be said! Thank you for being the one to say it so well!! Hearing about that little girl broke my hear :( It's amazing to me how many people think that kind of parenting behavior is "normal" or "okay".

CaperGrrl said...

Ugh, I just typed a long comment, and when I went to Preview it, Blogger ate it. :( Anyway...

Awesome article! :) I just wanted to differentiate between two words. "Authoritarian" describes the "Do as I say, or else!" approach. "Authoritative" has been proven to be the best approach (I've been studying early childhood for two years now); in involves setting reasonable but firm limits/boundaries, having high expectations but also being loving and supportive, getting on their level to talk to them, positive reinforcement, and so on.

Also, to further what the Bible says about it, or at least there's been a grossly misinterpreted phrase; "Spare the rod, spoil the child." The shepherd did not beat the sheep with that rod, he guided them with it. This is documented in an article on a respected doctor's site, I believe it's Dr. Sears.

I too bear the scars of unexplained spankings and an emotionally, verbally abusive parent. These scars never really go away. As soon as I can afford it or get benefits through work, I'm going to get cognitive therapy; so far I've only had pills thrown at my depression.

Victoria Gazeley said...

Love this - thank you.

stayathomemom said...

So what else is there? Where do parents go for a different approach to misbehavior or disobedience? I would love to embrace a different style but I can't find one.

Cookswife said...

Stayathomemom- That's what I mean. I was there about a year ago. But my oldest has speech and social delays and I had no choice but to change. Fortunately there are actually a lot of family advocacy programs that offer tips and tools that might be of use. AOLFF.org has some great ideas too. The information is out there but I didn't even know to look :(

Liz said...

Here is a good article to use as a guide: http://www.parentingbythebook.com/Proverbs-1324.html

D&D 4th Ed. Campaign by Alex Woods said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Woods said...

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discipline

Isn't it so sad that definition number 2, "instruction", is considered obsolete? But I'm sure it's what was meant by admonitions to discipline a child. Instruct them. Guide them. Tell them what is good and what is bad. Teach them constantly and be WITH them constantly. This is what Jesus did to his disciples -- those He disciplined -- and they were not on His spiritual or emotional or intellectual level. They were like children to Him.

Carole said...

Very interesting article. I am a spanker, and this has given me food for thought. I am not mean or unloving, but this is how I learned discipline and have never felt any worse for it.I have only met a few moms that have very strong opinions about no spanking. Unfortunately these are the children my husband and I choose not to spend time with as they are often disrespectful and rather unpleasant. Perhaps the problem is not the lack of spanking but lack of discipline. I will read the recommended websites to educate myself further. Thank You!

Cookswife said...

Carole you have a very refreshing attitude. I personally prefer not to spank. But my parenting style isn't based around not wanting to do that. My style is based around guidance and instruction for my children on what *to do* not reactive to what they've done wrong. And, I find that my oldest especially, will repeat any behavior that leads to engagement- positive or negative. He literally can't tell the difference like a typical child. He craves all interaction if that makes sense. So in most cases where it might look like I'm 'doing nothing' I am actually ignoring and effectively curbing his behavior. But you will also hear me frequently praise and be overly involved with cheering on the kids what I like to see. There is definitely discipline there still :D I also like the "get off your butt" parenting website- there are some great resources there.
Today actually, our oldest bit our middle child. This literally hasn't happened before. I had 3 in 31 months. They all say please and thank you. If I say "Sit down" in the park, they will all sit down. I don't actually strive for first time obedience but they strive to give it more than they once did simply because I'm teaching them internal rewards for doing "right" if that makes sense. They aren't perfect. As I said, we had a bite event today- but kids do those things no matter WHAT parenting style you use. What I can be sure of is that he genuinely felt remorseful afterwards. Not because he was told to or was afraid of being in trouble but because he knows he doesn't want to cause others harm. <3

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