Monday, June 25, 2012

Biblical Instructions for Discipline: How Should a Christian Parent?

The debate over Proverbs and spanking often seems to overshadow our view of what the Bible really teaches parents.  I do believe that it is important for believers to examine those passages carefully.  What often gets lost in the focus on spanking though is that the Bible has a great deal to teach parents in other passages, too.  One of the principles of gentle discipline is that instead of just telling our children what not to do, that we give clear, positive direction of what they should do instead.  I believe God does that with His Word.  Let's examine some other verses that apply to parental relationships!
3.17.08 Prayers
Image credit: robtxgal on Flickr

* "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."~ Deut. 6:4-7 (We as parents must hold God's Word in our hearts and then impart it to our children by spending time with them and taking advantage of every opportunity to share our hearts and teach them.  Discipline is about teaching and making disciples, not punishing them afterwards for our failure to teach!)

* "Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too." ~ Galatians 6:1 CEB  (The goal is restoring relationship, and that requires gentleness and humility.)

* “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"  ~  Matthew 25:40  (Note: In Spanish, it says "the smallest" of these.  What an incredibly powerful thought--how I treat my little ones is a reflection of how I would treat my God.)

* "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment." ~ I John 4:18  (Letting go of fear, letting go of punishment, embracing love).

* "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." ~ II Corinthians 1:2-4  (Whether it is my baby crying in the night, or my toddler having a meltdown, or my older child distressed over a "little thing", my response should be to validate and comfort. )

* "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."  Matthew 7:12  (Would I want it done to me?  No?  Then I shouldn't do it to my children.  What do I want?  Respect?  Gratitude?  Thoughtfulness?  Am I demonstrating those qualities in the way I act toward them?)

* "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.   Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  ... Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. " ~ Colossians 3:12-15, 21  (Compassion, forgiveness, peace, gratitude.  Nothing that will provoke them or cause bitterness or discouragement.)

* "Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: "Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant."  ~ Luke 22:24-26 (The Message)  (My authority as a parent is not a justification for controlling my children; it is the power to care for them.)

* "And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them." ~ Mark 10:13-16 (Jesus showed physical affection to children.  He took them in His arms.  When He laid hands on them, it was an act of blessing, not punishment.  The children didn't flinch when Jesus raised His hands toward them.) 

* "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. " ~ Matthew 18:10 (To despise means to see as of little value.  It is easy to want to depreciate the feelings of children, to consider their thoughts or emotions as less important than those of other adults.  Consider how your would treat an honored friend in the same situation, and how that could affect your response to your child.)

* "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:17-21 (Rather than looking for ways to get back at our children or "make them sorry" for their mistakes, we are to treat them kindly--they aren't even our enemies!--and meet their needs instead.)

There are many passages throughout Scripture that model for parents how we are to treat our children.  I believe that all Scripture is valuable, and when we look at the Bible as a whole, it becomes clear that God's purpose is always to bring about healing, restoration and connection with Him.  I wanted to focus on some passages that I feel are often overlooked by believers, but I also believe that there is tremendous wisdom in the Proverbs verses, the Beatitudes, the 10 commandments and Hebrews, as well. 

When I read over these verses, I see the consistency in the grace that God has lavished on me being poured out on my children, as well.  I breathe in the peace, patience, kindness, love and even joy that is the fruit of the Spirit, and realize that Biblical discipline starts in my own life and in the way I teach my children, and grows in our relationship.  It isn't something I do *to* my children--it is a part of who we are as we follow Christ.

Please join us all week, June 25-June30, 2012, as we explore the world of gentle, effective parenting. We have new posts each day by talented authors providing us with insight into why gentle parenting is worth your time and how to implement it on a daily basis.

We are also giving away several parenting book and other goodies from our sponsors this week. Please stop by and enter to win!

