Since writing my last post about rejecting punishment I've been thinking. (I know, I know - not again! My brain is like the energizer bunny!) I know that the graphic I made has the potential to really turn some people off, irritate them or even make them really angry. I've talked before about my fear of hurting loved ones - and I suppose that I still have a little bit of that going on - But now I realize it is more accurate to say that I don't want to estrange loved ones.
So I want to be clear, (and I'm still not sure how to get this across in writing without it sounding condescending or smug, but I'm going to give it a try) just because I say "I reject punishment" does NOT mean that I reject people that use punishment as one of their parenting tools. (It sounds a bit like separating the child and the behavior, ie "love the child, hate the behavior", which I'm not a fan of at all. But we human beings are complex. We can love PEOPLE even while feeling very strongly about ACTIONS these same people take.) For one, I would be rejecting most of the population I live with; that's not very kind or compassionate is it? And, I would be rejecting most of my family and very close friends - which is definitely not my intention either.
Here's the bottom line - I don't believe that I have The Answers to life's most challenging questions (and I don't believe that anyone can "give them" to anyone else either). But I do have a few things figured out, and it basically boils down to this: Just. Be. Kind.
So I have a conundrum. How do I go about spreading this message
in a kind way? How do I point out unkindness in a kind way? How can I wrap my passion up in so much love that people can hear the message instead of being turned off?
We've come a long way in the past century - Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony would probably be proud and happy to see a lot of the changes that have occurred. But I think that they would also see that we still have a long way to go. I suppose in many ways people who believe that children deserve better aren't in such a different position than those who were on the frontlines getting loud about minorities' or women's rights. Presently, gay men and women and people who support them are working hard and enduring many hardships to gain rights that they shouldn't even have to fight for.
But children? When a person who feels passionately about children's rights it quickly becomes convoluted into "parental rights". That all children are "different" and therefore "different" things will work for them. That we cannot impose our "opinions" on other parents of different "opinions".
And the truth is that most of the changes I dream of won't happen at the level of state or government. (This is true for all human rights. Laws will not wipe out hate ever.) It will never be illegal to give a child a "time-out" - and I don't think it should be. It is going to take much more than the passing of laws to change our current culture. It is going to take people waking up to the truth that things really and truly can be different - and by different I mean BETTER.
I'm not here to rub anything in your face or piss you off. I'm not here to brag about how amazing my life is or how wonderful my kids are. That's not it at all. When I started out parenting I wanted to do things "right". So I halfheartedly put my infant in a crib and dabbled in timeouts. But then I started finding out that there were actually people out there who said it was "right" to sleep with my baby and to not use punishment! Whoa, that was liberating!
I know it seems like I'm contradicting myself - didn't I just jump from one camp to another - each claiming to have the right way? That's not it at all. The only people who can give you direct feedback on your relationships are the people in your life - your partner, your son, your daughter. *This is the basis for attachment, connection, and a peaceful fulfilling life.* You can have a child who says, "I love my life!" repeatedly, and enthusiastically declares their love for you every day. Stop believing the lies that our culture propagates - for example, it's normal for children to say mean, hateful, or sad things to you or about you. It's not normal; they're actually communicating with you - Listen. (I'm not saying it will never happen - I'm saying if it does then it's a sign that something needs to happen - starting with a loving conversation.)
I gave myself an hour to get some of this rambly-ness out of my head and we're at an hour and 5 minutes. My sincere hope is that this strikes someone, someday in a way that is helpful to them.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to go to my childhood church and actually hear the sermon (my kids were awesome! that's a whole 'nother post though ;-) The minister talked about how Jesus wasn't just about fuzzy sheep and feel-good rainbows - he was an activist, pissing people off! And he was angry. That made me think a lot - I don't often think of Jesus as angry. I think of the loving and forgiving Jesus. But maybe the anger is necessary too - we need to get angry enough to stand up for what's right. And maybe people will react with anger - because that is part of their journey too. And then we can come back to love and forgiveness, of ourselves and others - for being imperfectly human and for screwing up and for not knowing the "right" answer, even when in hindsight it seems painfully obvious.
Peace to you all - Have a great weekend and love on all those important people in your life.
1) I value Kindness. Punishment is not kind.
