Thursday, March 18, 2010
I'm not looking to open a can of worms here, but I'll come right out and say that this household is a no-spanking zone. I personally don't believe in spanking as a principle, but also because if I allow myself to hit my children when I am angry, I would hit them HARD. Where do you draw the line? I stop myself at a firm grasping of an arm and speaking in a low, serious tone to tell them I mean business. What 'business' is, I'm not quite sure--hey, aren't we all winging it here? But it's usually enough to make them quit whatever they are doing.
I only recall being spanked once as a child, after my brother Matt and I repeatedly crank-called 911 while we were supposedly under my father's watchful eye. I (allegedly) asked the 911 operator out on a date (I was not more than 6 at the time). Man, would I love to go back in time and hear the conversation that undoubtedly occurred between my parents that day! Anyway, I scarcely remember the spanking, but what stuck with me was the appropriately-placed guilt. My parents never used overdone, Catholic guilt as a parenting technique (my Mom is Jewish, which is a whole different breed of guilt, and my dad is an athiest)--this was smooth and effective...laxative guilt, one might say. Mom and Dad pulled out the "someone may have died because they had a real emergency and called 911 but you were tying up the phone line" story. At that age, I didn't know that the 911 system was likely, and hopefully, more sophisticated than one guy sitting on a ratty brown office chair with the foam stuffing poking out, answering one rotary-dial telephone, even if this was Tallahassee in the early 80s. I did feel appropriately terrible, although (again, allegedly) my first draft of my apology letter to the police contained a statement along the lines of "My brother made me do it". Needless to say, I got my first lesson in revision that day.
This laxative guilt was used throughout my teenage years as well. I am a terrible liar (thus narrowing my career options with my law degree), so it was clear when I was hiding something. During those years, my parents' stock line after a lie was "It's going to take a long time to build back the trust". And it was devastating, knowing that my parents viewed me as some shifty person they couldn't quite trust. I must have subconsciously filed that line in my parenting lobe, because I totally have used that one. Another one I use that channels my parents is "Did Daddy already give you an answer? Because we don't shop around for answers in this family." Mmmmhmmmm...pure gold. I'm sure as the boys get older and we're faced with new struggles, I'll be rooting around in my subconscious for more.
Sam and I, thankfully, are virtually totally aligned in our parenting styles. The one method he has used that I vehemently oppose is "The Pinch", something he learned from his own childhood. When he acted up during dinner or couldn't get his act together in the car as a child, he would get a firm pinch on the leg. When we had it out over this, Sam agreed that when he was being his best parenting self, he would not choose this option to change our children's behavior, that it was more of a last ditch effort, I've-had-it-up-to-here kind of thing. That parenting method has since been discontinued in our household, thanks in part to a couple of great parenting books (and in part to, shall we say nicely, a verbally persuasive wife).
I'm not a parenting book type of person really, but I have to say that I am reading a book now that has helped immensely in my goal of being my best parenting self--Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali.
Ladies, check it out from your local libraries because this one is worth reading. I am no Buddhist, but incorporating some of these ideas into my every day life has made such a difference in my well-being, and given me a new perspective on interacting with my children. Sam didn't know I was reading it, but noticed the way I diffused a situation was particularly calm and productive. Mothers with more than one child may notice that something that worked fine with the first just doesn't work with the second or third. Timeouts are perfect for Jackson--we send him up to his room to cool off for a couple of minutes, and then one of us goes up and has a great conversation about how he could have handled the situation differently, and how he could make it right. With Alex, removing him from an argument with a timeout only escalated the situation, leaving him furiously kicking his door and screaming. It took many agonizing tries and late-night parenting discussions before we adopted a strategy that is helping him slowly learn to put his emotions into words. It sure is a team effort to parent consciously, learning to switch our pitch depending on the batter, but here's hoping it will pay off in the long run.