Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review--Canary Island Song

I have been a fan of Robin Jones Gunn for many years, and couldn't wait to read her latest book, Canary Island Song.  I confess, I am not a big fan of most Christian fiction.  Sometimes I really disagree with the shaming messages.  Other times, I just suspect that the lousy story was excused because of a superficial religious cloak.  Robin Jones Gunn is not in that category.  Her stories are real, and they are filled with hope and grace.  Canary Island Song is no exception.

Carolyn has spent the last seven years since her husband's death trying to hold things together for the rest of her family.  She steps into a new season of life with a trip to the Canary Islands to visit her mother.  While there, she encounters Bryan Spencer, the first guy to whom she ever gave herself.  As she heals and grows, she learns to dance from the stomach up, living life fully and openly.

I love the richness of relationship shared by all these women.  They celebrate each other, and eventually, themselves.  The lovely friendship between Carolyn and her daughter Tikki reminds me of Sally and Sarah Clarkson.  These Women of the Canaries are true Sisterchicks, and the way they interact reminded me of the amazing women God has placed in my life.  This was my favorite part of the book.

One of the themes throughout Robin's books is sexual purity.  I love the way Carolyn's mother responds when Carolyn finally opens up about her night on the beach as a teen with Bryan Spencer.  The love and grace are a beautiful portrayal of how Jesus responds to us.  Few authors can walk the line of a Christian perspective on sexual purity without shaming, and Robin does it with grace. 

Each chapter opens with an appropriate Spanish refrán, which I enjoyed tremendously.  There were a couple of places where I had minor quibbles with some of the Spanish phrases used by the characters, but the character portrayals were brilliant.  In particular, Tía Freida was spot-on, and I could easily imagine the tías, abuelas and other beloved women in my life in these Women of the Canaries.  I especially loved the lesson of the flamenco, and the tradition of congratulating women who show themselves a kindness.  The food descriptions were great, too!  :)

Fans of the Christy Miller books will enjoy getting to see Todd's dad starring in his own romance.  While the fulfillment of the early promise in Bryan and Carolyn's relationship is charming, it never takes away from Carolyn's journey of healing, and discovering the depths of God's love and freedom.  It has all the realness and sweetness of tropical fruit ripened on the tree.

This book has some important messages, but they are woven in so effortlessly that it remains a light and easy read.  If you are looking for a book to take to the beach, or just to make you feel as though you have been to the islas, Canary Island Song will bring a lovely ocean breeze and a happy melody to your heart.

Disclosure:  I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  My opinions are completely my own. 

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lead by Example--Guest Post from The Hippie Housewife

Cynthia is the mother of two little boys, an inquisitive preschooler and an energetic toddler. She blogs at The Hippie Housewife, where she shares her thoughts on attachment parenting, natural living, life as a Jesus-follower, and more, all tied together through her journey towards a more intentional life.

follow the leader, leader, leader
Image credit storem on Flickr

Lead by example.

It's well-worn advice, but well-worn for a reason: It's good advice. We should never underestimate the power of our example. Our children, our husbands, and others can all be affected - positively or negatively - by what we model in our lives.

There is perhaps no area this applies to more than that of parenting, particularly for those of us who choose to use gentle discipline as we raise our children. How might this play out in our lives?

We can lead our children by our example. Our children look to us for cues and guidance. What do they see? Would we want them to model their lives after our own? Consider these three major areas:

  • Personal life: Knowing that our children are watching should give us pause to examine our priorities and habits. Do they see a life of self-discipline or one of chaos? Do they see and hear us meditating on Scripture as we go about our day? What holds our attention and takes up our time? Even the way we make decisions and resolve conflict can be examples for our children. Narrating our decision-making process out loud allows them to hear how we work through a decision or conflict from start to finish.
  • How we relate to others: Our children observe the way we relate to others as well. Do we intentionally seek to build community? Do we maintain firm, healthy boundaries in our lives? Do we extend grace and compassion, or do our children hear us criticizing others at every opportunity?
  • How we treat our children: Children learn what they live. The way we treat our children becomes the basis upon which they view themselves and interact with others. Our actions and attitudes towards our children should model God's love for them. Do we demand perfection from them while excusing our own weaknesses? Do we offer forgiveness when they do wrong, and ask their forgiveness when we wrong them? Do we treat them compassionately and offer them grace when they need it? What do our words, actions, and attitudes tell our children about their Heavenly Father?

We can lead our husbands by our example. When I am parenting with intention, my husbands adopts those same gentle perspectives and tools. Unfortunately, this works both ways. Without fail, the minute I start being harsh with our children, my husband follows suit. My words come out of his mouth. My attitudes become glaringly apparent in the way he acts towards the boys. Good or bad, he picks up on the way I treat our children. Like it or not, a mother truly does set the tone for her household.

Many a father will balk at the idea of gentle discipline. And yet our husbands will hear us when we use positive scripts with our children and they will see the gentle discipline tools we use. They will also see how the children respond and the fruit it brings forth both in them and in our relationships with them. More often than not, the reluctant father will begin to follow suit in time. A quiet "leading by example" approach is often far more effective than a direct theoretical discussion.

We can lead others by our example. The best way to advocate for gentle discipline is to live it. A consistent, calm response to our children's behaviour will be noticed by those around us. Rather than "parenting to the crowd", focus on your child and parent them. Let your fruit speak for itself.