This year's beautiful motherhood artwork is by Patchwork Family Art. Visit the store to see all her work.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happiness Isn't the Only Acceptable Emotion

"Happiness isn't the only acceptable emotion." ~ Crystal Lutton

dont cry baby....
Image credit: d listy
One of the most beautiful things about attachment parenting is the honesty and authenticity that is welcomed from our children.  For most of us, it takes conscious mental reprogramming to value a child's cry and take it exactly as seriously as it sounds.  Our culture tells us to let them cry it out, and dismisses their distress as something trivial.  Yet we have chosen to hear our child's cry as the communication it really is and respond with empathy and compassion.

But do you ever need a good cry?  Even if someone cannot "fix it"?

I do.  There are times when my children do, too.  After years of refusing to let my children cry it out, though, I realized that I was falling into my own version of seeing happiness as the only acceptable emotion.  I didn't want them to cry or be upset, and I felt as though allowing them to cry was wrong somehow.  I wanted them to be happy all the time.  It was so ingrained that I began to inadvertently communicate the idea to them that they *had* to be happy, even when that was unrealistic and inauthentic.

The truth is that all of us get hurt or disappointed sometimes. There are many ways to express big emotions, sure--using our words, art, dances, writing.  Sometimes, though, we just need that pressure valve release of a good cry.

I have heard from some very dear mamas recently who have been deeply burdened with feelings of guilt that their children cry and that they can't make it better.  I want so much to hug them and tell them that it is OK.  I absolutely do NOT advocate leaving children to cry in an effort to teach them to sleep, to self-soothe or anything punitive.  I am not saying it is OK to callously ignore distress.  But we won't always be able to prevent all crying on their part, and we should not try.

How does a compassionate parent handle crying?

* Listening.  Making sure that they feel heard.  Have you ever tried to pour you heart out to someone and wind up frustrated when they fired off solutions without fully hearing you?

* Empowering.  When we do offer solutions, allow them to be a part of fixing the situation.  Instead of swooping in to rescue, offer ideas and support in carrying them out, but make sure that they are also a part of it.  This might look like helping them with a script and then standing with them as they confront someone.

* Offering comfort.  Do they need a hug?  To be held?  Our presence near them?  Time to themselves?  

Mamas, you are not failing your children somehow if they cry and get upset.  You are not failing them if you cannot always fix the problem.  Just continue to listen, to empower them to take part in their own solutions and let them know you care.  Your love and support will allow them to take these times of distress and emerge stronger, more deeply connected and full of joy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Birth Was My Favorite

Welcome to the June 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Embracing Your Birth Experience
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about at least one part of their birth experience that they can hold up and cherish.
My darling Ariana, your birth was my favorite.  You are my firstborn, and it was all so incredibly fresh and new.  I woke up early with contractions ten minutes apart, although they didn't really hurt.  I went and taught 6 hours of high school and middle school, smiling to myself as they continued every ten minutes.  We actually went to the hospital a few times before they let me stay--I was so excited about meeting you!  Just before the last time, I was having to work quite a bit through each rush.  I would pull on the tall post by our bed just like pictures of some of the indigenous women that I have seen.  I didn't see the pictures till later, but it just felt right.  Between contractions, I read Calvin and Hobbes and wondered if you would share my sense of humor.

After we got to the hospital, I had an epidural and had to stay in bed.  Your daddy and I held hands and whispered, our eyes already overflowing with joy in you.  I tore a lot as you came out, but there was no pain at all.  Just delight in finally meeting you.  We snuggled and cuddled, and watched the snowflakes through the window.  You made my heart warmer than hot chocolate.  You are my friend as well as my daughter, and you still make my heart sing.

My beloved Joelito, your birth was my favorite.  Although we were so very, very excited to meet you, whenever I think of your birth, I think of peace.  I couldn't feel the contractions at all after the epidural, and was so surprised when they told me that you were ready to be born.  The lights were turned so low, we were all relaxed and sleepy.  There was a hushed reverence in every voice.  The nurse quietly asked if I would like to see you be born, and positioned a mirror.  The OB told me that you were so close to coming out that even a sneeze would push you out, and he was right.  The tiniest of pushes, and I got to see you slide right out, so very small and perfect.  You are the only one that I saw be born, and I will never forget.  Your birth was the most tranquil and peaceful of all, my favorite boy, and I seemed to see both a glimmer of laughter in your eyes and a stability and confidence, even though you were a newborn.  You are a faith-child, and you will accomplish amazing things.  Your birth taught me to breathe in peace, and to be fully aware of the wonder in each moment.

