Authority, Obedience and Nelson Mandela

Image credit: Okay Africa

This is ‘Mac’ Maharaj. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t. He was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela, and smuggled out his book, Long Walk To Freedom. Later, he served as Minister for Transport in South Africa’s first democratic government. He was interviewed by Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM in 2006, and the interview was re-played around the time of Mandela’s hospitalisation earlier this year, which is when I heard it. It was a truly amazing story. (NB These interviews are not kept indefinitely available for download, so I don’t know for how long that link will work – if at all – but if it does, take the opportunity to listen to it).

Maharaj, the ‘criminal’

I want to focus in on Mandela as a leader, by telling the story of the cigarette box. (I believe there is also a version of this story in Mandela’s more recent autobiography.)

When Mandela, Maharaj and other members of the ANC were first imprisoned, they weren’t allowed even to talk to each other. To do so risked beatings, lost meals or solitary confinement. Over time, though, they began to defy these rules. At one point, Maharaj helped a prison guard to complete a crossword and win a prize. He was offered food as a reward, but asked for a packet of cigarettes. Mandela asked him why and he said, “Because now I have his fingerprints.” Why do you want to blackmail him, Mandela asked. “For newspapers,” replied Mac. For many months afterward they were kept abreast of the goings-on in the outside world by this guard’s regular supply of newspapers.

And in Mandela’s autobiography, said Mac, “…he acknowledges that he didn’t stop me. So you see, Margaret, he had the chance to stop me from becoming a criminal and he didn’t.”

Now, here’s my question: There are three men in this story – two prisoners and a guard. Which one holds the ‘rod’? Which is the official authority? How is it that Mandela, who is equal with Mac in the prison system (which is to say, powerless), and who didn’t even know him before their imprisonment, apparently has the ability to stop him doing anything?

Mandela, the leader

Later in the interview, Margaret Throsby asked if Mac perceived Mandela as a natural leader in prison.

Maharaj: Oh, yes, he was… The first thing about him is that he exercises his leadership by doing things himself. You know that he never asks you to do something that he wouldn’t do himself. And for that you are prepared to give your life. Because you never question the moral basis of his request to you.

He went on to say, “even now,” years after their official work together was over, if Mandela were to call him and ask him to do something,  even if he disagreed with the reasoning, he would not have been able to refuse.

We, the parents

We are the authorities in our children’s lives. This is the truth. It is our responsibility to keep our children safe and to teach them righteous ways – at times this will mean enforcing compliance with our instructions – but that is not true, heart obedience. True obedience cannot be enforced, it can only be earned. By focusing on our own lives, and by building deep, strong relationships with our children.

My thought, or prayer, when I heard Mac’s words, was this:

If I can so live as to earn the respect and trust of my children to even a tenth of that degree… I can expect true obedience from them, and I won’t need punishments to ‘prove’ my authority.

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A last resort…

I spanked my 2yo but only as a last resort. Or so I believed.

But you know what? When I quit spanking… My list of discipline options got longer! It had to – when I knew hitting wasn’t an option, my creative brain was forced to try harder. And, as the human brain is wont to do, it rose to the challenge!

One day, I found myself thinking, ‘What, in the scheme of things, can a toddler do, really, that deserves the punishment of last resort? Steal my grocery money to buy cocaine to on-sell to other more vulnerable babies?’ If it’s a last resort, surely it should be reserved for truly heinous crimes – things a toddler is completely incapable of? When I look at how much my son has matured in the last four years – without the ‘help’ of spanking – I realise that every time I hit him in those early days, every time his beautiful brown eyes showed a deep sense of betrayal, every time he said, ‘Don’t hit me, Mummy!’ – I was punishing him for… being 2. For being impulsive or exploring or experimenting or not remembering a rule… In fact, I was punishing him for being a *good* toddler… No wonder the ‘rod verses’, if they were intended to be taken literally, are about *youths*, not small children!

Not that my creativity is always at the top of its game, of course – I often find myself at a loss. At those times, my go-to plan is The Five Steps, or a hug. I should really make the hug my number-1 go-to plan. And while hugging, to get the creativity flowing, I want to try one of two words I got from Crystal Lutton (The 5 Steps is on her website): Instead of thinking about punishment or consequences, I will ask myself, ‘How can I help my child succeed?’ or ‘What is a solution to this problem?’

