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!


Anonymous said...

It's scary to admit that spanking is wrong. It's scary to admit that what you've done, several times a day, every day, for years, is wrong. And it's scary to walk away from the only tool in your toolbox.

It was scary for me to hold my baby and not have any idea how I would teach her if I refused to hit her. But for me, that fear wasn't as important as doing the right thing. So I did research. I asked around. And I started finding other ways to teach her, before I ever needed to hit her.

Sometimes, being a good parent requires courage.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much. <3 I needed that reminder today. And I admire your courage, wisdom and grace so very much!

Becky said...

I really love what mamapsalmist said. May I quote that on PPTB?

Great post, Dulce. <3

Mike and Christie said...

And I agree with mamapsalmist too. To walk away from tradition. To walk away from how you were raised, especially, ESPECIALLY if they teach, as I was taught...if you don't you are sending your children to hell... VERY SCARY if they tell you, you are not following scripture, though they have nothing to offer except a few verses strewn about Proverbs...

I remember when our boys were little reading JD's "strong willed child".... I needed something different to understand how to raise 4 little boys 4 and under. But something in that book struck me wrong. (no pun intended) he described a little girl getting out of bed and being spanked over and over and over and over, and then she stayed in bed.... I thought to myself... "If I were to try that on our son, he would die first." I got rid of that book.
We spanked rarely when our boys were young...and I HATED it. I broke free from it when they were still fairly young..... The BONDAGE that men put on others is awful. The best source for biblical parenting is the bible. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the kind words (my cheeks are SO burning right now!), if you quote me, would you just link back to Thanks!

Alicia C. said...

I love this comparison. It is a very good way to show just how differently many adults treat each other vs. how they treat children. I've seen the "Would you hit your spouse for the same infractions?" comparisons, but this is much better!

Oh, and I also love what mamapsalmist said. It is scary. My husband was all for spanking, but I've prevented it so far. But he keeps asking the same questions, especially, "How else can we teach him?"

Leslie said...

Oh, great post, especially in light of the Hillary Adams news piece. It's so heart breaking, heart wrenching. I was really really disturbed by that. My heart has been heavy all day. We need to keep sharing this message. You are such a strong, courageous voice - keep writing, Dulce! And hopefully children will be spared this pain.

Anonymous said...

I'm a spanker/swatter. I admit it.

Not because I think my kids are going to hell if I don't administer the rod of correction, but mostly when I get to the point of exasperation, it's an expedient way to set still a wiggly tot or when their mouth and attitude have met my limits and enough is enough, thank you.

I'd love to say I'm a deep well of patience, but sorry I'm not, although as I get older, it takes longer to get exasperated. I think that's because I'm mostly tired.

At the same time, I can't imagine spanking "several times a day, every day." Really? Who does that? Why is that necessary? Apparently, it's not working for you. And with a belt? Are you nuts?

I've been a parent for 23 years and have 8 kids ranging in age down to 14 months. So far, they are all still talking to me. My son who is the father of my grand daughter, still sees fit to bring her around to me, so we must be okay.

Spanking aside, I think someone who is an abuser, abuses in all areas and that it isn't just limited to areas of discipline or "spanking." It doesn't help to take THAT one element in someone's parenting toolkit and declare it abuse without a look at the whole picture.

But we like to take one, simple thing, (spanking) declare it unholy and the root of everything wrong and walk away. Nice, neat and easy.

But life is messy. It's not neat, not always nice, and most definitely, not easy.

That judge isn't an abuser because he spanked his daughter. He's a abuser because he BEAT her with a BELT, SWORE at her, called her names, yelled at her mother, and then years later when the video was posted to Youtube, treated his daughter with disgust by commenting about how hard things were for HIM BECAUSE OF HER. That's just the teensy tip of why he's an abuser.

A parent who swats their kids once in awhile is not in the same ballpark as this guy.

dulce de leche said...

Montana Wildflower, thank you so much for commenting. I think that just about every parent can relate to that urge to hit when you are at the end of your rope. Do you do that with other people, though? Or only with children? I am assuming that even when you are impatient or frustrated with adults, you refrain from hitting them, knowing that the outcome wouldn't be good.

From what you have said, you are mild in comparison to the judge, who was clearly abusive. But my point is, why set that kind of behavior as the standard? Sure, you will always look good in comparison to someone like that. But how much does that say?

The judge seems to believe that he has the right to hit his children when they inconvenience him, that he is justified in using violence when he is upset. It sounds as if you believe that, too, although to a much milder degree.

I do agree completely that abuse is not limited to physical violence, and that abusers will trample the boundaries of their victims in other areas, too. You are absolutely right that it is not just about spanking. I believe that it is about the way we view all people, not just children. It affects our words, attitudes, and all other interactions.

I don't mean this as an attack on you. I think that it was pretty courageous to post your comment on a blog that is so strongly against corporal punishment, and I think that you put into words what many parents believe and practice. I would encourage you to ask yourself, though, what would ultimately work best--a tool like spanking that makes them stop in the moment, or teaching them what they *should* do instead?

Anonymous said...

I realize that this is a blog where everyone calls spanking, hitting and equates it as being the same thing and that that is believed wholeheartedly to be true.

I don't. I do not equate spanking and hitting as the same thing and I believe wholeheartedly that THAT is true. So, let's make that clear and not interchange the words if only for my benefit and because you asked me to answer specific questions. Therefore, I do not "hit" my kids. I have "spanked" them on occasion with spanking being a swat or two on the fully clothed backside. I've used it to get their attention, for defiant behavior (which is much different in a two year old than in a four year old) and for dangerous behaviors (like the time my four year old (now 19) was caught lighting matches under the bed.)