My precious Elenita, your birth was my favorite.  From the very beginning of pregnancy, it felt as though God and I were sharing a secret.  I was so sure that you needed to be born naturally.  I'll be honest--I wasn't sure that I could do it.  I was a bit afraid, but I knew I had to.  What an exhilarating ride that turned out to be!  I labored at home with Heather, and couldn't believe how manageable it was.  We went to the hospital and they were playing the stupidest movie ever--one of the Planet of the Apes sequels.  Even that obnoxiousness couldn't get to me, though, because I was too focused on meeting you.

I started to push, my water broke, and Dr. Bob's face went white as a sheet.  You had a prolapsed cord.  It was a God-thing that he didn't try for an emergency C-section, but just yelled for me to push and get you out now.  It was a God-thing that Heather was there to tell me in a quiet voice that you needed to be born right then.  It is a God-thing that you were born so quickly, without any heart decelerations.  After you were safely here, our OB told me that if I had had an epidural and pitocin, you would have died or been severely brain damaged.  I still get chills thinking of it.  My warrior princess, your birth taught me to listen and trust, and that I was stronger than I knew.

My adorable Amaya, my sweet night rain, your birth was my favorite.  I knew by this time that I wanted a home birth.  The funny thing is that nearly every night, I dreamed I was giving birth to you, and I was never at home.  I was so much more comfortable with my body, with pregnancy and with birth in general by the time you were here.  Heather was so incredibly generous with her gift of being our midwife.  I could never thank her enough for all she did.  The contractions started exactly when I had finished turning in grades from the summer classes, and as I labored with you, I was so tired.  Things kept slowing down more and more, and my fear started to grow.  When we finally transferred to the hospital, I felt like a failure and I was so scared.  We prayed so hard.

And God honored my desire for a home birth in ways I never could have imagined.  The nurses gave me a birth ball and were so kind.  The OB on call was respectful and did something unheard of in our state by allowing Heather to catch.  We did pitocin for a few minutes--yeeeouch!--and then stopped.  I was still on all fours, the only bearable position, when he broke my water.  Those were the only interventions.  Then I felt you slide lower and begin to crown.  I reached down and felt your curls as your head emerged.  That is one of the best moments of my entire life.  I was the first one to touch you.  What an indescribable gift!  The ring of fire was nothing compared to the joy of feeling you be born, all nine pounds, six ounces (and that nuchal hand--no wonder you took a little time to work your way down!).  Even though we were in a hospital, I still got everything that I had hoped for in your birth.  They never washed you, and all that sweet vernix seemed to make your skin even softer than most babies.  I stroked you and nursed you and gazed into your eyes with tears of joy and thankfulness making you look all blurry.  You are contentment, our laughter-child.

My precious kidlets, each of you had a very different birth.  But each one brought something unspeakably glorious.  Your births were my favorites.



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon June 12 with all the carnival links.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Suffer the Little Children (Why We Don't Have a Church Home)

I'm really bummed today.  We tried a new church after some enthusiastic recommendations from friends, and were once again left with the feeling that our children have no place in the body of Christ, at least not in the churches that meet around here.  The great irony is that the biggest draw to this church is supposed to be their children's program, and that is what convinced us not to come back.

It isn't the challenge of getting four little ones ready for church.  After all, we get ready and go lots of places throughout the week.  No, our quandry is one that would baffle my friends in other parts of the world.  We just want a place where the phrase "suffer the little children" doesn't mean suffering in the modern sense.

I've written about this a bit in my posts Wanted: A Shepherd that Welcomes Bleating Lambs and Confessions of a Spanking Abolitionist.  I've also posted two different letters to pastors.  I know how deeply entrenched the whole culture of religious spanking is in my part of the world.  But it still disappoints me so deeply when we get smacked with it.

