My darling boy is officially two and a half.
He’s not my little baby anymore. He wouldn’t let me call him one even if I tried – he’s a self-acclaimed “big boy” now – and yet in some ways he’ll always be my baby.
My first, the one who made me a Mother, the one who taught me so much about love. He’s still teaching me and I imagine he always will. So many of his lessons these days are about pure and simple joy, the kind he approaches each day full of.
I am ashamed by the number of times a day he sees me getting annoyed, impatient, angry, and stops to ask me, are you happy, Mommy? No, darling, but thank you – again – for the reminder. Our lives are so full, our Souls so deeply loved, and yet here you notice me sighing because you tell me you need to use the bathroom again. (As though I go any less infrequently, with your little brother or sister bouncing on top of my bladder!) What foolishness I get impatient over, what little things I allow to steal my joy. But there’s always you, bringing me back to reality – are you happy, Mommy?
I am continually amazed by his hunger and thirst for knowledge. Always asking questions, always seeking more, always wanting to know about this world around him. Every time I start to worry – should he know this by now? how do I go about teaching him this? – he surprises me by beginning to show a natural interest in it. And yet I keep forgetting. Just leave him be. He will learn when he is ready, as evidenced by the constant stream of what letter is this? that I am now responding to countless times a day. He will have me convinced in no time that unschooling truly is the best choice for us.
I am so humbled, too, as I watch his understanding of God grow. I envy his eagerness to read “Jesus stories” – where did my thirst, my hunger, for the Word of God go? I love how naturally he talks about Jesus and the innocent way he incorporates his enthusiasm into his daily life and play. I can’t help but laugh at some of the deductions he arrives at, like the way his boat must have come from Jesus because it is made from a tree (“Jesus bought it for me!”). Oh, that I could remember so easily that every good and perfect gift does indeed come from our Father in Heaven, and praise Him so readily for every blessing.
As eager as I am to meet our second child, I am almost as eager to see him meet his little brother or sister. I love how excited he is about it, and I pray that excitement continues when a little baby is actually here, occupying his mother’s lap, time, and attention. It’s fun to watch him make his own connections – to realize that he was once in my womb as well, to learn about the reason for his bellybutton, to arrive at his own conclusions as to how things must work. His sweet and compassionate spirit is encouraging as well, as I know that the kisses he gives me to make my owies better will be lavished just as freely on another little child. His impatience for this little one to arrive is catching – I find myself wishing the weeks would go faster, even while feeling a sense of mourning that this incredible boy will no longer be my only. It is so hard to imagine right now that I could ever love another child the same way – and yet I know it will be true.
Until then, I will make the most of these last eight weeks together. Our days are so full and so enjoyable – stacks of books that must be read through, puddles that must be jumped in, muffins that must be baked, cars that must be driven along the “roads” on the bedspread, and an incredible blossoming imagination that must be explored. How I love each new phrase and idea that pours from him in a steady stream of chatter all day long.
I’ve said it every step of the way so far – this is my favourite age yet.
Happy half birthday, my sweet and silly boy.
Having unpacked the last of the boxes last week, we are now “officially” moved in to our new home. And home it is. I had my doubts at first (at least, I’m pretty sure “sobbing in misery upon seeing the place” would be considered as having some doubts), but putting together the furniture and unpacking 30 or so boxes really does wonders for the homeyness of a place. Hanging our family photos and setting out some sentimental decoration has completed this transformation from house to home.
This past month has been filled with all the details of moving, and the month to come promises more of the same. License transfers, moving expenses, missing items, baby preparations in a new city, a new transit system, new routines, a lack of community – some days it’s all I can do not to break down into fresh tears.
With the many worries that have been crowding in lately, it has been good to pause and remember all that I have to be thankful for. This weekend was a wonderful restful celebration of those things with my husband’s family. There was much laughter, good food, and a deep sense of thankfulness, all wrapped in a soothing continuous conversation. We said our goodbye’s early this afternoon and already miss their presence.
So here’s to all those blessings in my life – a husband who has never given me cause to doubt his love for me, a beautiful little boy who fills my days with laughter and wonder, a growing child within me, a home that truly is perfect for us, the love of our families, and food to fill our cupboards and fridge. We want for nothing, and tomorrow’s worries are just that – tomorrow’s.