And, by God’s grace, an idea so often presents itself, and I realise once again that no matter how frustrated I may be, my child is not yet a delinquent in need of the punishment of last resort.

What are your top ‘first resort’ options for gentle parenting?

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Myth Busting 12: Punishment Works

When I was a punitive parent, I didn’t understand what people meant when they said that spanking doesn’t work. I’d think, ‘Well, it works for me…’ As I came out of the punitive paradigm I started to be able to look back and see how what I had been doing wasn’t working but I couldn’t think of a way to articulate it to my former self (or someone who thinks like I did). I think I may now have it:

What is spanking/time out/punishment meant to teach? Obedience. And for a child of the right temperament, they will pick up on the idea that if they do what they are told, they won’t get hurt, and they will choose to comply to avoid the pain. There are any number of problems that gentle parents will point to with this, but for my purpose here, the simplest is that it requires trial and error on the part of the child. They have to fail to obey a number of times in order to figure out the pattern. And if the parent makes a mistake, as we all do, such as assuming the child knows what obedience looks like in a given situation when in fact they have misunderstood something, then that will delay the learning-by-trial-and-error, because the child will have incomplete or inaccurate data from which to draw their conclusions.
Trial and error is a valid way to learn many things. Experimentation, exploration and discovery – these are the essence of what it means to be a toddler and they remain a delight to our minds throughout our lives. But they are not always the best way to learn. And when it comes to something as foundational as our relationship with our parents, and how to avoid being deliberately hurt by the people God gave us to protect us – then trial and error is not the best method. Not at all.
When you think about it, what really works, when it comes to learning anything, is… success. In fact, ‘trial and error’ is the wrong term, really. It should be ‘trial, error and success’. If all we do is fail, we don’t learn what it looks like to succeed. ‘Trial and error’ teaches, at best, what not to do.
So… if I want my child to learn obedience, the best way to teach him, is to help him obey. Ideally – I’m not perfectly consistent (far from it, if I’m honest) – but ideally, my children don’t get the choice to ‘obey or be punished’, they get the choice to ‘obey on their own or obey with help’. Either way, they experience success in obeying. They learn that what I say happens, and that it is my job to make sure it happens and it is their job to obey. When I compare this with the cycle of “instruct-fail-spank-fail-spank-maybe succeed” that I was in with my son before God showed me positive parenting, I can see that it really wasn’t working. Because now I know what ‘working’ looks like. Now I know what proactive teaching looks like.

‘Help’ comes in different forms. It changes depending on the age and stage of the child, and the circumstances. It can be playful parenting, to make it fun to obey. It can be gently taking the child’s hand and physically helping them. It can be getting up close to the child and repeating the instruction at eye level to make sure they understand. The options are almost endless, and depend greatly on the child’s personality, time available etc. The Gentle Discipline FAQs Forum (http://www.gentlechristianmothers.com/community/forumdisplay.php?s=&daysprune=30&f=526) at Gentle Christian Mothers was a really helpful place for me to find ideas and ‘see’ what it looks like when Gentle Discipline works.

Did you have an ‘aha’ moment when you saw how your discipline paradigm had shifted? How do you explain the difference?

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Firsts

This is a year of First Things for me and my boys. First everythings. Maximus went to school. Minimus went into care. I went to school. First bus ride, first exam in 17 years, first Christmas of Peace. For the first time in their lives, my boys were not together, with me for the majority of the time each day, each week. I went to college. Yes, another first thing. Advisors, financial aid, professors, and other students. Lots of loneliness, lots of peace, and quite a bit of Joy- worry too. All these things, in an entirely new context.

