a life in the day

Swim Date, Goggles At The Ready

The sun comes out again today but I’m still managing to have a frustrating morning. Things haven’t been going my way just lately, as I mentioned. So now at 11:30 I’m trying to make lunch for the kids. I haven’t eaten yet and I’m going to be late to my meeting. I’m in the middle of shouting instructions to the children (set the table, et cetera) and then my mom walks in my house. Uninvited. I’m terse with her and she leaves, then I snap at my son, who is wailing about something or other not going his way. After I snap at him he really sets up protesting.

I calm down.

I go to the living room, hug my son, apologize. I take a deep breath and call my mom up and she apologizes for walking in, says she knows I don’t like that. She and I talk over some details with some kid-date stuff and I hang up. At this point I’m resigned to being late to my meeting – it’s only a little late, anyway, and I could benefit if I’d get over being tense about this kind of thing, especially as long as I have dependents in the home who have needs too (after ten years you’d think I’d have learned this!). So I relax, set the food out, ask the kids if they want to come with me or stay home. They elect to stay, and while I’m gone they clean up the living room, sweep, put away the dishes, and pack their swim gear. Seriously. What the hell was I tense about?

I make my meeting and sit sipping coffee, grateful for the sunshine and an hour’s respite. Back home I grab a coffee the kids jump in the car, off for swimming after a quick cupcake snack (above). I run my errands and finally get my own lunch before heading back to the pool. Even though they’ve been there a while and I’m worried they’re very hungry, they’re not ready to get out. My daughter thinks I’m making them disembark and she’s sore at me. She lets me take a picture of her.

Swimming. Also, @phoenixhogaboom Is Pissed At Me

So I let the kids be and Ralph brings them home on his way for work. The children are (finally) famished. Grandma buys them a hamburger and they drink the last of the orange soda Emily brought the other day, reading their comics at the dining room table. Then the friends start over, the friends who’d been knocking all afternoon as soon as they were out of school. The kids, finished with dinner, hop up and they’ve grabbed the Flip camera and they’re filming, culminating in a trip to the train tracks to play a version of Bloody Mary. I finish a sewing project and put my feet up as dusk falls. I feel the end-of-day endorphins, or whatever, start to flow through  my body. A long day of yoga, housework, kidcare, writing, a meeting, helping friends, phone calls, haciendo planes, crafting. Now my bones ache for a hot bath and clean pajamas and snuggling up to the kids before bedtime.

Yeah. It ended up being a pretty good day.

Ribbons

Forgiveness is possible; loving others in a way that works for us

All comments on this post will be moderated.

Welcome to the Spank Out Day 2012 Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Second Annual Spank Out Day Carnival hosted by Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Spank Out Day was created by The Center for Effective Discipline to give attention to the need to end corporal punishment of children and to promote non-violent ways of teaching children appropriate behavior. All parents, guardians, and caregivers are encouraged to refrain from hitting children on April 30th each year, and to seek alternative methods of discipline through programs available in community agencies, churches and schools. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

Mid-summer of last year I shakily drove my new (to me) car to a friend’s house. I’d made a desperate call just a few minutes prior and she could hear that I was in need of someone kind to talk to. I knocked on the door and was welcomed into the home of this friend and her partner, both women very dear to me. I sat on their comfortable couch in the soft summer light, ready to compose myself to tell them what was wrong – and instead burst into shuddering sobs.

I’d just come from a meeting in a self-help group. Over the past few months I’d been recovering from the shame and misery of my past – including, in my own words, “the worst shit I’d ever done”. The worst shit I’d ever done, what does that mean? Well, we all know deep in our Knowing Place what these things are, and my worst and your worst aren’t going to be the same. I have a share of immoral (by my own standards) acts in my past. But for me at the time, the “worst things” weighing on me were the things I’d done, or hadn’t done, for my children. I couldn’t shake the thought that while other adults could choose to play in my playground or leave me be, my children were hostage to my bad behaviors. This thought had haunted me to this very summer day.

