Sunday, January 11, 2009

Peace within the Home: Gentle Discipline

I knew from the minute I found out that I was pregnant with Z1 that I wanted to do things completely differently from how my parents did things with me. I wanted to honor my children's spirits not try to break them. Of course, I know my parents did the best that they could with what they had so I don't hold anything against them. Plus, I realize that I am most certainly the person I am today because of who they are and my experiences.

My credo for how I approach raising my children comes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It is called "On Children"

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children."
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I keep these few lines in the back of my mind all the time in hopes that it will shape how I interact with and treat my children.

If there's one thing I didn't anticipate before having children was the level of commitment, energy and time they require as I've said before. Children are not half-people. They are people within their own right. They have thoughts, opinions, feelings and preferences. Unlike most adults, however, they are highly egocentric, which means that they don't really understand (or care) how people outside of themselves feel. As such, they can be demanding, impatient, unreasonable, unsympathetic and generally unpleasant at times. I know that I feel frustrated a lot of times dealing with Z1 because he has a strong will, i.e. is very determined to do what he is going to do. It makes little to no sense to try to reason with him when his mind is set on something. The only way to break his focus is to change his focus or redirect him. Now, my challenge has been finding effective redirections and doing it consistently. Sometimes I have resorted to yelling. Other times, shamefully, I have resorted to hitting.

Which brings me around to the point of this post: Peace within the home. For the past few months I have been meditating on cultivating more patience, more discipline, more creativity in dealing with Z1, and more peace generally speaking in my home. I have been working very very hard to eliminate yelling and any kind of hitting (violence) from the relationship dynamic between Z1 and me. I know I need more resources and supportto help me because it is a *very difficult challenge*. At times, he will do things meant to hurt his brother. Throw things across the room after I've specifically asked him not to. I know all this behavior is age appropriate however it is still infuriating and sometimes the behavior needs to stop immediately. Since I don't feel like I have a very big resource box to work with of practical tips and advice, I feel paralyzed at times about what to do. All I know to do is what I've been shown myself--hitting and yelling. But I feel positively awful when those become my way of dealing with my beloved. So I've been working.

One book I found with some tips that I've been incorporating is The Secret of Parenting by Anthony E. Wolf. Although the book seems geared more towards older children, I've found some useful information about how children think and would recommend it. More than that though, with every challenging situation I am presented with, I take a minute to . . . think. If it's not an emergency situation where someone can get hurt, it doesn't hurt to stop, take a minute, breathe, and think of creative ways to diffuse the situation, let Z1 maintain his autonomy and pride, while giving me an outcome I want (him doing what I need him to do or stopping what I need him to stop) and creating peace. In that minute I am able to ask myself, "What is the harm if he continues?" "What if the harm if he doesn't stop?" "What can I do to re-focus him?" "How can I turn this into a game?" Every day I do a little better. My friend told me that it takes human beings 21 days of consistently doing something to establish it as a habit.

I'm not parenting the boys alone and herein is often another source of frustration. I often stay away from message boards about gentle discipline (gd) although I did venture to ask a few questions (read how I phrased my question). I got some decent advice and I'm going to re-read the thread at some point today. The hubby does not have a problem with spanking, in fact, he credits spanking with why he is the man of substance and character he is today. He maintains that his father spanked him in a controlled fashion meant to correct and to teach and to this day does not think of his father (or himself) as violent. On gd boards they'd tell me to take my kids and leave. But I know that the hubby would lay down his life for his boys, without a doubt. he loves them without question and wants the best for them But when I try to make our house a "hitting free zone," the hubby feels like I am encroaching on his right to parent effectively. It makes me anxious sometimes when Z1 is "misbehaving" because I feel under pressure to change the behavior or fix the situation before his father shows up. (I'm being completely honest.) Spanking of anyone, especially my beloved, makes me cringe. I hate it. But no amount of reasoning or explanation seems to change the hubby's mind about it. And no, it's not often at all. But I wasn't spanked often as a child either. I still remember the times when I was and I have grown to feel it is not effective, spiritually in-tune or evolved as a form of discipline. To me, it just shows an unwillingness to respect another human being and try to find ways to work him or her. I *know* children are not adults. If you tell an adult to stop swinging from the curtain--well, adults generally don't swing from curtains. At least not while sober.

