There was a “likey” going around Facebook not too long ago that said “I’d rather go to jail for spanking my kids, than have them end up in jail because I didn’t.” I very nearly blogged about it at the time, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth my attention. Its logic (or non-logic as the case may be) was so flawed that if it weren’t so sad it would be laughable.
There are many such things on Facebook that make me a little bit crazy, but I can usually just shake my head, chuckle, and move back to my happy place. I’m having a harder time ignoring the newest one though, as it continues to show up in my news feed as friend after friend likes it. It says, “Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.”
I admittedly don’t like the word discipline, because too many people use it interchangeably with “punishment.” When they say discipline, they mean spanking (or time-outs or counting or reprimanding). Whether or not that was its original intent, it is surely what it’s become. A quick Google of “discipline” brings up words like train, punish, correct, control, and chastise….. none of which align in my mind with mindful, gentle parenting. But the word discipline doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the first phrase, “Those who love their children.” Meaning… what, exactly? That those who don’t “discipline” don’t love their children? That punishment equals love? I can’t decide if they’re trying to guilt others into following suit, or if they’re the grownup equivalents of the childhood bullies; the ones who put others down to raise themselves up.
A lot of time, energy, thought and research has gone into the way that I parent. Parenting is a huge responsibility, one that no one should take lightly. I could sit here and site studies and research and anecdotal evidence about why authoritarian parenting is not the answer, but I’d just as soon let my four happy (and ::gasp!:: well-behaved) children be evidence enough. And everything that I do, every decision that I make when it comes to their care and upbringing, is because I love them.
I was not surprised to see that the site that published the “those who love their children” quote was a Christian site. Traditionally, Christian parenting advice is filled with many of these admonitions. You must train your children, you must teach them to submit, you must show them who’s boss. It frustrates me beyond description. Not only have I never found anything, biblical or otherwise, that leads me to believe that this is in fact a requirement (for lack of a better word) for a believer, but I find it to be the opposite of what Jesus would espouse. Jesus loved children. He wanted us to become like children. He didn’t punish or coerce. He didn’t use force; didn’t shame or belittle. He led children by example in kindness, compassion, and respect. Wouldn’t it follow that we should do the same?
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, when you love someone – truly love them – you care about how they’re treated. You want them treated with dignity and respect, with caring and kindness. I think even the most well-meaning parents can get so caught up in their “discipline” that they lose sight of the person that’s on the receiving end… A small person with fragile feelings and a pure heart. A person who can carry, for LIFE, the scars and humiliation that come from said discipline.
I was walking into an ice cream place last week, with all four of my kids, along with a friend and her two children. A woman was leaving the store with her little girl, around 4 or 5 years old. The mom was yelling, and the girl was wailing unhappily. They were both yelling so much I couldn’t make out what was going on. From what I could tell, the girl didn’t want to go until she told her mother whatever it was that was on her mind, and the more she resisted, the harder the mom yanked on her arm. “But Mom!!” “Let’s GO!” When they got out to the sidewalk, and the crying had really escalated, the mom knelt down. I thought very briefly that she was taking a breather, giving herself a time-out, getting down at her daughter’s level so she could talk with her. But the new position, I soon found out, was so she’d have a better angle to rapidly spank her, three times in succession before resuming their march to the car. The girl cried harder – understandably – and was still screaming when they left my line of sight.
I have had bad days as a parent. I have had frustrating days as a parent. I don’t know what kind of day that mom was having. I don’t know what caused the outburst, by either of them. I don’t know what the little girl did that made the mother so angry. But I am very certain that it whatever it was, it did not deserve the pain and humiliation of a public spanking outside a restaurant. I’m also certain that the discipline did NOT help the situation; that neither the mom nor the daughter was better for it; and that their relationship was harmed, and not strengthened. My heart broke a little when I saw it, as it does every time I see a parent and child take another step further away from a loving, connected relationship.
I love my children. Because I love them, I try with all my heart to treat them in a way that’s fitting for someone I love. I wouldn’t discipline my sister or my best friend or my husband for making a mistake, and I extend my kids the same courtesy.
I say we stop with all the spanking and discipline Facebook groups, and start a new one:
“Those who love their children care enough to treat them the way they themselves would want to be treated.”