I apologize for the sound of crickets around this blog lately. In addition to not having much time, I have to admit I’ve also been a bit mopey in recent days. Never an attractive feature in a blogger!
My husband left for Vancouver nearly two weeks ago, and I still have two weeks to go before the boy and I get to join him. It has gone quickly, I suppose, considering we’re already at the midway point, but boy do I miss that man! Just the little things, mostly – snuggling with him on the couch, cooking meals together, playing with his hair, cuddling with him at night, talking with him about the unimportant details of my day, hearing about his day, simply being there to support and encourage each other in both the big and the small things. We email and talk on the phone, yes, but it’s not the same.
Friday was to be my last day of work, but I agreed to stay for two weeks longer because it is a busy time there right now. I took Friday off and Monday is a holiday, so the official countdown is seven more days of work! Training frustrations are admittedly making this countdown even more prominent in my mind. I try to remind myself that pregnancy hormones never do anything good for my tolerance and patience levels.
The boy and I officially moved out of our temporary home yesterday. We had a wonderful summer in the house (hard, smelly water aside) and will miss it, especially the land around it. We harvested the remainder of our carrots, a large bunch of peas, and some zucchini. I’ll be going back soon to grab the numerous tomatoes and cucumbers after giving them a bit longer to ripen/grow (the house is currently sitting empty as the owners try to sell it).
So, for the next two weeks, we’re crashing at my parents’ house. It’ll be nice to spend some time with my parents and four sisters, but naturally it is not without its own frustrations. Those frustrations seem much smaller and more tolerable, though, once I remind myself of how far we will be moving away and how long it will be until we get to visit again.
It is a conflicting time, emotionally. Happy to have more time to spend with family. Looking forward to being with my husband and having my son’s quiet routine back. Sad that my husband isn’t here right now, but sad too at the prospect of having to say goodbye to my family again. Both nervous and excited at the idea of living in Vancouver. Oh yes, and let’s not forget those pregnancy hormones.
Ah, the emo-ness. Forgive this post. I did want, though, to explain why it’s been so quiet here – lack of opportunity, lack of time, and lack of enthusiasm. I do have a couple posts mulling around that I’m looking forward to sharing with you. I have another list of neat Etsy finds, some pregnancy musings, and a more practical post on discipline in response to all those who have said “I agree…but how??” – not to mention more than a few comments to respond to! Please, bear with me in the meantime, as I try to make the most of what little time I have left with family here…while also counting down the days until I can snuggle myself against that wonderful man again.
Last night we had a delicious grilled chicken salad made with lettuce from our own garden, mixed with mandarin orange slices, almonds, and sliced grilled chicken. It was delicious, and all the more so because the lettuce was home grown.
We’ve been munching on little carrots as I thin them out, marvelling over the height of the radishes, waiting expectantly for our tomatoes to ripen, and checking on our growing zucchinis every day. Our cucumber plants are flowering and our peas are coming along nicely as well. Of everything we planted, only the spinach never came up.
If only our spring hadn’t been so cold! We didn’t plant anything until early June, so some things will only just be ready to harvest by the time we move out. I told my parents to expect a great deal of vegetables when I go! We’re looking forward to the much longer growing season in Vancouver. Unfortunately we won’t have the beautiful large garden that we dug up this summer, but we’ll plant what we can in the vegetable boxes around the back of our new place.
Definitely carrots. Mmm, garden-fresh carrots. I have fond memories of eating them straight from my childhood friend’s parents’ garden. Actually, that seems disgusting in hindsight – but ah well, a little dirt’s good for the immune system, right?
This has been such a great undertaking for us this year. From the hard work of digging the plot, to the gratitude of having someone offer to till it for us with their tractor (and the boy’s excitement of getting to watch it happen), to planting the seeds, watering them, watching those first sprouts grow, pulling out weeds, all the way up to now, finally eating the fruits (well, vegetables) of our labour. It has been so neat to see it through the eyes of our son, all that excitement and learning. I’m looking forward to seeing what next year brings.
While my previous entry focused on the punishment aspect of behaviour modification, I also wanted to talk about the other side: praise and rewards.
Praise and rewards are often considered a more “gentle” approach to parenting, but a closer look reveals that it is merely a “tame” version of punishments, just the flip side of the same issue – and the results are the same.
At its most manipulative, parents who use this parenting method seek to control the behaviour of the child by withholding attention until the child does something “good”, and then heaping on praise, giving them rewards, or showing lots of “positive attention” as incentive for the child to continue or repeat the behaviour in the future.
