Monday, November 28, 2011

Opening Up the GD Toolbox: Stories

A good story
Image credit photogramma1 on Flickr
Some of my best childhood memories are of listening to my mother make up stories.  It was only natural to me to start using them with my children.  Most of us tend to think of stories as being nothing more than entertainment.  But they are also a fun part of our parenting toolbox.  Jesus was a storyteller.  The Bible is made up of stories.  Stories are a wonderful way to communicate Truth and encourage connection.  

Whether you are two, twenty, forty, sixty or ninety, one of our deepest needs is to feel understood.  Often children resort to meltdowns because they have no other way to fully express the depth of their hurt, frustration or anger.  They are compelled to show us exactly how serious and intense the feelings are.  Stories can be a great way to show that we get it.

Stories are also a powerful teaching tool.  Most of us tune out a boring list of instructions.  But in an exciting story, it is easy to absorb and remember how a character responded to a situation.  I want to clarify that this is not like some of the old fashioned morality tales that had a heavy handed punishment of bad behavior actions and simplistic reward of positive behavior.  The goal is not to scare our kids (these aren't horror stories!) or to alienate them by showing a disregard for their feelings.  But giving positive role models will provide them with ways (or even scripts) to help handle similar situations.

Stories are even more fun (and more effective) when they are a collaborative effort.  Invite your child to help tell the story.  Ask questions.  "How do you think he felt about that?"  "What do you think she should do next?" It is fine if the story goes in an entirely different way than you envisioned.  As long as your child is communicating with you, good things are happening!  It may seem disturbing if your child throws in a rather graphic scene of vengeance.  Resist the urge to squash their contribution, though--again, it goes back to expressing the full intensity of their feelings.  Once their emotions are fully acknowledged, you can gently work in alternatives.

The number one tip for story telling is to be a good listener.  As you validate and reflect, and allow them to tell their own stories they will be able to gain perspective for their own situations and acquire new coping tools of their own.
When my oldest daughter would have a meltdown, I learned to sit next to her and quietly begin a story about another little girl in a similar situation.  It was a delicate balance to get the same emotions with enough differences in detail to make it clearly a story.  Sometimes she would correct me on details, and I would welcome that as a way for her to share her feelings with words.  

The most beautiful example that I have seen of this type of storytelling is by Crystal Lutton, in her article Words as Magic.  Her story here with her four year old who was upset with his little sister is a fabulous template for using stories as a discipline tool.  Stories can help children feel connected and understood, and when that happens, a surprising number of problems disappear.

And of course, it isn't just for "problem issues".   Stories are always a way to communicate and tie our hearts closer together.

As much as I love story telling, in the moment, sometimes I am so tired or preoccupied that it seems difficult to get in the groove.  These are my favorite tips for coming up with stories my kidlets will love.

Have you ever used stories to diffuse a rough moment, encourage or teach your child, or just to connect?  I would love to hear about how you use them as part of your GD toolbox!


[4/365] Handy Man
Image credit goaliej54 on Flickr
Moving away from punitive parenting requires a brand new set of tools.  Let's open it up together! For the rest of the series, click here.  And if gentle discipline is revealing areas where you need to work on yourself, see if any of these personal tools resonate with you.

Looking for more practical tips?  Check out my favorite post from the Hippie Housewife on The Hows of Discipline (and read through all the comments!),  Pearl in Oyster's 52 Tool Cards series and Aha! Parenting's blog.  Do you need inspiration and a reminder of why and how to do this?  Read Emerging Mummy's Practices of Mothering and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.  If you have other great resources or ideas, please add them in the comments.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Guest Post: Fun and Simple Ways for Stay-at-Home Moms to Earn Extra Cash

You may be in that stage of parenting where your kids have all started school, and you have a few hours every day of quiet solitude in the house. Sometimes that quiet solitude can become monotonous and uninteresting. If you are a stay-at-home-mom looking for a hobby to fill in a few hours of the day, why not choose a new hobby that could potentially help you earn a little extra money? Listed below are a few suggestions.

