Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Because I Said So...

Someone mentioned to me last week, in regards to Peyton's views on spanking (and discipline in general) that I should be prepared because he wasn't going to want me to say "Because I said so" to our children.  I had to laugh because, honestly, it's something I want to avoid as much as possible.

First, let me say that I understand there are occasions where that is the best, maybe even the only, answer a parent can give.  Sometimes time won't allow for another answer.  Sometimes a child is too young to understand the reasoning.  Sometimes, a parent may just be at the end of his or her rope and needs to end the discussion.

I also understand that it's a valid reason.  I don't want to give the impression on this blog that because we take a different approach to discipline than some, we don't recognize our authority.  I've said it before, but our home is not a democracy and Peyton and I are the captains on this ship.  We don't owe our children an explanation or a rationale for a rule.  And we don't expect obedience because they understand our reasoning.  We expect it because they are to honor us.  Frankly, I don't understand everything that God requires of us, but I do my best to live in obedience to His will.

All that said, I think back about my mom and how very few times she used that line.  It is one of the things that really stands out to me from my childhood and a gift I appreciate to this day.  First of all, it made me feel so much more valuable.  Like I was worth the time it took for her to explain something to me.  And let me tell you, it took a LOT of her time.  I was one of those children who asked endless questions.  She really wanted me to go to law school because I have a very logical, rational mind and I like reasoning things.  It was really important to me to know the "why" in so many areas of life.

 So often I hear mothers say "I just don't have time for that" in regards to many issues, one being discipline.  And I get that.  I totally do.  But the way I see it (and I don't expect everyone else to see it this way)-- at this point I do have time for it.  I have two very young children and my days are what I make them.  While I'm not going to talk to Ann Peyton until I'm blue in the face trying to explain something she can't grasp, I am going to make initial attempts to share the reasons behind our rules. I could say I don't have time for that and chose to prioritize other things above these discussions and those things could be good, holy things and that is not wrong for some families.  But to me it would feel wrong.  Because here's the thing- I didn't choose to forgo a teaching (or any other) career so that Peyton could have hot dinner every night or so that I could make sure to stay caught up on laundry or so that I could do endless house beautification projects (praise the Lord, because none of that happens on a regular basis). [And please don't hear me saying I think that's why any of you chose it, either.]  I chose this life, in large part, because I wanted these discussions.  I wanted to have the entire day in which to engage her in conversations about the reasons behind her behavior.  Because inevitably, these conversations grow into bigger conversations about our values and priorities and relationships.  When I say "Because I said so", in many ways I miss an opportunity to instruct her in being a good steward of the Earth, or taking care of her possessions, or treating others in a way that reflects the Golden Rule.  If nothing else, I at least miss an opportunity to say that which would take one more breath "Because I am your mother.  I have your best interest at heart.  And you are to obey me."

Secondly, this approach that my mom took made me feel smart and confident.  She treated me with respect and like I was mature enough to understand her reasoning and act in obedience whether I agreed with it or not.  I try my best to talk "up" to our children.  Long ago, Peyton and I decided that we would operate under the assumption that Ann Peyton could understand far more than we could imagine she was capable of.  We felt like if we didn't, we would never encourage her to her full potential and we would always be "babying" her (something I admittedly, do have trouble with on occasion). I want my children to feel the way my mom made me feel- smart and strong and empowered.

Finally, it made me realize the value she placed, not only in me, but in our relationship.  Certainly, I did not suffer under any disillusions that we were equals, but I did feel like I was more of an active participant in my coming of age experiences, more and more the older I got.  Again, it was clear that the value of these frequent interactions was of greater importance than the value of her daily tasks.

To me, all this is part of a much larger picture.  I feel like I'm constantly reevaluating how I do things and I think that's a good thing.  In some ways, I know I've become stricter.  I was talking with a good friend about it just the other day.  For a long time I considered her much stricter than she actually is and I think she considered me probably more permissive than I truly am (or have come to be). As Annie has gotten older, I've come to have higher expectations of her. And as she's gotten more stubborn, I'm having to be more assertive with her.

Even though I said I would limit spanking her greatly out of respect for Peyton, until recently I kind of viewed the "gentle parenting" approach as a bit of a crock.  And I will say that I still think one of the unfortunate drawback of such an approach is that it can encourage an attitude of permissiveness. In fact, I think it may often manifest itself in that way. However, I've come to think it doesn't have to.

All I mean by a "gentle approach", I guess, is more talking and less "reaction".   I am NOT saying we don't punish her. If she disobeys, there's a punishment (usually time out, in infrequent cases a spanking, and, in many cases a natural/logical consequence), but I also want to be able to have a coherent discussion with her about it.

I use the "Dobson shoulder pinch" on occasion to make a point, but lately I've been seeing that many times it further escalates the situation. She just gets inconsolable upset and it's beyond stressful. A friend suggested that maybe I should ignore her after punishment or redirect her to another activity? Here's the thing- I don't want it to be an immediate consequence and then a distraction because she's so worked up from the consequence.  I want there to be an opportunity for dialogue.

To me, it makes sense that the older a child gets (starting at about eighteen months), the less physical punishment should be used.  When AP was a young toddler she could not understand the concept of time out.  However, if she disobeyed me after a warning, I wanted there to be a consequence.  At that point we spanked her (a light pop on the leg), albeit rarely, because we felt it was the only effective method.  As she gets older and older, I want to move more and more toward a rational approach.  Like I said, we believe that there should be a punishment for misbehavior, but that is only a small part of our discipline philosophy.

I have to say that the most important thing I am learning is the importance of me being in control of the situation. I know that the second I loose my temper the whole thing becomes so much harder on everyone involved. Lately, I've seen things I hate in myself- raising my voice, grabbing her by the arms and spinning her around, finger wagging, and using empty threats.  I know that is not the way to parent and I'm trying to work on a different approach.  It's slow going, but at least it's going.

The lessons she is teaching me are as profound as the ones I am teaching her.

1 comment:

Megan said...

This is definitely one of the best posts you've ever written. Really well-thought out and explained-- I hope to parent in a similar way when I am a mother.