So in my self-help group I had named some of my mistakes aloud. I briefly related that I regretted yelling at and hitting my children (in an commitment to truthfulness and yet a simultaneous masochistic act of self-criticism, I’d refused to give myself an “out” by calling my behaviors “spanking”, “swatting”, or “paddling”, etc). I started to talk about my freedom from this guilt and shame, and the help the group had brought me in this regard.

But before I had finished speaking, another woman turned to me in disbelief. “For spanking your kids?” She asked in astonished contempt. I paused, surprised at an interruption – rare to unheard of in this group – and went on talking.

As soon as I finished speaking – on a larger point than my parenting, or so I thought – this woman immediately launched into her own narrative. In a most articulate fashion she listed every justifiable reason to hit one’s children and make sure they know who is boss, and why. The world is a hard place. They’re going to learn on the streets if they don’t learn at home. Your kids will blame you later if you don’t discipline them. Anyone who criticizes can fuck off. “CPS can show up and I’ll beat their ass.” Et cetera.

I sat on the sofa and listened. The oddest feelings crept up on me. As she went on – seemingly for ages! – I knew I was feeling – something. I knew I was unhappy, but I didn’t know what else I was going through.

At the end of the meeting we closed and said farewell. I was still confused, but I smiled with a genuine shining love for this woman, the love I feel for all members of the human race today. I knew even though she was addressing me, she was telling me about herself. I knew she had a heart and mind and love for the children she was raising. Perhaps she’d heard what I had to relate and would reflect on it later. I knew she was stressed. I knew I had nothing to give her in this moment but love and compassion.

A few minutes later, I got in the car. I drove a little ways before bursting into tears. Minutes later I’d made my phone call and sat weeping on my friends’ couch. After I had a good cry, the cry I needed to have, my friends and I talked it out. And when I tried to explain how this woman’s words had hurt, but my own words failed me, my friend said firmly and kindly, “She told you to do things that don’t work for you.”

***

I was spanked growing up, but I don’t cite those experiences as particularly painful. The physical aspect of my childhood punishments weren’t as humiliating and confusing, for me, as the emotional and spiritual dysfunction. Besides spanking, I remember only a few other humiliating episodes involving physicality, such as my father throwing a glass of water in my face when I was a teen, and my mother slapping me across the face about that same era. Neither of my parents ever apologized to me for these actions, and I have no idea how deeply, if at all, my parents felt regret, remorse, or shame for these actions on their part.

I have forgiven them, and that forgiveness has been a gift to myself.

I’ve maintained for some time that there is little difference in our “punishments” or “discipline” of our children, as long as we are trying to manipulate them out of our own fear (however deeply our own fears are hidden from us). Last year for my post for the Great Spank-Out I wrote,

“[I]n my opinion there is little to no concrete differences between the following: hitting (also called “spanking”, “swatting”, “smacking”, or “beating”, depending on your culture/family), yelling at, scolding/lecturing, grounding, removing toys/items as a lesson, “natural and logical” consequences (applied at the discretion of the parent/carer in order to groom for desired behavior or eliminate undesired behavior). On the flip side of the coin, praise and rewards are perfectly complimentary to this type of punitive/manipulative parenting schema – and those “carrot” (as opposed to “stick”) systems are relatively common too.”

Although I believe there are more similarities than differences in the above-listed strategies, I also believe every child (and adult!) has the right to relate to themselves and others which strategies hurt, and why. In other words, what was painful for you might not have been as painful for me, and vice versa. What matters, as parents or carers, is we honor our responsibility to our children, instead of deciding our will for them be made manifest. What matters is we forgive ourselves and change. What will make a great difference is if we can forgive those in our past who hurt us. It may make all the difference in the world.

Imagine my intense gratitude when five months after I wrote this post I heard a talk on this topic from Harshada Wagner, a yoga meditation instructor I respect and admire. In his guided meditation, “Living Wisdom: Releasing Shame” (August 29, 2011, at yogaglo.com), Wagner said the following:

“The good news and the bad news about shame is this:
 
“The good news is it’s not our fault. We can blame our parents for a lot of our shame.
 