1. Design and create your own hair bows: I have seen some mothers sell their hair bows for great prices and other moms always buy! To get started, you can use a free instructional guide found on the internet or purchase an instructional book from a bookstore. Clips, ribbons, headbands and other materials can all be purchased at your local craft store or even at Wal-Mart. Sell your hair bows at school events or host a selling party at your home.

2. Crocheting: This is not an easy hobby to learn, but once mastered, crocheting provides an excellent opportunity for stay-at-home moms to create unique items that will sale like hotcakes! It may be best to find a crocheting group that you can meet with a few times per week or month, as this is a craft that is best learned from a mentor. Once mastered, you could even create your own crocheting group; maybe even charge a small fee to teach others.

3. Compiling neighborhood recipes and creating a “neighborhood” cookbook: This is an idea that could range from a small task to a large project, depending on the size of your neighborhood. If you attend church, consider asking members if they would like to submit a recipe and donate a percentage of proceeds to a local charity. If the book will be less than 20 pages and you will be printing less than 20 copies, consider typing the book on your home computer and printing and binding it (with plastic comb binders) on your own, as well. The profit from this project may not be great, but the product of the project will be remembered by you and your neighbors forever.

4. Handmade Christmas Ornaments: If you are especially artistic and crafty, this is another hobby that has a potential of producing big bucks. Materials can usually be purchased for a relatively small amount at your local craft store. Ideas for ornaments can be found online, in books or from other ornaments for sale in stores. Display your product at local football games or other school events, and advertise that you will be giving a certain percentage of your proceeds to that school activity.

Whichever hobby you pursue, don’t get frustrated if life gets busy and you have to put a project aside for a few days. Remember, the goal is not necessarily making money but using your free time to enrich your life by learning and creating something new. And if you can teach your children your new hobby, all the better!
Denise Keene has been a Special Ed teacher for 15 years now and likes to write articles about various related topics. She also owns the site Masters In Special Education.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opening Up the GD Toolbox: Play

I confessed to a couple of my dearest friends recently that although I love my kids dearly, I loathe playing with them.  Don't get me wrong--I really enjoy being with my children.  I delight in watching them play.  But actually participating, getting on the floor, jumping into games and pretending stuff?  That is hard.  Really hard.  It ranks about the same for me as small talk with someone with whom I have virtually nothing in common.  On the outside I try to smile and look attentive, but on the inside I am fidgeting, looking at a mental clock and wondering how soon I can politely disengage. 

Even though it is hard, I don't think I am especially good at it, and I rarely feel like doing it, I know that play is one of the most important things I can do with my children.  Besides all of the skills that children acquire through play, it is the key to two of their deepest needs: power and connection. 

Long Beach Comic Expo 2011 - Little Supergirl and Wonder Woman
Image credit PopCultureGeek on Flickr
Feeling helpless has got to be one of the absolute worst feelings in the world.  And, face it, when your greatest power consists of choosing the red shirt instead of the blue shirt today, being able to control a situation in play, to make your own choices and even change everything through your imagination is huge.  The key here is following your child's lead and not imposing your own preferences.  Offer role-reversals.  Let them be the parent and you be the child.  Let them rescue you.  The possibilities for empowering play are endless!

The other important by product of playing together is connection.  I am not a particular fan of Sponge Bob or Spiderman, but my son is.  And when I play with him, he learns that his interests, his likes and feelings are important to me.  He matters.

Physical connection goes hand in hand with the emotional connection of play.  Sometimes when our young explorers begin to move away from all the physical connections of breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing, we forget to make time for other healthy touch.  Rough housing, tag, hide and seek, and other games that deal with separation and connection are important.  We love the pushing game.  Filling little love cups with fun filled physical affection is one of the best aspects of play.