At the same time, we must remain humble enough to look to the example of other experienced mothers. Another gentle-minded mother can be an invaluable role model, sounding board, and encouragement. Seek the support and wisdom of others who hold the same values you do.

Begin by following Jesus' example for us. All of this should be rooted in a firm and sincere desire to ultimately follow Jesus' example. Jesus welcomed children and lauded their unquestioning faith. He spoke life-giving words of encouragement to the hurting. He gave thanks to the Father in all things. He reminded us that whatever we do for the "least of these", we do for the Lord - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick. He commanded us to love God and to love others as ourselves, and His ministry on earth serves as a model for just that.

Live your faith, model your values, and lead by example.

In what ways do you find your example leads those around you?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Las bienaventuranzas para los padres

Photo credit puritani35 on Flickr
El sermón del monte ha sido siempre una de mis partes favoritas de la Biblia. Recientemente he tenido un impulso a leerlo una y otra vez. Aunque creo que se aplica a todas nuestras relaciones, pienso que hay una riqueza especial para descubrir si nos fijamos en esta enseñaza como padres.

Mateo 5:3-13 "Bienaventurados los pobres de espíritu, porque de ellos es el reino de los cielos." ~ RVA  Hay bendición y felicidad en la humildad. Nuestra cultura anima a los padres a actuar por la soberbia.  Muchos tienen la opinión de que los niños son como propiedad de los padres, "menor que" los adultos en casi todos los sentidos. Eso no es la manera de los ciudadanos del reino de los cielos. En el reinado de Jesúcristo, el mayor sirve al menor. 

"Bienaventurados los que lloran, porque ellos serán consolados". ~ RVA 
Estar feliz no es la única emoción aceptable. Podemos ser auténticos con nuestros hijos. Podemos llorar con la certeza de que a Dios le importan nuestros sentimientos. Él nos consuela, sin darnos vergüenza o minimizar nuestro dolor. ¿Cómo les enseñamos a nuestros hijos a lidiar con la tristeza y el dolor? ¿Los consolamos? O hacemos caso omiso de sus gritos, sobre todo cuando no tenemos ganas de ayudar (por la noche, durante las rabietas)? ¿Insistimos en que dejen de llorar para que nosotros no nos sentamos incómodos ("No seas infantil. Los niñ@s grandes no lloran.  Estás bien.  Deja de llorar o te voy a castigar!  No llores--mira, te voy a dar un dulce/ juguete.)? ¿Realmente creerán que Dios los consuele si les decimos, ya sea verbalmente o por medio de nuestras acciones, que su tristeza no es lo suficientemente importante para nosotros para que los consolemos?

"Bienaventurados los mansos, porque ellos recibirán la tierra por heredad". ~ RVA "Dichosos los que no sean enojones o propensos a la ira, porque ellos heredarán la tierra". ~ La Fuente (The Source)  
¿Cómo modelamos la gentileza con nuestros hijos? ¿La mansedumbre? Jesús se describió como manso y humilde de corazón - ¿nos describirían nuestros hijos de esa manera? ¿O es que tratamos de justificar el orgullo y la conducta de acoso (herir o avergonzar a ellos cuando no hacen lo que queremos), porque "somos los padres"? ¿Nos ven como enojados y propensos a los estribos?

"Bienaventurados los que tienen hambre y sed de justicia, porque ellos serán saciados." ~ RVA 
¿Estamos constantemente buscando tener buenas relaciones con Dios y con los demás? Esa es la fuente de satisfacción para nosotros. ¿Nos ven pasando tiempo en leer la Palabra de Dios y la oración? ¿Pueden ver nuestra fe en nuestras actitudes y las relaciones? ¿O es que nos ven indiferentes hacia el crecimiento espiritual?

"Bienaventurados los misericordiosos, porque ellos recibirán misericordia." ~ RVA  
¿Tienen nuestros hijos carita de vergüenza con cada error, esperando nuestra condenación? ¿Tienen miedo de decirnos la verdad, porque esperan el castigo? ¿O es que nos ven como llenos de misericordia y la compasión, que venimos al lado de ellos para ayudarlos y alentarlos mientras los guiamos?

"Bienaventurados los de limpio corazón, porque ellos verán a Dios." ~ RVA "Felices son los que tienen la mente purificada, porque ellos verán a Dios." ~ La Fuente  
¿Demuestran nuestras vidas un corazón puro? ¿El carácter de Cristo? ¿La pasión por la santidad y el fruto del Espíritu? ¿O hay áreas en las que todavía somos esclavos del pecado? ¿Cuáles son nuestras prioridades? Cuando tenemos el corazón lleno de amor y la mente limpia, podemos ver las huellas de Dios en nuestros hijos. Cuando nuestras percepciones están manchadas por el miedo, el egoísmo o la falta de sabiduría, nos convertimos en adversarios, buscando ver la mala intención detrás de cada acción de nuestros hijos. Cuanto más buscamos el perdón de Jesús para nosotros mismos (purificando nuestros corazones), más libremente se lo ofrecemos a nuestros pequeñitos.

"Bienaventurados los que hacen la paz, porque ellos serán llamados hijos de Dios." ~ RVA  
¿Cómo les enseñamos a nuestros hijos a resolver los conflictos? ¿Nos ven como personas apacibles, llegando a traer la paz y sanar rupturas en una relación? ¿Pedimos disculpas e intentamos reparar nuestros errores? ¿Tratamos de ver las cosas desde su punto de vista? ¿Qué podemos aprender de ser padres a través de ser hijos de nuestro Padre Celestial?