What astonished me- and continues to astonish me, is how happy we are. Just the three of us- happy, and peaceful. Therapy for his sensory processing helped Maximus so very much, but what helped us all the most was the absence of conflict. Easter had been rough because the pain was still too raw. We were all reeling, trying to adjust. It was evident that something had been taken away. The boys adjusting to visits with their dad- me, trying to navigate court appointments, soon to be ex In-laws, my own family’s big feelings. So much happened that there was never time to process it all, but I did try. I draw everything inside, pondering pain, and denying good. Good doesn’t last in my world. Didn’t last- couldn’t. I thought. I kept going, fighting inertia with momentum; but they are both passive forces…

Summer came, and I began to feel free. It still seemed I was holding my breath, because everything I was trying to do took so long to pull together. August came and my birthday, and God released me from any expectation of going back to the Hell that was my marriage. Time, it seems, does heal.

Soon enough Max started school. The pieces fell into place, one by one, with painful slowness. At each turn it seemed my plans would fall apart, unable to bear up under the reality of my life. I felt free. But I also felt sad and lonely. I started school, met a few new friends, learned a lot, and to my shock and wonderment- earned high grades. I enjoyed my professors, and the subjects I was taking. Max was thriving in school- exceeding everyone’s expectations, except perhaps, his own. He comes by that particular personality trait honestly; my expectations for myself are often… unrealistic. I tried very hard not to need anyone. But the new friends I had made reminded me how much I desire someone to share the details of my day with- ‘look! That chick is wearing see-through pants!’; ‘I just took my first math exam in 17 years!!’ One new friend was particularly thrilling for me, but I was painfully aware that nothing at all could develop between us at that point. Meeting him rocked my world, not altogether pleasantly. Thrillingly, but not pleasantly.

By Thanksgiving, we were at peace. In a horridly wonderful way, no one was missing. X had never been part of our lives. He had never chosen to live life with us, present. The kids don’t ask about him. They see him every week, so that might be why, but never did I hear, ‘I wish Daddy was here for Christmas.’ That hurt me. It felt very bad to know just how little they needed him around. We were comfortable with just the three of us, because He had never really tried to be part of his own family. Something is broken there. There should be a hole, there should be a lack.

School was hard. Home was good. Working hard felt good, satisfying. I’ve lost 45 lbs, and I have energy. My house is cleaner today than it’s ever been- I’ve had to keep busy since the end of the semester. Through many late nights, and early mornings, sweating through assignments that I knew I had not given my best effort in writing, taking tests while literally shaking with fever, I tried to keep moving. I knew if I stopped for a moment, I’d never get moving again. I started running again, and bought good winter gear so I didn’t have any excuses. Oddly, taking care of business felt right. I felt as if I was finally doing what I had always been meant to do. Then I felt guilty. If this was what I had always been meant to do- then why was I a mother?

I don’t have an answer to that. Max seemed to be bonded to his teachers, seemed not to need me anymore. Minim loved his Day Mom, and her kids. He loved being there, and although he was happy to see me when I came to pick him up, he became angry and told me to go away as soon as we got into the car. They both were sleeping well, and so was I. My bed did not feel empty most of the time, with just me in it. I just don’t know how to do any of this. How do I mother when I hardly spend time with my children anymore? How do I pursue my education and a career, and still mother? I have always only been able to do one thing well. I give 110%, all of myself to whatever I am doing, and I don’t know how to do both things. AND there I was again, pondering pain and impossibilities, and refusing Joy.

This morning is Christmas morning. I watched my boys carefully select a present each, and open them. Then they opened the box, and played with the item. Then they chose the next gift. Methodical, I thought- where is the joy in this? Why aren’t they excited? I looked closer. I saw joy! I saw excitement! It was a quiet excitement, to be sure, peaceful, almost beatific. With each gift, they grew more quiet, more introspective, and their small faces beamed. Small smiles, careful movements, but they were happy. They were storing up all the good things, and pondering them in their hearts. They were Pondering Peace, and Joy.

Now they don’t ponder when they are angry. Oh heck no. hah. When they hurt- the world knows. And I thought, that it is more fitting to release pain and anger and fear. Release them, and absorb peace. Ponder Joy, and internalize it. What a difference for them, to take in and embrace their happiness, while dispelling pain and anger? I had been taught precisely the opposite. Absorb pain, hide fear, do not express anger. Joy is acceptable for display. If you are happy, everyone should know, it is your responsibility to spread your joy out for everyone. I say no. What did a lifetime of hiding pain and absorbing fear leave me? Wounded. Half-formed. Only partially capable of experiencing good things. I still believe I don’t GET good things. Not me. I don’t get them. They don’t last if I do. SO I cannot accept joy, because I am too busy pondering my pain.

