Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Thoughts on Parenting

I am a mom.

I am a mother.

I am a mommy.





Boo boo fixer.

Nightmare chase away-er.


I value my child's life more than my own.  I would take a bullet for my kiddo without blinking.  I'd jump in front of a car, into a bolt of lightning, into a river, whatever it takes to make sure she is safe.

I will mercilessly take on anyone who would ever dare to raise a hand to her or harm her in any manner.

Confession.  I judge parents who hit their kids.  Call it spanking, call it abuse, call it a pop, knuckle sandwich, whuppin', whatever.  A hit is a hit and I don't really care what the reasoning or intention is behind it.  If you hit your kids, I judge you.  Pretty sure that makes me a less than stellar Christian since there's that whole thing about not judging others, but I'm also pretty sure that I'm not perfect and my strong judgments are proof of that...and God accepts that I'm not perfect and hopes I'll do better. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure most parents get angry and frustrated to the point of wanting to hit their kids.  I've felt that way.  But I told myself the moment I held my daughter for the first time that I would never touch her if I was angry.  It's not worth the risk of hurting her. 

To me, being a good parent, an appropriate and loving parent, is about actions, not by feelings.  I tried explaining that to a pro-spanker once and she said, "Well then you can understand that no matter how I feel, even if it hurts me, my action of spanking is about being a good parent.  I use a belt and it gets my point across and my kid doesn't question me again."  I offered to use a belt on her right then and there to see if it would help get my point across to her and see if it would make her stop questioning me.  She declined and called me a bad word. 

Having worked in social services for over a dozen years, I've worked with hundreds (maybe more) of abused children.  I've worked with hundreds more of adults who were abused as children.  And you know what all of the abusers have in common?  As far as I can tell, not one of them started out wanting to abuse their children.  Not one of them ever said, "Well hell, I'm a rotten person and thought it would be great to have kids so I could beat the daylights out of them when I'm in a bad mood."  Granted, I'm sure there are sick people out there who probably do fall in that category, but none that I've encountered.  Yet.  Who knows what might happen tomorrow.

Anyway.  Parents.  Hitting their kids.  Yep, I judge you.  Even if your intention, "isn't to hurt them, but to teach them a lesson."  Gag. 

I know far too many people who have crossed the line completely by accident.  In a blinding moment of rage, a hand is swung back too far and the contact is too hard, maybe there are more hits than what the parent intended.  In a flash, a child is back-handed across the face.  The parent grabs the nearest object and swings it.  There's a seeming lack of control as the pent up anger suddenly floods out. 

After that initial brutal encounter, the parent feels bad.  As the child sobs, maybe has welts springing up on his or her skin, red marks, bruises, blood, the parent is consumed with shame and guilt.  And holds the child and cries, too, apologizing, maybe making excuses like, "You just made me so mad."  But the guilt is there.  And then a while later...maybe a week, a month, a year, a decade...something triggers that rage again and the lashing out happens again.  There's guilt, but maybe less of it, more justification for one's actions, and perhaps a bit of smugness as the parent retorts, "That'll teach you."  It becomes easy, especially after seeing the child heal and "be okay", to continue with this kind of pattern.  

Patterns and habits, as we all know, are very difficult to change.  Anyone ever tried to quit smoking?  start an exercise routine?  Give up a bad-for-you food?  Not easy.  Changing behavior is always difficult.  But that doesn't mean it's okay not to change it.

I hear parents saying that their kids "need" physical discipline.  That kids today are too wild and unruly and need firm discipline early on to enforce rules and force them to respect others.  Newsflash...your parents probably thought you were unruly at some point, your grandparents probably thought your parents were unruly at some point, your great-grandparents probably thought your grandparents were unruly at some point.  We can go back generations and hear folks talk about "kids today".  But parents, you used to be those "kids today" thirty years ago.  We all had some kind of mischief that we got into--listening to music our parents didn't approve of, maybe peeking at a movie that wasn't appropriate for our age, sneaking a sip of alcohol before the legal age, staying out past curfew, not picking up our toys when we were supposed to, whatever.  Even "perfect" children have probably done a few sneaky things here and there. 

I just don't understand how and why adults resort to hitting.  I didn't understand it growing up when my parents hit me or I saw my friends being hit and I don't understand why people do it now.  People accuse me of being a hippy-dippy-bleeding-heart-liberal, but really, my heart just bleeds for the pain and humiliation that kids suffer at the hands of their caregivers.  And I don't understand why it's acceptable for an adult to physically hurt a child when, if that adult did the same thing to another adult, it would be assault/battery. 

People get angry over statistics...stats that say hitting is good, stats that say hitting damages kids.  Heck, I don't know which stats are accurate.  Probably they all are--they're accurate for what the researchers wanted to study.  But here's something non-statistical.  In my experience, kids who are hit while growing up either hit their own kids or they don't.  If they hit, I typically hear the standard, "My parents hit me and I turned out fine."  Okay, but I'm not sure what "fine" means, especially when those "fine" parents fall into the category of abusers, though to be fair, not all do.  Others say they don't hit their kids "because I remember what it was like and I hated it."  I fall into that last category.  I do remember what it was like and I did hate it.  And no amount of explaining or justification from my parents (sorry mom and dad!) will make me feel better about it.  I've chosen not to carry on that pattern. 

A while back, I was having a conversation with someone who regularly used what I believed was harsh physical discipline on her kids, including her littlest one who was potty-training and having lots of accidents. She laughed and said, "What's that old saying? Be nice to your kids because they'll choose your nursing home!" I didn't laugh. I told her that when the time came, she better hope her kids put her in a nursing home and not decide to take care of her themselves and pay her back tenfold. I then asked her how she'd feel if she found out that her grandmother (who had Alzheimer's and no longer could control her bodily functions) was being subjected to physical discipline by her caregiver because of toileting accidents. At first she said it was different, and when I asked her to explain how, she fumbled for words, something about "teaching a lesson to make them remember"...and I asked her how she would feel if the caregiver for her grandmother used the same excuse. She never did answer me.

People who think I'm nuts tell me that my kiddo is probably a spoiled brat.  That I'm an ignorant parent.  That I have no idea what discipline means.  That my child will be the downfall of America.  Yes, someone actually said that.  But you know what?  The way I see it, it may take longer to learn which disciplinary tactics are best for my kiddo, but she's not afraid of me.  I've disciplined myself to be patient and attentive to her needs--even when she is behaving like a stinker, and she does sometimes, because she's a kid.  Not hitting doesn't necessarily make me a "better" parent, but I do think it makes me a more patient one, because I force myself to stop and think, not just rely on my physical power over my child to get my point across.  With time and patience, she's growing up to understand consequences for actions, why I say no to certain things and that she has a voice.  She doesn't just suddenly get a voice when she becomes a legal adult at 18.  I want her to express herself to me.  Doesn't always mean that she'll get what she wants, but she'll always know that I love and respect her enough to listen.

I also don't want to be faced with a situation 30 years from now and have to explain to my grandchild why I did certain things to her mom.  I'll be able to laugh at some of my tactics and feel silly over ones that were useless, but not get flustered and have to try to explain or come up with a justification for why I hurt her mom.

God trusted me to care for her. And I will.

I am a parent.

Her parent.