Kristen at Motherhood Uncensored caused a bit of a discussion in her comments with her post about spanking.
I try really hard to stay out of these discussions. I really do. I don't comment, I don't post. I've studiously avoided this subject since I started blogging in 2006. I think it's one of those things moms can end up fighting each other over to no good end and a lot of harm. A lot more harm perhaps than one parenting style, or another, can do a child.
I could be wrong.
But here I shall finally come out with my opinion on the subject, such as it is. (After writing this post I wrote this one, which provides the context in which I write this. I hope you will read it first.)
I have 4 thoughts to share today.
To start with, I shall change words. Spanking is such an emotionally laden word with so many different meanings based on a person's experience with it that it's not really useful for the sake of rational discussion any more. So I shall switch to the phrase Aaron coined for us, corporal discipline, which I shall describe in part here.
1.) Kristen says, "I don't care how fine you are now even though your parents did that to you. Since when did "just fine" become the standard to which we want to raise our kids?"
This is interesting to me because in the giant lexicon of things I think my parents screwed up about parenting me, and it is giant, let me tell you, I think corporal discipline is something they got right. I'll even go so far as to say I wish they had done more of it, because I needed it, and there are many things I struggled with as an adult in the area of self discipline that I wish they had helped me with when I was younger.
At it's heart, corporal discipline is about giving children the opportunity to learn to make choices by giving them real, but safe, consequences. Yes, I obeyed sometimes just because I was afraid of getting a spanking if I didn't. Just like grownups sometimes in the end choose not to break the law because they are afraid of going to jail. Yes, we would like our children, and grown ups, to act out of noble and positive reasons. We would like them not to engage in fist fights because they are motivated by love and compassion for their fellow human being and a deep desire to sit and dialogue and get to know each other and understand the other's point of view.
However, I don't know if you've been around people much, but people, grown ups and children alike, all have moments when their innate nobility is called so far into question as to be non-existent. At that point it is a good thing we have some very uncomfortable consequences for negative patterns of behavior because the motive of avoiding discomfort is, at that moment, the strongest thing they have to keep them from doing something wrong.
Back to corporal discipline. It is, in our house any way, something you willingly choose, knowing full well that it is in fact what you are choosing when you do it. I does not happen when mommy or daddy loses their temper, it is not something administered because you were trying to pour your own milk for breakfast one day and dropped the whole jug on the floor or any other accident that usually comes with it's own consequence anyway, it is something you choose.
Our children have never been surprised by this form of discipline. They know they are choosing it when it happens. In our family the children have the power to decide what happens to them.
It may surprise you to hear that someone may think of this form of discipline as empowering, but that's exactly what it is. We make rules as parents, we keep them as simple as possible, and we lay out exactly what consequences will occur if those rules are broken. We administer the exact same consequence, in the exact same way, every single time a child chooses it. The power to choose, or not choose, said consequence, is in their hands.
It is our responsibility as parents to administer those consequences, whether the consequence chosen is a stinging rear end, or a Saturday morning cleaning the spare bathroom, without emotional attachment. They are consequences. They have nothing to do with how irritated we are at a child, or how proud of them. They are cold, unfeeling, un-shifting realities of daily life for our children. If you do this, then this. The choice to do x will always result in z.
Just like adults in a civil society receive consequences for their conduct from the government put in place to administer them.
But what about those matters of choice as adults that don't fall into the category of law or not? If I choose to sit on the couch all day watching tv and eating bon bons for example, there will be consequences that manifest themselves in the end. I will get fat, my brain will atrophy, and it could have devastating effects on my marriage and family life as well. But it doesn't happen the first day, or even the second, or the third. I don't see immediately the long term consequences of my choice.
With my children however I can give them the gift of immediate consequences for their choices. They get immediate feedback for a choice that they have made, to disobey a rule in our family, which comes with the excellent opportunity to correct and receive feedback again, every day. This is the kind of practice in decision making that I wish I had been given as a child, especially as I got older. This, I try to give to my children.
2.) The second objection that I hear against corporal discipline is that people think it's the same as beatings, domestic violence, or child abuse. They think I don't know the difference between these things because, as a result of my experiences as a child with spankings, violence was normalized. But I do think I know the the difference.
I always knew I was guilty of wrong doing when my dad or mom administered corporal discipline. I knew I had chosen to do wrong and that this was the consequence I knew I would receive if my parents found out. My dad would take me into his studio and sit me on a stool and we would talk about what I had just done, which was the very worst part of all, because I felt so awful. He didn't shame, he just asked me if I thought what I had done was right. By the time he got around to connecting his little wooden ruler to my behind I was so relieved to have that talk done and over with I barely felt it. I remember being really close to my dad through out this entire period of my life. I never doubted his love for me. I never lived in fear of him. I would jabber at him late into the night when he tucked me in, and he loved to listen, and I would fall asleep far too late, much to my mother's chagrin.
But there was one moment, during a dark period in our family, when my parent's marriage was disintegrating and our family was falling apart that makes me think I understand the difference. I was a teenager, we disagreed, and he, in anger, vein sticking out on his forehead lunged for me. I don't know what he would have done, because I ducked and he hit his head and I screamed that I would call the police if he ever hit me while he held tissue to the blood spurting out of his forehead and then I ran away to school. That moment, when my dad moved in anger, when he momentarily lost control of his customary gentleness, when I saw him hit the edge, that scared me. That moment created a distance between us that it's taken almost 2 decades to repair along with all the other stuff from that same season.
I can tell you now that if I had to choose between the season of my childhood, and 1000 extra "spankings" administered lovingly by my dad and that one moment where he moved in anger ever happening there would be no contest. I'd choose 1000 little meetings in his office and a well deserved swat with the ruler every single time.
