Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's Not Just About Spanking

Rome visit, June 2008 - 57
Image credit Ed Yourdon on Flickr

"I just don't know what to do.  I don't want to hit her, but how else can I control her?"
"Well, I have found loss of privilege to be effective.  If she doesn't do what you want, start taking away things that matter to her.  Cut off any spending money, time on the computer, going out with friends.  Or you can always do a time-out."
"I tried that, but she gets so worked up.  You should have seen her tantrum the other day!  She came home from work and had a meltdown for no reason.  She wanted me to help clean the house or something, and when I said no, she flipped."
"Yeah, my wife does that, too.  The important thing is to never give in.  Stay strong and refuse to pay any attention.  Eventually, she'll stop."
"You're right.  I can't let her win, or she will just learn that she can get what she wants any time she cries.  I just feel like she doesn't respect me."
"That is awful.  Do you think her friends are a bad influence?"
"Yeah, I should probably limit her time with them.  Our marriage was so much easier before."

Even when we choose not to spank, it can be incredibly difficult to get out of the punitive mindset.  I know that a parent-child relationship has some differences from a marriage, but I still think that it is ludicrous to suppose that domineering, adversarial thinking is healthy for *any* relationship.  Looking to other forms of punishment such as time-out, etc., perpetuates the same dynamic as spanking, even if it is physically more gentle.  It is very difficult to change, though.  It is so deeply ingrained in our culture that we rarely notice the contradictions or absurdity of the way we relate to children.

Striking a child is a tangible act.  Emotional punishments are much more subtle.  Yet can we really suppose that deliberately hurting our child emotionally is benign?  How many adults still struggle with the shaming messages that they heard as children?  If we shun and isolate our children for expressing big emotions, can we logically expect them to confide in us as they grow older?  If we are constantly suspicious of negative intentions on their part, when will they realize that we are going to believe the worst anyway and stop trying to please us?  If we treat them as nuisances, how are they to know they are worth any more than that?  If we still try to manipulate them through rewards and punishments, does it erode intrinsic motivation any less simply because the punishment isn't physical?

One of the glaring problems in the dialogue at the beginning of the post was the focus of the relationship: control.  Control should never be the focus of a loving relationship.  "But I am the parent!  I have to control my child!"  Certainly, you have a responsibility to keep your child and others safe.  But if your are trying to control their emotions, thoughts and beliefs, or emphasizing control rather than connection, your attempts are misguided and will ultimately hurt you both, because you are violating healthy boundaries.  Instead, you need to respectfully give them tools which they can use to express themselves in healthy ways, and set your mind and heart on loving them.

But the Bible says that children should obey their parents!  Yes, it does.  That is talking to the children, not to the parents.  It does not say that parents should force children to obey.  In Hebrew, obedience means that one has fully heard, understood from the heart and chosen to obey.  Crystal Lutton has some great resources on this.  True obedience is like respect--something that is freely granted, not demanded or coerced.

I get that there are times (rarely) where we may have to require compliance when obedience isn't granted.  In those cases, we can make it as respectful as possible.  Think of how you would treat an honored guest in that position.  Maintain emotional boundaries--that means control your own emotions, not theirs.  Give them as much dignity as you can.  (You are much more likely to retain your own dignity that way!).

The truth is that every argument against spanking applies just as well to other forms of punishment.  We must renew our minds.  Jesus warned that putting new wine into old wineskins doesn't work out well.  Once we taste the new wine of grace based discipline, if we try to put it into our old paradigms of punishment and control, we are just asking for explosions.

Grace is about a whole new outlook.  It means treating my children the way I would want to be treated if I were them in that situation.  It means forgiveness, compassion and connection.  It means assigning positive intent.  It means that I don't have to be the bad guy, because we are not enemies.  It means finding ways to work together so that everyone's needs are met, and all healthy boundaries are honored.  It isn't just about spanking or not spanking--it is about growing together in respect and love.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Starry Night

Starry night
Image credit noahg on Flickr

I mentioned at the beginning of the summer that I wanted to be open to new adventures.  I read about Blessed Mama's camping trip with a bit of envy and it sparked the thought that it might be fun for our kidlets to sleep out under the stars.  We don't have a tent, or even sleeping bags, though, so I regretfully tried to squash the impulse.  Until we went outside in the gorgeous twilight, and the kids didn't want to come in.  I told myself that we would probably make it back inside the house before midnight, and to just go with the adventure.

The kids were shocked and delighted when I started grabbing blankets and taking them outside.  We settled into our spots, except for Elena, who kept popping up like a Jack-in-the-box and dancing around.  The second time that she woke the baby I got really grouchy, but eventually recovered and apologized. Before long, both little ones were sleeping and the older two were happily counting stars.

