This is the story of my friend ‘Lucy’ and her journey into Gace Based Discipline. She has changed the names of her family, for privacy’s sake.
Let me tell you a bit about me and my family for background. My name is Lucy. I have an Elementary Education degree from a state university. I have been a La Leche League Leader since 2002. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and everyone in my family used spanking as discipline.
My parents very rarely spanked us and even when they did; it was mainly as an attention getter. Their main tools for discipline were yelling (my Mom) and grounding; with that rare spanking thrown in. My two uncles, however, used spanking often and they both scared me to death! I was terrified of them. When we misbehaved, the threat was always there that my parents were going to send us to live with Uncle D because he’d “straighten us out.” We attended a Free Methodist church and Sunday school. I whole-heartedly believe that my parents loved us with every fiber of their being. They would do anything for us, drop their plans for us, drive us here, there and yonder, and make sure that we had every opportunity to do anything we wanted to do (theater, drill team, roller skating, etc). They showered us with affection because my Mom literally grew up with none. Her father didn’t tell her he loved her till he was on his deathbed. My parents did the best they could with the information they had and that is all any of us can do. I was not saved until the summer of 2008, even though I grew up thinking I was a Christian.
My husband, Lee, is a Buddhist, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. He was really abused by his parents growing up. He was hit, punched, kicked, hit with rulers, spoons, or whatever else his parents could get their hands on. We’ve never actually sat down and discussed how bad it was because he just won’t go there. I’ve picked up snippets of his growing up years through our 19 years together. He went to a Catholic school from Kindergarten through graduation. It was old-school, nuns with rulers and all that. He was hit at school in the name of God and told that he HAD to believe what they were teaching and it was beaten into him. I questioned why his Buddhist parents sent him to a Catholic School and was told because it was the best school and they are all about “the best” of everything. The abuse didn’t stop when he grew up and came to the USA.
Right after our wedding, his father punched him three times and slapped him across the face because we were 10 minutes late waking up one morning. After that incident (I think that was the last physical punishment he got from them) they continued to be verbally abusive for the next 15 years, until he cut them out of his life for 18 months. They’ve been on their best behavior since he let them back into his life because they understand that he will kick them out again and there will be no more chances.
Lee and I have been married for 18 years and we have 3 children. Audrey is 15, Logan is 11, and Carter is 6.
Now that you have a bit of background, let me tell you a bit about my parenting journey. When our daughter, Audrey, was born we lived in the area around my family. We spanked her or put her in time out and those were really the only tools we had in our toolbox because we didn’t know of any other ones. It never even entered my mind to do anything but spank and use time-outs. I didn’t know that was considered punitive parenting because I’d never heard the term before.
We moved to Florida two and a half weeks before our first son, Logan, was born and I started attending La Leche League for breastfeeding support. I’d failed miserably at breastfeeding Audrey and I was determined to breastfeed my second child. Through the course of the next few months, I learned more about LLL and their philosophies. One of them is “From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.” This intrigued me. When there is something new to me, I feel the need to research and find out more about it. I’d been through college and knew all about age-appropriate behaviors but since I my degree was for K-8, I hadn’t studied much about early childhood. So, I delved into age appropriate behaviors for my then 3 year old daughter. I found that a lot of what I was punishing her for was just her exploring her world and learning – it wasn’t a result of her being deliberately disobedient. I barely had to baby-proof my house for her. She just naturally left things alone. By society’s standard, she was a “good” child but like any child displayed age-appropriate behaviors that some would construe as disobedient, stubborn, or just bad.
I look back now at one video I have of her (she was about 2 years old – maybe a bit younger) and can clearly see how I viewed her then and how I view that same scene now. I had the video camera out and she was modeling a bunch of new clothes. She kept trying to touch the camera and I kept telling her “No touch.” She’d respond with “I touch.” She was smiling and having fun. Back then, I remember putting the camera away because I got mad at her for being so defiant and continually touching the camera after repeatedly being told to stop. I can look back now and see that my daughter was fascinated by this thing that took her picture. She wanted to explore it, not defy me. She was happy because we’d been playing at her modeling her clothes. She wanted to be involved in the camera part of it. It was something new that she didn’t understand. Two year olds need to touch and explore what they don’t know. Now, if that same scene happened, I would turn the camera around and gently help her video tape me. I would show her what buttons to push to turn it on and off and we would explore it together. I would also explain that it wasn’t for her to touch alone and that if she wanted to take pictures, she could ask Mommy or Daddy for help and that we’d help her.