Here is Bings definition of Kind:
Definition of kind
[ kīnd ]
Some might argue that it is kind to punish. They say that they are teaching their children valuable life lessons when they punish. I do not agree with this line of reasoning for two reasons. One, I think that we are fooling ourselves when we classify punishment as "kind" in this way. If something doesn't FEEL kind, then it's not. Children are not experiencing punishment as kindness even if parents try to convince themselves it is necessary. And second, I believe that often the "lessons" children are learning are not the same ones that parents are attempting to "teach" when punishing. When we don't feel good our brains are not receptive to learning. When we feel disconnected from loved ones that is all that we can focus on. If children are expressing (or worse, feeling but repressing the expression of) hurt, anger, or resentment they CANNOT focus on anything else - including the "why" of the punishment and what the parent hopes they learn.
2) Our family relationships are not supported by punishment. Punishment fosters disconnection. This is the opposite of what I want in our family. When we are connected everything else flows. I am convinced that connection is at the core of all things good in life. Pursue connection and your life will transform.
3) My goals are not effectively achieved with punishment (aka Punishment does not work.)
I know many will argue this point and some may want "proof" of my assertion. First you need to identify what your goals are. If your goals are obedience, "training", changing behaviors, or compliance - then punishment may work for you. My goals however are connected relationships, open, honest communication, learning to live peacefully together and with others, and kindness internalized. I see more clearly all the time how these are NOT supported by punishment.
I made this graphic last night and it explains my philosophy on punishment and why I choose a different path. More and more I believe that our choices are rooted in either fear or love, connection or disconnection. It is up to us make a conscious choice of which cycle dominates our life. Life will always flow between these two forces (infinitely!) And of course none of us will be "perfect" in our striving for love and connection. These two cycles are always connected and it is in our control to flow between them. On the left you can see the punishment cycle, contracting inwards. I choose to try and stay on the right side - connection is at it's core and it expands outwards with internal intuitiveness, honest communication, trust, forgiveness, problem solving, partnership, and of course - love. This cycle expand us, nurtures our relationships and gently stretches us. It is a place of growth, not perfection (hence forgiveness is necessary!)
Making this graphic was so significant for me - even as I made it new levels of symbolism revealed themselves to me. I wanted the punishment side to spiral in (contract) so I wrote the words backwards and on the counterclockwise side of the infinity sign. It was much more difficult to write these words - and I find that life IS easier without punishment (I can expand on this idea later) Also, because the words are backwards, it is easiest to read the words by looking in the mirror. When I held it up to the mirror, suddenly the words were clear and easy to read: PUNISHMENT, Fear, Shame, distrust, sneakiness, external motivation, and disconnection at the center. I believe when parents take an honest look at themselves, in their literal or figurative mirror, they too will see what punishment is doing to their children and their relationships.
Again, I want to reiterate that none of us are perfect. That is why I find it significant that these two cycles are connected. But the good news is that we can choose to jump on or off whichever side we want to when we are ready!
Also, living without punishment does not mean ill-behaved, inconsiderate, children who can do whatever they want. We are so used to living with punishment that we are unable to imagine life without it or what it might look like. Sometimes the best way to see is to start living it, today. It takes time but it is worth it. And once you feel the difference you won't want to go back.
I see you. I love you. And I have a message for you and it is this: sometimes doing more is actually easier. Sometimes we get in ruts and can't even see that we are because we have built a whole world down in the valley and think that this is everything that there is. But if we only walked over to the ladder, just waiting for us, we could climb up over the ridge that blocks our view. We would be amazed to see a whole dazzling world of possibility right there available and free for taking.
There are choices that will make your life sweeter and happier. They are not very difficult things although they do take a little effort. And actually you already know them because they are things that you felt naturally before you slowly grew into a Not-so-new-Parent. Remember that feeling when your baby was born? How you just stared in wonder at her while she mirrored your expression - both of you soaking each other up. Recapture that feeling; awaken it inside of you again. Just because your kids are bigger now does not make them any less miraculous.
Do you remember? I can help you. You were connected, still almost one person. You would take him, curled up in a ball and place him on sleeping, soon-to-be-delighted Aunts - a living present offering hours of entertainment. As he grew and more children were added to the family there were tickles and giggles, games of hide-and-seek in which the hider jumped out saying, "here I am!" with such enthusiasm that you didn't have the heart to break it to him that he wasn't exactly understanding the basic idea of "hiding".
But somehow things got more difficult and complicated over the years than you anticipated. Work, school, sibling spats, dinner, homework, bills, disappointments... they all slowly piled up, obstructing the view of the new world you first glimpsed so many years ago. Was it real? Or were you just in a new-mother haze? Maybe you are just remembering with rose-colored glasses and things weren't really all that great even then.