We watched the rabbit in the moon, picked out a couple of constellations, then listened to the buzz and chirp of the local nightlife and scanned the heavens for falling stars.  All the kidlets were sound asleep before ten thirty.  I, on the other hand, found myself wondering if any creepy crawlies might decide to join us in the blankets.  Sleeping right on the ground suddenly seemed like a not so great idea.  I also discovered that despite plenty of natural padding, my bones on the ground were not particularly comfortable.  The neighbor's dog began to bark and a mosquito whined in my ear.  I probably would have gone back inside, but I didn't want to wake the kidlets.

Then I began to notice the sweet smells of the grass.  To really look at the sparkling diamonds strewn across heaven's floor.  The chirp and hum of the insects began to sound relaxing (it helped that the mosquito left without dinner).  I grabbed an extra pillow and positioned it under my hip and fell asleep.

Of course, we woke a few times.  The babies actually slept amazingly well--they didn't wake up any more than usual.  Around 2:00, the dew was noticeable, and I slipped inside for additional blankets.  The kidlets snuggled closer like a pile of little puppies, but we were dry and warm underneath the blankets.

Around 5:30, Ariana woke up and we snuggled and whispered together about dew and falling stars and planets, theology and astronomy and Oz.  It grew light a little after 7:00, and as the sweetlings woke up, I brought them hot chocolate.  The light in their eyes was brighter than the sun as they realized that they had stayed out the whole night.  :)  We cuddled and giggled, and they said it was the best night ever.  <3

I am so glad that I yielded to the impulse and said yes!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Love Songs

Star Cluster NGC 3603
"...the morning stars sang together, and all the children of God shouted for joy..." Job 37:8

Do you sing love songs?  I sing over my babies.  Each time I got pregnant, before ever getting a positive test, I woke up in the night singing a praise song for the baby inside of me.  Although I don't consider myself much of a singer (I can usually get about three notes in any given key, and the rest are too high or too low), there is something about a newborn that begs for a tender, joy-filled, love-bursting lullaby.  Each of my babies has a little song that welled up inside me right after they were born.  I still sing them to them, even to my seven year old, and get all teary-eyed listening to my five year old come up with his own little love song to his baby sister (it almost always makes her stop crying).

In my last post, I mentioned that God sings over us.  I still am filled with wonder over that.  I picture Him cradling me in His arms, filled with the same overwhelming love that I have holding my little ones, and it takes my breath away that He could love me like that.  Not resigned tolerance.  Not impatience or disappointment.  Joy.  Delight.  Contentment.

That is what He sings over us.  Promise.  Hope.  Laughter.  Security.  Love.

That is what I want to sing over the people in my life.

Something in our culture seems to encourage us to screech or croak discord.  Shortly after Carlos and I were married, we started hanging out with some other young couples.  We gradually stopped, because I always came away feeling uncomfortable. The wives did nothing but complain and gripe about their husbands.  I have heard a lot of parents do that with their kids. They use words for their families that sound as if they are enemies--war marches instead of love songs.

I get the need to vent at times.  Really.  And I do it--sometimes here, sometimes to my friends, always to God.  Sometimes I struggle with the balance between authenticity and choosing to speak Truth and blessings over others.  But when I dig really deep, I almost always find that the things that I complain about are not the real issue at all.  They are just signals to look beyond the surface, to check my boundaries, and to practice love.  Love does not look like excusing or ignoring boundary violations.  It isn't a sticky, sugary passivity in the face of wrong, even if (especially if) the wrong is being done by someone I love dearly.  Sometimes it means confrontation, and holding tight to boundaries meant to protect myself and others.

Living right in the middle of Name It and Claim It headquarters (or Blab It and Grab It theology), I have heard some ridiculous (not to mention greedy) things.  I don't want to get all weird, yet I also believe very strongly that there is an element of prophecy in what we sing over others.  When Mary sang over Jesus, when Miriam and Deborah sang over God's deliverance of their people, when Hannah sang over Samuel--there was a power singing through them that went beyond nice words and a melody.  We become Namers when we sing over others. 

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice." ~ Peggy O'Mara

I still feel sad when I remember hearing a perfectly nuanced sigh that sounded identical to mine coming from my daughter over a childish mishap.  I don't want the inner voice in my family to be of sighs, exasperation or criticism.  I want them to hear me singing love songs over them, joining in the chorus with the God who sings for joy over us.

Image credit: Image Editor on Flickr