It has been a complete paradigm shift from thinking that it was me vs. my kids to now thinking that we are on the same team. I have more knowledge and experience and I now understand that I need to lovingly guide them as they explore, learn and grow. Let me tell you, it was HARD!!!! As much as I was intrigued by LLL’s philosophy, there was a huge part of me that balked at changing what I knew and how I grew up. It has been 12 years and I still struggle with it. I have to continue exploring new ways of approaching my children and digging for new tools to add to my parenting toolbox.
Then God saved me. Again, I had to rethink my parenting because I started attending a Baptist church and they had a completely different view of children than I did. I remember the first glimpse I had at this. I had arrived at Sunday school before anyone else. Lying on the chair beside where I sat was a worksheet from a parenting class they’d held that week. Curiosity got the better of me and I started reading. I was actually horrified at it. It didn’t have any book name or references where these questions came from, but it was all about spanking, what offenses should be considered worthy of spanking, what tools to use to spank, how many times the child should be spanked, and it said on there that God commanded it. I later found out that this worksheet went along with Ted Tripp’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart. I was absolutely floored that the loving, grace-filled, forgiving God who had just saved me and given me a deep need to delve into His Word, would command us to physically hurt our children. From what I’d read up to that point, Jesus was this kind, gentle teacher who spoke to sinners of their sin and gently showed them their need for Him. I had seen no evidence of needing to heap condemnation upon the heads of our children. Christ most certainly didn’t. He didn’t say bring the children to me because if they don’t repent now they will die and go to hell. He said let the children come to him because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
We were created to worship the Lord. Children lack the ability to make fully deliberate choices to sin. Yes, they sin but they view it much differently than adults do. Adults can distinguish between good actions and bad actions. Children need to be *taught* what is good and what is bad. They need to be *taught* how to make good choices. They also need to be *taught* self-control (so many choices in life revolve around one’s ability to control oneself). Back to the video camera scene – My daughter’s motivation was not “I’m going to be bad and disobey my Mom and touch this camera.” Her motivation was “Wow! Mom is taking my picture. I need to know how it works.” She was too young to understand *sin*, she was just trying to learn. It was my job to teach her how to navigate this situation because it was something new for her. To just pronounce “No touch!” with no explanations or real teaching is no different than training an animal. I know now that I’m not *training* my children, I’m to be teaching and guiding them.
When we read the Bible and study it, we bring in our own human presuppositions (what we grew up with, what we’ve been taught by people who came before us, or what we’ve been taught by people saying they are “experts”). Not spanking is counterintuitive. It’s human nature to feel we must pay for our own sin and a natural extension of that is to make our children pay for their sins. But that misses the whole point of the Gospel! We can’t! It’s counterintuitive to not strike back when we’re hit or hurt. Jesus said to do it differently though, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give extra of ourselves. We’re naturally selfish; spanking it out of a child won’t make him less so. Only the Gospel can save us and that goes for children too. I can guide and teach and show God’s grace and mercy to my children or I can punish everything I view as sin in their life. Just because I use a different method of disciplining my children doesn’t mean that I’m not teaching them about sin. I just do it age appropriately with my eye on what developmental stage they are at.
Audrey and I have conversations about sin and choices and consequences just as I have these same conversations with the boys. The difference is that what Audrey and I talk about would go right over Carter’s head. He will NOT understand if I sit and tell him everything little thing he does is sin. We talk about good choices and bad choices and their natural and logical consequences. I do tell him about sin. Right now, the big one we talk about is lying. Lying is a sin and that God hates sin. We should be truthful. We talk about Jesus dying even for that lie he just told. I keep it as simple and basic as I can for him. I don’t punish him for lying because I never want him to be afraid to tell me the truth. I just let him have the natural consequences of lying (losing trust, his siblings not wanting to play with him, etc) I also recognize that at 5 years old, he is smack in the middle of the “wishful thinking” stage of development. This is a time when a child wishes so hard that something is true that it actually becomes true to him. Sometimes, he is not deliberately lying to lie. He wants something so bad that, in his mind, that is the way it is. We still talk about lying and sin, but I come at it from a different angle. I can’t discount his developmental stage because he just will not get it if I come at it from a complete sin angle. It will go right over his head and I will have taught him nothing except the injustice of being punished for something that (to him) is very, very true. Conversations that happen because of “wishful thinking” can be very long as I lead him to understand what *really* happened instead of what he *wants* to have happened. Also, there are times when he and I both know he is lying and he can be reasoned with and we can discuss it. Those times I approach differently than I do with something that is clearly “wishful thinking.” I am more direct with explaining about lying being a sin, but I still do it with respect and care for who he is as a child.