Meeting the underlying needs for power and connection is one of the keys to effective discipline.  People who feel empowered and connected are much more likely to behave in appropriate ways.  But there are many other ways that play can be used in discipline.

Transitions are much smoother if we have a fun way to do them.  Whenever we cross the parking lot, we all pick a different animal to imitate: stomping like elephants, wiggling our tails like little fish, hopping like bunnies (I excel at waddling like a penguin).  We prefer non competitive games for the most part, but every now and then a race to see who can get buckled up first or make it to their seats is helpful.  Classics like the Quiet Game or seeing who can win a silent stare down without laughing can be a great way to calm down after boisterous play.

Role playing is one of the most effective ways to learn any new skill.  Want to practice acceptable behavior for restaurants?  Play restaurant games!  Have tea parties!  Play library and practice using quiet voices.  Get silly and use exaggerated, over the top examples. Do you have a runner?  Play games like Red Light, Green Light or others that practice starting and stopping on cue.  Talk about bullying and then role play different responses.  For some games, you might want to provide a script.  Or depending on your kids' mood or the situation, you may all improvise. Just make sure that you don't lose the fun in the teaching.  If the educational aspect needs to take a back seat, so be it.  They will still learn from the little bits that you do work in.

Going through a potty talk phase?  Make a game of giving them nonsense words to use instead.  When my three year old was randomly inserting "caca" into every sentence, we zeroed in on what he really wanted: the fun of our reaction.  So we ignored that, but told him to never, ever say "snooglewoogles".  Of course, he immediately did, and we played up our shock and horror, throwing up our hands and looking around to see if anyone had heard.  Pretty soon, he decided that it was much more fun to say snooglewoogles. 

Use play to provide a spoonful of sugar for unpleasant or boring tasks.  My sweetlings can be very, er, inventive if left to distract themselves in a waiting room or other boring place.  Ahem.  Participating in their play or finding gentle ways to help direct it is necessary right now.  Go retro with I Spy, pen and paper games or even making up stories together.  If you need to all pick up the house, try tossing objects into a basket, setting a timer, picking up a specific color or type of object--anything to make it more fun.  (I need extra motivation on this kind of thing, too!)

This is just the tip of the iceberg on ways that you can use play as a tool.  The September 2011 Carnival of Natural Parenting is full of fabulous posts on this topic.  Read to the end to find all the links.  :)  For more inspiration and ideas, get Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen.  Discipline is not supposed to be miserable--it should be delightful.  Playing with your kids is one of the most powerful tools you will ever find.


[4/365] Handy Man
Image credit goaliej54 on Flickr
Moving away from punitive parenting requires a brand new set of tools.  Let's open it up together! For the rest of the series, click here.  And if gentle discipline is revealing areas where you need to work on yourself, see if any of these personal tools resonate with you.

Looking for more practical tips?  Check out my favorite post from the Hippie Housewife on The Hows of Discipline (and read through all the comments!),  Pearl in Oyster's 52 Tool Cards series and Aha! Parenting's blog.  Do you need inspiration and a reminder of why and how to do this?  Read Emerging Mummy's Practices of Mothering and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.  If you have other great resources or ideas, please add them in the comments.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Opening Up the GD Toolbox: Physical Needs

[4/365] Handy Man
Image credit goaliej54 on Flickr
Choosing to use gentle discipline is scary at first.  What are you going to do if you give up spanking?  Time out?  What if that doesn't work?  Take away privileges?  What if your kids are too young to really care?  I remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach when we first decided not to spank.  It was like jumping off a cliff and not being sure of the landing.

It turns out that there are many, many tools besides spanking and time outs.  I gave an overview of some of our favorites, but now I want to open up that toolbox by focusing on each one, with practical tips of how to use it.  Even if spanking is still one of your tools right now, I hope that as you read through the alternatives you will find fewer reasons to use it. For more in this series, click here.