"Bienaventurados los que padecen persecución por causa de la justicia, porque de ellos es el reino de los cielos. Bienaventurados sois cuando por mi causa os vituperen y os persigan, y digan toda clase de mal contra vosotros, mintiendo. Regocijaos y alegraos; porque vuestro galardón es grande en el cielo; porque así persiguieron a los profetas que fueron antes de vosotros." ~ RVG
¿Nuestros hijos nos ven dispuestos a hacer lo correcto, incluso cuando no sea conveniente, incluso cuando pueda causar daño a nuestra reputación? ¿Cómo respondemos a los insultos? ¿Qué pasa si nuestros hijos nos dicen cosas feas? ¿Respondemos con el orgullo y la ira, o respondemos con paz y confianza? ¿Estamos dispuestos a seguir nuestras convicciones, a pesar de los comentarios insultantes cuando nuestros bebés están "todavía" tomando pecho, o despertando durante la noche?  Cuando nuestros hijos se portan mal delante de otros, ¿respondemos con paciencia y cariño, o con más dureza para hacernos lucir mejor?

Jesús nunca puso ningún límite de edad sobre sus enseñanzas. Nunca dijo: "
Así que, todas las cosas que queráis que los hombres os hagan, así también haced vosotros a ellos, a menos que sean niños". No hay advertencias de que la paz y la mansedumbre, la paciencia y la bondad son sólo para los adultos en nuestras vidas. En cambio, Él bendijo a los niños. Que podamos ser una bendición para nuestros hijos, al seguir su ejemplo.

Todos los viernes, puedes participar con nosotros en Spanish Friday, con Tracy de  :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Spanking in anger--what does it matter?

Whenever someone speaks out against spanking, there is instantly a chorus of pro-spankers who claim that the problem is only spanking in anger.  They sincerely believe that spanking is a good thing as long as it is done the right way--without anger.  Really?  What difference does it really make whether the spanking is done calmly or in anger?

The argument with the most merit is that a parent not spanking in anger is in control and less likely to cause lasting physical damage.  Obviously, a person who is out of control with rage has no business hitting anyone, least of all a small child who is particularly vulnerable to injury.  Does that really even need to be said?

Anger is a little more insidious than that, though.  There is quite a continuum of anger.  Even more, the outward manifestation may not always match up with the heart.  I have seen people bluster with surface anger that wasn't especially damaging.  I have also seen a cold, intense anger that looked calm on the surface, but was seething underneath.  Furthermore, I have seen people struggling with depression and other issues who were not always able to accurately gauge the intensity of their emotions.   So if even the parent can't always tell whether they are spanking in anger, how can the child or anyone else evaluate what is in the parent's heart?

Most parents that I know have a very hard time detaching themselves enough from their emotions to avoid spanking in anger.  And I think that is a good thing.  For the parents to detach themselves to the extent that they feel no anger over the offense that resulted in the spanking is eerily reminiscent of Nazi-like behavior.  They had so effectively detached themselves that they couldn't see their actions as being cruel.  They are unlikely to experience compassion for their children, or to be able to tell if they are crossing the line into abuse.

From a child's perspective, spanking done calmly is no better than a spanking done in anger.  Either way, they are hurt.  In fact, many people who have experienced both found spanking in anger less damaging.  They can recognize a distinction between their responsibility and their parent's reaction.  Spanking calmly may be more emotionally damaging, because it is much more effective at teaching the children that they deserve to be hit by those who love them.  Think about this: if someone you love were to say something that hurt you in a moment of anger, or to say the same thing with the intent to hurt you when they were completely calm, which would be more damaging?  For most of us, the latter would be far worse.

Most people have no idea where the formulas for "correct" spanking come from.  They certainly don't come from the Bible.  Christian spankers frequently use the Proverbs to justify spanking.  (Jews do not.  Spanking children is illegal in Israel).  In Hebrew, it is very clear that those passages do NOT refer to spanking, but even if you are trying to take a literal version of the English translations, it is pretty clear that it does not follow the formula.  They never mention spanking in anger.  Why not?  If these verses are the basis for instruction, then why isn't such a crucial part of "correct" spankings mentioned?

The unspoken recognition behind spanking in anger is that you can go too far, despite the verse in Proverbs that claims (in most translations) that if you beat your child with the rod, he will not die (Note: despite the claim by many spankers that they just take the verses literally, this does not say that if you give a couple of swats on a covered bottom without anger, he will not die.  If you want to take the Proverbs verses at face value in English, you are most definitely beating, not "popping", and it is the back, not the bottom that should be hit, you are using a branch closer to a baseball bat than a twig, your emotional state is irrelevant, and you cannot go too far.)  However, reality shows us that children have died from being beaten with the rod.  Face-value interpretations from an English translation with our cultural baggage are a clear lie.  We must dig deeper.

Grace-based discipline can never be taken too far.  (Extreme permissiveness, which is neglect, is not a part of grace-based parenting).  You cannot teach (discipline) you child with love and grace too much.  You can spank too much or too hard, regardless of whether you are angry or not.  Consider, is your goal really to get as close as possible to abuse without crossing the line?  Why even go near it at all?

I believe that the whole issue of spanking in anger has become a cop out.  It is a way for pro-spankers to avoid acknowledging the reality of the problems that spanking can cause.  They can dismiss any account of damage by assuming that it was done in anger, and therefore would have been fine had the parent only been calm.  And since most parents do spank in anger, at least some of the time, they can ignore warning signs in their own home about the damage from spanking by assuming that the problem is only their occasional lapse in attitude, never the spanking itself.

