Dear Mamma (an open letter to those who spank)

Dear Mamma who spanks (or swats, or hits),

I know we sit on different sides of the same coin.  The slightly tarnished, well-worn coin of parental discipline.  Chances are one, or both of us, sit on the same side as our parent and even their parents parents.  It is hard to flip to a new side.  We both love our children deeply.  I don’t deny that the sun rises and sets in your baby’s eyes as it does mine.

You worry about the future.  What will this crazy world hold for them in five, ten, or twenty years?   We hold the responsiblity for all of their triumphs and failures.  They are burned inside our hearts forever, even if they don’t truly belong to us, they will live there.

I agree with you that our babes need boundaries.  They need parents, not friends.  Someone who is firm and clear about what is safe and acceptable behavior.  Out of respect to them we must show them that we are the calm, loving and leading adult in charge.  Out of respect for them we must give them freedom within clear limits.

I agree they need to know who the ‘adult’ is.  But…what is an ‘adult’?  If we want them to grow to be a certain type of ‘adult’ then we must model this for them now.  Our hopes for their future must be reflected in the actions we take today.

I hope that when my boy is grown he will be full with the intrinsic understanding of his own value.  As an adult in his life I grow this by showing unconditional love and understanding, I love him now so he can love himself later.

I hope that my boy will be able to navigate the world using reasoning and critical thinking skills that guide him into making good choices.  My job as an adult is to allow him to explore things safely, have some control over his world and let natural consequences teach him as they may.  As he gets older I will be able to discuss more and will allow him to join in the analysis of his own trials of life.

I hope he will be deeply emotionally intelligent, with an ability to express his own feelings and needs.  I hope he will receive others with empathy, love and understanding.  I teach this now by giving him words to express what he feels and listening for the need/emotion behind his behavior.  I do my best to express my self and my feelings clearly to him.  I apologize if I am wrong.

I hope he will respect others so I respect him now.

I hope he will be gentle and kind so I am gentle now.

I am far from perfect.  Everyday I work toward being a better Mamma.  I know you do too.  I have bad days, I get too angry.  I lose my way and expect developmentally inappropriate things. I don’t always say the right thing and some nights I go to bed wishing I could do the whole day over. This, for me, is why I choose not to spank.  I can’t give myself an option that I don’t feel comfortable modeling.  I can’t do something I wouldn’t want him to do to others.

So you see I am worried too.  I hear you saying you are scared about what will happen if you don’t use firm enough discipline.  I hear you saying you are wonder how anything else might work.  I understand that you were raised with spanking and you love your parents.

Everyday is new with our child.  We have every opportunity to do what is best, to build the best relationships possible.  This is why I practice (and believe me everyday I am just practicing!) compassionate parenting. We can let go of the stress of punishing and controlling our babes and move towards the teaching of life lessons and compassion that will truly make a difference.

Our parenting today will simply be a shadow of the adult they become.  A soft whisper that speaks only to the deeply quiet parts of their souls.  A script they can barely hear that will color everything they do.  I hope I can leave my boy with a heart full of love.
With respect for all Mammas out there,
Melissa

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Choosing to spank-Opening the door to violence

A few articles I have come across today have sickened me to the core.  All deal with the death of a child at the hands of their parents and all of the parents in question began their abusive behavior under the guise of  ‘discipline’.  Though I understand people maybe lacking the tools needed to deal with their children in times of stress, leaving the door open to hit a child is inexcusable. I have more than my fair share of expletives to describe how I feel about parents who harm their children.  What follows is my attempt to open up a discussion about how to halt these parenting practices in their tracks.

Many of the aforementioned articles detail the accounts of children who were murdered at the hand of their own parents.  These parents are all believed to have read and followed the discipline strategies of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the book To Train Up a Child.  The book, which uses scriptural references as support for the violent ‘training’, is particularly popular with christian homeschoolers who praise it on their websites.  Physical abuse is recommended starting in infancy to teach a child how to stay on a blanket and increases in intensity throughout childhood.  The tragic stories of the three children lost to families reported to be studying this book’s philosophies are beyond imagination.  A little girl beaten for hours until she died for mispronouncing a word during homeschooling, a babe of just four years old beaten and suffocated to death for not staying in his bed.  Most recently a little girl found was found naked face down in her own backyard after what seems to be weeks of living outside with little food and inadequate shelter.

