The Decision that Changed my Life

We were at a park with our kids. I watched a young mom play in the sprinkler area with her incredibly chubby baby girl. The mom became engrossed in her conversation with another mom, and baby waddled off by herself and reached for the sprinkler, giggling at the feeling of the water against her hand. After a moment, she wandered away from the sprinkler area and down the hill toward the jungle gym. The mother looked up and called to her baby, but baby didn’t even look back, she was intent on reaching the colourful play structure. Mom laughed and excused herself from the conversation and trotted after her baby, catching up with her easily. I felt myself involuntarily tensing, but there were no barked commands, she did not smack the baby’s thigh to reinforce her authority. Instead the mother squatted down to the baby’s height and smiled as she said “come on honey, let’s go back to the water.” The baby smiled and patted her mom’s face, and then turned back toward the jungle gym. The mom waited a moment, and then reached out her hand and said “want to climb up the hill?” Baby smiled and grabbed her mother’s hand and they walked up the hill to the sprinklers together. No violence or coercion, just gentle encouragement and connection.

********************

Two years ago, I stopped spanking. It was never supposed to be that big of a deal. Initially, I thought that I was just taking a little break to re-strategize. I never expected that choice to change my life.

As I struggled to parent multiple toddlers without my usual crutch of physical discipline, I had to face my own issues for the first time. I had to acknowledge my depression, my anger, my loneliness. I started to understand that my children were not pitted against me, and I began to have compassion towards them, and compassion towards myself. I have come to realize that most of the “bad” behaviour from my children (and indeed even myself) was the result of an underlying need or feeling, not a “rebellious spirit” or a “wilful antagonism”.

Since this process has made me a better parent and a happier person, I am passionate about spreading information on gentle parenting and the damaging effects of spanking. And since this quote was too large to share as a face book status, I’m posting it here.

“In modern books on child-rearing the authors carefully mask their emphasis on the importance of gaining control over the child. Over the years a sophisticated repertory of arguments was developed to prove the necessity of corporal punishment for the child’s own good. In the eighteenth century, however, one still spoke freely of “usurping authority” of “faithful subjects” etc., and this language reveals the sad truth, which unfortunately still holds today. For the parents’ motives are the same today as they were then: in beating their children, they are struggling to regain the power they once lost to their own parents. For the first time they see the vulnerability of their own earliest years, which they are unable to recall, reflected in their children. Only now, when someone weaker than they is involved, do they finally fight back, often quite fiercely. There are countless rationalizations, still used today, to justify their behaviour. Although parents always mistreat their children for psychological reasons i.e. because of their own needs, there is a basic assumption in our society that this treatment is good for children. Last but not least, the pains that are taken to defend this line of reasoning betray its dubious nature. The arguments used contradict every psychological insight we have gained, yet they are passed on from generation to generation.


There must be an explanation for this that has deep emotional roots in all in us. It is unlikely that someone could proclaim “truths” that are counter to physical laws for very long (for example, that it is healthy for children to run around in bathing suits in the winter and fur coats in the summer) without appearing ridiculous. But it is perfectly normal to speak of the necessity of striking and humiliating children and robbing them of their autonomy, at the same time using such high sounding words as chastising, upbringing, and guiding onto the right path.”

From Alice Miller’s “For your own Good” Page 16.

*******************

When I wrote on this topic last august, I talked about how my kids and I were different after a year of non-spanking. And earlier this year I talked about how I believe that spanking affects trust in the parent-child relationship. I have shared books and websites that have helped along the way, and I’ve begun explaining some of the new ideas I have found helpful in parenting starting with my posts on Mutual Respect and Recognizing Feelings. I am hoping to get back to my series on Gentle Parenting Tools very soon. The titles I have been working on so far are Communication, Rules Rituals and Routines, Parenting in Public, Connection and Needs, Relax and Re-Group, and Parental Self-care. If there is a particular one you would like to see sooner than later, let me know in the comments, and if there are additional topics you would like to see addressed let me know and I will do my best.

  • Anonymous

    Personally? I think it's time you write a book!

    You have so much knowledge, compassion, and love to share, a book full of it all together would be amazing!

    (Blogger won't let me comment logged in – this is Rebecca @ The Road Home)

  • http://www.liberatedfamily.com Rebekah

    This is an encouraging post. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://sarahsheartshome.blogspot.com Sarah

    i appreciated this post. too often we use spanking as the first option when really it should be used as the last option (possibly). One book that I found really helpful is called "creative correction." TONS of ideas in there!!! loved the book.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    I'm so glad you have had this transformation. Based on the things you have written about, it is good to know your precious babies will have a much more dignified upbringing and good for you for doing it! I love reading your stuff even though I am sometimes appalled at what you have endured. And it gives me pause. I never spanked my children in the sense that you've written about. I was guilty of an occasional swat (never on a bare bottom though) but I have even removed that. Part of the reason is the older my children got, the less just one swat would suffice anyway but even with my little ones now, we use redirection and talk about feelings. My younger ones are no worse behaved than my older ones were at these ages. Anyway, I really enjoy your writing on this topic and thank you for sharing it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    I've had very much the same experiences with my own little one (as you know). It's amazing how much more beautiful the parent/child relationship becomes when spanking and the need for control is removed.