Finally, the origin of the "never spank in anger" directive is actually based in domestic spankings--the Spencer Spanking Plan.  Yes, it was meant to describe husbands never spanking their wives in anger.  The instructions are very specific: 1. Explain what actions will merit a spanking. 2. Be careful not to cause injury or leave welts or bruises.  It should only cause just enough pain to be effective.  3.  It must never be done in anger.  4. After the spanking, the wife will kiss her husband and thank him.  Her offense is now forgiven and friendly relations are re-established.  Sound familiar?  It comes right out of S and M.  Is that really what you want to base your child's discipline on?  There is a reason why googling spanking will turn up as many porn/fetish sites as it does parenting sites.

Certainly, spanking in anger is harmful.  But spanking calmly is not benign.  It is still striking a child with the goal of causing pain and fear.  The solution is discipline without spanking.  It is not just about avoiding "spanking in anger".  There is no good spanking.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another Letter to Another Pastor on Spanking **Sensitive**

Earlier this week, in a discussion on  pastors who endorse spanking from the pulpit, I was given permission to share this letter.  I am not sharing the author's name, but this story is not unusual.  I know that many people who support spanking will likely feel outraged and say that things like this are never their intent.  I am sure that that is true.  Unfortunately, regardless of the parent's motives, spanking can cause many problems.  I am so grateful for M.C.'s courage in sharing with this pastor and in allowing me to share this here.  There is a lot of secrecy and shame about some effects of spanking, and we need to shine light on it in order to bring healing to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Because of the sensitive nature of this post, comments will be heavily moderated.

Dear Pastor ________
Last Sunday (February 24th) I was listening intently to the sermon you were giving on backsliding and distancing yourself from God. I was really into the message, and I felt like the message was speaking to me; and then all of a sudden something clicked off inside of me and I was no longer able to listen. It is highly ironic that one of the metaphors used in your sermon on becoming distant from God was precisely one of the many issues that has made me feel cynical towards my upbringing in the church, and has probably made me feel somewhat distant in my relationship with God. When this illustration was used in the sermon it was a complete distraction to me and I totally lost focus on the purpose of the message. The illustration I am referring to is the one where you said that God paddles backsliding believers in order to bring them back to himself; and also the comment that compared the role of the church on a backsliding believer’s life to that of an older sibling warning the younger to knock off their behavior or else they would experience a sore painful backside from the father’s paddling. When these illustrations were used I couldn’t help but stop listening, and if you will be patient in listening I will try to explain why.

When I was growing up in the shadow of the fundamentalist Baptist Church corporal punishment was generally accepted as God’s command for lovingly disciplining children. I remember many Sunday school teachers and Awana leaders instructing all of us young children on why it was loving and godly for our parents to hit us. I vividly remember one particular message given by an Awana leader who told us, “My father showed me his love with his belt and if your parents love you they will also show it with a belt.” At home this teaching was carried out in action from a young age. My brother and I were commonly spanked bare bottom with either our father’s leather belt, or his homemade wooden paddle. I can recollect my feelings during these times. I always felt terrified and my stomach would tie itself into knots. During the wait in the bedroom, my brother used to become so anxious that he would end up running to the bathroom and vomiting; and the pain was always unbearable. Sometimes the experience was even more horrible for me because I knew I didn’t mean to do anything wrong. Because of my Central Auditory Processing Disorder there were times where I would miss-communicate what I was trying to say, or information would get mixed up in the processing centers of my brain; when this happened I was often accused of lying and was paddled despite my futile attempts to explain that I really did not mean to lie. Equally horrible were the times I would be sitting in a room and would hear the loud smacks as the wooden paddle hit my brother who was screaming and crying in the adjacent room; my stomach would weave itself into knots knowing that I was helpless to save my brother from that pain and fear.

I do not believe that support for corporal punishment has any place in the church, and I refuse to show any support for ministries that support or teach that corporal punishment is acceptable and godly (ex. Focus on the family). It is absurd for me to imagine the Jesus who told us to turn the other cheek when our enemies hit us; the Jesus who told us to continually forgive those who sin against us; and the Jesus who stopped Pharisees from stoning people caught in sin would advocate whacking children with pieces of wood. I have researched this issue a lot and have found that there is little (if any) biblical support for hitting children as an act of discipline or punishment. Everyone always tries to cite proverbs as a defense for corporal punishment, but from my research it seems that those verses have been seriously misinterpreted and twisted over a long period of time. I do not see any reason to accept that Proverbs is a literal command or support for whipping children with rod’s; if anything, the message of those verses in proverbs is that if you refuse to take the time to correct and teach your children then you really do hate them (I do not believe this correction and teaching has anything to do with hitting children).

I also find it funny when Christian writers, or Christian organizations like Focus on the Family, try to instruct people in the biblical/non-abusive approach towards spanking. I find it funny because there is nothing in the bible that gives parents instructions on how to hit their children in a godly manner (despite the countless Christian parenting books that try to describe the biblical step- by- step process for hitting your children in love).

I also resent when people try to tell me that the only reason I was negatively affected by corporal punishment is their claim that my father’s corporal punishment was abusive and unbiblical. I resent this because it was not true during the time period and the church culture in which I grew up. Many parents from my generation, and from the church culture I grew up in, whacked their children’s bare backsides with belts and wooden paddles, and it was not considered abusive. Furthermore every Christian writer, and every Christian ministry that tries to defend corporal punishment, has a different standard of abuse.