At its most innocent, parents have no other “motive” than simply wanting their child to feel loved, appreciated, and valued. Many were not praised as children and do not want the same for their children. But indiscriminate praise is not without its own dangers.
Instills Wrong Motives
Just as with punishment, the praise and rewards aspect of behaviour modification neglects to develop internal motivation within a child. Instead, the child obeys merely to gain praise or receive a reward. The child is taught to do the “right thing”, but for the wrong motives. True compassion, a sense of justice, good decision making, and sincere motives are not formed when praise is used to promote good behaviour.
Internal motivation, rather than external, will prompt a child to make a decision for the sake of the outcome itself. A child should be taught that chores are done in order to contribute to the functioning of a healthy household, not in order to earn an allowance. Good choices should be made because they are the right thing to do, not because they will be rewarded with a new toy. Grades earn a sense of pride in one’s work, not money or praise.
Instead, we have an entire generation of people who need external acknowledgement and appreciation for every little thing they do. There is no sense of self-pride in one’s work, no desire to do something if nothing is to be gained, no intrinsic joy in learning, and no value to an activity outside of what will be obtained from it.
Eventually, a child brought up with praise and rewards will find no incentive to make good choices when the parent isn’t there to notice and to praise them or when no reward will be gained from doing so. Not only will a child do things for the wrong motives, but they will come to do the “right” thing only where rewards or praise stand to be gained. Over time, they will need more praise or bigger rewards to achieve the same results. As they attain greater independence (for example, getting a job that enables them to buy their own “rewards”), they may decide it is no longer “worth it” – there is no need to do chores when they have their own source of income, no need to earn good grades when they don’t need the monetary reward, no incentive to behave a certain way to obtain an item they can now purchase for themselves, and so on.
The overuse of praise soon fosters praise-dependency. As mentioned above, the child will come to do things only for the praise, rather than just for the sake of doing them. Above that, however, they are apt to become people-pleasers. This may seem fine to the parent at the time, until they discover that the parent will not always remain the sole source of the child’s praise-dependency. Seeking to please others is far less desirable when the people your child is seeking to please become his peers instead of you. The child will not have developed appropriate independence, autonomy, and critical thinking, rendering him far more susceptible to peer-pressure in his desire to gain praise and acceptance.
In his book “Punished by Rewards”, Alfie Kohn phrases it this way:
Praise, at least as commonly practiced, is a way of using and perpetuating children’s dependence on us. It sustains a dependence on our evaluations, our decisions about what is good and bad, rather than helping them begin to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and offer the positive words they crave.
Even dependency on adult approval comes with consequences. As Kohn cites in his book, studies find that students whose teachers praise them heavily demonstrate less task persistence (diminished intrinsic motivation) and become tentative in their responses, answering in a questioning tone of voice. They are less likely to take initiative when it comes to sharing their ideas with other students, and have a tendency to back off from an idea they had put forward as soon as an adult disagrees with them.
Prevents Natural Learning
Praise disrupts the natural learning process by circumventing the natural rewards that follow a child’s choices. The child’s attention is directed away from these real rewards of their efforts and focused instead on an artificial reward (including praise) bestowed by someone else. Praising a child for sharing, for example, undermines the natural rewards of the action (such as making another child happy) and directs the focus to the parent’s approval of the child’s actions. In doing so, the natural learning experience is disrupted.
Indiscriminate praise comes with particular drawbacks. “Too much praise” renders all praise worthless. Our current strategy in schools, for example, of praising all children equally (in order not to hurt anyone’s feelings, of course) prevents them from coming to recognize their own personal strengths – and, concurrently, denies their personal weaknesses and potential areas of growth.
Afraid of losing approval or of not doing as well, highly-praised children will become more risk-averse, choosing instead to “play it safe”. A child’s creativity is reduced in the process. At the same time, however, praise encourages competition between siblings or peers, rather than building relationships and developing skills in working together.
Both as a result of forming risk-aversion and instilling wrong motives, praise promotes doing the very minimum required in order to attain the reward. There is no internal motivation to go “above and beyond”, no intrinsic value to learning, no desire to risk failure on a more ambitious undertaking if it means losing an adult’s approval.