I want my boys to be able to release pain and anger. Let them go. They will serve their purpose and then be gone. I will let them absorb as much good as they can, because what we take in and hold fast becomes a part of us. Right now, they believe that good things come to them. They believe that good things are a normal part of life, so when they get something good, they can accept it, embrace it. That is the root of their quiet joy this morning, and the root of their exuberant grief when they hurt. Perhaps if they can keep this as they grow, they will not accept less than what is their right- they will not accept less than a whole person as a wife. They will expect wholeness and good from themselves as well.

This was meant to be joyful. Um. This morning was so amazing that it sparked off a whole string of connections. What is wrong is closely tied to what is right, and what should not have been is as closely tied to what should be. Skyping with my friend this morning she said to me; ‘You are so happy, you are shining!’

She is right. <3

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Some thoughts on Proverbs 23:11

Barefoot Betsy had done a fabulous job of discussing the interpretation of the rod verses and why we believe they are meant gently and figuratively.  Her series on the subject starts here.

But in discussion in the comments section of a previous post, I found I have a couple of things I want to say, so at the risk of being redundant…

Beat him with the rod…

First, a letter to the editor found in the newsletter of the MT Willow Education society, August 2225

Drumming in the multiplication tables

We read in ‘On Mathematical Education’ the statement, “It is imperative that multiplication tables from 2 to 15 be drummed into the head of each and every child by the age of 10.” There have been some well-meaning attempts in recent years to soften the clear instructions of the 20th century educator we all seek to follow, suggesting that the phrase ‘drum it in’ was perhaps not meant literally. In a recent letter to the editor, Casey Trimble says, ‘I believe this this phrase was used to simply mean simply repeating a lesson over and over until it is learned.’ But no matter how much we would like to believe Mr Willow to have been consistently gentle in all his methods, his words are quite clear and can only mean one thing: In Willow schools, the method of inculcating multiplication tables into students was to take a pair of drumsticks and beat a tattoo on the child’s head as the teacher recited them.

He does not give any clear direction as to how hard to rap.
Some parents/educators have surmised that the drumming should be more severe as time progresses, until the child has learned the entire table. t is my personal belief that it should always be a light tattoo, designed simply to provide a child with a kinesthetic experience that aids in building memory.

Of course, some parents will feel that this method is outdated and prefer not to use the sticks, and claim that they are able to ‘drum’ the tables into the child by means of songs, flash cards or games. We are all free to do what we believe is best in our own homeschools, but I submit that a child who learns the tables without the drumsticks has not received a true Willow education.

-A.E.

This is what I believe has been done with the verses about the rod of correction. Why do I think the original audience of the author of Proverbs would read it differently?

  • Partly because of the view of modern Jews. For example, the ‘rod of chastisement’ is considered an instrument of mercy. The Talmud allows for corporal punishment – with a shoestrap only (there is no mention of rods at all).
  • Another reason is that in the Mosaic law, there are instructions on punishing a man who beats his slave to death, but absolute silence about beating children too severely. I can only assume this is because the very idea of beating one’s child was anathema to the culture and so did not need addressing.
  • Also because a rod is not a switch, not a flat hand, not a paddle, not a belt… the closest thing in my home to a rod is the wooden curtain rod that fell down last year and now leans against my bedroom wall. If I hit my child with that, it would be abuse and no one would disagree.
  • And partly because I try to read the Bible with a Christotelic hermeneutic of love – Jesus said, ‘Let the children come unto me and do not hinder them.’ and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ and ‘if you did it to the least of these you did it to me’. If I assume that the words of Proverbs are inspired by Jesus, the Living Word, then I must seek the interpretation that best fits with his life and teachings. Too many people have been hindered from following Christ, or knowing his grace fully, by the belief that he commands spanking – that his grace is not sufficient for the sins of the least of these.

He will not die…

Prov 23:11
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with the rod, he will not die. Beat him with the rod and save is soul from death.

