My husband handed me the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Wet and naked, umbilical cord and all. I loved her instantly. I had loved her during the 9 months we were expecting her, but not like this. Cheesy as it sounds, “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder began playing in my head. I was so exhausted from 26 hours of labor that I could barely hold my head up, but I held her anyway. She was so beautiful and so perfect. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
As my friends and readers already know, peace is extremely important to me. Bringing up my beautiful Rose in an atmosphere of peace is vital, But kids didn’t seem to lend themselves to peace. We’ve all seen that mom yelling at a screaming, spoiled toddler in the supermarket. Not exactly peaceful. I’ve also seen how my parents and their friends raised kids. These children demonstrated perfect and instant obedience to every command, they were quiet in church, and took “no” as an answer. These kids were much better behaved, no one can deny that, but at what cost?
These well meaning families ascribed to the teachings of, among others, Michael and Debi Pearl, and their book “To Train Up A Child.” This book and its teachings have been linked to the deaths of at least 3 children: Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Grace-Rose Williams. The Pearls teach that strong discipline must be maintained through physical punishment, or not only the sanity of the family, but the soul of the child is at risk. Children must be spanked (Michael Pearl suggest 10 swats with a plastic piece of flexible tubing) for even small infractions, to prove to the child that the parent is in charge. Eventually, the rebellious will of the child is broken, as you might break the will of a horse. In theory, this makes the soul something God can use.
In day to day life, this means regular, often daily or even several times daily, spankings for children as young 6-9 months of age. Growing up in a household like this was anything but peaceful. The kids all did as they were told, true, but everyday there was screaming from the back bedroom. There were tears and welts.
I knew that I wanted something different with Rose, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what that meant. When she got to be about 8 months old, it got real. She started getting into trouble. She wanted to touch things she shouldn’t, she wanted to be held constantly, and every time I took her outside to crawl in the grass, she made a beeline for the concrete patio steps. I spent all day, every day, fighting her. Jonathan came home to us both crying. This was not peace, this was chaos.
I was told I should swat her when she touched off-limits items, or leave her behind the babygate to cry and she would get used to playing alone. But Montessori education told me that children only cried when they needed something, or when they were overwhelmed by emotions of helplessness or frustration.
My study of child psychology taught me that it was hard on children to cry. Methods that require leaving a crying child only work because the child, believing him/herself to be abandoned, gives up hope that someone will come.
I had learned that the consensus among child psychologists was that it was damaging to children to be spanked. Some people tried to combat that with theology or “doctors don’t really know what they are talking about” arguments, but if science and medicine were able to so eradicate polio that it is world news when we have a few cases in Syria, they must know something. The church had not believed Galileo’s theory about the earth revolving around the sun, and they taught at one time that certain races never developed past childhood, and needed to be enslaved for their own protection. Theologians seem to end up on the wrong side of history and science too often for my comfort.
I knew enough child psychology to know that children closely watch and copy adult behaviors. (There was a famous study done with Bobo Dolls that is detailed here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobo_doll_experiment) Wasn’t spanking just teaching her to be violent, or that might makes right?
I knew that while spanking could scare a child into changing behavior, it was not changing their thought processes. It was just conditioning, training as you would a dog, not teaching independent thought or ethics.
How could I treat this baby girl with a forcefulness that I would never even treat a dog with? How could I tell her that it was wrong to bully or beat up other, especially smaller people, and then bend her little body over my knee for a whipping?
Lastly, I had too much personal experience with people who had been deeply hurt by spanking. Please take a minute to read the story of a friend, http://cdugan0.tripod.com/RoyLessinOpenLetter.html
We needed a solution that was not just peaceful for me, but peaceful for Rose too. Wasn’t there a way to use psychology as a friend? To show her by example how to live life, treat her with respect and dignity, and help her clear her own place in the world? To find a way all of us could have peace in our lives and hearts?
I started reading. I read about 2 year olds who had been terrors, and having a relaxed, punishment free life calmed them down. I read about even large families where the children were not only responsible, capable, and confident, but incredibly empathetic. I read about mothers, so happy with their little ones, and never afraid that they might have to haul them to the back room for punishment, never listening to screams without the relief of running immediately to their side to rescue and comfort. It was amazing and beautiful. They called it “Peaceful Parenting.”
Basically, I was looking at this all wrong. Rather than leave her crying behind a baby gate while I worked, why not put her in a sling and carry her? Babies need lots of touch, perhaps as a newly mobile baby, she was feeling insecure and she needed more love. Besides, it was better for her to learn how the world worked, not be separated from it. As for touching things and climbing the stairs, that was natural. She was curious. I should remove objects she can’t have, and when at all possible make a way for her to gain those experiences her mind is craving.
This jived perfectly with all my reading on child development at the time. Curiosity is a need for a child that age, as is touch.
It wasn’t easy…I mean, I was used to the “shout-no-across-the-living room” type parenting. Starting around 6 months, all disobedience resulted in a swat, so the little ones would learn what “no” meant very early. Peaceful Parenting actually discouraged using the word no. Instead, it suggested, childproof, and redirect the child to something they can and should do. Get up, and get involved in the child’s life. Not in a forceful, controlling way, but in a coaching, side-by-side way.
People judged me and said I was spoiling her, but I was desperate. I was craving a peaceful way of parenting. I strapped her to my side until she asked to be allowed to play in the floor. I took her up and down the patio steps till she was exhausted. We pulled the batteries out of an old x-box controller so she wouldn’t take Jonathan’s. It worked like a charm, and I was hooked. There was no going back. Sure, this was a lot of work, but parenting wasn’t supposed to be easy anyway. And it got easier as she and I both got the hang of it.
Today, Rose is 13 months old. I have learned about understanding her non-verbal communication and her developmental stages. Most importantly I have learned patience. Peaceful Parenting is not as satisfying as swatting a kid and getting instant behavior correction, but it is so much more beautiful. It has made me so much more attentive to her needs, and a better mom for that. It has made her closer to us because we have learned how to include her in our lives and activities. She is well behaved, not because of fear, but because of habit, and because her natural desire to do what pleases the people around her. And my favorite; every time I call her name, she runs towards me with excitement, and never fear.