Looking for more practical tips?  Check out my favorite post from the Hippie Housewife on The Hows of Discipline (and read through all the comments!),  Pearl in Oyster's 52 Tool Cards series and Aha! Parenting's blog.  Do you need inspiration and a reminder of why and how to do this?  Read Emerging Mummy's Practices of Mothering and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.  If you have other great resources or ideas, please add them in the comments.

Meeting Physical Needs

Punitive parenting is about responding to a behavior.  Proactive parenting means that instead of waiting for a problem, we work at helping our kids *before* it gets to that point.  One of the basic ways to do this is to make sure that physical needs are being met.  When I first heard that kind of reminder, I felt a tad defensive.  Is she implying that I am a neglectful parent?  Of course I take care of physical needs!!

Healthy summer snack
Image credit lindaaslund on Flickr
I am sure that you do what you can to meet your child's needs.  But in the hustle and bustle of all the responsibilities that we have, many of us fall into the habit of ignoring our physical needs to get things done.  Sometimes, our kids do that, too.  If I go too long without a snack or break, I get grouchy, and so do my kids.  I have learned to ask at regular intervals:  Are we getting healthy snacks?  Plenty to drink?  Enough rest?  Younger kids even get so busy playing at times that they ignore a need to go to the bathroom.  

Another important physical need is exercise.  We all need those endorphins.  A huge part of why we homeschool is that my kids need plenty of physical activity, and sitting in a classroom wouldn't allow them to run, climb, dance, jump and do everything else they need to do in order to use their growing muscles and get the wiggles out.  This is all well and good, but what if you can't go outside?  A couple of our favorite indoor activities are pillow piles and the pushing game.  Dancing is always good, especially when mixed with a moment to freeze and see who has the funniest position or expression.  

I know there are some people who suspect that parents nowadays invent food allergies for their kids.  Whatever the reasons behind food allergies, the truth is that they have risen dramatically, and they often don't look like hives and anaphylaxis.  And young kids may not be able to verbalize their symptoms.  Mold gives me an exhausted, foggy-brained  feeling that I struggle to put into words, even as an adult.  I have difficulty concentrating and a headache.  A lot of kids respond to wheat or gluten that way.  Tummy troubles, mucousy stools, constipation and other issues can make a child very cranky.  Some kids react to food dyes, gluten and other common foods by getting hyper and bouncing off the walls.  According to our allergist, dairy and other foods can even cause bladder spasms, so that a child doesn't feel the urge to urinate then suddenly has an accident. 

Image credit Wallula Junction on Flickr
Most of us are sympathetic to a baby who is teething.  But we forget about it as they get older.  Molars, though, are some of the most painful teeth to break through the gums, and they come through around two years and again around six.  No wonder those are some of the toughest ages for kids!  I remember the pain of wisdom teeth coming through, and for little kids to deal with the constant irritation and inflammation of cutting molars has to take a toll on their behavior some days.

How often have our kids had a tough day, and then the next day they get sick?  I can't tell how many times I have been aggravated at their behavior, only to look back a day or two later and realize that they were coming down with something.  Even if they don't have visible symptoms yet, they may be fighting off an ear infection, a virus or something else.

Finally, while no one wants to suspect that their child has special needs, it often isn't until children are much older that issues like an auditory processing disorder or other things are diagnosed.  Make sure that you are giving sufficient time for your child to completely understand your request and then to respond (which even in neurotypical kids often takes much longer than we realize).  I have even known of families who eventually discovered hearing loss in their child and finally realized that much of what had seemed to be willfully ignoring them was not.  And of course, there are tons of possibilities I haven't covered here.   If your default is to assume that they are doing the best that they can in a given moment, it will save a lot of energy from regret later!

People who don't feel well usually don't act right.  We know that.  But sometimes we need to be reminded.  If your child's behavior is telling you that something is wrong, take a look at possible physical causes.  There might be more going on than meets the eye.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

But They Look So Happy!

