I remember as a young mom being flooded with fear when my oldest child yelled, “No, mommy!”, and ran.
I wasn’t going to spank or otherwise punish him, so what was I going to do? And was I making a mistake? Was my son turning into a rebellious child?
Fast forward ten years, and now I don’t flinch when I hear, “No, I won’t!” or “Why?!”.
To be honest, I rarely hear those words.
If I do hear them, though, I know it is time to dig deeper because there is something going on in my child’s life, some unspoken stress or frustration or unmet need.
You see, I have learned through experience that children want to please parents with whom they have a good relationship. Children want to feel at peace in their worlds; they do not want to cause chaos or distress.
I have learned through experience, and also through memory.
I remember being a child.
I remember my point of view.
I remember making wrong choices, and I remember why I made those choices, and it certainly wasn’t because I was evil to the core.
I was simply a child making precocious, not-always-wise decisions. After all, isn’t childhood about experimenting, failing, retrying and learning, over and over and over again?
Parenting author and speaker Barbara Coloroso gives the following guidelines in her excellent book Kids Are Worth It:
“The Golden Rule, as it is called, can serve us well when applied to our relations with our children. If we are not sure whether what we are doing with children is right, we need only put ourselves in their place and ask if we would want it done to us— not was it done to us, but would we want it done to us? If the answer is no, then we have to ask ourselves why we would ever want to do it to our children.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I would not want to be hit, punished or verbally shamed when I make mistakes. So why would I do these things to my children?
And yet, as young parents we are fed so many messages which fill us with fear.
Incidentally, fear isn’t a great baseline from which to parent.
I remember all the confusing, fear-inducing messages I once received.
One was, “always win your battles”.
The idea behind this way of thinking was that children come into this world armed and ready to go to war with their parents; it is therefore the parents’ job to show their children who is boss.
Another was, “teach your children to fear you, because fear is the beginning of wisdom, and fear will lead them to God”.
Again, at the root of this idea was the thought that children were born far from God and desirous of sinning, and it was a parent’s job to send them running toward God.
When I was a teenager, I overheard our next door neighbor brag about spanking his daughter.
He mentioned that even at six months of age, she was rebellious. And so he began to spank her. By the time she was a few years old, he claimed, he had bred an obedient daughter.
Later, when I was a teacher (and before I had kids), I would think to myself, “I’ll never allow my children to be as disrespectful as xyz students. No matter what it takes, I will train them to behave better than that.”
I was assuming that parenting was simple; it was all about control and forcing children to behave.
I once heard child-rearing compared to nurturing a weed-free garden. Children were fertile, producing verdant greenery, but their gardens also invited weeds.
It was therefore a parent’s job to pull weeds, prune plants and drive stakes to bind and straighten the unruly plants. I shudder at the implications of this analogy.
I also inherited a tangible fear of parents who didn’t punish their children.
The implication I received was that parents who didn’t punish really didn’t care about their children.
I often overheard people say they didn’t know how they would control their children if they didn’t spank or punish.
And yet, I could not, just could not, ignore that question: How would I want to be treated?
I could not ignore my heart’s answer either: I would want to be approached with wisdom, insight and opportunities for restoration and repair, not with some wielded implement designed to fill me with pain, shame and fear.
Discipline vs. Punishment
I’ve read many parenting experts who equate spanking with discipline. I heartily disagree.
The way I see it, you can either discipline your child or you can punish your child.
And what is punishment?
Punishment is basically a system of correcting misbehavior which involves making a child pay for their wrongdoing in some way. It may be by spanking or hitting the child, but it could also be shaming a child or portraying a strong disapproval of them until they have sufficiently made up for what they did.
I believe punishment is overall a culturally acceptable way to deal with children.
I have often seen people post on social media: “I was spanked, and it did me good”.
I have seen other people lauded as good parents for publicly shaming their “rebellious” teenagers.
There is another way to teach children, however. It is called discipline.
Discipline has the smaller word “disciple” in it and implies being proactive, relationship-oriented, and restorative rather than reactive and punishment-oriented.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard many folks blame behavior problems in schools on teachers no longer being able to wield the “rod”.
I have heard it said that if more parents were spanking their children, then children “today” would behave better.