Contradicts the Gospel
How repeatedly the Bible tells us that we cannot save ourselves! Our faith is a gift of God, our salvation through Christ alone. Our works can never save us – they are merely reflective of our love for God. Likewise, our child’s “works” do not make him a “good boy or girl”, and their value does not come from what they do. Scripture tells us that it is our hearts that matter more than our outward actions. “Good behaviour” that comes from wrong motives is not true obedience at all.
Yet despite all of these drawbacks (and more), most parents balk at the idea of never praising their children – myself included. Sincere praise is, indeed, vital to our relationships with our children, and can be constructive when given the right focus.
Most importantly, praise should always be sincere. Rather than manipulating the child, sincere praise allows us to share in our children’s joy, support their endeavours, and provide specific feedback on their actions. When you are excited, let it show. Express your sincere happiness and enthusiasm over their growth. Be honest about your feelings.
Use thanks instead of praise. A simple thank-you is all the acknowledgement that obedience needs. When a child does something “big” to help out, be sincere in your appreciation (“thank you, that really helped me out and I appreciate it”). There is no need to praise a child for doing what you asked him to do in the first place – just thank him.
Be specific with your praise. Make observations and use descriptive rather than value-based language. Point out the natural rewards of a child’s action. Don’t go overboard praising every little thing a child does.
Praise effort and intent instead of focusing only on the end results. Acknowledge struggles, mistakes, and the process itself rather than just the outcome.
Reflect back to the child and ask them questions. “What do you like about your drawing? What do you think about your grades? How does that make you feel? What do you think about the results of that choice?”
Be aware of the intent behind your praise. Don’t use praise in order to shape a child’s behaviour. Be aware, also, of the effects of your praise so that you can recognized when your child is becoming praise-dependent – doing things in order to gain your praise rather than just for the sake of doing them. Observing this behaviour allows a parent to recognize that they need to reconsider their current method of praising. Perhaps the praise needs to be scaled back, perhaps the parent needs to reflect back to the child more, or perhaps some of the praise can be replaced with more specific observations.
Finally, praise who they are, for they have value simply by virtue of being. Their value does not come from their behaviour, their achievements, their appearance, or anything else. Though we may always be aware that our love is not conditional, our child needs to see, too, that our approval of him is not based on anything other than who he is.
I’d like to end with a comment left by Summer at Wired for Noise on my last post about punishment. These two short sentences sum up both entries perfectly:
“I want my children to act in certain ways because of internal motivation, because they understand these are the good things to do, because it makes them happy. Not because they are afraid of punishment or expecting a reward of some kind.”
May it be so with our own children.
I’m excited to be here at the new Mommypress.com Blogs. I’ve imported my blogspot posts, so feel free to browse around!
This entry has been a long time coming, but it’s something that is often on my mind. Every day I hear the same parenting advice – punishment and rewards, threats and praise, negative and positive attention. In other words, the very definition of behaviour modification.
Does it work? That depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to get your child to mind you, then yes, it quite often does. However, for our own family’s goals, we have chosen not to use this system of behaviour modification. I’d like to share our reasons for this choice, today focusing in particular on the punishment side, saving the rewards/praise aspect for another day. This is not meant as a criticism of others – I am certain that all of us would agree that we want to raise our children in the manner that is best for them – but rather as an explanation of our own choices.
External versus Internal Focus
The goal of punishment is to inflict something unpleasant on the child, whether physical (spanking, slapped hand, etc) or emotional (shaming, time-out/separation from parent, loss of favourite toy, etc), in order to discourage them from repeating the behaviour. The focus is on the external – how to extinguish the negative behaviour – rather than on the internal. Heart-level change does not result from punishment.
There is also an aspect of fear to punishment. The child “obeys” because they don’t want to be spanked. The child “obeys” because they don’t want a time-out…because they don’t want to be separated from their parents for a time…because they don’t want to have their toy taken away. The child does not make the right decision simply because it is the right decision. Rather than teaching obedience for the right reasons, punishment teaches obedience for all the wrong ones, instilling wrong motives in a child’s heart. The child does not choose to do right out of an inner sense of compassion and justice, nor do they obey out of a sense of love and devotion to the parent (which then carries over into a similar relationship with our Father – obeying Him because they love Him) – instead, they “obey” merely to avoid the unpleasant result of disobedience. And yet this is not obedience at all. True obedience comes from the heart, not from force or fear.