    And I second the "you need to write a book" comment. Seriously, you've done enough thinking and had enough hands on experience to write a book on gentle discipline, and I bet you could even get it published. I know I'd buy it. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17871256362646081536 Amber

    I don't know if I ever shared my spanking history with you, if I have sorry to be repetitive! My parents used spanking as their primary form of discipline (that and grounding). I didn't have any definitive plan for what I would do when I became a parent, but spanking didn't seem like that big of a deal to me.

    It wasn't until I went away to college and had my first child development course that I completely shifted my perspective. No longer could I entertain the thought of spanking as I learned the research behind anti-spanking philosophies. My husband agreed with me and we have not raised our hands to our children one time in the last 3 years (my oldest is 3). It's funny, I thought for sure the urge would be strong but because I removed the desire early, and learned the real reasons behind a child's behaviour, it hasn't been a struggle. Of course I have areas that need improvement, but am glad spanking is not near my radar.

    I am glad you are disseminating this information as it its highly valuable. I cringe when I see parents use physical discipline–even when they yell!–because I fear they view their children as evil beings rather than individuals struggling to find their place in the world.

    I am a huge advocate of educating parents proper and respectful parenting techniques. One day I hope to conduct parenting classes for the community I live in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02614822971755761394 Rebecca

    I just got The No-Cry Solution from the library and many of the thoughts in there reminded me of your style of parenting. And mine too!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    It's such a long learning process. I'm having to face my own immaturity and impatience. It's especially hard with my whole family looking on in disapproval while my boys go through a very difficult stage. Between their father's health problems, a new baby coming, and the household instability, it's so hard not to just give them a whack out of self-defense. Yesterday I had a prime example of exactly where I can go wrong so easily.
    Hunter turned 5. Somehow he got it into his head that he wouldn't need a booster seat anymore. Andy meets the age, height, and weight requirements for traveling without one, so I've been letting him go without because we don't have our own car, and it's one less thing to transfer around. No one told Hunter he'd be allowed to do the same; he just assumed it.
    This was after a very difficult day at the aquarium where he persistently ran off in the crowds, got on escalators without us, and had two horrendous tantrums that took my sister and I both to hold him while he screamed, thrashed, kicked, head-butted, and declared his intention to kill us both. A couple of times I swatted him, but it only made him more violent. It was both embarrassing and emotionally draining.
    So when we got in the car with my Mom to go to a playdate with his best friend, I was pretty fed up with fighting. He refused to sit in the seat. I told him either get in it, or we stayed home. He crossed his arms and said no. I should have immediately gotten out with no second chances; I know that now. Instead, hoping to salvage the situation, I repeated myself. He raised his foot and said, "Want me to kick you?" I smacked his leg. My mom spoke sharply to him, and he whirled on her and shook both fists in her face, saying, "Want me to beat you up?" She asked permission to smack him; and I foolishly gave it, thinking that there is no way I can let him think he gets to talk that way to her. Bad, bad choice. He started kicking and hitting her immediately, before she even touched him. Andy started screaming at us to leave Hunter alone, and I knew the situation was only going to get worse. I got out, took the kids out, and told my mom I would reschedule. As soon as Hunter realized his playdate was off, he started wailing for his friend and saying he would get in the seat; but it had gone beyond that.
    Of course, everyone thinks I have done a terrible thing by not whooping the tar out of him for this. I think I did a terrible thing by letting it escalate to a physical confrontation. I know that he cannot be persuaded or threatened into anything. Never again will I try to work with him when he starts putting his foot down. It only makes things worse.
    Unlike Andy, who craves equality and recognition, I think Hunter takes being argued with as a sign that he has something we need; and thinks by withholding his cooperation he will prove his authority. I will always keep that in mind from now on. There are definitely two ways to look at this; and I don't believe I have to give in to him by not spanking. I just have to be willing to have our plans change instantly if he won't go along.

  • http://www.quiveringdaughters.com Hillary

    You DO need to write a book. I'm truly serious. And you are amazing, by the way.