With Audrey, she full-well knows what a lie is. She makes the deliberate decision to lie to me (though she very rarely does). When she comes to confess that she has lied to me, I first want to understand why she lied. For instance, when we were putting up the Christmas tree, Parker (our cat) tried to climb it and broke the base. She insisted that Parker did not do it. I’d been watching out of the corner of my eye and saw it happen so I knew she was lying. Lee and I went to Wal-Mart, got a new base, came home and repaired the tree. It was a few hours later, but Audrey caught me in the garage where we could be alone and out of the blue, admitted that she lied. I could have heaped condemnation on her head and punished her for it. Instead I wanted to see her heart and find out why she lied to us, so I asked her why she felt the need to lie. She honestly told me that she was afraid that if she told the truth, her Dad would get rid of Parker. He’s not keen on having the cat in the first place and he’s threatened to get rid of her in the past. I totally understand why she lied. I told her that I’d seen Parker try to climb the tree and I knew that she’d lied but that I didn’t say anything because I was waiting for her to come to me. I told her that what she did was not right and that lying is a sin and it is not OK. I told her that I forgave her for lying to me and that if she apologizes to God, He is faithful and will forgive her too because this is why Jesus died for us. I also told her that she had to tell her Dad the truth and apologize to him for lying. There was no need to punish her, she felt bad enough already and was near tears. I could either punishment her and make her feel worse or I could show her God’s grace and use it to teach her something. 1. God is faithful and will forgive 2. I’m not her enemy, I love her no matter what, and that I will forgive her too, 3. Sometimes we still have to live with unpleasant natural consequences.
Hey, I didn’t stop sinning the moment He saved me. When I am convicted of sin in my life, God doesn’t punish me with lightning bolts. He forgives me, offers me grace and stands back and lets me experience the natural consequences of my sins. I may be forgiven but there are still consequences for my actions. I don’t rescue my children from natural consequences; I just don’t punish them on top of natural consequences. Audrey understands that the natural consequences of her lying to protect the cat are that we will not as readily believe her about things involving the cat in the future. She has lost our trust in her and will have to show us that she can be truthful for us to believe her again (I know God forgives and forgets, but we are human and she’ll need to earn our trust back).
I can’t punish the sin out of my children anymore than God could punish the sin out of me. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved me through grace, not punishment. I can’t save my children at all. Not through punishment, not through teaching, not through talking their ears off, not through any works or acts or word or deed. I can only teach them about God, model Christian living for them, and pray, pray, pray that God will save them too. If their human mother, full of sin and making mistakes daily can show them grace, how much more so can God show them???
I also look at how I parent my children as a way to witness to non-Christians. What does it look like if I’m telling someone about a loving God and then turn around and cause physical pain to my child? That, to me, is not being a good witness and it isn’t modeling Christ-like behavior. I look at people, like my husband, who have been hurt in the name of God. What am I telling my husband if I try to live a Christ-like life then turn around and spank our children? If I have to punish the sin out of my children, then I don’t worship a very powerful God. I take so much away from God if I act on His behalf. I negate what Christ did on the cross for His children. I can’t tell what is in my children’s hearts. I don’t know their motivations behind their actions. If I view everything they do as wicked and sinful and punish them because of that, what do I tell them about why Jesus died for them? If they are being spanked or punished in another way, they are paying for their own sins. They don’t need a Savior because they are doing it themselves.
This goes against everything the Bible teaches us. I believe in Jesus, God in human flesh who died on the cross to pay for my sins. I don’t have to pay for my sins because they’ve already been paid for. I want my children to understand this, not grow up believing that they can pay for their own sins by punishing themselves after they leave my home, when I’m no longer around to punish them.