Wednesday, June 29, 2011

7 Year Harvest

This post was written for inclusion in the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted at Parenting Gently. All week, June 27 - July 1, we will be featuring articles and posts about alternatives to punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.
Harvest Grapes
Image credit roblisameehan on Flickr
Almost exactly seven years ago, we decided to choose gentle discipline.  Until that time, I had planned to spank our kids.  As a Christian, I believed that the Bible taught that spanking was necessary.  My husband and I were both spanked, and I didn't know anything else.  Then God planted seeds in our hearts to examine what the Bible really teaches regarding discipline.  When we made the decision to root out the weeds of punitive parenting, I had no idea how sweet the fruit would taste seven years later, or that some of the biggest growth would take place in me.

I was a bit skeptical at first.  How would kids learn to behave without punishment?   Yet as I thought about it, the most important things that I have learned in life have not been motivated by fear, but by a genuine desire to do what is right.   One of the greatest differences between punishment and gentle discipline is the change of focus from external motivation (a self-centered desire to avoid punishment) to internal motivation (a sincere desire to do the right thing).  The delight in seeing our children make choices because they care about other people is a beautiful thing.

Punitive parenting frames children as adversaries to be subjugated.  It assumes that there must be conflict in order for children to learn, and that for parents to win, the children must lose.  With that paradigm, they view gentle discipline with the suspicion that the reverse would also be true--the parents must lost for the children to win.  Reality is that no one has to lose!  Gentle discipline sees us all as part of the same team.  We are on the same side.  It is amazing to see how often just the smallest change in approach changes things so that we *both* win, and everyone's needs are met.

When my daughter was born, I was in awe of the connection that we had.  The harmony in our relationship was such a precious gift.  I didn't want to erode that trust or connection. Even through all the "difficult" ages so far, I have found that gentle parenting ties us closer to each other.  Appropriate behavior grows out of the relationship, instead of the relationship being conditional according to the behavior of any given moment. With my four children, I can say with complete honesty that they are some of my favorite people and best friends.  We like each other.  We enjoy each other.  We respect each other.  That connection and harmony we had early on has only grown stronger and richer through the years. 

At first when we decided to commit to gentle discipline, I only thought in terms of my children and their behavior.  I had no idea how deeply it would change me.  I have been forced to deal with a lot of things that I would have preferred to cover up.  Things like pride.  Anger.  Unhealthy boundaries.  Self-centeredness.  I have had to do some major weeding in my own heart.  And that is a very good thing.  If spanking had been part of my parenting tool box, it would have been so easy for me to justify revenge on my children for not catering to my pride, for exposing my anger or impatience or even for not being convenient at times.

I thought that I was pretty healthy when I first became a parent.  The truth is, I was so used to inner messages of shame and condemnation that I did not realize how much they permeated my mindset.  I was constantly striving to measure up and berating myself for falling short, and would have transmitted those same messages to my children.  Choosing gentle discipline has brought a much deeper awareness of grace.  The old voices of shame are being replaced with love, wholeness and healing.

It can be a hard row to hoe, at times.  Gentle discipline is a lot of work.  It requires intentional parenting.  I have to get off my bum a lot.  This is NOT passively sitting by while floundering children terrorize everyone around.  It takes effort.  I have had to develop a lot of new discipline skills.  I have studied far more about child development than I ever expected.  Sometimes, it has been painful.  I have had to confront things in myself that I didn't enjoy seeing.  And like all families, we have our individual thorns.  Neither we nor our children are perfect.  All of us mess up sometimes. 

But as I look back to our family seven years ago and where we are today, I am profoundly grateful for all the seeds of patience, of self-control, of love and kindness, of mercy and grace.  I see the fruit growing in my children.  I taste it in my own life.  The joy, freedom, healing, self-discipline, peace, harmony and love are already a glorious harvest.  I can't wait to see what the next seven years will bring!

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline!