This is the most prevalent mentality I see in our churches today. As long as the outside is “good”, the inside doesn’t matter. As long as I attend church, it doesn’t matter what I do to my wife behind closed doors. As long as I’m an active member of my community, it doesn’t matter than I beat my children every evening. As long as I do all the “right things”, it doesn’t matter if I look down my nose at all those other “sinners”. And yet this is entirely contrary to what God says – God says it is our hearts that matter most of all, and the sins we can’t see that are the most dangerous.
Encourages Negative Behaviours
Punishment encourages a child to hide their feelings rather than express them honestly and truthfully. This can have a myriad of negative consequences down the road, well into adulthood, affecting their relationships with spouses, children, and friends. Children are not taught appropriate ways to deal with anger – they are taught that expressions of anger result in being spanked or sent to their room. They are not taught how to handle their feelings – they are taught that crying will result in being given “something to cry about”. They are taught that happy is the only acceptable emotion.
Study after study has also shown that punishment increases deceitful behaviour in children. Afraid to own up to their mistakes, they become secretive, they lie, and they hide their errors and wrongdoings. In addition, there is no “motive” to obey when the threat of punishment is removed. If they have spent their lives obeying only to avoid punishment, there is no need to continue to obey when the parent is not present or when the child thinks they can “get away with it”.
Finally, the child will come to consider whether the negative behaviour is “worth” the punishment. Is sneaking this candy “worth” the spank I will get? Is taunting my little sister “worth” being sent to my room for a while? And then what recourse does the parent have left when a punishment is no longer effective? Harder spankings? Longer groundings? More loss of privilege? There’s only so much you can do once the child has learned to weigh the negative behaviour against the likely punishment – and then the behaviour spirals out of control.
Prevents Learning from Natural/Logical Consequences
Rather than teaching the child, punishment actually prevents the opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes. The child experiences the punishment, which is nearly always unrelated to the wrongdoing (spanking, time-out, loss of unrelated privilege, etc), but does not experience the natural or logical consequence of his action. He is not given the chance to develop problem solving skills, to find ways to effect restitution, resolution, and reconciliation in the situation. He simply “pays” for his wrongdoing rather than learning how to fix it. The message taken away is “don’t do that again” (or, at least, don’t get caught doing that again), rather than “I can fix this and learn from my mistakes”. Punishment prevents a child from learning how to take responsibility for his actions. We see this every day in our society – adults who are afraid to own up to their mistakes and don’t have the skills to fix them.
Discipline, on the other hand, shows the child what they have done wrong, gives them ownership of the problem, gives them options for solving the problem, and makes use of natural or logical consequences. It does not shame the child or make him pay for his errors.
Increases Peer Vulnerability
Because punishment only teaches a child to obey, and not why to obey or how to think for themselves and make their own decisions, a child is more vulnerable to peer-pressure. Already practiced people-pleasers, a child raised using behaviour modification is more easily swayed into following the crowd. They have often not developed the necessary skills to be assertive and say no, to retain their individuality, to think through a decision on their own and to make a wise choice.
Sends Conflicting Messages
Punishment often sends conflicting messages, such as hitting a child in order to teach them not to hit others. How does anyone see any logic in that?
Even when hitting others is not the issue, however, punishment still demonstrates that one can get their way through force. Children will learn what we model – the biggest and strongest win, fear is a powerful motivator, it is acceptable to hit people that wrong you, and the easy way out is the suitable choice.
Most of us object to the comparison of children with animals, and yet the prevalent parenting method in our culture (behaviour modification) is one that was used on animals in the first place.
Negates the Message of the Gospel
Many of the big Christian authors will tell you that your child’s salvation depends on you punishing them. Punishment is considered the method of paying for their sin and removing the child’s guilt.
This is completely contrary to the message of the Gospel, which says that all of our sins, including those of children, have already been paid by Christ on the cross. Punishing our child again takes away from that message. It says that what Christ has already done was not enough.
The idea that any parenting method can save a child is likewise contrary to the Gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can draw our child to Christ. Only Christ can save our child through faith. And faith is a gift of God, lest any man (or parent) should boast.
You cannot beat a child into salvation. A child is not saved by a parent punishing him in order to “atone for his sin”. A child is not saved by “being good”. A child is saved through a relationship with Jesus Christ – nothing more, nothing less – and anything that suggests otherwise is outright heresy.