The common understanding of this verse is typified in the Living Bible rendering: “A spanking won’t kill him…”

I want to ask what the above understanding of this verse says about our view of God and our view of our children, viz:

Is God’s standard for raising children in a godly way, not killing them? Do we really think God will be happy with our discipline if we beat them to within an inch of their lives? And as long as we don’t kill him, our beating will be used by God to save the child from Hell?… What does this verse say if she *does* die?…

Where is Jesus, who gently laid his hands on the children and blessed them, in this interpretation of this verse?

I believe a truer rendering – both closer to the intent of the author and more in line with God’s nature – is this:

Do not withhold moral education from a child; if you drum God’s life-giving truth into him, he will live, not die. Teach him God’s wisdom day in and day out and so save him from an early grave.

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On God our Father

My baby turns 10 months old today. He has been walking, unsteadily, for about a week. He was taking 2 or 3 steps for a couple of weeks before that. Last Tuesday evening, I saw a change in his thinking. He *chose* to walk across a small space where the day before he would have crawled. I announced to DH that he was now officially walking. And, of course, even though we’ve watched his two older siblings go through the same sequence of development, even though all babies do it, we were still proud and delighted. We grinned at him and each other as if he’d aced his final rocket surgery exam, instead of something every healthy child masters within their first eighteen months.

But as far as I know, the next day he didn’t walk a single step. He crawled everywhere. Was I disappointed? No! Did I love him any less? No, of course not! Did I delight in him as much as ever? Yes, indeed! I rejoice over him because he is my child. I love to watch my children grow and develop, but I’m happy for them to do so in their own time and their own way. Each faltering step pleases me, without by any means implying displeasure at the lack of a step.

In the same way, I believe that God is pleased with each attempt we make to obey him or to honour him – stumbling, fumbling or outright useless as they may be… without suggesting for a moment that he is displeased when we don’t make those attempts, or when we fail. God is love and he loves us outrageously. All. The. Time.

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Myth Busting 10: Newborns can’t smile

My third child, now 9 months old, was not very happy about being born. It was a lovely calm home birth in water. According to the ‘rules’ he should have been calm, staring into my eyes with fascination and then, when he was ready, searching around for his first blissful feed. But it was not to be. As soon as our midwife lifted him from the pool, my beautiful son screamed. Like a banshee. The first thing I said, in my exhaustion before I even turned around to look at him, was, ‘Teeny babies aren’t supposed to make that sort of noise, they’re supposed to mew like kittens’. I’d never heard anything like it from a newborn. As it turned out, this was the first indication of the difficulties we would have with him. In that first hour, all he wanted to do was snuggle up to me (or Daddy) with his eyes closed, and *not move*. If I tried to reposition him slightly so he could reach my nipple, he screamed. If anyone so much as touched his foot, he screamed. And when he did finally try to feed, *I* nearly screamed. Looking back, I think he was born with a crick in his neck, or some other discomfort in his body, and putting his head back properly and opening his mouth wide and putting his tongue forward so he could properly attach to the breast was very uncomfortable for him. Eventually, after a very nasty first week that involved cracked nipples and mastitis, we finally found a way to attach so he wasn’t doing me damage and was actually milking my breast.
One of the things we did in that process was to teach him to open is mouth and put his tongue forward on cue, by playing an imitating game.
When he was calm and alert, I would say, “Wide mouth” and open my own mouth wide and stick my tongue out, My baby would copy and I would smile and act excited. I started doing this on the advice of an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor when he was four days old. Within a day he had learnt to associate the words ‘wide mouth’ with the action of sticking is tongue forward. With the help of another trick or two, he got on the breast properly and my nipples started to heal. A couple of days later, I saw his first definite smile.

Someone on Facebook shared a beautiful photo of a newborn, still covered in vernix, beaming at the camera. You can see the photo here.

When my Facebook friend shared the smiling baby photo, it was immediately assumed, by commenters, to be either Photoshopped or ‘wind’. I’m not a good enough judge to say for sure it’s not edited, but there’s no way that smile is wind. Where would a minutes-old baby get wind anyway?

Granted, it is rare for a baby to smile this young. None of mine did – although, come to think of it, if you don’t count the oldest (who was born not breathing and ended up spending a couple of days on a ventilator) or the youngest (who was born screaming), then really only the middle one was in a position to smile that early on. But she didn’t. Or if she did, I didn’t recognise it. You certainly don’t hear of it happening often.

