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.