This makes me sad.
I want to tell people that treating children with dignity and respect isn’t the source of “behavior problems”.
If children are ignored by their parents, then yes, they may struggle to know how to behave “appropriately” in this world.
If they are raised permissively, then yes, they may “rebel”. It is frustrating for children never to know what the boundaries are, just as it would be frustrating for adults if their GPS systems regularly led them in the wrong direction.
It is possible, though, to raise children without shaming, punishing or inflicting pain on them. Trust me, life will deal enough of this to them. We as parents ought to be the safe haven, the shore for their beaten-down ships.
If Punishment Isn’t The Only Way To Raise Children, Why Is It Preached As "The Best Method" In So Many Circles?
Let’s go back to those confusing messages I received as a young parent.
Woven through all of them were some common themes:
These ideas had to come from somewhere, right?
Philip Greven is a history professor at Rutgers University. He wrote an excellent book entitled Spare the Child in which he examines “The religious roots of punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse.”
I highly recommend the book, especially if you are a parent wrestling with these issues.
In Spare the Child, Greven outlines both religious and secular rationales for punishment.
I was sickened by some of his words in regard to Christians, though I personally know them to be true, “For centuries, Protestant Christians have been among the most ardent advocates of corporal punishment.”
Why is this?
It makes me angry.
Christians, who claim to be all about love and forgiveness, have for so long advocated for violence against children (and so many others seen as "inferior") as “God’s way.” Many still do.
This is not to say that if you spank or punish your children, I am angry with you.
I have no right to judge you.
But I do ask that you take some time to ponder your own thinking on this matter.
I urge you to explore history and culture and ask yourself if this is the best way to raise a child.
And please do not tell me that spanking your child is any different than hitting your child.
How would you feel if someone bent you over a bed and used a belt, a rod, a stick or even a hand to inflict pain on you?
Since this is a blog about faith questions, I would like to examine the reasons Christians advocate spanking. I will be using many ideas from Greven’s book and some thoughts from my own experience.
Deep-Rooted Cultural and Religious Beliefs Affect Our Parenting Paradigms
Punishing children is nothing new. It has been the chosen method of child-rearing and guidance for centuries: http://www.localhistories.org/corporal.html, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/corporal_punishment.
Since ancient times, corporal punishment was the norm in most cultures; it was in fact considered an equitable method to correct children; it was also a chosen method of correction for criminals and slaves.
Are you as horrified as I am that children in their innocence and incomplete understanding of life would be treated in the same way as hardened criminals (and no, I’m not saying beating criminals is a good idea either)?
There are many reasons Christians site in defense of the corporal punishment of children. Here are a few:
Then there are those themes I mentioned earlier which were woven throughout the cultural parenting messages I received. I’d like to review those briefly:
I posit that this view of children and childhood, combined with the afore-mentioned “Christian” points of view, have led to the belief that not only is corporal punishment mandated by God but it is also the best way to teach children.
The way we think matters.
If we think children are at war with us and born filled with sin, if we are terrified children will “go to hell”, then we can see why parents might take desperate measures.
Not only does the way we think matter, but our way of thinking, or paradigm, comes from somewhere.
Once we trace the roots of our thinking, we can examine it.
We can ask ourselves if there are other ways to think about children.
Next week, I will delve into more of the roots of our cultural thinking about punishment, both Christian and non-Christian.
Meanwhile, I ask you to spend some time imagining your spouse or best friend approaching you with a corrective voice and then inflicting pain on you or publicly shaming you.
What if this favorite trusted person of yours were to proceed to tell you that what she was doing was mandated by God?
What if he told you that what he was doing was because he loves you?
Would it be difficult to look this person in the eye with the same level of trust and devotion you once had? Would you be unsure whether to fight, flee or hide? Which would you pick?
I've been there, and I wouldn't be surprised if you have too.
You know, that chilling place where you're at the end of your rope, your patience thin thin ice.
Have you been there, with children? With your very own little ones?
Every time I arrive at that place, I am overwhelmed with gratitude I don't use any form of punishment with my littles. I shudder at the picture of myself angry and out of control.
In the next few weeks, I am tackling the concept of punishment.