But why do we think it’s impossible? It is considered the ‘scientific’ view, but where does it come from? In fact, according to the book How Babies Think by developmental psychologists Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl, babies are able to imitate sticking out their tongues and opening their mouths from birth. Yes, the researchers had pagers and ran to the hospital to conduct their research within hours of the birth of their ‘subjects’ – in one case, the baby was less than 45 minutes old. They say,

For many years “experts” who, in fact, knew nothing systematic about babies, took a certain perverse satisfaction in assuring parents that their new babies’ minds were somewhat less sophisticated than that of a slug. Babies couldn’t really see; their smiles were “just gas”; the idea that they recognized familiar people was a fond maternal illusion…

So why am I raising this on a discipline blog? Partly because I thought you’d like to see the beautiful photo ;) But also because I think it says something about the way we view, and therefore treat, our children. Remember in old movies how they always slap the baby at birth to make it cry? Somehow our culture seems to think it’s good for kids to cry from birth, but not to smile. What does that say about our view of childhood?

I think it contributes to, or comes out of,  the unspoken belief that children, and especially babies, are not real people – and therefore cannot have real emotions like happiness. In fact, we sometimes go even further, and discount the reality of their negative feelings, too. As a teenage girl said cheerfully, “They’re made to cry.” What?!? Why? Why would God make a child with the ability to communicate non-existent pain? God is not the author of confusion. If a baby, knit together by God’s wisdom in his mother’s womb, is expressing distress, surely we should assume that he is in distress? As my story above illustrates, a baby who cries is not happy and there is a reason, even at birth, although there may be no way of knowing what it is or being able to fix it.

And surely, if God (or evolution, if you prefer) has designed our kids with the ability to communicate when things are not right, wouldn’t it make sense to build in a positive feedback mechanism as well? Doesn’t it just make sense that a newborn should be able to smile?

And  here’s a short Youtube video of a 1-week-old smiling.

When did your baby first smile?

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Approval Ratings

‘Good’. What does that word mean? I mean specifically in the phrase, ‘good mother’ or ‘good parent’. I could look up the definition of the word ‘good’ and still have no idea what it means to be a good mother.

 I would love to have some sort of system that could accurately measure and give me feedback on my success and progress as a parent. Sort of a Nielsen rating for motherhood. And why not? After all- we all need positive feedback, don’t we? I do. It is odd that in everything else, I can tell you, ‘I am competent’, or ‘I am not competent’ and give good and convincing reasons why. But here… well I FEEL like a pretty cruddy parent most times.

 Here it is- Maximus’ first day of school- yesterday. I feel like I failed entirely to do whatever it is a normal mom would have done for an event of this significance. I’m pulled in many directions- attention divided by school, insurance, financial aid for college, bills, pimples… you name it. Minimus, oh baby I am so very sorry, my baby, for how much you have had to navigate this life unaided. You are such a remarkable boy, and I hope that when you are grown you don’t remember me as detached and uninterested. I’m always so distracted. I love you both so very much.

 But am I a GOOD momma? Maximus had what he needed for school; a good lunch, appropriate clothes, he was clean and had a backpack and a notebook for his teacher to communicate with me. He knew it was coming. (ok- I forgot to brush his teeth) We were a few minutes late, but no one blinked an eye. Minimus and I walked in with Max, and my big boy said, ‘Momma, I don’t need a hand.’ When I held mine out to him. Oh, I did remember to take his picture!! Well, I guess we did ok after all… Poor Minimus started a new care situation- many more days than he has ever had to be cared for by someone other than me. I feel I have abandoned them, both.

They had a fantastic day.

 So did I. Then the guilt hit. I enjoyed abandoning my babies. I was horrified at myself for this. Now- I KNOW I didn’t abandon them, and I know that if I had I would not have enjoyed it. But fear and guilt are irrational things. I look at my parenting as always having room for improvement, and I am always adding more tools, but I get stuck in that self-check mode. ‘Am I an ok mom?’ Then, it’s the end of a badbad day and I am crying to a friend about how differently I should have handled Max (especially) and she says, “You are GOOD MOM!!!” No, I protest. I am a barely adequate mom.