“The bad news is that our parents aren’t here, and our parents aren’t going to be able to take away whatever it is that we have taken on. We’re going to have to do that ourselves.
 
“Of course, I’m kidding. It’s really Good News, and Good News.
 
“It’s good news that it’s not our fault. Everyone has a certain degree of shame that we carry around that keeps us from really shining. And it’s actually good news that the sources of the shame, if they were on the outside, aren’t the ones that can take it away. Because it puts that responsibility, but it also gives us the ability and the privilege and the freedom to work out what we need to work out.”
 
[…]  
“Almost every child is punished with emotional pain. It sounds very harsh, but let me just spell it out. When a child makes a mistake, when a child has done something that the parent doesn’t approve of and the parent wants to get the child to do what they want them to do, they will withdraw some kind of privilege until the child does what they want them to do.
 
“Why is that? What is the parent drying to create there?
 
“You parents watching this, please don’t take offense.
 
“When we do that, we’re trying to create emotional pain in the child. ‘You can’t go outside until you do your homework.’ ‘You can’t eat your dessert until you eat your vegetables.’ These are very benign sort of punishments. ‘Go to your room!’ … And then it gets harsher and harsher, all the way up to, some of us were actually slapped, or screamed at.
 
“But whatever the punishment was, was made to make us feel bad, as a way to learn a lesson. Even if our parents didn’t want to hit us physically, they wouldn’t feel like we had really gotten the message, unless we were sad. Our favorite toy was taken away. Our video games were denied to us.
 
“A really smart little kid, you know if they said, ‘Jimmy, you’re only five years old, you shouldn’t be playing with matches,’ and little Jimmy was really sharp and said ‘You know what, you’re right. I’m only five, what do I know about playing with matches. I could burn down the house down. You’re so right. I’m too young to play with matches and it’s dangerous. Thank you, mom and dad for the feedback. I really appreciate it. I’m going to take this on, and really make sure that I don’t play with matches any more. Thank you so much.’
 
“No, it wouldn’t go like that. If a child was that bright, was so smart, most parents would still not be satisfied until they grounded him or smacked the matches out of his hand, or yelled at him and frightened him in some way.”

Wagner’s entire meditation, which I have since earnestly recommended to so many, resounded with me deeply last September, and continues to today. All parents, even the best parents, attempt to apply emotional pain to their child to get their child to do what they want. We may do it reflexively or we may do it deliberately with some thought ahead of time – or, as is most likely, we do both. We may do it for noble reasons or for selfish ones – again, we likely do both. Some of us can know we are doing this to our children and desire not to – yet we still do it, to whatever degree we do. A lifetime of training, and our own fears and resentments and anxieties, have created a habit energy hard to dissolve. Progress can be made, but I’m unsure if perfection can be achieved.

I also know the child has a right to her own experience, and tuning into her experiences is as important, if not more so, than time and energy spent building and defending and tearing down and rebuliding and obsessing over our strategies, or those of other people.

The woman in my self-help group who told me I should beat my children had what seemed like the absolute noblest of intentions in advising me such. Briefly: she is the matriarch in a black family, raising her own nieces out of familial necessity while living in an urban, drug-riddled and economically-depressed environs. She is battling her own disease of alcoholism and she has an unsupportive larger family. If you can see deeply at all, you can have compassion and understand where she might be coming from.

As I heard in group the other day from an older man: “I had to come here to this group to learn things. I had to learn to stop hitting people. You hit people when you’re afraid.”

You hit people when you are afraid.

And the parents, carers, or those without children who attempt to put themselves in a false position of separateness and superiority with regards to the topic of disciplining children are also acting out of fear. Compassion, kindness, and gentleness are needed – not more recrimination and words spoken in anger.

This upsetting conversation last summer, and the discussion with friends afterwards, were very helpful. I was brave to be honest and vulnerable in a public way – about my worst shit. And after I spoke, someone directly challenged me with every possible good argument to punitively parent my children – even as she spoke and I felt sad, the amusing image of a little cartoon devil on my shoulder popped into my mind. But the truth is this: I could not parent my children this way and be okay with myself. I had never had this ability. So, I part ways in strategy with this woman. I can speak my mind and relate, from the heart, my experience as child, then parent – but I am not in a position to play God and I cannot follow her home and force her to see things any particular way.