 Some Christians say that if you chose to spank, then you should give only two swats on a fully clothed bottom….however, other Christian “authorities” recommend 5 swats…and others 2 swat for each year of the child’s age…Some of these Christian ministries say that it is abusive to spank with an object. Others agree with James Dobson and Roy Lessin and say the use of a neutral object is best…Some of these various authors say that the child should be fully clothed during the spanking, while others say that a child’s clothing should be removed so they feel the full extent of the pain, and also so that the parent can monitor the extent of the damage on the skin…Some of these people say that a spanking should not be painful, and that the child should just feel a firm impact with-out any painful sting (in this case the writers suggest that the purpose of spanking is to just get the child’s full attention, it is not to cause pain). Other Christians say that a spanking should definitely be a painful experience for the child….Some Christians say that if there are any marks or redness on the skin from spanking, then it’s abuse…others say red marks are OK…some Christian ministers say redness is OK, as long as it only lasts for a few minutes…while others say it is perfectly fine for the redness to last for a long time…Some Christian writers like Roy Lessin even suggest that light bruising is Ok and doesn’t qualify as abuse.

No one in these examples has a definite unified view of what a so-called “non-abusive? Spanking is. It becomes a ridiculous question of “how many times can I hit my kid, and how hard can I hit them?? Even the issue of marks on the skin becomes a somewhat relative issue. Some kids bruise easily, and even the “mildest? swat may leave a slight bruise…some don’t bruise easily at all; so the parent could whack the child pretty hard, cause pretty extensive pain, and yet still not be culpable of abuse because no bruise was left. How much pain is too much pain? How do you really know if you have crossed the threshold of “appropriate” disciplinary pain, especially if, as Roy Lessin suggests in his infamous book “Spanking, When, Why, and How”, you cannot even trust the child’s crying because it is manipulative? None of these views on corporal punishment has any way to answer the question of when spanking is abuse. Each commentator has their own view as to what constitutes abuse, and the line between abuse and discipline is hazy and ineffective. And since there are a number of negative risks associated with corporal punishment, why would anyone take the chance of harming their child…there are plenty of other effective alternatives. I also can’t help but think that if spanking was mandated by God, then why wouldn’t he leave any commentary or examples of how to “correctly” do it in the bible?

I think the whole argument I just described (the difference between spanking and abuse) completely misses the point; you are not supposed to hit other people Period, including children. Husbands are not allowed to hit wives if they have a disagreement; bosses are not allowed to hit employees if they don’t do things correctly; in fact everyone in the United States is protected from being hit except children. A better definition of abuse is to say that people are not supposed to hit each other, and therefore any type of hitting is an act of mistreatment and abuse. This is the safest position to hold. God did not intend for us to hit each other, and therefore ALL hitting should be considered a form of mistreatment or abuse.

I know a lot about the negative effects resulting from spanking. The physical and emotional consequences I think are pretty clear, but there is one other negative effect that few people feel comfortable talking about, and I am only going to discuss it with the trust that you will not tell anyone that I am one of people dealing with it (Only a few people at our church like Katy know about this). I am talking about the sexual side effects associated with corporal punishment.

Ever since I was a young child I can remember having sexual thoughts related to corporal punishment. The asexual child is a common myth in our society, but it is simply not true. Children are fully capable of experiencing sexual feelings and can even experience sexual arousal. When I was a child I used to experience sexual feelings whenever I read a scene of corporal punishment in a children’s book; or when I saw a scene of corporal punishment in a film; I used to think about being spanked when I would play with myself as a child, and as an adolescent masturbation was always accompanied by thoughts about spanking. I never really questioned any of this until I started college. I realized that it seemed really strange that my sexual thoughts would revolve around something that was so painful and frightening as a child; I mean, sex is supposed to be focused on something beautiful, not on being inflicted with pain. I did some research and I found some answers to explain this. I discovered that there was both a biological and psychological component to the sexualization of corporal punishment; and I also discovered that there were many other people who suffered sexual side effects from childhood corporal punishment.

The biological factor revolves around the fact that the buttocks is an erogenous, or sexual, zone of the human body. The buttocks are in close proximity to the sex organs, and the nerves and blood vessels in the buttocks are also connected to the male and female genitalia. Therefore, striking a child's bottom as a form of punishment can stimulate the nerves connected to the genitalia causing sexual arousal. When a child's bottom is hit it also causes blood to rush to the blood vessels of the buttocks (causing redness), and since those blood vessels of the buttocks are connected to a person's genitalia, the blood can also rush to the sex organs which of course causes sexual arousal.

During the spanking, the child may not even realize that the sexual arousal is occurring because of the intense physical pain and anxiety they are experiencing; however, the connection between the spanking and the sexual arousal can be stored in the subconscious and later manifest itself in sexual fantasies where the child imagines being spanked, hit, or humiliated in order to reach a state of sexual arousal.

In addition to the biological factors there are also psychological factors that solidify the connection. Since the buttocks is a sexual and private part of the body a child becomes confused when a parent is able to touch this area of their body in a violent manner. There is a confusing message that occurs when a child is told by the parents and the church that their parents spank them because they love them. The child may begin to think that the people who love you hit you; they may even associate the action of spanking/pain as an expression of love. Therefore, a sexuality may develop that is focused on spanking as an action of love. The sexual overtones of corporal punishment may become even stronger because of the fact that many parents remove a child’s pants and underpants when spanking. There are many people who have stories similar to mine; spanking can cause distortions in a child’s developing sexuality, and for that and many other reasons it should not be supported.