Contrary to the Grace of God
Instead of saving them, punishment presents a distorted view of God to our children. God raises His children with grace and mercy, not punishment. In His love, He does allow us to experience the natural consequences of our actions, but He does not punish us. That is not the way Jesus treated His disciples, either.
Moreover, punishment is often unrealistic, as we begin to demand more from our children than we expect from ourselves. I love the way Christie phrased it:
“We always use “punitive” for kids. What about for ourselves? Oh no, for ourselves we want mercy and grace and patience and kindness and every other chance available….. but for our kids? LAW LAW LAW.”
There often seems within the Christian community to be a hyper-focus on verses intended for others. In this case, many parents quote Ephesians 6:1 (“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”), and yet ignore the verse directed towards parents that follows (“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord.”). It is not our place to make our children obey us; that verse contains an instruction for them, not for us. Rather, it is our duty to “bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord”.
Punishment is not Discipline
The words “punishment” and “discipline” are typically used interchangeably in our culture, despite the significant difference between the two. I’ve found this chart on the difference between punishment and discipline to be excellent.
Punishment is the use of an undesirable action intended to make the child feel bad in order to reduce or eliminate the desire to exhibit the same behaviour again. The focus is on control over external behaviours to achieve compliance.
Discipline is the continuous process of coming alongside the child to teach and guide them into maturity. The focus is on the internal, inspiring proper motives for heart-level obedience. It requires much patience, much grace, much wisdom, and much repetition. It teaches a child the how’s and why’s so that they can make decisions on their own, and it allows them to make wrong decisions while the child is still safe at home in order that they may learn from the consequences of those wrong decisions before they are sent out into the world on their own.
I often hear statements along the lines of “I had to discipline my son last night,” as though “discipline” is a one-time occurrence. Yet discipline is a constant part of everyday life, a continuous process of modelling, teaching, guiding, and building relationships. Discipline is active teaching, not mere reactions and punishments. It is coming alongside your child to guide them into maturity, not standing above them ready to force them into submission as soon as they do something wrong. Discipline requires a relationship between the parent and child that is based on mutual love, trust and respect. Punishment undermines this relationship, and indeed is incompatible with discipline.
There are parents who choose to use both punishment and true discipline while raising their children (following spankings (punishment) with long talks and wise guidance (discipline)), and point to their child as evidence that punishment “works” – and yet it is the discipline that has worked in spite of the punishment, and would have worked at least as well without the punishment. If you know that you can raise a child without punishment, why choose to punish anyway? It’s illogical. It’s like saying you’re aware that you can have a good marriage without nagging your husband…but you’re going to choose to nag him anyway. Just because.
Before I end, I wanted to touch briefly on some additional reasons we have for avoiding the use of spanking in particular.
When someone raises concerns about spanking, the most common response is “I was spanked and I turned out fine”. However that doesn’t negate the very real fact that risks do exist and that there are many people who were spanked are didn’t turn out “fine”. Many of them are still, as adults, dealing with the ramifications of their well-meaning parents. Just because something “works” doesn’t make it right.
In many countries, physical punishment is illegal. In Canada, it is illegal to strike a child under 2 or over 12. I find it sad to hear so many parents talking of their “parental right” to hit their child. It is illegal for my husband to hit me. It is illegal for me to hit a stranger on the street. It is illegal for my co-worker to hit me. It is illegal for me to hit my acquaintance. But a child – the only one who can’t defend himself – is fair game? I wonder how many parents who believe they have a “right” to hit their child also believe their spouse should have the “right” to hit them when they act undesirably.
The practice of spanking on the buttocks comes from the Victorian era, not biblical times as is so often assumed. There is no record of striking a child on the buttocks before this time. Spanking began as d0mestic discipline (‘0’ to prevent Google searches on the subject from leading here, thankyouverymuch – and please Google with care yourselves, should you wish to look up more information on the subject) between spouses, not as a child discipline practice at all. The sexual origin of striking on the buttocks is enough reason all by itself for me to not spank my children in that manner.
It is generally accepted by many in the Christian community that physical punishment is “biblical”. The “rod verses” (all found in Proverbs) are frequently referenced as evidence that physical punishment is at least permitted, if not mandated, and that any Christian who wishes to take the Bible literally must physically strike their child.