I have not seen this woman in a while, but I hope she holds me in love and kindness the way I hold her. I know that this is possible, even in the most controversial and personal of topics. It is possible when we practice love and compassion – for all beings.

***

Spank Out Day 2012 Carnival hosted by TouchstoneZ

On Carnival day, please follow along on Twitter using the handy #SpankOutCar hashtag. You can also subscribe to the Spank Out Day Carnival Twitter List and Spank Out Day Carnival Participant Feed.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out

LOOK AT THIS CAR

Newness

Have a look at this beautiful motherfucking car. It was last seen being awesome in my huge ass driveway which is where it is right now being awesome as usual.

(h/t because I am not funny, I just steal other people’s jokes).

Today was busy-busy-busy. I had to drive my new (used) car around town and not turn it off for a few errands because A. I had to make sure to get supplies for an event I’d committed to today, see below, and B. my new car was sold to me (deliberately) with a bad battery that had to have been sneakily kept-charged rather than the dealer just buying a new one (oh, expect a scathing online review. Actually, more a matter-of-fact one) and it was so bad I would need a jump at any juncture.

As of today I’d already YouTube’d up how to get to and examine the battery (it’s kept under the backseat! there’s a positive terminal in the engine for jumps though!), something I figured out that my husband hadn’t and the car parts dude hadn’t. The car parts dude (a big strapping fellow) wasn’t going to help me switch the battery out because of that seat thing, and when I told him it was either that or jump me, and by the way the seat was no big deal, two spring-loaded clips, I wasn’t strong enough but my husband had done it the night before – well then the dude jumps up and whips my battery out there and yanks on the seat and helps me switch out. Sudden wellspring of altruism or indomitable male ego? We’ll never know, but I drove off after a nicely-purring startup and a weight off my mind and a fair bit of cash spent. As well today I have jumper cables and the thorough knowledge of how to do jumps, since I had the pleasure of performing several the day before.

The stereo’s anti-theft code didn’t come with the car (and seriously? Retrieving one’s code is a PITA) so Ralph suggested upgraydding the stereo and I said Okay, knowing entirely the expense this might incur. Luck was with me as the shop I chose (the one my dad had frequented) had their little Euro antennae adaptor etc. and we had it all done this afternoon. The fellow who installed the stereo was named Roscoe and I found out he is a champion basil grower – I shit thee not (as in wins Grand Champion etc. at our County Fair). I had been querying him about car stereos and a few other things and sat practically on his lap watching, and he humored this (and the soft brass semi-stripped special-five-sided-hex-key-required bullshittery to remove the factory install), but when I asked him about the basil he brightened right up. We talked for a while and he ended up sending me home with four plants, including a lemon basil and very explicit instructions to get the best out of the plants – and how to start new ones via cutting (his preferred method).

Automotive Accessories

Fucking Hoquiam. It’s just great.

We had a Doll Picnic today at the Gallery as part of our Childhood Perceptions show (this was the abovementioned event I was required to bring food and drink and do some work at), including a professional dollmaker and many readings and a very large dressup game and food and drink – all orchestrated by our show’s co-curator Jeanne.

Master Reader

The event included many of Barb Shillinger’s dolls and her expertise and willingness to talk to children about them.

E. & (Some Of) Barb Shillinger's Dolls

Phoenix chose an alter-ego for an hour (“Fern”):

… while during cleanup I quite sensibly was waylaid by children wanting to climb in my trunk:

Skunks In The Trunk

And then there was Robin Moore’s Charles Bukowski hand puppet that I thought was stellar:

Guess Who?

I was pulled and pushed all ways today but I got through the day and had some lovely, lovely moments. As you can see.