    {{hugs}}

  • Anonymous

    I am so happy you are reading Alice Miller!!! I became a non-spanker a couple of years ago and just knew instinctively that it was right, but her books reaffirmed my decision in powerful, powerful ways.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01641970264436339191 dulce de leche

    Much love, joy and peace to you. I appreciate your posts so very much, and I would totally buy your book! <3

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15454965172669677301 Bethany

    Isn't it amazing how seeing other parents interact in the simplest situations can floor us? I had a similar experience once before I was married when I watched a friend of mine feeding lunch to her young children. There were no threats, no mandates, no battles for control, and when the children asked for yogurt, the mom said "Sure!" That simple "Sure!" has stuck with me as much as any parenting manual.

    I am far more removed from the drastic parenting practices of my past now, and it no longer seems like a novel concept to say yes to my children or to avoid rigid rules on things that don't matter. I am still stricter about mealtimes than most other parents I know in that I serve our children the same thing their dad and I are eating, and we never, ever budge on the no-dessert-without-veggies rule, but there is peace at our table. I can enjoy my girls without it being a constant power struggle. I hate that tranquil parenting is something I've had to learn on my own and with my own daughters as guinea pigs, but I'm grateful for the little examples I've seen and for posts like this that confirm I'm on the right path.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    I would love to see you post about Parental Self-care sooner rather than later. This is one of those areas that I'm really contemplating for my own sanity as my kids enter puberty and would love to see what you have to say about it.

    Fantastic post and the quote from the book is amazing!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Rebecca- Thank you so much! You have been such an encouragement on this journey.

    Sarah- Thanks for sharing. I continue to be shocked by the amount of discipline books that recommend spanking as the first (and indeed only!) option.

    Michelle- Thank you for being there. : )

    Libby Anne- Thanks. : ) It might be fun to write about traveling out of the punitive mindset and into gentle parenting. So far I only have experience with babies and toddlers, but the difference from how I was raised is incredible.

    Amber- Thank you for sharing your story. It took me a long time to stop instinctively seeing my children as evil, I’m glad you consciously took that step. Your children are blessed, and I think it would be awesome for you to hold parenting classes, so many people have no idea where to start with discipline. I know I didn’t!

    Pippi- Poor little guy, it sounds like all the change is really throwing him off. Good for you making the descision to re-schedule, that is hard to do when people only criticize you for being “too gentle”. Have you looked into info on high-needs high-sensory kids? I can email you some info if you would like.

    Hillary and Dulce- Thank you!

    Anonymous- I know! Finally! She is every bit as amazing as I’d heard.

    Bethany- I’ve had so many moments like that. These amazing parents have no idea who could be watching and being inspired. I love what you said about “Sure”. Really, why not say sure?

    Erika- Thanks, I’ll see if I can put that nearer to the top of my list. In the meantime, I have a series on self care under the label “Mama Health”.

  • Brenda

    I was 14 years old the last time my father used a belt on me. I had turned on the water to fill the horses' trough and forgot it. It ran over and down the hill and my father discovered it.

    I was hit several times on my bare behind (can you the imagine the mortification of a teenage girl having to bare her buttocks to her father, even without the abuse?) with his belt, straight off his pants. I was told I needed to improve my memory.

    It definitely improved my memory. I never forgot how humiliated I felt. I never forgot how angry I was after the beating to then be forced to tell my father that I loved him for what he did to me. I never forgot that my parents were encouraged to do this by their religion. I never forgot to hide my true feelings. I never forgot to do anything like that ever again. And I never forgot that my parents considered hurting me to be a good thing.

    Thank you for this post.

  • http://realchilddevelopment.com Leslie

    I just found your blog today and I'm browsing around a little bit! I feel a connection with you – as a mom who also stopped spanking and it changed my life as well – in much the same way – and I have a passion to spread the word about gentle discipline – especially among Christian circles. I loved your posts on the rights of a child. I live in Costa Rica and actually teach on the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child – it is a powerful tool for advocacy for children at risk, and it is a disgrace that the US is one of the only countries to not sign it. Christians should be the ones leading the way in these areas for advocacy for children in need. Great rant!

  • Anonymous

    My husband works with a lovely pregnant woman who happens to train dogs. She would never, ever use negative reinforcement with her dogs, as it is enormously counter productive. Is it unkind? Maybe, but mostly it doesn't work well. LOL, she also explained that you never say, "Bad dog," as the dog wasn't bad–you communicated poorly.

    Yet, she was contemplating how she might use spanking as a part of her parenting. *sigh*

  • Emily

    I'm so glad to see you're reading Alice Miller :) It was reading your blog and feeling overwhelmed by how well I could relate to your experience (even though I was never spanked) that led me to Alice Miller. Abuse comes in so many forms. Sigh…

  • Anonymous

    I have a job where I must manage 5-30 kids without laying a hand on them ever. Anyone who thinks I don't have control over the group is stupid. It is control (until the child can control him/herself), just not fear.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X