Happy face
Image credit masochismtango on Flickr
News about the Duggars’ newest baby has spawned a number of online arguments. One of the most frequent comments was about how cheerful their family is, especially the children; how Michelle is a great mom who doesn't yell. Life must be working for them, because the kids are well behaved and look happy. Sounds reasonable, right?

I might believe it, if I didn't know what I know of Gothard/ATI, the Pearls, and S. M Davis. One of the creepiest things about their teachings is that happy is the only acceptable emotion. Not only must children be perfectly compliant at all times, they must also look cheerful at all times.

The Duggars are deeply enmeshed in ATI, (Gothard's homeschooling program) and ATI takes allegiance very seriously. It isn't a vague statement of beliefs that you sign so your kids can take the courses. It is several pages of in-depth info that covers what kind of music you can listen to (no Christian rock), the kind of TV you may watch (mainly Christian DVDs), the way you must dress (those jumpers are about modesty), the kind of punishments the parents must use (spankings), and more. It isn't just a curriculum--it is a lifestyle which delves into family finances, child planning and every other detail.

One key idea teaches the importance of a joyful countenance and a light in your eyes. This is a measure of how mighty you are in spirit. Not only that, it is also an indicator of your respect for authority. Bill Gothard explains in the Basic Seminar session on How To Relate to Four Authorities that if you look unhappy, you are publicly shaming your authority. In parenting, that means that if the kid looks unhappy, it is a personal offense against the parents. He also teaches that unhappiness is the result of ungratefulness, and that anger comes from not yielding our rights to God. This boils down to the idea that if you are not cheerful, you are not pleasing God.

The Duggars also strongly recommend S. M. Davis in their Family Favorites link under Solving Family Problems. Although he is perhaps not as well known as Gothard or the Pearls, his teachings are similar. Along with the strong insistence on father rule and corporal punishment, he is adamant that not only must the child immediately obey without question, but that it must also be done with a smile.

advising parents of young children, he says, "They need to learn to obey what you say, do it right away and do it with a smile. Maybe that is a statement that you should have your children memorize and even hang in your home. ‘Do what I say, when I say and with a smile.’" A few lines later, he repeats it, "After all, isn’t the goal immediate obedience with a smile? If it isn’t that, it isn’t obedience, and the child has won." (Quite a contrast to Jesus' parable of the two sons in Matthew 28!). 

There has long been a lot of speculation about whether the Duggars use the controversial punishment methods taught by Michael and Debi Pearl in
To Train Up a Child (TTUAC). The Duggar’s website includes it along with a glowing recommendation. Considering that some of the other recommendations list personal details about how the materials were used by the family, I cannot believe that it was randomly included on their site without their approval.

Pearl's writings contain many nauseating anecdotes about how children (even infants) who expressed unhappiness or anger following punishment, were hit even harder and longer until they were ‘cheerful’. One of these examples is found in Chapter 13 of To Train Up a Child:

"My nine- and eleven-year-old daughters came in from a neighbor's house complaining of a young mother's failure to train her child. A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened, clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby's face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, "What can I do?" My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, "Switch him." The mother responded, "I can't, he's too little." With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, "If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.""

A seven month old. Hit with a switch for crying. How twisted is that?

He goes on to add, "Bad attitude is pure bad. For as a child "thinketh in his heart, so is he (Prov. 23: 7)." "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23)." If a child shows the least displeasure in response to a command or duty, it should be addressed as disobedience. If a child sticks out his lip, you should focus your training on his bad attitude. The wrong slant of the shoulders reveals a bad frame of mind. Consider this a sign to instruct, train or discipline. A cheerful, compliant spirit is the norm. Anything else is a sign of trouble."

