The conversation today reminded me of another similar conversation I recently had with someone outside of work. We touched on all of the same themes, but this person said something that really set me on my heels: "The reason these young people don't get it is because they weren't disciplined enough when they were kids. Spare the rod, spoil the child, I say. I spanked my kids and they turned out just fine."
Now, setting aside for a moment that no child who is routinely spanked ever really turns out "fine", the comment itself - and the voracity with which it was delivered - really set me back. I must have had a "WTF" look on my face, because the person immediately said "What, you don't agree? Are you one of those 'Now Johnny, Daddy really wishes you wouldn't do that' kind of guys?"
As my blood began to rise, I think I ended up sputtering and stammering out something that sounded much less certain than I wanted it to. The other person left it alone after I while, but I couldn't help thinking of an old post I wrote about why I sometimes feel so defensive about the choices I made with my eyes wide pen, while others seem so aggressive and adamant about the choices they made without much conscious thought at all. I couldn't help thinking that it always seems like the questioners in the world - regardless of the calm logic or evidence behind their questions - always seem to be on the defensive from people who just go with the flow and don't invest the time and the spirit to consider alternatives. With a few new touches, the recycled post below touches on this theme and suggests some alternatives. Enjoy!
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?"
"How will your kids learn to be independent if you don't leave them to cry it out?"
"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.
So, Mr. Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child, go ahead and defend it. Defend the way spanking makes your kid feel, and then justify or rationalize that against the benefits you assume spanking provides. Spend some time on your heels thinking about your choices. Select your choices after consideration and trial and error, instead of merely adopting what you have seen or the way you were raised. Prove that you have thought about your choices to the same level that you ask me to prove that I have thought about mine. Think before you act, and don't forget to feel.