Friday, June 22, 2012

Defending the Status Quo

About two weeks ago, my friend Bob Collier posted an article on Facebook that he had found somewhere written by an "expert" who was attempting to defend spanking. Bob added the following comment, which I found simply brilliant:

"I've always found it interesting that spanking is promoted as a means of disciplining children by people who are thereby demonstrating that they have no discipline themselves. Most odd."

Indeed. When I shared this quote on my Facebook page, one of my "friends" chimed in with several vigorous attempts to defend spanking. The crux of his argument was pretty simple. Allow me to paraphrase:

"I was spanked as a child, and I turned out fine. Kids need to be disciplined. How can you possibly justify NOT spanking your kids? Stuff happens to kids; it's their responsibility to get over it."

I'm sorry to say that my response to my former Facebook friend was somewhat less than sparkling, but it sure was honest. Actually, I'm not sorry to say that in the least.

Interestingly, the same thing happened just the other day, as I posted some pro-spanking comments I had found that simply disgusted me; most of them were in the vein of "kids need this, what possible reason do you have for not spanking them?" After I posted this, one of my friends jumped to the defense of spanking. Cooler heads prevailed on that one, but the fact that both of these incidents happened with a week or so of each other got me thinking.

Should I really have to defend my decision not to spank my kids?


I am a man who tries to parent consciously. At each parenting milestone, from birth to cribs to diapers to education, I have paused to learn, listen, reflect, and form my own opinions about the path we should choose. I fully recognize that many - most - of the decisions we have made are far outside of the mainstream, and as such we run the risk of being labeled as "radicals". I don't much care for the term, frankly, which is why you'll never see me using the term "radical unschooling." To me, my choices are not radical at all; they are simply the obvious results of a life lived with conscious questioning and application of what I have learned from experience.

But others, particularly people who do not examine their own choices, are quick to label people who do not support the status quo. Radicals, be they political, religious, educational, or otherwise, are different from the status quo and as such are often viewed with disdain. Those who live by the status quo (I was going to say embrace the status quo, but "embrace" implies that they have thought about it and consciously chosen it, which I doubt to be true) often question all of our choices and the underlying sanity (or lack thereof) that lead to those choices in the first place. When we voice our opinions, followers of the status quo often go on the offensive, demanding that we defend our decisions. To be sure, sometimes they do this in an honest effort to understand - but it sure doesn't always sound that way. Have you ever heard one of these questions?

"Spanking isn't violence, it's discipline. Don't you believe in disciplining your children? Why wouldn't you spank them?"

"What makes you think that children know enough to be responsible for their own learning?"

"If they don't do chores, you will have to do them. Aren't you teaching your children to be irresponsible? Aren't you being a slave?"

Take your pick - unschooling, cloth diapers, home births, discipline, responsibility, whatever - if you have reviewed the common way of doing things and made a different choice, people will question it. And these questions can quickly put us on the defensive, feeling like we have to defend the very choices that we have put so much heart and thought into. There are a number of reasons why we so often feel the need to defend, but for sake of this post let's simply agree that, in the main, we defend because we feel we are being attacked.

It's time to change that.

Instead of having to defend our choices, choices which are based on respect and love, with careful consideration of the long-term benefits and which are well though-out, researched, struggled with, and adapted, how about we ask everyone else to do something pretty simple.

Defend the status quo.

Instead of asking me to defend my decision to not spank my children, how about I ask you to defend the reason why you spank. Is spanking really the only way you can come up with to guide your children? Have you looked at other possibilities? Have you really considered what lies behind your need to have your children behave a certain way? Do you support hitting all people who behave contrary to your preference, or just the ones smaller and younger than you who have little or no standing in our justice system? How do you rationalize the difference between productive discipline and child abuse?

Instead of asking me to defend my decision to keep my kids out of the public school system, how about I ask you to defend your reasons why you send your kids to school. How do you choose what your kids need to learn? Why are you blindly trusting your government and school district to know what your kids will need to succeed? Are you comfortable with the fact that you really have no idea at all how they are spending each day? What are your reasons for trusting your children to a system that teachers and administrators agree is broken but have been unable to even begin fixing? Have you learned or read anything about how children actually learn? What is your child's preferred learning style? How does school support and enable them to succeed given their learning style?