3.) I recently came across a facebook note, by someone I don't know, but was linked to by someone on twitter, where the mother was saying that she believes that spanking her kids allowed her to be lazy in her parenting and she is so much more creative and present now that she doesn't have that as an option. I can completely respect that, and if it was choosing not to spank that brought her into being a more mindful and present mother then I am glad she has stopped.
But with all due respect, if you think corporal discipline is the lazy approach to parenting than may I venture that you are doing it wrong? There is no effective method of discipline that allows you to relax your vigilance and self discipline as a parent that will still work.
Do you know how much work it is to make sure that you are consistent as a parent? Making sure that what I say is true, that z will happen immediately following x no matter what is exhausting. It requires vigilance. It requires I get up off my lazy butt every. single. time a child chooses a consequence and administer it. In other words, to effectively discipline my children I have to grow more discipline and diligence than I ever had before. It is this single act of needing to teach my children discipline that has taught, is teaching, me discipline. I can't give them what I myself don't have.
If I tell a toddler no, if you do this you choose the *no-no stick, or to do extra chores, or to have a toy taken away because you are fighting over it then I have to make sure that every single time they do, I am there with the consequence. No matter how tired, sad, angry, or busy I am. I have to be the grown up, get past all that, and get up, get my child, administer consequences, take the time to hug, tickle, love and reconcile, and make that the most important part of my day.
4.) Which brings us down to the 4th thing I would like to discuss. Obviously, much of what I have said here is relevant to all sorts of parenting discipline styles. What I am asked frequently is, "Why corporal? Why can't you do all that, consistency, and love and choice with a different consequence?"
My answer is, you can. I think. I'm pretty confident that a parent could use non physical consequences and teach their child to obey and to make good choices.
My reasons for continuing to use corporal methods are these. It works better, it works faster, and it's kinder.
Yes, kinder. The people who are horrified at the thought of using momentary pain for greater good are obviously not people who practice medicine, or coach sports, or massage therapists, or trainers, or physical therapists, or... you get the idea here. I think the idea that a momentary physical pain is a great harm to children is misguided. It comes from the fact that abuse is real, and some parents are abusive. But my kids hurt themselves way worse, way more, all by themselves, falling down and scraping knees, than any pain they have experienced at my hand in a corrective way.
Corporal consequences are immediate, short in duration in terms of pain, yet dramatic and memorable enough to curb behavior quickly, which leads to fewer disciplinary moments with my child in the long run, freeing our relationship of the strain of constant correction, which is what I want.
When I consider the alternatives, yelling, time outs, time ins, etc. to my mind they cause more pain in the long run, though it's not physical. I've seen kids spend almost all of a play date in time out for repeated infractions, missing out completely on playing with a friend. Obviously that's something the child chose, for the most part, but I can't help thinking that it would be much more merciful if the parent would just take them aside for a moment, apply some loving corporal discipline, and then allow them to go back to play.
In essence, corporal discipline shortens the feedback time for a child, allowing them to more quickly move back to the situation in which they are trying to learn to interact and gives them more chances to get it right.
Also, time outs are isolating, telling a child that there are times when they are unwanted and rejected based on their behavior. They are humiliating, as they are most often public and visible for all to see. They take up so much of a child's day, when they are having a bad day, that it's really all they end up doing, leaving not much room for anything else, and leaving the parent child relationship stretched thin by the need to maintain the disciplinary action all day.
Once upon a time, in a post no longer online that I can find, the excellent Veronica Mitchell said something to the effect that she was suspicious of any child rearing method that could only work for one child at a time, or children spaced far apart.
This I believe is the flaw in the gentle parenting time-in method. It doesn't work when you have a lot of kids. Sometimes a mother needs to be able to tell her child no, and know that the chances are good he will not do that thing she said not to do, like chew on the electrical cord when she gets up to go wipe another child's bottom. There is no such thing as perfectly kid proof, and though we would not leave the life threatening things to chance it is imperative that a child learn quickly to obey when they are told no. For their own safety and happiness. Corporal discipline achieves this.
Just a few more short notes because this has morphed into a monster of a post and then I'll wrap up. Corporal discipline is not the only, nor is it the first item in my parenting tool box. Please read The 98% also, as it is the context in which I write this. I am an attachment parent. Those who know me and see me parent will tell you that I use positive reinforcement way more often than negative. I distract, redirect, make sure they are rested, well fed, and cuddled as much as I can to avert all of those types of moments when they might find it difficult to behave as is expected of them. I do not intentionally cause my children to stumble or set them up to fail by only focusing on catching them when they are doing something wrong and not attending to any other behavioral factors. That said, they need to learn to behave properly even when tired, fractious, hungry, angry, hurt, etc. I'm training them to be grown ups, and grown ups, to my mind don't get to act poorly, or break the law, and then claim hurt feelings or tiredness as an excuse. This is the essence of character, that which I am trying to form into myself at the same time as my children, the ability to do what is right, even when it is hard.
I do not judge mothers who choose not to use corporal discipline with their children, and I honor their efforts and the hard work they are doing of raising children who are responsible and compassionate human beings to the best of their knowledge and ability. I simply ask this. Please don't judge me either. Please don't think that because you make different choices it gives you permission to slam and condescend to those parents who choose differently, with as much care and love as you use to make your parenting choices.
Yes, there are still parents who are "spanking" their kids. Many of us chose this route carefully and with endless conversation. This is not something we do just because we're lazy, or don't know a better way and we care just as much about our kids as you do yours. We chose this because we think it speaks best to the needs of our children and answers best to the way children actually are, not some ideal of who we hope they are. Please stop picking on us just because you disagree.
*The no-no stick is what we call the little tiny dowel we use in our house to administer consequences.
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