Thursday, October 27, 2011

Confessions of a Spanking Abolitionist

Liberty Bell - Philadelphia
Image credit pepsiline on Flickr
It has been bugging me for a couple of months now, but I kept trying to push it away or rationalize it.  Today I realized that I can't do it anymore.  I cannot be a member of a local church where the pastor advocates spanking from the pulpit.  I did it for years, and tried to focus on all the areas where we do agree.  I just prayed, spoke up when I could, and told myself that it wasn't an essential point. 

I imagine that for some of the early abolitionists in the South, the process was similar.  They reminded themselves that most Christians around them believed that the Bible supported slavery.  They minimized it by saying that the pastor only taught that slavery was Biblical once in awhile.  Mostly it was just included in passing references or anecdotes.  I think that they knew and understood the culture, because they had grown up in it.  They probably had people that they loved and respected who were slaveholders.  They didn't want to act out of pride or arrogance.  Perhaps they tried to tell themselves that it wasn't a foundational point of doctrine--just one of those areas where people had to follow their own conscience.

But eventually, the conviction would grow in their hearts that how we view other human beings, created in God's image just like us, our brothers and sisters in Christ, really does matter.  That the command to treat others as we would like to be treated is foundational.  That how we study and interpret Scripture is part of the basis for trust in a pastoral relationship.  That how a pastor views God and people will color the rest of his theology, too.

I live in the buckle of the Bible belt.  And most people here take the "belt" part very literally.  It is extremely common here for pastors to preach on spanking.  The vast majority of churches in the area regularly offer classes where parents are instructed to spank early (often before a year), and often--at any sign of disobedience or defiance (which usually means any time the parent suspects the child of questioning the commands).

My parents, grandparents and in laws were all pastors.  I understand that they are human.  I know that *I* make mistakes, and that humility and the willingness to learn from others is important.  I don't expect us to see everything exactly the same, and there are plenty of areas where I could just agree to disagree.  But I have come to the place where this is foundational for me.  It is about our understanding of the very nature of God, about the atonement of Christ, about grace.  Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of these, we do to Him.  I cannot align myself under a pastor whose view of these issues is radically different from what I believe the Bible teaches.  And knowing what I know how about how terribly spanking can damage families, I cannot support a person in a position of authority who continues to exhort parents to spank. 

It feels a bit lonely.  I am afraid that my friends and family will think I am making too big of a deal about it.  It sounds safer to just maintain the status quo.  It also feels discouraging, considering the dominant culture here.  I suspect that some of the things that are preferences for me (like the style of worship) will be sacrificed.   But I want and need to be an active part of a local body, and I have to be able to be fed without screaming inside that we are all being poisoned.

Image credit trevorstone on Flickr
I don't want a civil war with my brothers and sisters.  But I am firmly convinced that how we treat our children is a human rights issue.  The culture in most of the US sees them as property, as less deserving of protection because of their age, as less than full persons, and then uses Scripture to justify it.  I cannot be a part of that.  (And for those who wonder if I think spanking should be illegal, yes I do.  I don't for a moment believe that hitting a child is a parental right any more than hitting a spouse is a marital right).  I am a spanking abolitionist, and I am seeking a church home.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's a Lifestyle, Not an Event

". . . gentle discipline is a lifestyle not an event. People have said 'we discipline like this' and then described how they spank, give time outs, enforce consequences, etc. I have realized that discipline is about teaching, and we teach our children every moment of every day." ~ SonshineMama via Gentle Christian Mothers

When we first began to look at gentle discipline, I was full of panicky questions.  "What about this?  But what if they still don't do what I want them to?  Then how do I handle this?"  Looking back now, a couple of things stand out to me.  I still saw discipline as an event.  A "consequence" to a specific situation.  And I still thought it was about controlling my child's behavior, just in a nicer way. 

Over the years, my perspective has changed.  It isn't an event anymore.  It is a way of life.  And it isn't just about parenting.  It is for all my relationships. It applies to my marriage, my coworkers, my students, my friends--anyone who is part of my life.  So what does it look like?

Image credit Walking Geek on Flickr
Connection, not competition.  Instead of seeing others as opponents and viewing interactions as winning and losing, I need to focus on the relationship.  My kids aren't adversaries, and I don't have to view anything as a battle.  No one has to lose.  Really.  If we are on the same team, then I can focus my energy on what works best for *everyone* involved. In a disagreement with my husband, with a friend, or anyone else, this still holds true.  If I direct my attention to our relationship, it is amazing how many little things resolve themselves.  Even for boundaries that must be marked out and enforced, when it is within the framework of loving connection it allows so much more harmony and peace.