Instead of asking me to defend my decision to pick up and comfort my child when they are sad or in need, how about I ask you to defend your decision to let them cry it out? What do you think your kids are trying to communicate when they cry? Do you like being left alone when you are sad, with no one there to comfort you? Do you think your kids enjoy being left alone when they are sad? Do you think that there is nothing to gain by comforting them?

Instead of asking me to defend my decision to partner with my children as equals, how about I ask you to defend your decision to limit the choices your children have and behave in an authoritative manner? What exactly are you trying to accomplish by setting rigid rules of behavior for your children? Do you really believe that you know more about how things should be than your children do? Why exactly should your children have to respect you on your terms, while you don't feel the need to respect them on their terms? Do you enjoy being yelled at, restricted, and told what to do? Do you think your children will be able to fully blossom into the people that they want to be if you restrict and punish them when they do things you don't like?

I could literally go on and on. Think about some of your other parenting choices that you may have felt the need to defend. Consider their opposites - the "status quo" parenting options that you could just as easily ask others to defend instead:

  • Children should be born in hospitals, with an OB-GYN, whose word should be trusted.
  • Birthing mothers should be medicated to minimize the pain.
  • Babies should sleep in cribs, in the "Baby's Room."
  • Babies should be left to "cry it out" so they can learn independence.
  • Babies need to be trained to sleep through the night so the parents can, too.
  • Pampers instead of cloth diapers; formula instead of mother's milk.
  • Playpens, mega-strollers, and SUVs are all necessary.
  • Daycare is critical for social interaction and parental independence.
  • Discipline, control, obedience are critical; failure will be punished by spanking.
  • Television should be limited, and internet usage and videos should be controlled, so the child can be protected from turning into a mindless zombie.
I am not trying to start a movement here (well, maybe I am a little, but whatever), and I am not suggesting that we immediately go on the offensive and do unto others (attack and make them defend) what they do unto us. But what I am suggesting is that when people question us in such a way as to make us feel like we need to defend our conscious choices - whatever they may be - we can either defend or ask them to. Personally, I am done defending my own choices and am ready to start asking others to defend the status quo.

31 comments:

  1. Jeff, I wonder if you realize how many of us sit here and eat up every word and find it so deeply meaningful. I've been praised for my writing and influence but I have nothing on you. I get very emotional about the spanking issue. And until I started speaking up about it I didn't realize HOW many people - even perfectly "nice" people, and even those without kiddos who've not known the frustration and challenge of parenting - advocate hitting children and get upset if you assert any other way.

    I was hit and yelled at as a child (and "I turned out fine", right? Pfft) and I've hit and yelled at my kids - so I'm no saintlike person who's never felt the urge or struggled with the issue etc. I'm a parent fighting like mad to do better for my children. Thanks to writings like yours it's far easier to have a roadmap and influences to help guide.

    The status quo (speaking as a white working class American wife) does very horribly for children. While I believe most parents were in turn parented poorly and our culture is horrid re: children, we have to start doing better. Thanks for being part of that.

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  2. Pure brilliance. I recently posted on my own weariness of going on the defensive when talking about our life choices... it gets so tiring to always be defending what you know makes sense for your family.

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  3. Yet another AMAZING post! Thank you!

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  4. Yes! Exactly, Jeff, this has long been my modus vivendi. Demanding that those who live and breathe the status quo to defend the choices there in requires them to examine their belief system, at the very least. If I defend my choices, as demanded, it very rarely ends in changing the opinions of the other, but if for a moment they are required to look at their own choices, then minds and actions can be changed.

    This, "Do you support hitting all people who behave contrary to your preference, or just the ones smaller and younger than you who have little or no standing in our justice system?" is genius and should be in everyone's back pocket. Excellent post.