So it isn't just verbal disagreement. A "wrong" slant of the shoulders deserves punishment. Children are taught from babyhood to always be cheerful, or else they deserve a spanking. As they grow older, it is not just the fear of a spanking that causes them to keep smiling. It is the sincere belief that they are sinning with ungratefulness, rebellion and more if they don't present a happy face.

You know the whole fake it till you make it idea? It is pretty effective. I am sure that there are plenty of times where the kids are genuinely happy. There are many good things in their lives, and I do believe that the kids are loved. I am not saying that it is all a sham. I do strongly suspect that the habit of "joyfulness" is so deeply ingrained that denying "ungodly emotions" is automatic by now.

If you repeatedly ignore a feeling of satiety and force yourself to continue eating, eventually it becomes very, very difficult to even recognize when you are full. In the same way, those who have come out of cultures where they must always present a calm, smiling face, often go through a phase where they can’t even recognize which feelings are authentic and which ones have become nothing more than a conditioned response. If you are under observation or threat of punishment all the time, such emotional repression becomes an essential defense mechanism to protect yourself.

A very telling question is, "Do they laugh?" Yes, they smile often. But how often do they lose themselves in a deep belly laugh? What other emotions do you see openly displayed besides peace and contentment? Do you see spontaneous outbursts of any strong feeling, even joy? Or is every response carefully contained? Do they ever flip a switch? Go from distress to instant calm?
Self control is admirable, of course. But so is healthy self expression. Suppression is not. Consider how the Bible portrays emotion.  Jesus wept. He even cried to the point of bloody tears.  He got angry, threw over tables and chased people out of the Temple. There were times when He sounded suspiciously close to exasperation with the disciples. David, the man after God's own heart, yelled and raged, cried and despaired. Read the stories of the heroes of faith- they argued, tantrumed, got discouraged, and felt afraid. They were open and real with their big emotions, even when they looked messy.

Part of our job as parents is to give our children healthy ways to express all of their feelings, not to punish them for having the feelings in the first place.  Expressing intense feelings in safe and appropriate ways is a skill that requires practice.  We must model speaking the truth in love.

For many people who follow Gothard, Davis and the Pearls, there is incredibly strong pressure to be a salesperson witness. Your countenance is your sales pitch testimony, and if you present an ugly picture to the world, it is a public shaming of your parents and ultimately your God. Are you going to be the cause of people in the world turning from Christ?

I have heard women who are part of this mindset justify staying in abusive relationships because "it would look so bad for a Christian to divorce". As if God would rather you live a damaging lie and deceive others than expose the truth that even families who claim Him are not perfect. (Shhhh. Maybe He won't know that your marriage is really broken as long as you don't sign divorce papers! It is the letter, not the spirit that counts, right? Oh, wait...) Please check out Families Where Grace is In Place or Grace Based Living to read more about living free from curse-filled relationships.

I believe that God values wholehearted authenticity over superficial perfection. As C. S. Lewis expressed so powerfully, "until we have faces" and remove our veils, we will not have the relationship with God or others that we were meant to experience. Such honesty and vulnerability is often uncomfortable, both to demonstrate and to witness, but it is vital. 

He is truly a God who is our Rock, the anchor for our souls. He is big enough to handle our fleeting emotions, even the messy ones. He can take our deepest questions. We can pour out anguish, discouragement, loneliness, petty annoyances, frustration and anger, knowing that His arms are everlasting and that He has promised to wipe away all tears from our eyes.

Jesus didn't say, "...or I'll give you something to cry about!" Instead, He said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." He doesn't condemn us for our feelings. He comes alongside us and comforts us. He doesn't punish us if our smile slips.

So when I hear someone say, "But they look so happy!" I can't help but think, "Of course they do. They know that happy is the only acceptable emotion in their world. But is it really happiness when you aren't allowed to express anything else?"