 This afternoon I figured out that what bothers me about being or not being a good mom is that I can not KNOW this about myself. There is no way to step outside of myself sufficiently to see that. I hate NOT knowing. I wish, for my sake- and maybe for the boys’ too, because maybe if I knew and was confident I could relax a little- I wish parenting had approval ratings.

 gg

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Spare the Rod – Harper’s Bazar (1867)

From the November 23. 1867 edition of Harper’s Bazar, pg. 50:

Spare the Rod

“Spare the rod, and spoil the child,” says Solomon, which the severe interpret to mean literally the laying on of the birch, the rattan, and the cat o’nine tails, but which the amiable explain as having merely a figurative signification. These humanely say that the wise King understood by the rod a symbol of discipline, and in advising that it be not spared in the bringing up of the young meant that they were not to be treated with too much indulgence. We confess ourselves in favor of the less rigid interpretation, and as altogether opposed to the use of physical violence in any form whatsoever.

A resort to the rod, is the most impotent conclusion of discipline. It is a confession of the want of that moral power which the superior in authority should always possess over the subordinate. It is the exercise of a physical might which is sure to leave with those who may feel its weight a sense of wrong and oppression. Neither could be more fatal to the affectionate relations which should always exist between parent and child, pupil and teacher, and which are so necessary to make the one patient and the other docile.

A resort to the rod, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, is merely an excuse for laziness or impatience. Without energy or perseverance to pursue a systematic course of moral training, the parent or teacher avails himself of the ready resource supplied by his superiority of muscle. It is so easy to raise an arm or wield a stick! The mere brutal force of man’s nature gives that power, and to use it does not even require premeditation. It comes with the flash of anger; for the instinct to wound accompanies the irritation of the human as it does that of other brutes. The blow is doubtless the easier process, and not a disagreeable one to the administrator; for it may be made to fall very heavy on the weak without much cost of effort to the strong, and affords a sensible relief to the pressure of passion. If it were only effective in its purpose the use of it might be conceded to the parent and teacher for its evident facility of application and the gratification it seems to give them. But it is not effective. Virtue and learning to be pursued must be loved, and we are yet to learn that the association of the painful and disagreeable – and to the child the rod, the birch, and the cat o’ nine tails are probably both, however enjoyed by those who apply them – is favorable to strength of attachment.

The moral and intellectual discipline of the child is certainly no easy matter, and the sooner the parent or teacher makes up his mind to it the better it will be for all. He should understand that it is not the summary process of a blow given in a spasm of passion, but a serious business, requiring time and patience.

The use of the rod begets an awe of the parent which never leaves the child, so that when he advances in life, if he becomes superior to fear, he yet feels toward father or mother a reserve which prevents that intimate companionship which is the best safeguard of youth against the dangers of the world.

It is not safe to trust the strong with the power of exercising their animal force upon the weak. Parents, though controlled by all the supposed influence of natural affection, have not seldom perverted this claimed privilege to a violence which has even resulted in death. How much greater, then, the risk of trusting the teacher, who has not, and does not profess to have, a love for his pupils! In France there is a law which forbids the application of physical violence to the child under any pretext whatsoever, and the rod is not only thus banished from every school throughout the empire, but from every home but the most brutalized. The use of it is regarded as the practice of any other gross vice. The relations between parent and child, teacher and pupil, are nowhere more tender, and their union more abiding, than in France.

The law should interfere also in our country, and make it a penal offense for any teacher or other than a parent, and perhaps even for him, to raise his hand to a child. With the present license there is what must be considered by those even in favor of the rod excessive abuse. Those who were not supposed to be cruel by nature, and who even have passed in the ordinary relations of life for benevolent men, have as teachers been guilty, unconsciously it may be, of the greatest inhumanity. A late learned professor, whose disposition is said to have been naturally kindly, issues, when master of a school, this edict: “The last five boys of the class at the end of each day’s lesson shall be caned.” The fault, if a fault, was inevitable, and the penalty certain. Could the severe Draco himself ever have conceived so cruel as law as this?