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  5. I think that last line is fracking brilliant. Fer realz.

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  6. Jeff, I wrote about this in my book Challenging Assumptions in Education, but you've said it better. Thanks for writing it as part of our collective effort on behalf of children's lives and learning. I've added the "Do you support hitting..." bit to my facebook profile as today's quote.

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  7. I love you man! You've hit the nail squarely on the head as to drive the point perfectly to a finish. I love how everybody says, "the school system is broken", yet year after year they continue to throw their kids into that same broken system. I've actually been told that by homeschooling my children I am not being a part of the solution and that I am robbing that system of my child's goodness. When what they meant to say was, they do not have the courage or responsibleness to homeschool and they want me to include my children in the "status quo" as to not make them look bad.

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  8. Thank you SO much for this post. You have perfectly articulated how I have been feeling lately- especially in the facebook world.

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  9. Jeff, your post provoked so many reactions in me. Here's a smattering:

    We live in a society that is the product of a whole lot of people whose parents thought "spare the rod, spoil the child." We can all see the results--in our wrecked economy, in our honorable servicemen and -women sent out to achieve dishonorable ends for people higher up the food chain than they, and on and on.

    How about this paradox: As a teacher of karate, I made the choice long ago never to hit my children and never to defend the practice of hitting them as "good discipline." For one thing, where do I get off...? How could I possibly claim not to know what I was doing?

    To address the idea of answering the attacks of those unsettled by our choices: in the course of teaching karate, I learned long ago there's no need to defend oneself against ninety percent of attackers. In this case, for example, they're just scared of the supposed "wrong thing," and it's their fear striking out. You are not actually in danger, why would you accept their premise that you are a legitimate target for them?

    Just positively (and calmly) assert your truth and let them feel however they want to about it. Respect them enough (as they do not respect you) to let them have their feelings about it. When they ask you to defend it, politely decline the offer.

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  10. When people go on the defensive about unconscious parenting, it's like I hear Charlie Brown's teacher droning on and on. It sounds like people want their children to be like everyone else they know of, so hitting and general disrespect to kids is apparently still the way to do that?!?

    Soooo not what I'm going for. And I have no idea what to reply to "I turned out ok." The mind boggles.

    I'll never forget the defense of a lifelong friend who said to one parent, "none of your children would ever ever EVer *dream* of disgracing you!!!" It just fell out of her. Really something to behold. She turned out to be right.

    Thanks for that last line about defending the status quo. Today Bob Collier had a great zinger in reply to what year would his child be were he in school. Quick as a flash he said: "2010!" :D Hee hee... I don't think that's what was being asked but it was a reallly good answer.

    I don't know where it comes from originally (I googled and it's complicated). I heard it from Katharine Hepburn's lips (I'd love to have a youtube of her saying it on my Facebook, preferably in my quote section-- gosh, a live quote would be too cool): "Never explain yourself. Your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe it." Except enemies are not what I usually run into-- I get those who just don't understand.

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  11. I hope you write a book someday - it would be a tremendous resource for all of us.

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  12. I was hit and yelled at as a child and I didn't turn out fine. I have struggled with many issues including self-esteem, dealing with authority etc.. Even before I found unschooling I knew I could never spank my children. Thank you for putting your feelings and convictions out there. It makes it a lot easier knowing I'm not the only one that thinks spanking is one of the cruelest things you can do to an innocent soul.

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  13. Jeff - Thank you man - this was brilliant!

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  14. I dislike articles reposted on Facebook that basically say "what you are doing is WRONG and this is the right way." It's grates on me. However if someone is talking about what they do and what works for them and why, it has a different tone. I can empathize with the feeling of needing to defend one's choices. It's not fun. We are all different and we all make different choices, and I don't think anyone has a right to poke at the choices of others by saying it's wrong. I like the way you wrote this so much better. Bravo!

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  15. "Personally, I am done defending my own choices and am ready to start asking others to defend the status quo." I have a difficult conversation coming up with a friend. I'm going to channel you and these words when the time comes.