I'm going to chat especially about what we communicate with children when we punish them, how a punishment mentality affects us as adults and how not punishing can change our attitudes and outlooks in many areas of life.
As an intro to the topic, I'm going to share some poems I have written on the subject of how children are treated.
Her name was Mercy
Her name was Mercy and she was in her daddy's arms, golden hair, silk, climbing over his shoulders.
Her name was Mercy and she was sobbing,
Not even two years old.
Her name was Mercy,
And she was lamenting.
She was loudly lamenting the loss of her position in the racecar cart,
Now elder brother's trophy.
Oh, how she loved being the lone motorist!
Her name was Mercy and she was shrill with loss,
She was squawking and trilling the forfeiture
Daddy gripped Mercy, Mercy clung to daddy
He growled in Mercy's ear,
"You're okay now. Quit yer cryin' or I'll give ya something to cry about."
Little monkey, planted her face in Daddy's neck,
Shrieks morphing to sobs,
Sobs to sniffles,
Sniffles to silence.
She's in training,
Yes, she is.
Mercy is conditional,
Love's voice carries fear.
Mercy is learning,
Yes, she is,
What her name really means.
Who weeps for the children who
wept alone in dank closets while
the rest of the house slumbers?
It's easy to assume
A child's cries are
I know it pains,
The witching-hour when,
You were tired,
So you squealed and, and,
The day Doc said,
"This won't hurt,"
And when it did,
Denied it, since,
It didn't hurt him...
The Tuesday when tiny-you
Thought money was magic:
Went shopping, saw
Row upon row
Of rainbowed sugar-candies, then
In desirous-delight and received a, a,
Fan remembrance, momma:
It is empathy's
Friends, do you remember being children?
Do you remember times when the adults around you assigned motives to your behavior that weren't even in the ballpark of True?
How do you wish you had been treated?
More on this topic next week...
I am sitting here at my desk gazing out the window at our oak trees as they drip-drop leaves, the only noticeable movement under today’s cloud-encrusted sky.
In the background, the Cranberries aptly croon: “In your head, in your he-ead, zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie.”
The day, the music, it all plays perfectly to my melancholy mood.
This has certainly been a week of insight and melodrama.
I don’t know if you are like me, but I am addicted to joy. I love feeling happy.
And when I don’t feel happy, I worry something is wrong with me; I feel as though I am losing myself.
I attribute this to being an Enneagram 7.
Enneagram 7’s have this ability to put a pretty frame around every circumstance, to “look on the bright side,” if you will.
This is actually not always healthy. I used to become frustrated with my husband when he was down, assuming I was a better person since I didn’t ever allow myself to feel despair.
It took me a long time to learn that, not only was I shutting my husband down, but I was also terrified of my own negative emotions.
In controlling my husband’s feelings, I was covering up my own anxiety.
I am learning to notice myself reframing difficult circumstances. When I do, I stop and listen to what’s really going on inside of me.
I am learning that negative, even dark, feelings don’t mean the world is collapsing.
Understanding more about myself through the lens of the Enneagram has been so good for me.
And understanding my husband’s Enneagram number, and how his number interacts with mine, has been incredibly helpful in our marriage.
So, What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a personality typing system. It is unique in that it not only points out your attributes and strengths, it also shines a light on your weaknesses and areas of improvement.
It shows you what you look like when you are unhealthy and what you look like when you are healthy.
One profound insight I had when I first began learning about the Enneagram was how much each Enneagram type draws strength and wisdom from the others; in other words, we humans need each other.
The Enneagram Institute describes the equality of the types in this way:
“No type is inherently better or worse than any other. While all the personality types have unique assets and liabilities, some types are often considered to be more desirable than others in any given culture or group. Furthermore, for one reason or another, you may not be happy being a particular type. You may feel that your type is “handicapped” in some way. As you learn more about all the types, you will see that just as each has unique capacities, each has different limitations. If some types are more esteemed in Western society than others, it is because of the qualities that society rewards, not because of any superior value of those types. The ideal is to become your best self, not to imitate the assets of another type.”
I think this is one reason why all the diagrams of the Enneagram look like circles with nine points. Each point stands for one Enneagram type.