Have I spanked for childish carelessness? Yes, I have. Not proud of it, but I've made that mistake a few times.

Second, it's not my job to raise anyone else besides my kid. My husband is raised, I'm raised and
I don't spank/swat any one else's kid. If an adult exasperates me, I can tell them to buzz off (in a sense) and I can leave. I have no vested interest in them.

There are times when I want immediate compliance and I don't have time or even WANT to make time to work out another way. It's done now, no discussion, no debates and no nonsense, period. If it takes a spanking (The way I've defined it....not with a plumbing supply line, not with a belt) to get that message across, then so be it.

While I am not trying to "elevate" myself by making comparisons between me and the judge, or "set that kind of behavior as the standard," I am trying to make a point that there are different ways to raise kids and that no one has arrived in the arena of parenthood with all the answers. If we get our kids raised to adulthood and have good relationships with them and they don't end up in jail, then I think the goal has been achieved and that is really what it is about. Not so much in an "the end justifies the means" kind of way, but more in a "holy crap that was hard and they're good kids in spite of me" kind of way. Either way, most of us did our best and most of us reach that goal.

I don't care if you spank or not, every parent has doubts about their parenting ability, whether or not they are doing/did the right things, or said the right things, or prayed the right way. It's a hard thing to feel as though the weight of your child's future rests upon whether or not you did more things right than wrong in raising them.

I do have the advantage of hindsight with my first five kids in that they have mostly reached adulthood (ages 23, 22, 20, 19 and 16)and our relationships are good and no one is in jail. I have two preschool children at home and I am starting over with the nitty gritty in my later years (I had one child die as an infant from a congenital heart defect, this is why the math seems wonky, but I always have to include him in the count.) and there are things I am doing a bit differently now than 20 years ago. I'm tweaking the spanking thing, will probably use it more sparingly than before, but I'm not going to rule it out. It may turn out that I won't feel a need to as much. We'll see.

That said, I have major problems with blanket statements and beliefs that state ALL spanking is abuse because it simply isn't true. My knowledge of it my be anecdotal, stemming from my own experience, however, it doesn't change the fact that my own experience is a fly in the ointment of "all."

dulce de leche said...

Spanking and hitting are only different only in the same way that slapping and hitting are different. You can't spank a child without hitting him.

For things like dangerous situations, Dare to Disciple--The Danger Dilemma has some good points.

Spanking scares/hurts your child enough to gain immediate compliance, but there are other ways to gain compliance in situations where it is absolutely necessary. And spanking doesn't teach them anything about what they should do the next time or how to behave when you aren't around to spank them. It also makes their motives purely self-centered. They aren't changing their behavior because they want to do what it right or because they care about others--it is only to avoid getting hit again.

I am pretty confident that the reason that you have a good relationship with your kids is not *because* you spanked them, but *in spite* of it. You poured enough love in to help mitigate the negative effects of spanking.

Honestly, I want far more for my kids than to avoid jail (and virtually all people who are incarcerated were spanked). I want them to thrive. I want them to be emotionally healthy adults who respect boundaries, who are motivated by love and compassion rather than fear or shame. Spanking will only be an obstacle to those goals, even if they manage to achieve them in spite of it.

The parents I know who spank love their children dearly. I am sure that you do, too. I don't think you are a monster or anything like that. I do believe that there are healthier, more effective tools that you can use to discipline your kids. Have you read The Hows of Discipline by the Hippie Housewife? It is a great resource (and the comments are very, very good, too!). She has a lot of wonderful resources from a Christian perspective. :)

dulce de leche said...

Oops. The Dare to Disciple link is here:
Dare to Disciple--The Danger Dilemma

Claire in Tasmania said...

Dulce, I love the analogy!

Montana Wildfower, as an ex-spanker and slowly recovering yeller, I want to offer a few observations I've made along the way to concluding that both spanking and yelling at* my kids is abusive.
Firstly, I've read a lot of comments in blogs like this one and on GCM where people seem to define 'abuse' as 'worse than I grew up with' or 'worse than what I do'. I have seriously seen people say "I wasn't abused, I only got beaten with a belt a few times a week" or "My mom occasionally hit me on the legs with a 2 by 4 but she didn't abuse me."
I, having been brought up with only occasional spankings with a wooden spoon, feel nauseated and angered by such stories, but these people grew up thinking it was normal.
But here's the thing: I've also read stories of the response of gently-raised children when they first see an 'ordinary' spanking, and it's *exactly the same* as my response to harsher beatings. They don't acknowledge that parents have an innate human right to cause their children pain.
There are also occasional people who have such a strong sense of self and their own boundaries even in early childhood that they never accorded their parents the right to spank them, even in the mild way you describe. They grew up feeling no respect or trust for their parents because this one thing interfered with them feeling respected *by* their parents.

My conclusion? Our feelings about what is abuse is based on what we've been socialised to accept, not on any objective idea of what is a reasonable way to treat another human being. And I can think of no objective standard that would give me the right to treat anyone the way I tend to feel I have the right to treat my kids :(.

While I realise that labeling people as abusive is more likely to put people on the defensive than open up lines of communication, and I have no desire to shame anyone, including myself, if pushed to explain my exact stance then I have to admit that 'abuse' is what it is.

*"Yelling at" I am defining as yelling in a way intended to shame, hurt or punish the child - not calling to get attention in a crowd, etc.