This one will be rather different than most of my posts. This one has been in my heart and mind for weeks, if not months. This one needed the space to become. (both girls are asleep-hencce the space)
I got myself in some pretty hot water on facebook last summer. I’ve been on a 3-year journey of learning what it really means to parent and how that looks for my family. It’s been a very eye-opening journey, in which I’ve faced not only myself, but certain aspects of how I was raised. The hot water? I no longer support spanking as an appropriate parenting tool. And I’ve been vocal about it. Extremely vocal. Nearly lost a few friends in the process. (I have since learned not to argue when I am stressed-as in trying to close on our new home while our oldest has chicken pox stress).
Here’s the thing about my newfound stance….which I haven’t been asked about, but am going to share in the hopes of clarification. I am acutely aware of how being spanked has impacted me. It hasn’t always been so, but once you are aware, there’s really no going back. Spanking was used as the go-to method of discipline at our house. My parents were pastors at the time and were pretty sure that spanking was very biblical and God-intended. Each one was the same ritual. Let me be very clear about this-my parents did not yell, did not appear angry, never threatened, and were not “abusive”. I was told that for disobeying I would get a spanking. We would go into my room, read Ephesians 6:1 and then my mom (usually) would hit me on the behind 3-4 times. I would cry, she would hold me, ask if I understood, we would pray and I never did that particular thing again. Success right? I mean, I was a model teen. I never got into trouble, didn’t date much, went on missions, was active in my youth group, loved going to church, went to a christian college, etc. No. Not success. Not.at.all.
Why not? Underneath it all, I was angry. Very angry. And never felt like I had my own voice, that I could do anything other than what I was told to do. This idea, that I had to be told what to do, had to obey….it permeated my entire life. I wanted God to tell me what to do do about everything-afraid that if I simply chose what I wanted to do, it would be wrong and I would then experience pain. I hate pain. For a very long time I didn’t understand this about myself. I hated being angry. I did all the right things in hopes to never get hurt. Because, like it or not, that is the message spanking sends to children-“If you are good and you do the right thing, you won’t get hurt”
It’s a lie. I got my heart broken in college and something switched off inside of me and I went wild. I did as much “bad” as I felt I could get away with and not entirely hate myself. It lasted about a year. I was so angry that I had been “good” and still was hurt. I remember thinking to myself, “what’s the point if things are just going to suck anyway?” I’ve grown a good deal since then, but it was so unnecessary to begin with. And the anger. The anger has hurt. My oldest-now 6-told me yesterday “Mom you’re not really a grumpy-pants anymore.” It felt bittersweet. The good being that I have grown and am not walking around angry underneath it all, but bitter because I was for the first 4 years of her life. It’s not fair-being so authoritative and controlling hurts beyond childhood. It has crept into my own adult life, my parenting, my children. So, it stops with me. Violence begets violence in one way or another and you may not see it for years to come, but it will come. You may never recognize it for what it is, but it’s there. Telling children how to feel, how to be, what to say, when to say it, how to say it, etc….this communicates to your child that they are not important. That who they are, their opinions, feelings, thoughts, wants, etc do not matter. That they do.not.matter. I know that this is not what any decent parent wants to communicate to their kids, but inadvertently it’s happening. That is why I am vocal about gentler, kinder ways to parent. And it works. I’ve seen parents at my daughter’s school who respect their children, treat them with kindness, reason with them, talk about things and are appropriate in their responses to “disobedience”. And you know, those are great kids. Treating children as people doesn’t mean you don’t have limits and you let them run wild all over the place. It means you learn how to model those limits yourself and treat them how you would want to be treated. It means you aren’t mean or unfair. It means you suck it up and apologize when you blow it. And apologize without excuses or blaming. There are people who have gotten on my case for my opposition to spanking, etc that I have heard refer to their kids as a “jerk”, “pain in the butt” and plenty of sighs of disgust. That is completely unacceptable. These kids are under 5. And it wasn’t in the heat of the moment-this was the general attitude.
My aunt and I were able to spend some time together last month and she told me “it’s all about choices. You either choose to walk down the same path or you choose to be better, choose to be different.” She’s 100 percent right. I’m choosing to be better, I’m not going to repeat the same path that I had, I will do better by my girls.
For those of you who know my children…..no they are not the most mannerly, respectful kids. They don’t go to bed at the 7 pm, they pick out their own outrageous outfits, they don’t eat at the table every night, they interrupt sometimes, they freely will tell you their opinion. But you know what? They are free to be themselves and they love fully, they care deeply about others, they know how to play and laugh, they are joyful and most important-they are themselves. They are allowed to live, to be alive and be free to be who they are. Those other things? They aren’t very important to me, so I don’t set those limits. And that’s ok. If it is important to you as a parent-set the limit, but do it with courtesy and respect. Do it with love and have the decency to explain why. And for goodness’ sake, do it yourself. If you want your children to be respectful and use manners, you had damn well better be using those same things WITH your kids. If you want them to do something-follow it with a please. If you want them to treat you respectfully in their speech-you better be respectful to them in yours. It is not ok to intimidate your children into “behaving”-that makes you a bully. It is not ok to threaten to get your own way-that makes you a bully, a selfish bully.
Some of us will probably never see eye to eye on this, but at least you know where I am coming from. That style of parenting has hurt me far more than it helped me. I am dealing with the repercussions far into my 30s and it didn’t have to be that way. Let your children be who they are, let them play, let them be kids. Get down and play with them. Laugh more.