Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Parenting Mindset, Part Two: Finding Another Way

Part One Recap: I don't want to spank, Time-Outs a la SuperNanny make me cringe, and I distinctly remember from my own childhood that losing a toy, a privilege, a special outing, or personal property was a supremely ineffective deterrent in the long run.  It usually just made me determined not to get caught the next time.

So what else is there?

There's the "Now, Jenny, you need to use your indoor voice", as the child is standing in her chair in a crowded restaurant throwing a tantrum. The siblings chasing each other through a store and knocking over a display, heedless of Mother's pleas that they stop behaving like wild animals.  The punk on the street corner giving his momma lip, blowing off his school work, and generally giving teenagers a bad name.

Don't lie, we've all seen it and judged. Said to ourselves, "That child is going to grow up to be more trouble than she's worth." or "His momma must not have whopped his butt often enough when he was a youngun'." I'm just as guilty as the next person. And while I now appreciate the potential situations from a new viewpoint, I'm still going to ask for a new seat if there is a screeching toddler at the next table.

So I don't want that either.

It seemed, as I began to read and look, that there really were only those two options.  For the sake of having labels to use, punitive parenting styles and permissive parenting styles.  There's "obey or else" parenting at one extreme, overwhelmed or just uninvolved parents at the other, and a whole host of self-proclaimed parenting experts somewhere in between.  But in the end they all come down to the adversarial paradigm with which our culture approaches child-rearing, either by upholding that constant battle as "the way it has to be", or by rejecting even the language of control for fear of impinging on another's free will.

Well, then.

Par for the course, I decided that since I didn't like either of the two options available to me, I was going to keep looking until I found something better. (Remind me to tell you folks about HypnoBabies sometime.) The Attachment Parenting boards I had already found didn't seem to be much help, since so many of the mamas seemed to run out of useful advice as their kids got older. I was having trouble finding much on how to use AP-style thinking effectively with toddlers, older children, teens, until I clicked a link in someone's signature and ended up on Arms of Love Family Fellowship and Gentle Christian Mothers.

Mind. Blown. Seriously. I'm going to attempt to explain, but please, check these sites out for yourself.

Arms of Love is a ministry devoted to the explanation and facilitation of Grace-Based Discipline, "a parenting style ... rooted in the New Testament teachings of Grace", and GCM is the associated web community.   The founder, Crystal Lutton, is Senior Pastor of her congregation, and let me tell you, this woman has done her research, both in spiritual sources and in the realms of child psychology and development.

The more I read on both sites, the more I found myself saying "YES!!  That, that right there!"  I also began to find more and more of my underlying ideas about parenting and relationships being called into question.  I knew, for example, that I wanted to keep spanking as a last resort but pretty much expected to "have to" issue a swat here or there to nip disrespect and disobedience in the bud early on.  Grace-Based Discipline uses a number of entirely different tools, some of which I knew, others I didn't, but with an underlying philosophy that children are people too.  As their parents it is our job to a) set them up to succeed by seeing to it that their physical and emotional needs are met, b) provide them with tools for dealing with their problems in an acceptable way, and c) model the use of those tools so that our children see that they really do work.

Quick sidebar: This was my problem with "No hitting!" followed by a swat. It's a logical inconsistency, and children are itty bitty learning machines that will default to actions rather than words. To those who say that spanking doesn't teach children to hit, I say this: It sure taught me to hit. A discussion for another time, but I learned that hitting was okay if you were the one in charge, and I learned it so well that I still have to fight that reflex when something doesn't happen the way I think it should.

Now, as I read more about GBD and what it was NOT (time-outs, spanking, shaming, etc), the question occurred as it always does.  "This sounds really great, but what does it look like in practical application?"

It's a lot a lot a LOT of work.

"But parenting IS work!" I hear you thinking. Yup. But some ways are more proactive than others, and GBD is a wear your sneakers, eat your wheaties, and prepare to get messy sort of parenting.

It's recognizing that a very articulate three year old is still a baby in many many ways, and not expecting her to behave 24/7 like the miniature adult she seems to be sometimes.

It's saying "You're frustrated because brother took your toy. You may be frustrated, but you may not hit." and removing the child to a place where he or she can play with a bit more supervision. Reverse to brother: "I know it's annoying when sister keeps poking you with her toy. It's fine to be annoyed, but it's not okay to take her toy. Next time call for mama, and I will help.", and removing sister to a place where she can play without disturbing brother.

It is lovingly returning a potty-training child to diapers after the second accident of the day, without making any sort of "What a naughty boy! Only babies potty in their pants!" sort of comments. Then you take a look at what the kid's eaten, their stress level, if something has changed recently, if they might be getting sick, etc, and see if there is a hurdle or two you can remove for them tomorrow.

It is being prepared to physically step in a LOT when they are small and make your instructions come to pass. Gently and with love, but make it happen, and don't give an instruction you aren't prepared to make a reality. The idea being that the subconscious mind will note that every time a parent gives an instruction, it does eventually happen, and in fact it may be physically impossible not to comply. As one poster on GCM put it, it's kind of like Jonah going to Ninevah. He can go on his own, or he can go in the belly of the fish, but he is gonna go!

It is protecting children from natural consequences until they are developmentally able to process those consequences and learn from them. A toddler can be scooped up or taken by the hand to stop them running on the wet sidewalk. A seven year old can skid out, get a skinned knee, and let the natural consequence teach the lesson that listening to Mama's words did not.

Obviously there is a lot more to it than this, much more than I could ever summarize in one blog post. Of particular interest to me were Crystal Lutton's articles on spanking, it's history, and how she addresses the "Rod Scriptures" so often referenced by Christian parents and pastors to justify spanking, even present it as something you MUST do in order to assure your children's salvation. (Link is to a topic page, several articles are in the associated drop down... oh just browse the site, you'll get the idea!!) It was the level of research and careful thought that went into those articles went a long way toward convincing me that this woman was onto something, and it was worth my time to keep reading. Grace-Based Discipline has implications reaching into all aspects of parenting, with all ages and ability-levels of children, even into the relationship between Mum & Dad!

The end result is that I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for membership registration on GCM to open up on the 16th. I have found another way, one that makes sense to me and is backed by both Scripture and child development research, and I'm going to run with it. I know that as JJ gets older I will make mistakes, probably slip back into the old ways more often than I will care to admit to later, but right now it's enough for me to know that there IS another way, and that I found it in time to start right from the beginning with my babies.


  1. Thank you for articulating this in a way I can't seem to do! Great post!

  2. Thank you for reading! I tend to write novels, for sure, but I'm glad somebody's getting some good from it! :)