Friday, September 19, 2014

just thinking about discipline

My parents gave each other parental autonomy. My mother spanked. My father did not spank. I have to say, it was more agonizing being disciplined by my father. He would sit us down to talk. And he wouldn't stop the talk until we had come to some remorseful self-awareness about how selfish, greedy or stupid we had been and how we had known better and still made poor choices. And then he would ask us how we would punish ourselves. And we had friends, so we knew about all kinds of punishments. 

With Mom, we were up and back to our bad selves. With my father, we were grounding ourselves for weeks, taking away our own tv privileges and writing essays about our badness. He taught us how to self-regulate.  Because his parents taught him how to self-regulate.

Spanking ultimately derives from not having enough time to contemplate and develop strategies to address the adult's unmet needs. To be able to be perfectly present in the whirlwind of ever changing needs a child expresses is truly challenging and requires diligent self-checking. 

When do I say no?  I say no when I actually care enough to stand up and walk across a room to do something about enforcing that “no.”  When do I say yes?  I say it when I enthusiastically support the activity.  Typically, I communicate my ambivalence through a middle ground statement.  “I don’t see why not.”  If I can’t think of actual real, tangible reasons why something should not occur, then I empower my child to make that choice.  

However, this isn’t really a switch-up fixit fad. I began practicing this response in very early childhood.  I never said, ‘no’ unless it was an irrefutable and unchangeable fact. (Usually around concerns of health and safety.  The times when you need a child to understand that they must freeze in their tracks or get hit by a car.) Instead,  I always said, ‘this is why not” and provided a list of concerns. This way, by the time the child is older, they have a history of understanding that you don’t say no just to be arbitrary and mean.  

I find myself telling my son all the time, “I feel bad when I have to say no.  Every fiber of my being wants you to be a happy person. But, this thing you are requesting right now? This is a short term happy.  It isn’t going to make you become the person you want to be. So, the hard part of my job is saying no. Because I love you.’

That takes a lot of time.  The same amount of time Dad spent with me.  The time he had to take out of his busy, tiring day to deal with some knucklehead decision I made because I was young; thought I could get away with it; and had very little impulse control. Time he could have spent watching Hawaii Five-O or preparing for work the next day.  But, he took the time.  Discipline was about building life skills. It wasn’t a problem to be ticked off a list so he could get about the rest of his day and reinforce his disagreement with what I had done.

In all fairness to my mother, she was an executive for a major corporation, a community activist and was responsible for the care and cleaning of a massive house, household maintenance and overseeing the needs of two independently minded children. (Often while her husband was on the road.) I would say she had a lot of unmet needs.  She would say, she doesn’t have time to wallow around in thinking about her unmet needs when there are things to get done in the world. (I salute her. She is an incredible and amazing woman.)

It has taken me a lot of time to cherish and value what both of my parents gave me through their parenting techniques.  Some days, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to leisurely root around my garden of unmet needs looking for truffles of despair.  In those days, I need to take swift and immediate action. Fix the problem and move on.  Other days, and always with my child, I am reminded to take the time.  To slow down. To breathe and think before choosing which words I will use.  

         I don’t see why not.
    Here is why not.

Children behave poorly when they have unmet needs. Making sure a child's needs are met - hungry, thirsty, tired, unengaged (bored) - can prevent a child from acting out. This is being a pro-active parent. This is something we, as African Americans, could do better at in general. Be proactive not reactive.

We need to live healthy lifestyles. We need to open spaces in our lives for spiritual and emotional refreshment. We need to anticipate our needs, so that we can plan to get them met. We need to slow down. Everybody needs to slow down.  We need to begin seeing ourselves in the long term.   I don’t see why not.

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