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The Language of Love

I often end up with tiny people sleeping in my bed. I don’t mind most of the time, and the last few nights I have treasured their presence. Maximus poked me; “Mommy, I am ready to get up now”. <yaaawn> “In a few minutes, baby.” Minimus was still asleep, and I was barely conscious. I snuggled up to my not-so-tiny-anymore boy, and he whispered “I love you Momma”… “I love YOU, sweet boy.” Minimus stirred, and then squawked, “Mommy!! Tuhn oveh to mee!” <yawn> “Mommy!! I am ready to get up NOW, come on!!” “Hang on a minute Max, I need to hug Minim for a minute.”

 I turned over, and gathered my baby (almost 4 year old!!) into my arms, and hugged him gently. He sighed happily, “Oh, you reawy yike Minim, don’t you, Mommy?” <melt.ing> “I really like you, small one, and I really love you too.” “I know, Momma, I yove you too.”

 It had occurred to me about 2 weeks ago that my kids were probably pretty starved for affection. I’m drowning in life, and they stand there on the beach… unable to help me, or themselves. But they do help me. In more ways than they will ever know.

 It has been HARD. Very. Very, HARD. I’ve been angry. And it took me a while to realize that the anger I’m feeling- well, it’s not anything they have done. I hated how I sounded when I talked to them. I felt like I was strong-arming them through every situation. I’ve mentioned before that I firmly believe my first duty is to my own behavior- and so I cried out to God. I started praying for myself, out loud during our bedtime routine. Asking Holy Spirit to come and lay his hand of peace upon ME. Crying out for that most important of all Fruits, self-control. ‘Lord God! Stop my hands! Calm my voice! Give me your vision of my children. Help me to see them with your eyes! Help me to show them the Grace you have shown me!’

 Minimus hadn’t been interested in hearing Bible stories, or participating in prayer. He didn’t like when I prayed or sang hymns. I prayed anyway, but I didn’t make a huge deal out of his reluctance. After about a week of me praying for God to change my behavior, Minimus asked one night to sing the ‘turn your eyes song’. I was floored and rejoiced in my heart. A few days later, he said, “Momma, I wan you to pway to Yord”. Ok then!! :D Now he says, “Pway ’bout Yord.” Or ‘Pway ’bout Hoyee Dhost’. I fight laughter, but I pray. I prayed for a long time that God would speak to Minim’s heart and reveal Himself to my tiny one. He had.

 Recently, things have eased. I still yell sometimes. But God has been providing that control that is so necessary. I was reminded how important the command is to ‘provoke NOT your children to wrath’. I started to remember some of my tips and tricks for changing my responses. When I want to yell, whisper instead. When I want to grab, clap my hands. When I want to hit, move in for a hug. Minimus has started to say, “ahwight, mommy. I wiw yisten” and moving to obey. Once again, Maximus is catching on to some things by watching his brother. They are actually problem solving together. I had to work directly on Maximus- who was using intimidation to make his little brother play the way he wanted. One day I was so tired of correcting them, and helping them to mend their relationship- I cried. “Please just be KiND to each other! If you are kind, maybe you will WANT to play together!”

 I was emotional that day because I was keenly aware of how unkindness had become a habit for me. Towards the end of a particularly terrible day, Maximus had come up to me cautiously and said, “Mommy? How about you try to use your kind and gentle words for the rest of the day?” (Thanks kid. I’ll just pull that sword out of my heart, now.) I took a deep breath. “I will try, Max, I promise’. I did try. I succeeded, partially. Through that and other days; days where I have cried, and been offered bowls of pink lemonade, glasses of water, Kleenex, chocolate, and had a stuffed monkey tenderly velcro’d around my neck; I have come to understand a few things. Namely- my kids understand how to show kindness. They care when I hurt. They WANT to learn. They need hugs, touches, praise, gifts, and time spent listening. They need me invested in them. And I must have been- because they invest themselves in me. They know I love them- and to them- love means those things.

 More importantly, they know I LIKE them. They know that I choose to spend time with them. I care about what they care about. I think they are fascinating people. They know how to show love back. I think I’m starting to learn this Language.

 gg

Posted in Figuring it out, For the Bible tells me so., Testimony | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment