Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Letter: To Those of You Who Complain That Parents Nowadays Aren't Good Disciplinarians

I had a particularly difficult time-out session yesterday. Oh wait, did I say "I?" I meant Elizabeth. But really, it was just as hard for me as it was for her. It's in no way fun or easy to sit there and listen to my little girl cry for 50 minutes straight. But I knew that, since we are starting to implement new rules based on her growing understanding of (and attempting to get away with) unacceptable behaviors, the first few weeks (and especially days) would be the hardest. It's like ripping off a band-aid. Once she realizes what's going on, she'll get it. Even today was better...she only cried for 35 minutes straight. But PHEW, this consistent discipline stuff is not for the faint of heart.

It got me thinking about the different discipline techniques that are out there, and which ones are and aren't effective. That's a difficult subject to tackle, because really, a lot of it depends on the family and what they feel comfortable with. But a lot also depends on what produces results. When I look back on how parents used to discipline their children, it seems so great and simple to me. But it bothers me when people complain about how other families discipline their children. Sure, if their discipline methods are not producing results, perhaps they should try something else. But, as I've said before, what's right for my family might not necessarily be right for yours.

So if you find yourself grumbling about how "things just ain't what they used to be," this blog post might just be for you.

Dear Person Who Thinks Discipline Has Gone Down the Drain,

Hi! I'm Ashley. I'm glad we've met. Because I think we have a lot in common. I, too, think that parents back in the day had the right idea. Children were expected to behave, and quite simply, if they didn't, there were consequences. That was that. Things were simple. Both parents and children knew what was acceptable and what was not. Both parents and children knew what would happen if and when rules were broken. And for the most part, a majority of parents agreed with each others' parenting styles.

I'm all about disciplining the "old-fashioned" way. It fits me. And, having a strong willed child, I find that it is much easier for me to be consistent when I have clear cut rules: "If you do action A, consequence B will happen, every time." I have no problem with spanking, and think for some families, it can work very well. I have a hard time believing that if you give children time-out for longer than the recommended "one minute for every year of age" that they will completely fail to understand the consequences of their actions. I have learned that, when done appropriately, I CAN let my child cry and work out her own problems, and it won't result in long term brain damage or emotional instability like so many "researchers" say it will.

Bottom line: disciplining your child is the most loving thing you can do for her, because it teaches her how to deal with real life. Agreed? Yes? Cool.

But. Here's the thing. Times are much, much different now than they used to be when a smack in the behind would suffice for proper punishment. It's very easy for anyone to sit back and say to himself, "If I were that child's parent, things would be quite different. If I had done that when I was a kid, my parents would not have tolerated it for one millisecond. Back in my day, that kid would have learned respect." Etc, etc, etc.

Again, I agree with you. But you must keep in mind what our current society is like, and the pressures parents now face that were never even on the radar of parents 50 years ago. Sure, we have a lot of things easier than parents back then did. Life is much more convenient. But we have different difficulties than they did. Especially those of us who want to implement good ol' fashioned discipline for our children.

1. Parents back then did not have the constant worry of DCFS showing up at their doors
Please understand that I am in no way saying DCFS is a bad thing. Of course, there are unfortunately so many neglected children who need assistance and benefit greatly from this organization. But sometimes, parents who are just doing their job and raising their children appropriately and lovingly are accused of doing the exact opposite. I am terrified of giving Elizabeth a "time out" somewhere in public, because someone could potentially see that as "child neglect." I always hesitate to leave her be in a store aisle while she throws a fit, because I know someone could easily report me for abandonment. I never spank her in front of strangers, even though I sometimes do when we are by ourselves at home, because in their eyes, that would make me a child abuser.
I think it's pretty obvious where the line is. You can tell the difference between a parent who disciplines in a firm but loving way and one who does so in a totally inappropriate and harmful way. At least, you would think people can tell the difference. But it's not so anymore.

2. Appropriate spanking was normal and common
And maybe, some of you might say, inappropriate spanking was considered normal. I know my parents have told me that if they would have done to me what their parents did to them, it would have been easily considered "abuse." But they have never talked about their parents with fear or trepidation in their voices, and they do not feel emotionally stunted or damaged from the way their parents disciplined them. Nowadays, if you even say that you spank your child, you are given looks. When I spank Elizabeth, it involves a swat on the hand or the behind. And yes, it is hard enough so that she gets the message. But then it's over and done. And we both move on. It is an effective way for me to communicate to her when something she does in not acceptable, because she is not able to communicate with words yet. I don't enjoy doing it. And she doesn't enjoy receiving it. But it works for our family.

I'm certainly not trying to suggest that spanking is a good disciplinary tool for everyone. Some families might be very uncomfortable using it with their children. And that's fine. But it's a shame that I have to feel judged and even frightened to use my completely appropriate disciplinary tool in public just because others don't agree with it.

3. Most mothers stayed home with the children
This is a big one. When I was a full time working outside the home mom, I found it very difficult to consistently implement my own discipline techniques, when during the day my child was disciplined in a completely different way. I think it's safe to say that most, if not all, day care facilities (rightfully so) would never dream of spanking a child in their care, even if a parent gave them permission, for fear of getting sued or fired. Some people think time-out is not a good thing. Regardless of who thinks what, the fact of the matter is, if I am the parent, it is ultimately my responsibility to discipline my child. And this is much harder to do when I am not a near constant presence in the child's life.
This is not, of course, to say that moms who work outside the home should just throw in the towel and give up. It is definitely possible to implement your own disciplinary methods on your children, even if they are cared for by someone else for much of the day. But it is impossible to deny that it is much more difficult.

4. Fathers played a much bigger role in the family
Unfortunately, nowadays, the amount of single moms out there is frighteningly high. And the feminist movement has made it seem that men are no longer needed to raise a family. I've written before about just how important daddies are in raising children. 60 years ago, divorce was rare. Fathers were a much more constant presence in the lives of their children than they are today. And as a result, a child received discipline from both parents. Even in families today who have both a mom and a dad present, the mother is usually the disciplinarian. It is now politically incorrect to refer to the father as the head of the household, even though it makes Biblical and logistical sense.

5. There were not "experts" coming at parents with copious amounts of research, all stating different things
Don't spank your kid, or she will think violence is acceptable. Don't let your kid cry, or he will develop severe trust issues. Don't do time out, or the world will explode.
I'm so. sick. of. all. the. research. It's overwhelming, exhausting, and confusing. Because every "expert" says something different. 50 years ago, parents just did what their instincts told them. But now, you've got people coming at you from all over telling you that what you are doing is WRONG and it will affect your child for LIFE. Talk about insecurity.

6. It was considered a good thing to let your child learn by doing.
This one, probably more than anything, irks me the most. I am a very "hands off" parent. When I say this, I mean that I am perfectly fine with allowing Elizabeth to do things many other parents would (and do) think are "dangerous." Now, obviously, I am smart about this. I do not allow my child to do anything that is downright unsafe, like playing with electrical outlets, knives, fire, or anything like that. But I realize that there are risks with everything, and I cannot let my fear of a small risk outweigh the benefit of Elizabeth learning how to do common tasks or activities. Typical occurrences in my house:

Freaked out person: "Elizabeth, NO! Don't close that drawer! You'll smash your fingers!"
My response: "Maybe then she'll learn that closing the drawer that hard is a bad thing." 
Freaked out person: "Elizabeth, NO! Don't run so fast down the driveway! You'll fall and scrape your knee!"
My response: "Uh....she's going to fall in her life. Many, many times. A scraped knee is not concerning to me at all." 
Freaked out person: "Elizabeth, NO! Don't help your mom unload the dishwasher! That fork could poke you in the eye!"
My response: "Elizabeth, YES. Help me unload the dishwasher. The pain it saves my 9 month pregnant back from not having to bend over is well worth the risk of your eyeball." (Just kidding...kind of...) 
Freaked out person: "Elizabeth, NO! Don't go up the stairs! You are going to fall down!"
My response: " else is she supposed to learn to go up the stairs? Perhaps we can learn to to apparate like they do in Harry Potter."

So, person who complains about how kids just aren't disciplined the right way anymore, I'm right there with you. But I also know better than to automatically assume a family's situation. And I realize that, as nostalgic as I am about the way things "used to be," it's just not realistic to assume things are that simple. Discipline is not a's a marathon. It lasts until your child leaves your home, and perhaps even past that point. It's a complicated thing, and more of a learning experience than I ever imagined it would be. Certain things will work for some families and not for others. And we must figure out what is best for us.

Much love,

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