Looking for the unmet need behind the behavior.  Whether it is a child in the middle of a meltdown, a stranger who is less than courteous, a cranky spouse, a manipulative mother in law--if you can see the motive behind the actions, it is much easier to respond with grace.  Unacceptable behavior is always about someone trying to meet their own needs in an inappropriate way.  "Punishing" them for it with our own unacceptable behavior doesn't help.  If you know what the root cause is, you may be able to find a better way to help them meet their needs.  Maybe they need to feel connected?  Heard?  Maybe they just need something as simple as a snack or a breather.  Maybe they are exhausted, afraid or stressed out?  Perhaps they feel out of control of other areas and are trying to compensate?  Even if it isn't a need that you are able to meet, identifying it can help you deal with the symptoms.

Clear communication is an essential part of gentle discipline and gentle living.  And for most of us, it is like learning a whole new language.   It starts with eliminating unhelpful patterns that only alienate others.  Then it involves learning how to identify and clearly express what we *do* want and need.  As parents, we learn that shaming, vague instructions and merely telling them what not to do (instead of alternatives that would work better) aren't effective ways to communicate with our children.  They don't work well with adults, either.   Honesty is important, too.  If you imagine that gentleness means a sugary, artificial passivity while others wreak havoc, you are wrong.  Lying to ourselves and others doesn't help anyone.  Nonviolent communication is an amazing book.  I really can't recommend it enough. 

Protecting ourselves and others.  At its core, gentle discipline is about respect for healthy boundaries--theirs and ours.  We need to take responsibility for ourselves, and not give others power over us that should not belong to them (they can't handle it appropriately, anyway).   We must own our words, feelings and actions.  Then we must allow others to own their words, feelings and actions.  If you have been conditioned to avoid conflict, it seems at first much easier to just do your best to please everyone until you collapse or explode from the burden.  I think that for women, especially, this is a model that many of us have grown up with, and establishing a new pattern can seem daunting.  The thing is, conflict will eventually come, regardless of our efforts to avoid it.  We cannot make other people happy.  Allowing them the right to experience and learn how to handle their own feelings is essential, whether they are three or thirty.  Happy is not the only acceptable emotion, but expressing other feelings without hurting the people around us takes knowledge and practice.

Miniature perfume dispensers
Image credit williamcho on Flickr
Smell like love.  Each of us creates our own atmosphere.  Like a perfume, peace in our hearts emits a fragrance that influences everyone around us.  When I am anxious, edgy or upset, all of my family members pick up on it. And if you have ever been around someone who tried to mask BO with a heavy dose of perfume, you know that covering up unpleasant odors doesn't work! 

If the air around us stinks, it is a signal to look at our own unmet needs.  Maybe there is fear from past events that haven't fully healed.  So often when we begin to look at others' actions through a lens of grace and see the needs driving their behavior, it alerts us to our own needs that we have been trying to meet in unhealthy ways.  I want my life to radiate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustworthiness, gentleness and self-control.  But those fruits don't spring out of nowhere--they must be planted and nurtured in my life.  Weeds that would choke them out or stunt their growth need to be pulled.

So I am in the process of moving toward a life full of grace.  Not a series of discrete events.  Not just as a form of discipline.  Not just for my children.  I am not there yet, but I am excited about the journey.  When I first began the road to gentle discipline, the writings of Crystal Lutton helped me tremendously.  Her book, Biblical Parenting, answered so many of my questions and gave me a new way of looking at a lot of things.  While mulling over this whole idea of Grace Based Living, I found that her book on that is available on Kindle.  I am going to get it today.  :) I am so excited about intentionally learning and growing in a lifestyle of grace, and so thankful for all of you who are joining me.  <3

Disclaimer: Crystal Lutton and the Gentle Christian Mothers message board have been an amazing source of inspiration, help and grace in my life.  However, we are all individuals and I do not speak for them.  I am sure that there are some posts of mine that they might disagree with.  Feel free to attribute any good stuff to their influence, and stuff that is not so good is probably my own.  ;)   I don't have enough words to express how incredible these ladies are or how much they have blessed my family, so instead I would just invite you to join GCM and see for yourself.  <3