I can’t quite express how happy I am to no longer be forcibly car-free. It has made life easier. Maybe. I prayed a lot while our cars were out – prayed not for a car, but for acceptance, patience, humility. I am in a way more worried now because cars cost money, and we haven’t in the past had money set aside for car bullshittery, so it’s been hard. And perhaps most relevant to this story, everything I’ve done involving cars, I’ve had to learn shit the hard way. Seriously. And I’ve been a slow learner.

But today I can pray in gratitude, and give this new responsibility to God, and enjoy our good fortune.

And on that note:

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” ~ Charles Bukowski

 

 

kids at Ocean Crest, Ocean Shores

Non-Punitive Parenting: A Starting Primer

kids at Ocean Crest, Ocean Shores

This piece was written as a participatory exercise for The Great Spank Out. All comments on this post will be heavily moderated. No comments endorsing punitive parenting will be allowed through.

***

I’ve heard every rationalization for punitive parenting in the book, and then some.* I’ve heard that using these strategies doesn’t really hurt nor humiliate a child. I’ve heard Yeah, it hurts/humiliates, that’s the point, and it works well! I’ve heard “I was hit, and I’m fine” (about… a thousand times).

I’ve heard punishing/hitting/grounding/time-outs are necessary and if you don’t do them, you will absolutely end up with “spoiled, entitled brats”. I recently had a friend tell me he thinks something is wrong with my partner and I that we do not spank (hit) our kids as a parenting tool – although he grants my children are the first children he’s ever liked. He envies our family life but holds no hope he could raise children without violence. He explained to me his carers “beat the shit out of him” (his words), but it was for his own good; he lived in a dangerous and crime- and drug-laden neighborhood.

I bring up this anecdote because it is an elegant example at the more extreme end of this (common) worldview: “the world is tough and my kid needs to know about it. I’m going to help him learn early to keep him safe.”

Even adults who admit that “spanking” is just hitting, and that we should not do it, usually still maintaining we should absolutely exploit our power position to “mold” them. These adults hold that spanking is inhumane and/or child abuse, and instead advocate for so-called “gentle discipline” methods cited as time-outs, restriction/grounding, removal of privileges, lectures, etc.

I’m going to get down to brass tacks to state in my opinion there is little difference between the following: hitting (also called “spanking”, “swatting”, “smacking”, or “beating”, depending on your culture/family), yelling at, scolding/lecturing, grounding, removing toys/items as a lesson, and “natural and logical” consequences (crafted and applied at the discretion of the parent/carer in order to groom for desired behavior or eliminate undesired behavior).

On the flip side of the coin, praise and rewards are perfectly complimentary to this type of punitive/manipulative parenting schema – and those “carrot” (as opposed to “stick”) systems are relatively common too. In fact most parents who use time-outs, threats, removal of privileges, scarcity/reward system, rely on a lot of behavioral praise as well.

So I’d imagine some people are reading (if they’re still reading) with their jaws on the floor – or perhaps they’re sporting a sarcastic smirk. To skeptics it would seem I don’t hold there’s any way one is allowed to raise a child. Next you’ll be guessing my house is a loud, craven mess with children shouting at me at the top of their lungs, their mouths set in garish and sticky Kool-aid grimaces, and that these children are the terrors of the town, and I’m in “denial” about it all, and I’m Ruining America.

Well, first of all, let’s banish this “allowed” business.

You’d be surprised what you’re “allowed” to do as a parent. Actually, everything I’ve listed above in what I’d call punitive parenting is fair game and usually encouraged in our country. Indeed, in the United States you are legally sanctioned to hit your child – as long as you don’t use an implement nor leave a mark (adult humans and domesticated animals are protected by at least the letter of the law). As for grounding, restrictions, time-outs and the rest – these are generally thought of as Good Parenting. So let’s stop with this “allowed” business. I have neither the ability, the right, nor the interest to drive around inspecting how each and every household runs their home. If you parent or care for a child you are pretty much free to do as you see fit and nothing I say here can force you one way or another.

Secondly, you should know I do not think parents/carers who employ the above listed strategies are bad people, monsters, stupid, “crazy”, or any other pejorative. If I thought that I’d pretty much think all parents/carers were jerks. I’d also have a hard time forgiving myself for my own monstrous behaviors and missteps, because for reasons I won’t go into detail here and now I have let myself and my children down many times, yes, even against my own better judgment or principles.