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  16. wow what a great post - i spanked my oldest daughter once - and vowed after that never to do it again - i realized that it had to do with expressing my anger more than teaching my daughter anything - however, i am often more physical with my kids than i want to be - it's a goal to get better about that. that said, every kid and every parent is different and far be it form me to say what is right for any other family - which is exactly, i think, what you are saying.... you've got a new subscriber!

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  17. Hi Jeff, I pop on to your blog every now and then. I find it really thought provoking and I love to get different opinions when making some of my own decisions. This post struck a chord with me and I felt compelled to write.
    I am someone who follows the status quo. I do so consciously, and there are times when I DO "embrace" it...meaning, as you put it, that I have thought through my particular decisions. I could be wrong here and maybe I misinterpreted the post, but there seems to be an "us and them" tone? The people who are maintstream and traditional who follow the status quo opposing the people who make a conscious decision not to. I took some issue with the comment "those who live by the status quo (I was going to say embrace the status quo, but "embrace" implies that they have thought about it and consciously chosen it, which I doubt to be true"...why do you doubt it? Are you not tainting the status quo-ers with the same brush that you dont want to be tainted with due to your life choices? I have never challenged someone with beliefs different to mine, nor asked them to defend why they do or do not do something. All I ask is that I be respected for my life choices, even if they are mainstream, without it being implied that I am blindly follwing the masses. Whether or not you meant this post that way, as a mainstreamer, this is how I interpreted it. I have reasons for my mainstream choices:
    * I have had one c-section. Due to my son being breech. After careful consideration, I opted for a c-section for my safety and his. His position and size was one that there was a 80% chance of broken hips if left to birth naturally.
    *My second child was stillborn not that long ago (April). Her birth was vaginal, with no drugs. My experience of stillbirth has led me to make choices that are considered conservative. Through my experience, I have met many women who have lost children...perfectly healthy children who were born at home and died due to intervention that was needed but not recieved. So I kind of dont trust homebirth...only because I have seen the grief and guilt of these women and by their own admission, it could have been avoided. Homebirth works for some, and I respect that. But its not for me. I am fearful of it. And for good reason, given my situation.
    *Same with vaccines. I immunise. Not blindly. But because of the number of women I have met in grief whose neonate has died from Pertussis because herd immunity is below acceptable standards at the moment.
    *I am a teacher. Therefore, yes, I do know what is going on with my kids while at school because they will attend the same school that I teach. I am aware of their learning styles/preferences. Just like I am with my own students that I teach. I am a very good teacher. And the school I work at is a very good school. The education is well rounded and balanced and children get the opportunity to pursue their strengths and challenge their weaknesses.
    *Along with these beliefs, I am a long term breastfeeder, my children co-sleep, I have never left them to cry, they have never had formula and I dont spank.
    I think you are a great writer, and obviously passionate about your cause and beliefs. I love that, because I am the same. It makes for great conversation! I think I just want to make the point that not all mainstreamers are blind followers. My choices were made with consciousness. That really needs to be recognised and validated. I read this blog because it offers such great insight in different aspects of life. I hope ALL insights continue to be considered.

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  18. I am a retired man with two sons, 42 and 37. I had spanked each of them probably two or three times when I realized it did nothing to help either my wife and I or my sons achieve our goals. Never spanked them again. They are now both among the top few percentile points of what I would label "human-ness." They are thoughtful, caring, artistic, well-spoken, well-rounded partners and parents (or step-parents.) I'm thankful that I was able to overcome the status quo where spanking was concerned--it paid off big time in all our lives.
    As for schooling, my wife and I were fortunate in that our boys each had several good teachers through their school years. But equally important was that we were involved with their schools, their teachers, and their friends and associations. For most of their school years, their mother was a homemaker. They were never latch-key kids, never had nannies, and Mom and Dad were there practically every day and every night. I'm sorry that the school system has had to become social welfare system and a nutrition system and an extension of the juvenile justice system. Given today's situation that many school systems find themselves in, we would very probably opt for home schooling, too.
    Good article--you have my best wishes in your life and in your writing.

