I left out one thing that came up during our home visit on purpose, because I just felt it deserved its own attention. During the visit to our house, she asked what our approach to discipline was. Even though I immediately knew where this was probably going, I was hit with the feeling of “just be completely honest, even though there may be an issue with it.”
So I answered her 100% honestly (which in the 21st century is no longer seen as the acceptable approach to motivate children to behave in an appropriate manner) with two words: “we spank.” Her reaction was to try to help me fit it into their expectations by saying “when you say spank, I’m sure you mean just as a last resort and only with your hand.” Hmm. . .
A couple of days later, I read on an adoption blogging website where a couple was turned down because they refused to sign a promise not to spank an adopted child.
Now, we may not be the 1953 version of discipline (or even the 1980 version as far as my rear end is concerned). My kids have never been asked to “get their own switch.” For those of you that grew up privileged, or with something cutting-edge like a time-out chair, that means you get to pick your own small branch off the ground or off the tree to hand to your Daddy for your own spanking. (Additional information for the privileged: while you certainly won’t pick one too big, you also never wanted to pick one too small either, or your Daddy would find the greenest branch with the most whiplash action available. In other words, it was a delicate process.) What they do get is usually a quick reminder to their backside that something they have done or said is not acceptable. Most of the time, this is done with my hand and is a reactionary action rather than a calculated one. But, they also could get a more stern reminder with a belt for a more egregious crime, or for one where other reminders have not gotten the intended result.
Many in our generation, in fact probably many reading this blog, not only don’t use this method of discipline, but are offended or bothered by the fact that we do. I do not point fingers at those who do not choose to spank their children, and as a parent that does not have all the answers – or even most of the answers – certainly will never say what is the right way for anyone else to discipline their kids. But I will say this – and be offended if you must – but our generation, by and large, does not discipline their children at all, much less have an opportunity to be weighed as proper or improper. Parents in this day and age fall into one of a few categories, not compiled by research, but by my thirteen years’ experience in education, including the last five as an assistant principal whose day passes administering discipline.
The first category are the parents that want their children to like them. They cannot stand the thought that their five- or six-year old are “mad” at them, so they simply don’t do anything that would cause that reaction. Here’s a news flash: your kids will get mad at you at some point regardless. Calling out my ten-year old here (she will be thrilled), just two weeks ago she had just finished a stretch of days where she was allowed to have two different friends spend the night (on two different nights), had gone to two movies at the theatre, and had signed up to play soccer. This all in addition to her normal practice of very little responsibility. But, when she made another request to spend an afternoon at a friend’s house and was denied, she spent the better part of the afternoon in a sour mood at her mother and me. But, you know what? Long story short, after a little pep talk and reminder of her stress-free life in a very plain manner, she got over it.
A subgroup to this category are the ones who will threaten, but never pull the trigger, with their child. My opinion is – this is much worse. I watched the other day as a mother told her (likely 2-3 year old) child distinctly not to throw his juice cup on the ground. He did it anyway. Her reaction was to tell him to pick it up. . . three times. . .before she finally picked it up herself and put it back on the stroller where it belonged. So, what lesson did Junior learn from this? That it’s fun to watch Mommy get frustrated, because despite her repeated instructions, he threw the cup on the ground again. She didn’t even try to get him to pick it up this time, but just hurried over in a frustrated manner and repeated the process. Only this time, she added, “if you do that again I will tear your tail up.” (That’s southern-speak for “you will get a spanking.”) It’s a standoff with promised consequences. I could hear the old “shootout at the OK corral” music in the background as Junior contemplated this. I could swear a tumbleweed went whisking by. You can almost see the thought pattern in his eyes saying “I’m undefeated tonight. Let’s play one more hand.” So, you guessed it, he did it one more time with a smile on his face. Her reaction? She tells him that the juice up will just have to stay on the ground. He toddles off to play elsewhere, champion of the night his “tail” no worse for the wear.