This book is not an anomaly.  Corporal punishment has been widespread in our country for many years despite the piles of literature to prove it ineffective at the least and dangerously damaging at its worst. Recently a video of a judge beating his daughter has gone viral on YouTube.  The daughter taped him in secret in the hopes of finding someone out there that also believed what her father was doing was wrong.  He, however, does not think he was in the wrong at all and is seemingly surprised at the backlash.  “No, in my mind I haven’t done anything wrong other than discipline my child,” Judge William Adams told KZTV Wednesday after the YouTube video went viral on the internet.

Most of the debate over these atrocities goes something like this ‘whether or not you believe in spanking…this should never have happened’ but it DOES matter how you feel about spanking.  In my mind it matters on a fundamental level.  Allowing yourself to use any form of physical punishment as a ‘discipline’ tool opens the door to more violent behavior as your child grows.  Making the desicion one way or the other to spank or not to spank was one of the first child rearing decisions these murderous parents made.

I have heard the arguments again and again “if spanking is used in the proper way it is the right thing to do” or “children need to know there are consequences for their behavior”.  Many circles feel that children need to be hit or they won’t learn to ‘mind’ you.  I have heard people throw phrases around the play ground like “if you had my son you’d hit him too”.  Really? I beg to differ.

In order to strike someone you need to have a few preconceived notions about them in your mind.  You need to feel more powerful, you have some need to control them, you want to ‘win’ or be right, and finally you have to feel that YOU will have no consequences for your behavior.  That or you are just seeing red and haul off and hit someone.  Either it is a choice to use your intimidating size and power to coerce your child into listening to you or you have lost control of yourself and lack the tools to deal with your child in a different way.

We can choose whether to use discipline as guidance that will help shape our child into a self assured, emotionally balanced adult with self control and an intrinsic sense of motivation.  We can also choose to punish a child violently in the short term to halt a behavior.  In many ways I see spanking and other forms of corporal punishment as the easy way out.  Instead of doing the hard work of listening to your child, learning about them and trouble shooting why certain behaviors may be popping up repeatedly a spank is the remedy for all.  Instead of connecting with their eyes as they search for boundaries, structure or a proper outlet for a new skill, another spank is in order.

The hardest and most rewarding work is discipline without shame (of the type outlined in this wonderful article by Janet Lansbury). Parents who use proper outlets to let go of their own stress are able to keep themselves in better control when frustrations and conflicts arise.  Parents who do the work and build a tool box full of strategies to help their children magage themselves in the world are constantly growing along with their child.  Both parent and child stand to learn about themselves and how to better handle any situation they find themselves in.  Those who consciously parent and make a choice not to spank have also made a choice to work harder to support their children’s behavioral development in more loving and effective ways.

As a matter of practice I don’t feel we should be judgmental of other parent’s choices.  I do not think every parent who spanks is on the road to the horrible tragedies listed above.  I also know that many parents make the best choices they have based on their history, family situation and cultural background.  With that in mind I must say that I hope for a world where every child is respected enough to be treated as we would treat our coworker, neighbor or spouse.  Every child deserves a home free from fear especially at the hands of a loving parent.

We should be appalled at books that tout physical abuse of any kind as a way to deal with a child.  As parents we should know better.  For them, we are the world.  No book should be able to convince us that hurting our baby, while they look on with confused eyes full of shame and confusion, is the best option.  These authors, with no child development training, are essentially brainwashing parents into feeling as if they are going against God’s word when they let ‘defiant’ behavior go without a whack. There is a better way, check out this great article on partnering with your child from HandinHand parenting.

In the name of these children I urge you to please follow this link asking Amazon.com to stop carrying books that spread child abuse as a valid parenting philosophy. Click here to sign.