According to Don Riso and Russ Hudson in their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, “The Enneagram is a geometric figure that maps out the nine fundamental personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships. It is a development of modern psychology that has roots in spiritual wisdom from many different ancient traditions.”
I am fascinated by human behavior, so from the moment I heard about the Enneagram, I was hooked.
Unfortunately, I have noticed that as the Enneagram is becoming popular, some people are embracing generalizations about the numbers.
An example is my number, type 7. We are often stereotyped as shallow people who like to party and have a good time.
While this is certainly true of some type 7’s, it is not true of me. I am a quieter type 7. I actually have many traits which make me look like an Enneagram 2.
A Brief Summary of the Nine Types From The Wisdom of the Enneagram
You can find information about the Enneagram just about anywhere on the internet.
I typed out some information from the book here for you because I heard an Enneagram teacher say once that the best way to discover your type is to ask what your greatest fear is and what your greatest desire is, rather than only taking a test or relying on general descriptions.
So without further ado, here are the nine types:
How Knowing My Number Has Helped Me
Most Enneagram teachers show what each number looks like in health or in stress.
Each Enneagram number actually behaves like a specific other number when it is moving towards either health or crisis.
Again, read this article to understand this better: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/how-the-enneagram-system-works.
Acknowledging my “7-ness” has helped me to see that it is okay not to feel happy all the time.
It has helped me realize that under my “togetherness”, I struggle with darker emotions.
For example, when I am stressed, I act like an unhealthy Enneagram 1.
This means that I will suddenly be pissed off at how messy the house is. I’ll run around like a crazy person trying to clean and be very down on myself for not being perfect or having it all together.
I will also bury myself in busyness.
I’ll buy a myriad of books and read a little bit of every one of them without finishing any.
I’ll refuse to have silence around me: music or podcasts on at all times.
I’ll feel antsy, go on shopping sprees and spend too much money.
I’ll avoid people.
I used to just give in to these sudden feelings. Now I realize that when I do that I am struggling with emotions, and I need to spend some time in quietude, meditating or writing to get in touch with what is actually bothering me.
I highly recommend discovering your Enneagram number. Here are some resources to guide you:
The Wisdom of the Enneagram
The Road Back to You
Enneagram and Coffee
What Does All This Have To Do With My Current Mood?
I am at the cusp of some life changes, and I am overcome with a myriad of emotions.
I have been feeling anxious and acting out on that anxiety. Luckily, I recognize anxious behavior for what it is, and I’m working on meditating and writing.
I have had this lie in my head for so long: I can’t be a mom and anything else. The lie tells me that if I pursue something like education or a career or business, I am rejecting my family.
This lie has kept me trapped and in pain for quite some time.
I’m very committed to homeschooling my children. I see the fruit of it in their lives. They are receiving a stress-free childhood in which they can grow at their own pace and pursue their passions.
On the flip side, my youngest is now six, and I know my kiddos won’t be at home forever. And when they move out, I want to be doing a job I love.
As I dream and begin to pursue my passions, I struggle.
I struggle with anxiety my son’s cancer will return. Because of the shock of cancer, I feel like our family is catastrophe’s playground; if cancer doesn’t strike again, I have this awful foreboding that something else horrid will happen.
So, my anxiety queries, why should I pursue anything or get excited?
I struggle with fear that pursuing my dreams will take me too far away from my little ones, and I will miss out on their childhoods.
I struggle with terror that I will pick the wrong career and live the rest of my life trapped by debt and unhappiness.
I struggle with my unfair advantage and privilege. So many women don’t have the time to pursue a new career at my age.
I know I will only be truly happy if I am making a difference in this world for the better. I see so many possibilities to do this...But, how do I choose only one??
And yet I know that if I sit around and do nothing to develop myself and grow and change, I will implode.
So it is time to move and make decisions and let the chips fall where they may.
The time has come for me to take a deep breath and step into the unknown, to use what I have been given and multiply it, to pick up those loose threads and see where they take me.
Have you ever made big changes and struggled with grieving the past or fear of the future? How did you deal with ALL THE BIG FEELINGS, especially if you’re not a fan of feeling all the feels?
To finish up, I will leave myself and you with the magical wisdom of Anne Lamott, “Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.