The second category are those that feel like they need to “protect” their children, perhaps what they feel like they deserved growing up. I knew the rule at my house – if you got in trouble at school, you got in trouble again at home. My kids have to live by that same rule (hey – it’s only fair). In fact, one of my favorite stories is from Gabe’s year in Kindergarten. In his class, each student had a frog at the front of the room. If your frog “moved” it meant you were about to get in trouble. If you were in trouble, it got “pulled.” Gabe’s rule was, you were in trouble regardless if it moved or got pulled. One day, Ms. Tina tells the story that she was having a little more trouble than usual getting Gabe focused on his work. She finally had come to the end of verbally motivating him, and said “OK, fine Gabe,” and headed for the frogs. Gabe freaked out. To the point of hyperventilation and was near tears. He already had experienced a frog movement not a week or two prior, and had received the spanking at home. So, his reaction sparked one last moment of compassion from Ms. Tina, who gave him another opportunity to get to work, which he did diligently for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, Ms. Tina stopped by Gabe’s desk to put the “your-child-did-fine-today smiley face” on his agenda page. He looked up at her with all sincerity and said “Ms. Tina, you just saved my life.” Instead of the student knowing that the teacher would not be questioned or be in the wrong, today’s generation (more often than not) does not give the Ms. Tina’s of the world the benefit of the doubt. Parents come into my office, not to find out where their child needs help or find out the true story about what their child has done, but to find out how they have been wrongly accused or mistreated, and find out who at the school is to blame. In fact, there are some students in the midst of being disciplined who, even in high school, will say “I want to call my mama,” as if this poses some threat to me. But, in their eyes, they think they have laid down the ultimate threat! Let me tell you. . .when I got into trouble in school (which was soooo rare, it hardly merits mentioning), the LAST people I wanted to find out about it were Sammy and Dorothy Scott.
The final category are the parents that “don’t believe in spanking.” I’m not sure that I have a full understanding in this. I know that I do believe in Jesus Christ, but don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, or ghosts. I’m not sure where spanking my child fits in. I, too, do not condone physically abusing any child, especially my own. I am keenly aware that in the world exists many, usually male, parents that get satisfaction from actually hurting their child when they spank or otherwise physically discipline. But, to use that as your motivation for never correcting a child physically, would be like saying that you don’t want to eat a cookie because there are diabetics in the world, or that you plan to stay unemployed for your entire adult life to avoid being a workaholic.
We try very hard to teach lessons where lessons are due to our children. In fact, we tell them often that if they will simply abide by one rule – treat others as you would like to be treated – then most of their actions and words will be appropriate. However, sometimes fear of consequences alone end up having to be the motivating factor, especially when they are younger and have no grasp of the bigger picture. My final story to help illustrate a point (I promise) – I will use JP, since he hasn’t been mentioned here yet. He was probably three, maybe four years old, when one Sunday morning as we were leaving church, he ignores my instruction to hold my hand, hits the open glass doors, and bolts into the lane where most traffic on that side of the building exits. Fortunately, the only “traffic” at the time was an idle vehicle, waiting to load a family to go home. I rushed out after him and picked him up by his arm, carrying him across to the parking lot itself. When we got to the van, I explained pretty frankly how dangerous it was and why he needed to hold the hand of a parent when walking anywhere cars may be, and that his disregard for that already established rule would have a consequence when we got home. So, he has to ride the 16-20 minutes it takes us to get from church to home thinking about the spanking that awaited him. To top it off, I made him go sit in his room to wait for it once we did get home while I changed clothes. So 20-25 minutes of a 3-4 year old thinking about being spanked, directly after being chided verbally. I went in, told him again why he was getting a spanking, and gave him three licks on the backside with my belt. As it has always happened when I have actually stopped to give one of the kids a “real” spanking, they are to stay put until the crying subsides, at which time they are to immediately find me for a hug, where I remind them that I love them and why (again) that the spanking was necessary. The end result: the boy refused (for at least a year) to go anywhere in any parking lot without holding my or Jaclyn’s hand, and still has no problem grabbing hold when we hold it out today.
I think that you could count on one hand the number of real-live, belt or paddle spankings that each of the three have had. But today, just the thought of them invokes compliance most of the time. I have no misconceptions about my kids – they do their share of wrong. And I also don’t think my kids are above others in any way, shape, form, or fashion – those of you that know me well, know that also. But I think that the way that they respond to adult instruction and correction meets my expectations the majority of the time, to the point that I can focus on what they’re accomplishing, doing, or trying, instead of what they have said or done. In other words, giving praise to God, I know this next statement applies to many of you as well: We have great kids.
I know that God has selected Jaclyn and I to take in another child. We are knee-deep into that process, as we now await the results of our home study to be finalized, and move forward towards finally meeting the child He has picked out. But, I will not compromise my faith, my values, or the way that I choose to teach my children in order to rush or change the process. I pray that I am being faithful in this manner, and not just stubborn, and ask that you pray for the same.
Proverbs 13:24 – “The one who will not use the rod hates his son, but the one who loves him disciplines him diligently.”