Shame and guilt as forces for improving one’s parenting don’t work very well. I am not here to wield a cudgel. Sadly, when it comes to parenting – or mothering, as most finger-wagging diatribes usually concern, implicitly or explicitly – almost any discussion of bad strategies vs. better ones will prod the guilt and shame injuries most parents and carers hold. Mothers especially, are held to account for any real or perceived errors, and missteps. This shame and guilt can sometimes prevent us from openly hearing what we need to. This is a sad thing, but perhaps unavoidable unless we decide not to speak frankly on these matters.

The good news is, I’m here to deliver some hope.

Because what many people are too afraid to hope for, or too convinced otherwise to entertain, is the possibility of raising a happy, healthy child – complete with a compassionate and moral and fierce spirit – without punishing them, or at least while actively resisting punitive methodology throughout their upbrininging. That’s right. No grounding, yelling, lecturing, time-outs, spanking. Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed it either – until I started experiencing it firsthand. It’s been one of the most humbling and exciting and amazing partnerships of my life. And as each year passes, our children prove we made the right choice.

Parenting non-punitively is possible, rewarding, and incredibly freeing in about twenty discrete ways I could probably list (and will do so at some point). Most parents/carers are too scared to try. They intuit, correctly, that if they attempt to give up punitive measures they will have to give up things they want. And they’re right about that. They also believe – incorrectly – that if they give up punitive measures their children will suffer for it, and in effect grow up “bad”.

Here is, as of today, my best thoughts on the sacrifices as I’ve experienced them.

Primarily, we give up the illusion of control. We don’t really have control – we have the illusion of it. We maintain the facade of control as long as our child is not developmentally aware enough to perceive how she is being controlled.

As our child grows, we may maintain this facade if our child lets us win out – because we have made things so unpleasant for her should she assert herself. Some parents are very good at this. In this stage our child begins to hide her nature, opinions, feelings, struggles and/or actions (indeed, duplicity in a child is a first-string symptom of punitive parenting).

We maintain the illusion of control until we observe our child regularly employing self- or other-harm. I am often very sad to hear adults promote narratives where their teenager “suddenly” starts acting “crazy”/sullen/angry/anxious/”like an asshole”. Predicably, many parents and adults put forth junk-science rhetoric regarding the “teenage brain”, pathologizing teens themselves and/or setting down young adult expressions of anxiety, alienation, anger, sadness or severe disassociation to hormones or some kind of temporary innate contrariety, etc. (what’s deeply sad is to witness teens internalize and then repeat this denigration and erasure; I was one of them). I personally think espousing “teen brains aren’t ‘normal'” / “teens are jerks” rhetoric is a last-ditch attempt to avoid admitting the damage many endemic mainstream parenting and teaching practices have inflicted upon our children. It’s too bad, too, because even even in cases of severe teenage behaviors, there is still hope – but not much hope, if the parents, carers, and teachers in stewardship aren’t willing to admit their own faults. I’d like to believe it’s never too late to admit our mistakes, acknowledge our fears, and in doing so improve our treatment of the children in our lives.

What else do we give up, when we decide we will no longer punitively parent?

We give up many accolades and praises from mainstream parenting “gurus”, from our family and friends, and from our micro- or larger culture. Believe me, if your child has a loud emotional display in a store (for instance) you stand to gain approving nods if you come down on the child with a stern and/or loud voice, especially if delivering a threat. If you patiently say “Thank you,” to the clerk, let your child cry, remove your child as soon as you can (with gentleness), you may very well be glared at. Giving up punitive and public parenting strategies, then, means many adults will expect authoritarian displays of you and, when you do not deliver, tsk tsk – or worse.

You may be told to beat your child. You may be encouraged (usually implicitly) to put him down or speak about him in a sarcastic and dismissive manner so he at least knows what a pain in the arse he is. Your family and peers may not support you; this is based in their fear, and has little to do with you. But it can be hard to be so unsupported when what we need, is a community to lift us up.