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  19. Stephanie, thank you so much for that thoughtful post. I may not have stated it clearly enough in this particular blog post, but I do indeed support virtually any parenting choice that is made after thought, reflection, and study while balanced against the requirements dictated by the family dynamic. There are a few exceptions - for example, I would have a hard time supporting "conscious" decisions to spank, threaten, coerce, and manipulate a child. But when it comes to some of the choices you listed above, you have to make the choices that are right for YOU and your family. As long as people are questioning the reasons behind their choices and not blindly following the status quo, I think we're all in a better place.

    Thanks again~

    Jeff

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  20. Thank you thank you thank you.

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  21. Really enjoying your blog and fully empathize with this post. Having to defend choices that are different from the norm is tiring. I am at peace with my choices and don't feel the need to discuss them at length...unless someone asks...with curiosity versus disdain. The we can have a real conversation. That's when they can begin to really think about their choices that seemed like the logical next step.

    rock on. Your kiddos & wife are quite lucky to have you.
    xo
    Elena

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  22. Jeff, thanks so much for replying. I now understand what you were saying...that as long as parenting decisions are made consciously the one can be confident and comfortable with their choices. Thanks for articulating that. Sometimes I get a bit defensive too...only because I find myself defending my status quo decisions to others...and you know how that feels too! Keep up the great work. It is all very insightful!

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  23. My mom beat the crap out of me. Any outsider looking at me would tell me I'm fine. Heck, now I can say I'm doing alright...after years of therapy. But really, what is fine? I want to be better than fine. I want to be the best parent I can be...and that does NOT include hitting my daughter.

    Jeff, thank you for sharing your wisdom so eloquently...so much more so than I can.

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  24. Thank you for your post. It is refreshing and inspiring to hear a dad take on the "status" quo with such thoughtful insight! I don't believe in telling parents HOW to parent but I certainly support the idea they should question their motivations for blindly accepting traditional child-rearing as the only way to instill values and raise thoughtful, compassionate people.

    All the best,
    Lori Petro
    TEACH through Love
    Conscious Parenting for Progressive Parents.

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  25. Interested in your post. While I can't say I'm a saint of a parent, I do know this. I try to be better than my parents were to me. My parents were absent from my life and I was the extreme of undisciplined. I was still a good kid and even to this day have a hard time disgracing my absent parents, in a very strange way. I was never spanked as a child or yelled at or told what to do. And I never felt love until I was in my 20's from them. So, in my opinion, having kids is the most important thing you can do in your life and being a present parent and engaging with them is my mission. Minus all the labels of what type of parent I am. I hate labels.

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  26. Hi Jeff,
    I don't mean to stir the pot (well, yeah I do), however this comment of yours,
    "There are a few exceptions - for example, I would have a hard time supporting ‘conscious’ decisions to spank, threaten, coerce, and manipulate a child."
    in which you put spanking in the same category as threatening, coercing and manipulating a child, is I think the challenge.
    Those who have consciously and thoughtfully made the decision to spank their children, wouldn't classify it as you do.
    And so if you have a conversation with someone who spanks, carrying your current thought process, that they are consciously cruel parents, then of course they are going to get defensive.
    I am not advocating anything. I'm just wondering if we can be passionate about the choices that we make, standing firm in them, and be able to engage with others who don't share our same viewpoint?
    If we are truly looking to influence others, then creating an environment where they are guarded and in fight mode doesn’t seem to be effective. Being judgmental about what they do or don’t do, does not allow a person to, FOR THEMSELVES, examine their choices and perhaps adjust them.
    Just my thoughts as one who has always been “different.” Ha! :)

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  27. Beautiful writing style. A joy to read.

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  28. Well said! Thank you for sharing!,

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  29. A beautiful post, as always.

    I'm so glad you're out there on the front lines. I've just given up. I can't stand hearing the justifications for violence and talking to deaf ears is exhausting.

    Thanks for "bearing the cross," so to speak. We need more people like you and less like me.

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