But I spend the most time with the children so I have purposed to become so good at disciplining gently that the hubby will find spanking less and less appealing. I am committed to reading as much as I can and meditating every day on it--to making the relationship between Z1 and me a good example of a non-violent, cooperative, give and take, child-parent relationship.

Of course, this means letting go of the need for things to always be perfect. For Z1 to comply RIGHT NOW all the time. And some folks may take this to mean my children are spoiled or undisciplined. Actually, when dealing with Black folks, they may feel like I'm raising them to be like the White kids you can find at Target telling their parents "I don't like you!" and "Leave me alone!" or else generally raising hell. I know very well that this society tolerates different behaviors from different people: my Black boys simply cannot behave the way their White counterparts do. But these lessons, I believe, can be taught without raising a hand, gently. It seems like my ideas about gentle discipline, however, are looked at as not having a strong hand and letting my kids do whatever they want. I sometimes get that vibe from the hubby himself you know, that I'm not strict enough. However, the real message behind all that is that only kind of discipline that is real discipline is spanking. That what really works is violence. And to me, it's simply not true.

For me, the key to gently discipling my children is to understand their minds and needs. Sometimes, children need a minute to settle their mind. I find that one of the most challenging times of day is after dinner when we have tea and "watch" Wheel of Fortune. I spend most of that time speaking to Z1, then yelling Z1 to stop some infuriating behavior (which is why I put watch in quotes). So that routine will have to change as it riles him up too much. I'm also going to borrow some yoga DVDs for children. It helps to still the body and I am finding immense benefits just from the little bit of yoga that I've been doing for the past week. I used to do a candle meditation with Z1 before Z2 was born and I'd like to go back to that. That quiets everything down before bed and I think gives Z1 a more restful sleep. One of the most important keys to children's behavior is how well-rested they are. And so in this whole quest to have peace in my gates, I know that is something that will have to be a major focus.

I don't want fear or intimidation to be a part of our family dynamic but I won't focus on what I don't want. Instead I focus on what I do want. I want my home to be a peaceful, safe, liberating space for my children to grow and blossom into who they are supposed to be. A place to begin finding the meaning and purpose of their lives. Gentle discipline, i.e. discipline that doesn't employ shaming, yelling, hitting is a large part of that.


Anonymous said...

I like what you said, I will be back with more later but like you I struggle with being gentle. I don't spank though I have tapped the girl 2-3 times and realized her personality does not work with any form of physical discipline. We also struggle here because at times dh feels like I am taking away his parenting tools by having the no spank rule.

Smokie said...

I think that the father should be allowed the discipline as he sees fit and the mother should be allowed to discipline as she sees fit. Eventually the kid will learn to behave in the way that results in NO SPANKINGS. Until the kid gets the message, well, spankings are in order. My .02.

80sBaby70sSoul said...

This is very interesting and I know when I have children I will be faced with this same issue. My father did not discipline me AT ALL. My mother was the one to dole out the spankings to both me and my older brother (as you can imagine this has affected the two of us in VERY different ways). If I could remember them all, I could probably count on one hand how many times my brother and I got spanked (or "beat" as we called it because my mom used a leather belt). I am totally for it! My mother never hit us out of anger. She always took a while to calm down and explain to us why we were being hit. She never slapped or punched or any other ghetto type stuff. And I believe we turned out pretty darn good.

However, I have cousins, and some of them responded well to physical discipline while others did not. I actually favored the physical spanking because it was over in a few minutes and I truly learned what not to do. Punishment or grounding was torture for me and I always went right back to doing what got me into trouble in the first place (not being able to watch TV for a month did not teach me that lying was wrong).

I think one's opinion on spanking depends on who spanked you, how often and for how long (were you spanked until you were 17?), how hard (did they leave scars), did you understand the reason behind it, WAS there a reason behind it, etc.

As I said, I'm sure I will have to cross this bridge sooner than I want to. I do think children who were spanked the way that I was turn out to be more respectful and people who were pretty much abused end up having issues with it. I do plan on allowing spanking in my house as a last resort...but I felt bad when I spanked my puppy so...

PS. I agree with Smokie. Let DH have his own method of discipline. Z1 is smart and he will definitely "get it."

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