You may think I am crazy, but I assure you that I am not. I am 100% serious. I always tell people that if you don’t believe that there is a connection between corporal punishment and sexuality then they should do a search on the internet. I tell people who doubt the connection to type in the word spanking on their internet search engine and to count how many pornographic sites related to spanking show up on their search results. I also tell people that I can give them internet links to sites where people describe their own personal childhood experiences with corporal punishment and their currant struggles with sexuality. I also have links and articles and books that talk about the connection between corporal punishment and sexuality. Both sociologist and psychologist have studied the connections between the two, and I not only agree with the findings…I know from experience that there is a connection.

So, when the illustration about paddling was used that Sunday something clicked off inside me and I couldn’t listen. You were talking about people being distant from God, and ironically it is that issue of corporal punishment that has created a lot of baggage in my relationship to God and the Church. I was told by my church that spanking was loving; I was told that spanking was endorsed by God and that all Godly and loving parents spank their kids; so imagine how it feels to me when I know that spanking distorted my sexuality and contributed the anxiety issues I deal with, and yet I hear churches and ministers and authors all saying that it is loving and godly. I cannot embrace that in any way. How am I supposed to feel close to God when so many people in churches defend something that has been harmful to me and for many other people?  When that metaphor was used, all I could think of was how frightening and painful it was to be hit with that paddle, or strapped with that belt when I was growing up…and all the emotional and sexual baggage that went with it.

Thanks for listening to my concerns. I was debating on whether I should write this, but I felt I had to because of the way this issue affects me. I have appreciated your ministry at the church and have never raised any concerns about your ministry before; but I had to voice my concern about this. It just frustrates me so much that many churches still accept the myth that corporal punishment is god-mandated, loving, and non-harmful. 

M. C.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Finding the Balance--Guest Post from Little Bird You are Perfect

Rock Stacks near Crissy Field in the Presidio
Image credit nerdcoregirl on Flickr

Finding the Balance
For many years, I made a yearly trek to San Diego for my summer “fix” to beat the Arizona heat. Each year I would seek out a gentle fellow who spent his days at Sea Port Village on the rocky portion of the beach using rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes to make formations. He spent hours and hours of each day balancing enormous boulders atop of very small stones in what all seemed to be a mish-mash of shapes, sizes, and textures. What he was doing seemed an impossible feat. It also seemed an impractical task! How could he balance these unwieldy rocks and why? One day, in the middle of the normal hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, his vocation and message became increasingly clear to me.

The secret to a successful life, of managing all of the impossible tasks of parenthood, the obstacles, the odd assortment of delays, challenges, frustrations, and the simple daily trials of parenting, was in FINDING AND MAINTAINING THE BALANCE. This is what made this rock building man successful at what he was doing. He had clearly found the balance in what seemed like an impossible task. In order for us as parents to be truly successful in everything we do, it is imperative that we find the balance and harmony in our daily lives.
Finding and maintaining the balance in our everyday lives sometimes requires conscious choices and making changes within our lifestyles. There are many ways to make these changes by simply incorporating them into daily routines.
  • When playing with my child, I purposely created stimulating times as well as, times that were soothing. This freed me from the having to make and keep rules about being too wild, getting the house too messy, or monitoring the “loud factor”. It also provided me with the tranquil times to honor the peace within me and to recognize the gentleness of my daughter’s own peace.
  • I made the time to appreciate myself the way I appreciated others. Candle-lit bubble baths often seemed to help me realize how special I really was!
  • I began to plan times for messy activities as well as, times to “clean up the house”. Setting a specific time for giant mess-making granted permission for both my daughter and for me, to experiment, explore, and learn about what made things tick. Sometimes, there is simply a need to just have silly fun with your children.
  • I purposely took the time to appreciate and recognize my active daughter for the wonder that she was, as well as, appreciating the time she was sitting quietly.
  • I made time to be with others and scheduled time to be alone. Just as purposefully as I made time to work, I found time to play. I turned off the phone during dinner and drew a sharp line of distinction between my work “family” and my home family.
  • When I played with my daughter, I tried to remember the importance of both talking and listening.
It was more difficult to recognize the importance of sharing myself but not giving my whole self away without replenishing. It needs to be an ever-constant assignment for each parent to continue to practice until we get it right. Practice using yourself, without using yourself up.
I gave myself permission to know that sometimes I would be right and sometimes I would be wrong. It is all OK.
I began to allow myself and my daughter the opportunity to share ALL emotions; finding the balance of appropriate and harmful displays of those emotions.
I tried to remember to pay special recognition of my child’s joy, but also tried to take time to recognize a poignant or wistful time too.
I enjoyed those occasions that I was able to teach my daughter, and equally, if not more, cherished the times I had to learn from her.
Years passed until I had the opportunity to look again for the steady and balanced builder in Sea Port Village. To my personal disappointment, I discovered he was no longer there. I can only believe that he finally found his perfect balance and did not need to sit down in his rocky alcove anymore.
Finding my own perfect balance continues to take practice and is a highly personal experience. What worked for me as a young parent has shifted, changed, and been modified at times especially during my daughter’s adolescent years. She is now away from home; a young mommy herself. I am a Grandmother. Once again, I find the need to seek to find my own inner balance. However, I am confident, that like the gentle man at Sea Port Village, when we need to allow ourselves the time, the patience, and the opportunity, we can and do find it…somewhere under our own little pile of rocks. 
Shelley is the author of Little Bird You are Perfect and numerous articles on parenting and enjoying life.  You can find her on Facebook, where she is constantly offering up encouragement and inspiration.  <3  I am so grateful for her voice of peace, love and joy in my life! <3

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Petite Chef's Housekeeping Apprentice

I loathe housecleaning.  It is one of my biggest triggers.  When it can't be avoided, my strategy is generally to blast through it as quickly as possible, and woe betide anyone who dares to interrupt me!  I am gladdened and humbled to see that my children are developing differently.