Please join us all week, June 27-July 1, 2011, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. We have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following theme days:

June 27 - Practical Tips for Getting Started with Gentle Discipline
June 28 – It's All About Feelings: Respecting Emotions and Consensual Living
June 29 – A Fork in the Road: Turning Points in Gentle Discipline
June 30 – Gentle Discipline Recipe: Love, Patience, and Cooperation
July 1 – Gentle Discipline Resources


mrs green @ littlegreenblog said...

THis is such an honest and open post - thank you for sharing. I love how you emphasise this is not about 'winning' or 'losing' and that gentle parenting really can be win-win for all and that we are all on the same side anyway!
Imagine a world where the next generation believe that to be true and go on to resolve all conflict with peace, compassion and love. Do you see how powerful your parenting technique is for the future - go you!

cherieann said...

i grew up in a home with a mother who had intense inner hurts and issues. she also did not want to work on them at all. punitive discipline was definitely used as a tool against me for not catering to things like her pride and allowed her to take her anger and impatience out on me.

i grew up very confused that on Sunday, i was taught to live one way, and then at home, how we lived was not just different, but sometimes completely opposite.

i couldn't explain it at the time, but i never felt that spanking was appropriate. it just felt wrong. even when they sat down and told me they loved me and worked hard at that time to not do it in anger. it still felt wrong. i didn't understand why, if they loved me so much, why that would be communicated in hitting me? i wasn't allowed to hit them or anyone else.

it honestly did feel like it was either them or me, and we were against each other, competing all the time. i never understood why we couldn't all be on the same team, why there had to be all the conflict all the time, why we all couldn't win.

going through all of this though, has made me choose the direction of dealing with my own inner hurts and issues. i wanted to get good at that before i got married, before i had kids.

when i got pregnant, i definitely started researching alternate strategies. i had never heard of gentle parenting, but i was describing it to my husband. i knew exactly what i was looking for.

i just didn't see example of this style of punishment in the bible. it's not in the story of the prodigal son. as i studied the character of God, i knew there had to be a different way.

my children will never know what it is liked to be spanked or shamed or isolated/alienated types of punishments. i'm exceedingly glad that we all get to be on the same team. that we all get to win. :D <3

dulce de leche said...

Thank you both so very much! I am so sorry for the pain that you have gone through, but so happy that you are intentionally finding healing and not passing the same destructive patterns on to your children. <3 And I am grateful that we are able to encourage and build each other up, too! <3

Amy said...

I love this. My son is only 7 months old, but I want to discipline gently as he grows. And you are such an inspiration, as a family who not only uses GD but thrives on it and is better because of it, it makes me know that it can be done. Thanks!

Rosemary said...

So, so good. I love how you've walked both roads, and have seen years into it, how beneficial gentle parenting truly is. So encouraging and inspiring for those of us just starting out! I will definitely be sharing. :)

Hippie Housewife said...

This was such a beautiful and inspiring post. Thank you, Dulce! My own unhealth has been so clearly revealed to me since having children. It's been quite the journey so far, with some days better than others. Reading about your own journey was very encouraging.

Crystal said...

I love how I read this blog today, of all days, as this morning I was talking with God about this. As last night was particularly hard and stressful, the thought niggled through my head, well, maybe they wouldn't have done this if we still spanked (my husband has honored my wishes, but says they are worse off now). But the peace that came over me several months ago when I made the decision (after much prayer and research) to not spank was undeniable. And although I have so much opposition,when I have my harvest, the abundance of my "fruit" will surely justify me!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much! You fill me with smiles! :) I am so grateful to be able to encourage other moms. I know how much it meant to me (and still does!) to have other parents tell me that they were glad to have chosen GD and of the good fruit in their families. Please know that each of you has encouraged me!

@Crystal, nearly every family that I know who has made the switch has gone through a crazy period where the kids' behavior went downhill pretty drastically, almost as if they were trying to push as hard as possible to find the breaking point where the parents would go back to spanking. The good news is that it was always temporary. :)

Love and joy to you all!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I love the way you've talked about punishment in the win/lose dichotomy - I don't *want* to always "win" in conflicts with my child. That will only teach him that the stronger/bigger person can control the outcome. Excellent post :)