If you are interested in more of what life is really like for someone growing up under Gothard and the Pearls, there is a wealth of information and stories at:

No Longer Qivering
Commandments of Men
Darcy's Heart-Stirrings
Love, Joy, Feminism
Permission to Live
Recovering Grace
The Eighth and Final Square
Why Not Train a Child?
A Quiver Full of Information

Davis, S. M. (2011) Difficult Young Child Help
Duggars, J and M. (2011) Duggar Family Favorites and
Gothard, Bill. (2011) Basic Seminar Session 04: How to Relate to Four Authorities.
Pearl, Michael. (1994). To Train Up a Child. No Greater Joy Ministries.

 ***Note***This has been edited from the original post to correspond to the version that I wrote for Home Educating Family Magazine.  Both versions were written before Mrs. Duggar's miscarriage.  Although I disagree very strongly with their position on many things, particularly corporal punishment and patriarchy, I believe that the loss of any child is a tragedy, and they have my very deepest sympathies. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Discipline vs Abuse--Why the Limbo Contest?

"Infidelity is a sin! You should never cheat on your wife! But it is necessary that you flirt a lot with your female coworkers, and go out for romantic dinners sometimes. It will actually improve your marriage! But of course you shouldn't actually have an affair."

"Whoa!  No, going out for romantic dinners with someone other than your spouse is not a good idea.  You should only share romantic lunches, just the two of you.  After 5 PM, it is too close to an affair."

"In some marriages, especially if your spouse is a certain personality type, making out with someone else is fine.  In fact, sharing a hotel room on business trips might even be necessary.  However, to keep from having an affair, you should only make out for 10 minutes at a time."

"What your marriage really needs is for you to love your wife.  It is a heart issue.  Just make sure that every time there is any argument, you make up with your spouse before you go and make out with someone else, so that your relationship will be protected."

"You should only do this after being married for six months, and you should stop after 12 years of marriage."


Street limbo 2
Image credit Endlisnis on Flickr
You would not consider that stellar advice for a marriage.  Most of us would say that regardless of the technical definition of infidelity, we don't want our spouses to even get close to that point.  Yet whenever the question of discipline comes up, all of a sudden it becomes a limbo contest.  How low can you go, how close to the line of abuse can you get without it *really* being abuse?

Is it a certain number of swats?  Marks that don't last beyond a certain number of minutes/hours/days?  What if your child just bruises easily?  What if you don't do it in anger--does that make a difference?  (Would it be fine for your spouse to cheat as long as he wasn't in love with his new partner?)  Is it OK for a specific age group? 

The truth is that there is little consensus on the line where spanking becomes abuse.  Every person that I know who advocates spanking has a different line, and each is convinced that it should be obvious to everyone else, but it isn't.  Dobson says that some bruising is fine.  Tripp and the Pearls advocate hitting infants for such heinous offenses as squirming during a diaper change or fussing.  Some say you should use your hands, some insist that a belt or paddle is better.  If you believe that the Bible teaches spanking, Proverbs doesn't say anything at all about the number of blows, how hard they can be or the emotional state of the parent (it does give a pretty clear age reference--to young adults, not children--but funnily enough, I have never seen a spanker acknowledge that.)

I don't understand why the goal always seems to get as close as possible to the line of abuse without touching it.  Is that *really* where our focus should be?  (Would it be OK for your spouse to always be looking at the line for infidelity and saying, "It's OK, we didn't actually have sex.  We stopped just before."?)

Hitting a child is always an act of violence.  It is always meant to cause fear and pain.  (If getting your child's attention is your goal, there are plenty of ways to do that without hitting them.  Be honest, now.)  The line between an acceptable level of pain and fear and an unacceptable level of pain and fear seems to be blurry, at best. That is why spanking advocates have to come up with all the little rules about when it becomes abuse, and still wind up scrambling to redefine the limbo line whenever a case of child abuse makes the news.

Let's take our focus off of how close we can get to the line of abuse without crossing it, and start looking for better ways to teach our kids.  Instead of seeing how low we can go, let's aim for the stars!