My seven year old knocked a bag of fish food on the floor today, and the smelly little pellets rolled all over the floor.  As she started to clean them up, her little sister kept interrupting.  Twice she dumped the dust pan just as Ariana had nearly finished sweeping them all up.  I was heading over to intervene when she looked patiently over at her little sister and asked if she wanted to help.

Elena nodded enthusiastically, and Ariana glanced around quickly and spied a small inflatable palm tree.  "Look, Elena, that palm tree would be a perfect mop!  All you have to do is turn it upside down."  Elena happily began "mopping" the floor with the plastic palm tree.  Ariana finished sweeping and mopping up the floor with the real mop and together they beamed over a job well done.

I have written before about how much I learn from watching them interact, but wanted to post this to help me remember to look past the interruptions and seek creative ways to include and connect with my little ones.  Maybe, in another seven years, it will start to come as naturally to me as it does to my daughter.  <3

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ultimate List of Travel Tips from an AP Mom

Passport (110/365)
Photo credit swimparallel on Flickr

We love to travel.  And of course, wherever we go, our kids come, too.  Our seven year old has traveled throughout Europe, Mexico and Puerto Rico.  Our youngest was only 11 days old when we took her along with a group of students to Puerto Rico for a class we were teaching.  Most things about traveling with kidlets are common sense.  However, there are a few things that we didn't hear about much from others--things like breastfeeding and travel or how to work hotel beds when you have a family bed at home.  Here are our time-tested travel tips for gentle parents:

Packing before the trip.
Heh. Despite a number of lists, I am usually frantically throwing things into the suitcase the night before, only to discover that a couple of the items I planned to bring need to be washed.  However, there are a few things that I always pack in my diaperbag or in the kids' backpacks for easy access:
     * A blanket for each child (really helpful when the AC is too high, or they need to snuggle with something that smells like home)
     * A couple of surprise toys to unwrap.  I find a couple of inexpensive items from a place like Dollartree.  If you can wrap them in tissue paper or something, that adds tremendously to the fun!  Stickers, tiny note pads, sock puppets, or a soft, squishy ball are some of our favorites.
     * Snacks.  We get really cranky if we need to eat, and there isn't always something available that is OK for our food allergies, not to mention the exorbitant prices. I usually make a batch of our favorite granola cookies the night before we go anywhere and take them with us.
     * A change of clothes, for you and the kids.  Accidents happen, whether it is lost luggage or illness, and the last thing you want is to be traveling in a confined place in vomit-covered clothing.  This is the voice of experience talking.  :(
     * A wrap.  I love babywearing in general, but wraps are my lifesaver while traveling--I can comfortably carry a kidlet (I even wind up wearing a preschooler on a long day of walking sometimes!), they provide cover for breastfeeding, and they can even serve to keep someone warm if we enter into cold AC.  Strollers are usually more trouble than they are worth for us.
Wearing my 3 year old in Puerto Rico.

Body comfort.
     * Regular food, drink, bathroom breaks.  It can be surprisingly difficult to eat, drink or even use the bathroom when you need to do so.  If you are uncomfortable, though, it is going to affect your attitude, and this is true for kidlets and parents alike.  If your little one is getting cranky, stop and think about how long it has been since you have had a snack or taken them to the restroom.
     * Breastfeed regularly if you are nursing.  Make sure that you are nursing as often as you would at home.  Especially if your nursling is also eating solid foods, you may get so busy that you go longer than you normally would between feeds.  Not only do regular breaks for nursing keep up your supply, they also can fend off illness and provide you with a lovely moment to relax and breathe amidst a whirlwind of activities.  My one case of mastitis happened in Europe thanks to decreased frequency of nursing and a slightly small bra from vacation laundry issues.  Not fun!

Sleeping arrangements.
     * Schedule down time, especially the first evening.  Chances are good that the night before your trip, nobody got much sleep.  Plan ahead and reserve a quiet evening and the chance to go to bed early that first night so that you will be able to fully enjoy the next day.
     * Adjust the beds.  If you typically have a family bed, sleeping arrangements in a hotel can be a challenge.  I have learned to request a crib from the hotel, even though no one will sleep in it, so that we can place it against the bed and make it safer.  Another trick is to sleep sideways with the smallest one next to the headboard.  It doesn't quite work for someone as tall as my husband, but I can curl up just fine that way without worrying about my little one falling out of the bed.