The church we went to today is huge, and has a gorgeous facility set up for the kids, including multiple indoor playgrounds that would put a park to shame.  The computerized check in system is smooth and well executed.  All of the volunteers were vigilant when it comes to making sure that our ID tags matched the numbers on the children's stickers.  Also, I was very favorably impressed with the food allergy protocols.  Not only did each child's sticker list any allergies, but rooms had large signs marking some dairy/peanut free and reminding any children who would enter that room to wash up first to avoid any residue.

It looked good.  Our oldest happily went off to her class, our son decided he would rather sit with us, the middle was immediately engrossed in the activities in the preschool room and the baby cheerfully waved goodbye and started munching a cracker as we left the nursery.  We had written on the special instructions area that we were to be paged immediately if our children asked for us, and I told the volunteers personally that if our children asked for us at all to immediately page us.

Dh and I have spent enough time in the children's area of churches to have a lot of misgivings.  We get it that there are some parents who want a break from their kids and don't mind if they cry as long as an adult is trying to comfort them.  I understand that it can place the workers in a sticky position of having to gauge how much crying is acceptable.  That is why I spelled it out: NONE.  We wanted them to get us at the first request, not after they started crying, not after a certain number of minutes.

The sermon emphasized first time obedience, which made me squirmy.  We were sitting in their attractive cafe area, which was right next to their open bookstore.  A quick glance at the parenting section as we passed showed the complete works of Dobson.  That confirmed my squirmy feelings, but wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me.  Seeing Roy Lessin's book was.  At that point, my instincts were shrieking, and dh seemed uncomfortable, too.  He suggested that I go take a peek on the baby, even though our number hadn't flashed.

I could hear the sobs well before getting into the hallway for the classroom.  I dashed inside and saw our toddler, blotchy-faced and sobbing those long, gasping, hiccuping sobs that come after several minutes of intense crying.  "Oh, she just started fussing," the volunteer smiled blithely.  "Really, it hasn't even been two minutes."  Bullshit.  And no, I don't typically curse on this blog, but when you flat out lie to my face about my baby, I'll call it.  I've seen some intense tantrums out of this little one, and I know how long it takes her to get to that state.  My little one squeezed my neck in a death grip, and a full fifteen minutes later was still shaking and whimpering.

Hours later, and my heart is still shaking and sobbing, too.  So far, every church that we have attended here promotes grace for everyone except children.  Even those who seem to have a focus on ministering to kids include such a pervasive punitive mindset that they joke about spanking from the pulpit or flat out preach that God commands parents to hit their children.  Every parenting resource is either Ezzo, Tripp, Dobson or their spiritual cousins.  The idea of children being enemy combatants who must be vanquished is so much a part of their make up that even after explicit instructions from a parent (who should be in authority over the child, no?), they would let her cry to prevent her from being spoiled.  (I realize that there is a bit of speculation on my part regarding the motives of the workers.  However, having heard that sentiment expressed many times by others, I think it is pretty accurate.  There was no indication that she had any intention of paging me from her response when I arrived.)

I'm mad and hurting and discouraged.  Why even bother going to a church at all at this season in our lives?  At our old church, parents were not allowed to stay in the room with children.  It seems rather pointless to go if all I am going to be doing is walking the hallways and waiting for it to be over.  Going just so we can say we did isn't my thing.  And for what it is worth, Ariana and Elena both told us that they didn't want to go back, although there was no trauma in their classes.

I don't want to start our own church.  I have spent most of my life in tiny home churches and am still a bit burnt out on that kind of thing.  I have checked websites of a lot of other denominations in our city, and they still use punitive parenting programs.  I am not sure just how far I want to go in terms of seeking out other churches, but I am beginning to suspect that it is a regional thing rather than a denominational one.  I JUST WANT TO GO TO A CHURCH THAT WON'T TELL ME TO HIT MY KIDS AND LEAVE THEM TO CRY!  IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!  REALLY?! 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The 10 Commandments for Parents: Thou Shalt Not Kill

No Guns
Image credit: Mykl Roventine on Flickr
Well, this one sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Agreeing that parents should not kill their children is pretty universal.  The challenge is to look a little deeper and determine how this applies to people who are far more than their physical bodies.