And yet physical punishment today rarely looks like the “literal” interpretation of those verses. The rod referenced is the Hebrew word shebet, which the Bible says in Exodus was capable of killing a grown adult. If you want to truly take those verses “literally”, you would have to strike the child on the back with a shepherd’s staff, large enough that you could conceivably kill him with it.
This is why I always scratch my head when Christians talk about how maybe some spankings aren’t okay, but as long as you do it “biblically”, it’s alright. By “biblically”, they typically mean a) don’t spank in anger, b) hit your child only with an implement (wooden spoon, switch, belt, glue stick, etc) OR only with your hand (depending on who you’re talking to), and c) “reconcile” with your child afterwards. Yet these things are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible – in fact, the only place you can find such formulas for “biblical spanking” is from the Christian parenting giants, the Pearls and Ezzos and Dobsons, those wolves in sheep’s clothing who have worked their way into the Christian community and led so many well-intentioned parents astray with their “godly” and “biblical” parenting methods.
Regardless, examining the rod verses closer provides a very different picture. A shepherd’s staff (rod/shebet) is used to guide, not to beat. Rather than examine this subject in detail here (worthy of an entire entry itself), I highly recommend this study on the subject.
Thanks to Skinner, this behaviour modification model has become prevalent in our society over the past hundred years. Children raised under this model will often swing one of two ways, either becoming “good little girls and boys”, people-pleasers, and performance-oriented on the one side; or bitter, angry, and rebellious on the other.
Behaviour modification fails to teach inner discipline, instills wrong motives in our children’s hearts, and stunts the development of wise decision making and autonomy. For Christians, it presents a distorted view of God to our children and hinders their ability to obey from a place of love and devotion. For all these reasons and more, we cannot in good conscience use the behaviour modification model of punishment and rewards, threats and praise, negative attention and positive attention.
Parenting with grace and true discipline is not easy. It requires a great deal of time, effort, patience, relationship, and most of all prayer. It is firm but not unyielding, flexible but not permissive. It teaches a child how to think, not merely what to think, with a focus on the heart rather than outward appearance. It recognises the unique nature of each child and honours them as God’s creation. It models for our children the same love and grace that God mercifully extends to us.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18
Last week my husband flew to beautiful BC to find us a place to rent when we move there this fall. Wonderful man that he is, he found us a lovely home, a two bedroom plus den top floor suite of a gorgeous house overlooking the inlet. The location is ideal – in additional to the incredible ocean view, we are right next to a large park with a playground, splash pad, pool, library, and running miniature steam train that I’m sure will be well ridden by our train-loving son.
It is a relief to be able to stop searching rental ads, looking for that one “perfect home” that isn’t laughably out of our price range. This one was, admittingly, at the very top of our allowed budget, but for the length of time we hope to stay there, it should be worth it.
I’ve submitted my resignation at work. 25 (work)days and counting until my time there ends, and I can return to what I love most, being home with my son. While it wasn’t ideal, it hasn’t been an awful situation either. Perhaps it was merely knowing that it was temporary that made it tolerable. Our son was old enough that he handled it well – I really could not have done it with a nursing baby or a non-verbal baby/toddler. That he was already two, was able to be prepared ahead of time, already nursed minimally, and was staying home with his dad were the things that smoothed the transition for us. In many ways, it has even been good for us, all of us. And still, I could not have done it for longer than I have.
Which was why I so enjoyed this past week, just the two of us while the man of the house was off house-hunting. I took a couple of days off work and my sister (“Auntie KYS-tal!!”) watched him the other three days. It was a wonderfully full week, doing all those things I’d missed doing with him lately, but mostly just being together, the thing I missed most of all. We weeded the garden, talked about what plants needed to grow, went for long walks, ate wild strawberries, painted dinosaurs, coloured, baked, and made meals together. We ignored the usual rule about going to sleep in our own beds and snuggled down together in the big bed, so much emptier without his daddy there. We went out together for lunch, did some shopping together, bought groceries. We talked about the baby, watched the baby grow (over and over and over again), and felt the baby kick our hands (a very exciting moment for the little guy). We went to the fair and rode the ferris wheel, then sat on the grass and ate sticky candy apples. We snuggled under the blankets and read books, sometimes together, sometimes on our own.
So normal, and yet so wonderful. By our third whole day together, I’d forgotten I even had a job to return to the next day.