Wait! Come back - it's not true! It really was that wonderful, exhilarating, and life-affirming and you can have it back - just climb up this ladder, I PROMISE it's worth it! Get out of that lawn chair and come over here. Your children are waiting for you at the top - they still climb the ladder from time to time because they haven't forgotten it. They want you to join them so badly - but more and more lately they keep you company down in this valley-rut because, well, they miss you. But I know that you want them to live their lives out on the mountain peak, where the vistas stretch as far as the eye can see and the world is their oyster.
Come, on - climb with us. You can set up camp with them and see if you like it. If you don't, this comfortable (but somewhat boring and stifling) place will still be here waiting for you. But I think you will like it up there. The air may make you dizzy and first but you will get used to it. You may be tired at the end of the day from all of the work and play that you do, but... you will be happy.
You just need to climb this ladder.
I love you and I'll see you soon.
ps I have plans to re-read the book Playful Parenting, by Lawrence J Cohen. I read it long ago, but I'm feeling the need for a refresher. I have a feeling that I will find lots of ideas in there.
Yesterday Mike and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. Ten Years. A Decade. 1/10th of a Century. Almost a third of our lives (over a third if you count our 5+ years of dating.)
I decided months ago that we had to do something to mark this milestone. (No sitting at home like any old normal Friday!) We decided a family event was the most realistic and fun way for the whole family to celebrate so we head up to Hershey Park for a couple of days.
Amusement parks are interesting places. Great places to watch people. Places where you sweat a LOT on a hot day. Places of fun and meltdowns. Overwhelming, loud, bright, busy. Depending on the day, full of people. Lines to wait in, tempting games and trinkets, deep fried foods filling the air with yummy smells.
But I was mostly overwhelmed with gratitude and feeling slightly more introspective that usual (hmm, is that even possible?? Well, maybe - I felt more in tune to things that I take for granted in my life - namely, Mike and our relationship.)
Everything seemed to hit me right in a sweet, tender spot in my heart - old ladies, little babies, children melting down, Gerry's laughter, and Marisol's excitement. The fact that I was outside and moving and enjoying my family on a Thursday and Friday.
It wasn't perfect in the sense that we were all 100% happy 100% of the time - nope, we got tired, hungry, hot, sweaty, upset about prizes or lack thereof, wanted to leave at different times and do different things, and I even couldn't find the car when we went to leave. But it was perfect because we took it all in stride and had a wonderful time together. (There are more pictures here recording our Hershey Adventure.)
Oh and just to make the day a bit more memorable when we got home we had to call 911 because our carbon monoxide detector was going off... Nothing like firetrucks to mark an occasion! And to make you popular with all the neighborhood kids (but not the neighbors trying to drive through on your street!)
We've been busy and happy the past month or so. Two birthdays, summer fun - pools and sprinklers, play dates, biking, trips to the library - living.
There is no shortage of material or thoughts on things I'd like to write about. But there has been a different feeling inside of me. June was busy here on the blog - I took part on my first Affiliate Sale - and it was a lot of fun! I also took an amazing, free teleconference series about writing a book. Then July rolled around and I started a new Hypnobabies series and I just felt... different. Calmer. Almost depressed - but I wasn't. I mean, I kind of felt a little numb and tired but it was different than the lethargy and apathy I've normally associated with feeling depressed.
Actually, I wasn't apathetic at all. I continued to do more around here - trying to cook more foods, read more with the kids, play games etc. When we were around friends I came alive and felt great. So I *knew* it wasn't depression.
I pulled back from writing and from the internet - and it felt right. I've been more focused on finding ways to work moving my body back into the fabric of my life. And I wonder if maybe I can only focus on one thing at a time. For so long it has been writing - and I was falling short on the exercise end of things. Now food and exercise are seeming to take a front seat. But this strange, new, calmness - it is definitely something more.
And I'm reminded that all things in life move in cycles... like a Sine wave (not a Sin wave! ha), the seasons, relationships, activity, growth - it all rises and falls. Sometimes we seem to be "progressing" at a steady rate and then things flatten out, or even fall off. Sometimes we move in fits and bursts. And all of that is ok - it's part the natural flow of life.
I've been examining my desires and goals. What is the purpose of writing here? Why am I doing it? What are my motives? How does it affect my family and loved ones and what is fair to them?
So I've been contracting and turning inwards - some introspection, some reading, lots of connecting with my family. And it feels wonderful. And I know that soon I will be expanding outwards again, burning again and sharing my fire with the world!
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.