What is it that really makes you *you*?  When do you feel most alive?  When I look at my four children, each of them have traits that are unique.  Ariana is a dreamer, Joel a teacher and strategizer, Elena always seeks to help someone else, Amaya loves to get us giggling along with her.  They are each their own person, born with a God-given spirit and personality.  And I will admit, there are times when I have to guard against killing them.

Not the exasperated-end-of-my-rope-and-they-just-made-a-huge-mess-thing that is meant as a joke (although, yes, of course I have been there many times--it is just that my mom did such a strong job of teaching us to never use hate, kill or stupid in reference to another person that those words don't even come up in my thoughts.  Except sometimes stupid, when it seems especially accurate, but never about my kids, who are of course brilliant.  Anyway, I digress.)

I think that there are two ways of killing kids that we must watch out for: killing their individuality (they are not meant to be the same people we are, or the same as anyone else) and poisoning their souls with shame.

I am obsessed with love reading.  As a child, I memorized the ingredient lists on shampoo bottles because I couldn't even go the length of time in a shower without reading something, anything!  Even as an adult, reading is as much a part of who I am as eating.  My oldest daughter also learned to read easily and enjoys it.  My son hates it.  He won't do it at all unless he has external incentives.  Yet he is able to spot obscure and complicated patterns, adores any math game and excels at spatial reasoning.  He is not me, and that is OK. 

Sure, reading is important and I want him to have the tools he needs to be successful.  But I have to acknowledge to myself that if he never fantasizes about being locked into Barnes and Noble for hours at a time, that is OK, too.  I don't want to try to squeeze him into my mold.

That is an easy example, but so often adults are conditioned to ignore individuality of temperament, personality, ability and any other trait in a child.  "Don't be so shy!" "You don't really mean that."  "Why can't you be more like your sister?  She never/always..."  We take things like a child's energy level, need for solitude/interaction, interests and pressure them to conform to what is most convenient for us, trying to rub off God's fingerprints on them and instead shine them up to reflect best on us.

This goes hand in hand with shaming our children.  Whenever we try to control someone through shame, we are aligning ourselves with the Accuser.  Parents do it because it works.  And perhaps because that is what was done to them.  The cost is never worth it, though.  Have you ever felt your own soul shrivel under someone else's disapproval or dislike?

People talk about breaking a child's will or spirit.  Somehow, an abundance of life is uncomfortable for many of us.  We squirm at too much enthusiasm, too much love, too much noise, too much exuberance, too much grief, too much feeling, too much daydreaming, too much laughter, too much color--too much life.   It feels safer to have things tightly under our decorous control, even if that means killing just a tiny bit to get it.

Can you ever recall sharing a dream or excitement with someone, only to have them crush you with mockery or "cold, hard facts"?  Do you ever remember trying to change part of yourself to attain approval?  The casual callousness behind so many of those seemingly small interactions can be a deadly thing.  I want our home to be a safe place to imagine and dream, to make mistakes, to be goofy, to be silly, to be exactly who we are and have that welcomed and celebrated.

Finally, the way that we present God to our children affects their spiritual lives. Do they associate God with love and security?  Or with fear and shame?  We made a choice when our children were babies that we would not leave them alone in the church nursery if they cried.  A lot of people thought that we were being ridiculously indulgent, but we didn't want their associations of church to be abandonment and fear.  We don't tell them that "You will make Jesus sad if you do that," even when we explain why something is wrong, because toddlers don't need the weight of responsibility for the moods of the Almighty.   We tell them about grace and acceptance, His overwhelming love for all His creation, and how much He desires them.

All of us take daily safeguards to protect our children's bodies: we feed them healthy foods, try to avoid toxic chemicals, stay up to date on the latest in car seat safety, and so much more.  All these things are important.  But let us not overlook the importance of emotional and spiritual safety for our children.  We need to protect their souls, and safeguard all that makes them unique.  Let us do all in our power to keep their joy and confidence, tenderness and excitement, dreams and individuality alive and thriving!