Emotional well-being.
Obviously, the whole point of a vacation is to have a good time, but unfortunately, real life still happens.  People get stressed out, grouchy, problems arise, and we get frustrated.  There are some ways to minimize that, though:
     * Beware your triggers.  Is there a particular thing that sets you off?  An uncomfortable family relationship?  Trying to get everything done?  Whatever it is, notice it, and make a special effort to take care of yourself.  If you feel your stress rising, take a moment to breathe and to nurture yourself spiritually in whatever way you need to let those feelings go so that you don't lash out at our family.
     * Adjust your expectations.  It is easy to get an idealized picture of what the trip will look like, and then be very disappointed when the flight is delayed, the kids want to go home after one or two activities, etc.  Live in the moment and let go of preconceptions.
     * Remember that you are "getting your money's worth" as long as you all have fun.  Don't feel the need to march through every exhibit or ride every ride once you or your kids have hit the saturation point.  Relaxed, happy memories of a few highlights are much better than a blur of many tense ones.
     * One on one time.  As wonderful as all the family togetherness is, if you can find a way to schedule one on one time with your kids, it can go a long way towards satisfying emotional needs.  Similarly, if you can find a way for any introverts in the family to recharge with a few moments alone, it will be more than worth it once you do something together again.
    * Remember, if your child's behavior is less than optimal, that they are going through the stress of unfamiliar surroundings, difference in routine and probable disruption of sleep patterns, and possibly exposure to food allergens.  Give extra grace.
     * Don't parent for the crowd.  It is so easy to feel pressure to respond more harshly to unwanted behavior so that we will look like we are in control.  How you respond to your child's behavior is a much more important reflection on you than whatever behavior they are demonstrating!

I hope that wherever you travel with your family, you will find joy in nurturing the close relationships you have already formed and creating happy memories!  What are *your* special travel tips?  Please share them in the comments!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Post: Breastfeeding Saved My Son's Life

Hi! I am Sasha and I write about my life abundant with my husband and 7 children over at One Rich Mother.  Below is a post I originally featured on my blog and is re-posted here with my permission.  I adore the Dulce and feel honored that she would share my writing with her much loved readers.  I hope mine and my son's story helps to strengthen your own commitment to the beauty and importance of the nursing relationship. 

Breastfeeding Saved My Son's Life.

Or at least I believe so, let me explain.
Our son was born on a gorgeous June day in 2006 weighing 8 pounds 7 ounces and was 21 inches long.  He was quiet at birth but even without the strong "Hello Word It's ME!" cry that you usually hear our baby seemed perfectly healthy and took to nursing like a champ from moment one.  So it took everyone by surprise that by the time he was 6 months old he had not grown as expected.  He was a chubby little guy, but he had hardly grown in length at all.

Our son 6 months old
(sorry about the photo quality we had a really bad camera at the time)

Our pediatrician ran some test and our son was given that dreaded label no parent wants to hear "Failure to Thrive".  That night as we were preparing for bed we got a call for us to go to the children's hospital.  Our son's blood work had came back and his sodium was dangerously low, our pediatrician sounded so worried over the phone.  I asked if we could wait until tomorrow.  Her response?  "No, you dont understand how serious this is, you have to leave now, just put him in the car and go now."  We were terrified.

Once at the children hospital we were entered into a whole new world of doctors and specialist and something always in the background going beep.  We never did figure out what caused his low sodium levels but now after the birth of the twins I suspect he also had Pseudohypoaldosteronism just a less sever case. 

The doctors at the children's hospital were also concerned about our baby's lack of growth and that is when the real roller-coaster started.  We tested for one disease after another and still it remained a mystery.  Finally they suspected a brain tumor and we were told he would need a MRI. 

As you probably already know you have to lay completely still to have a MRI done so for a little guy, like our son was, you have to sedate them so they will not move during the test.  This would be the first test that either my husband or I would not be able to hold him through and it was breaking our hearts.  We went to the little waiting room they have down the hall from the machine and held him until the medication did its work and he was "under".  Handing him off to the nurse that came to get him for the MRI was one of the hardest things I had ever done up to that point in my life.

We sat nervously in the room holding hands.  My husband suggested cards, I said no, my heart wouldn't let me do anything but crave my little boy back in my arms.  Finally after an agonizingly long wait the door to the room was flung open by a frazzled nurse who quickly barked a rather unexpected question "You still breastfeed right?"  Confused I answered her yes and she grabbed me by the arm and started rushing me down the hall.  In tears I walked into a room to see my little boy motionless on the table with a team of doctors and nurses surrounding him and alarms going off everywhere.  The nurse told me to nurse my baby "You cant pick him up but lean over him and let him nuzzle you."  Crying almost hysteric I did as she told me to.  For just a moment he made no response but then his head turned to me and he made a soft little grunting noise as I put my nipple into his mouth.  He was too weak to suckle but he began to breath softly and then, like magic, the alarms stopped and everything calmed down.  I became aware that the room of doctors and nurses slowly started thinning out with several of them shaking their heads in amazement "I cant believe that worked, she was right."  The nurse just grinned as she double checked machines and straightened things back up and with a wink said "Of course I was."

Yes, she was right and I thank God for that angel of mercy and whoever it was that taught her to be so wise about the nursing relationship.  Breastfeeding is more than just a way to give your baby food, it is an unimaginable bond between mother and child.  Something so powerful that even the feel of my breast and the smell of me, his mother, was enough to, I believe, save my son's life.

*Our son did not have a tumor.  Almost a month later it was discovered my sons failure to grow as expected was due to him having Growth Hormone Deficiency, also known as Pituitary Dwarfism.

I am so honored and grateful to Sasha for sharing her beautiful story.  If you haven't yet checked out her blog, please do, and don't forget to like her on Facebook!  Her writings are lovely reflections of the richness of love in her heart and family.  <3