Fortunately, although it can sting to give up the many surface-level commendations you receive as a demonstrably-“strict” parent, if you can cast off punitive forces or provide better caregivers or environs for your child, you’ll likely soon be receiving genuine expressions of delight regarding your children’s character and behaviors. The funnest part of this is, for me, a state of far less attachment to outcome; e.g. no longer interested in claiming virtue or value as a result of my children’s behaviors. When my children are complimented (as they often are), I can know it is not me in the driver’s seat, but the kids’ own individual qualities emerging. I do not accept compliments regarding my children’s behavior, because I did not engender their good behavior but merely didn’t thwart, suppress, and twist it. My children themselves are allowed to handle those compliments as they see fit (they usually say, “Thank you.” and leave it at that).

I’m wracking my brain to think more about what we give up, but really those two things are about it (although they’re biggies, I grant it). I suppose we give up allowing ourselves episodes of retaliatory anger. Or rather, when we inevitably give in to such displays (as I do, still), we can relatively quickly abandon the premise that this is our right or responsibility, apologize sincerely if we did something asshat, and return to our better selves a lot quicker.

So that, I suppose, is the bad news. (Except you can see it really isn’t. Bad news.)

That’s what we give up.

Now: what do we stand to gain?

For one, we stand to gain the experience of a healthier, happier, braver, more empathetic, more alert, more humorous, and more fair-minded child. We also begin to see how children raised this way are less likely to experience or evidence the following: depression, low impulse control, habitual duplicity, generalized anxiety disorder, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, repetitive bullying episodes (either as the bully or the target), self-harming rituals, and susceptibility to peer pressure. Please note I said less likely. Believe me, if I knew of any formula to raise a child safe from all large-scale harms, I’d be tempted to can it and put it up in my pantry.

What do we stand to gain?

More enjoyment of our time together. More knowledge of who our children really are (and who they continue to grow to be). When we trust our children, we really trust them. It’s a wonderful experience. I’ve often been told by other parents, “Wow, I can’t believe you let your kids run a restaurant / ride the transit / pay your bills / use your phone / walk to the library. I couldn’t trust my kids to do that.” At first I thought these parents were talking into their sleeve, essentially chastising me for being me too permissive (and perhaps some of them were). But I began to understand I really do trust my children in a deeper way than many parents trust theirs. This wasn’t necessarily easily won nor is it perfectly accomplished, but is not only my experience: it is regularly remarked upon by others. I am their advocate, I am their mentor and advisor (when they need me), but mostly I am their nurturer as much as I can be.

What do we stand to gain?

Children we want to spend time with, and children who want to spend time with us.

What do we stand to gain? A home that is peaceful, fun, funny, compassionate, fierce, tender – and doesn’t feel scary … to anyone (including the parents… many whom I believe are often very scared indeed, hide it as they may try).

And a final note: although I have met other grownups who agree with principles of non-punitive parenting, I haven’t yet met one who claimed he/she had raised a child to adulthood and never hit, grabbed, yelled, or performed mean-spirited lectures, petty theft, or retaliatory creepitude (many parents/carers have done all the above). In other words, believing in a better way doesn’t automatically make one a saint. I have never represented myself this way and a parent who thinks I am doing so, is too defensive to really listen to what I’m saying.

But believing in a better way is the first step to living a better way.  I have had the honor in helping other parents and carers find this believe. And so far, it has been the most encouraging experience of my life. Not just living this way in our own household, but helping other households to find this path.

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* Here is a working definition of “punitive parenting”, from a site called the Positive Discipline Resource Center (I have not read nor formed opinions as to the site’s content, but do find this definition to be pretty good):

“Punitive parents assume children have to feel bad in order to learn – though they may not use those words to describe it. When confronted with inappropriate behavior in their children, punitive parents search for a punishment to extinguish the behavior. Punitive tools include: time outs, spanking, lectures, grounding, loss of unrelated privileges or property, physical exercise, and physical discipline such as hot sauce on the tongue. Reward/punishment systems are part of a punitive paradigm.”