25 more days, and then I can enjoy those ordinary moments all day again – this time with a renewed appreciation for each one of them. Delighting in his learning, laughing at his silliness, gently guiding and teaching him in those small moments that arise every day, seeing our Father’s world with renewed wonder through his eyes, being the one to dry his tears and kiss his owies, encouraging him as he grows – just being with him and, soon enough, his little brother or sister, through the “normalness” of life, sometimes good, sometimes bad, always together.
It was recently suggested on a (mainstream) pregnancy forum that those who birth with a midwife at home or in a birthing center do it only for the “experience”, and that the safest place to give birth is in a hospital “just in case” anything goes wrong. When I replied that midwife-attended homebirths were statistically safer than OB-attended hospital births, I was asked why that was. So, in my typical concise fashion (ha!), I replied.
An obstetrician’s training is in the pathology of pregnancy – finding and treating the things that go wrong with pregnancy. A midwife’s training is in normal birth. The difference in training focus typically means a difference in the way the two caregivers approach birth.
OBs who provide maternity care for healthy women often apply unnecessary interventions to those healthy women, rather than solely to the complicated pregnancies for which said interventions would be appropriate and necessary. This is the case both during routine prenatal care and during the labour and delivery itself. These interventions often lead to complications that otherwise would not have arisen.
Midwives provide a far more holistic maternity care, viewing pregnancy and birth as a normal and healthy part of life rather than something to be micromanaged and intervened with. Intervention happens only when medically necessary, and midwives are trained to recognize complications which require transfer of care to an OB.
Family doctors typically have lower rates of obstetrical intervention than OBs do. (A family doctor was my caregiver of choice for my first pregnancy. A midwife is my preference this time, with temporary care being given by a family doctor as we are currently in between cities for the summer.)
North America is unique in its common use of obstetricians to provide prenatal care for routine low-risk pregnancies and deliveries. Most countries use OBs only for high-risk cases, with the bulk of prenatal care provided by midwives. These countries, incidentally, have lower maternal and newborn death rates.
Aside from the use of OBs in normal, healthy, low-risk pregnancies, the hospital environment itself is not conducive to the safest birth experience for the typical pregnancy. Fortunately, steps are being made to improve that, with some hospitals far ahead of others, but the typical hospital birth still involves being denied food and drink, having continuous fetal monitoring which requires being in bed during the labour and delivery, and giving birth lying down on your back with a doctor directing your pushing and breathing (the most inefficient way to give birth, but the most convenient way for the doctor). Episiotomies, forceps deliveries, and vacuum-extractor deliveries are all performed with little restraint. Pain relief is encouraged even though it commonly leads to problems with the delivery (inefficient pushing, fetal distress, etc) and thus in turn leads to a disappointingly high number of unnecessary c-sections. Time limits placed on the length of labour, coupled with the pressure of doctor hours, result in drugs frequently given to speed up labour, which again leads to more unnecessary c-sections. Any unnecessary surgery introduces risks that would otherwise not be present.
None of this is to say anything of the emotional state of a woman labouring in a hospital versus labouring at home. Most often, the woman feels that she and her labour are under the control of her doctor, becoming a passive participant rather than empowered to direct her own labour. The L&D room is often full of various nurses, residents, and doctors, any of whom may interrupt the labouring woman at any time. She labours under the constant threat of interventions and, ultimately, “failure to progress” (AKA, in many cases, your doctor wants to go home). None of this promotes the sense of comfort, security and focus that enables a woman to labour efficiently. Unfortunately, the connection between a woman’s state of mind and the ability of her body to labour is often ignored in the hospital setting.
Finally, there is concern about the safety of many prenatal tests and postnatal procedures performed, both for the mother and the child, as well as the difficulty a woman often has in declining any of those tests or procedures.
Any one individual midwife is not guaranteed to provide holistic maternity care, nor is any one individual OB guaranteed to encourage unnecessary interventions on a normal healthy pregnancy/birth, but the trends are there nonetheless. I am wholly confident in the care that a good midwife can provide, as I am wholly confident in my body to be capable of doing what women have been doing since the very beginning. On the (very low) chance that something does go wrong, I am grateful that hospitals are there to provide care where care is needed – in cases of disease and trauma, not in cases of normal, healthy, life-giving events.
So no, I have not planned a homebirth for the experience, for my own personal satisfaction, or because all the cool pregnant ladies are doing it. I have a planned a homebirth because for my low-risk pregnancy, a homebirth is the safest option.