We don’t discipline our son. We don’t spank him. No time outs. No punishments of any kind. We’ve never raised our voice to him. We have never mocked him. We speak to him lovingly, sometimes firmly, sometimes laughing. We try to treat him how we would like to be treated. We try to respect the fact that he is a full person with his own desires and thoughts that are not somehow less because he is a young person. We are very attentive to the process of how we are, together, as a family and not just the “outcome.”
For the two years and six months that he has been with us, I don’t really tell this to many people. I’ve casually and gently said that we recognize that there are many ways to raise children and we’re not judging other people; that this is just what works best for our family. And in many ways, this is true. On the one hand, this world asks so much of us. It is so hard. It is hard to be a parent in a world that does not support families or parents or value children. It is hard to be in a world where there is violence all around us and there are 101 guides and experts telling us what to do, all different things each week and month. Where we are struggling financially, spiritually. Where we are tired. I have had, in so many ways, a lucky and privileged life and who in the hell am I to tell someone else that they are not raising their children the “right” way?
Yet. Yet. Yet yet.
I’ve been discussing with my mom our parenting choices. She is supportive of our approach and does her best to be with our son as we would be with him: gentle, loving, supportive, teaching, guiding, listening. But at the same time, she defends with rigor parents who spank their children or, for instance, who take their young children to hunt, arguing that those parents love their children and they are “turning out well” and so to each his or her own. We do it our way. They do it their way.
Shortly after an intense conversation about this, I listened to a gut-wrenching report on NPR about a study about parents yelling at their children and spanking them. Small children. Who would not do what their parents said or wanted. Like, I heard parents hitting their kids and screaming at them on the radio. This wasn’t abuse in any traditional sense (“other bad people”). It was just regular families like the one down the street, randomly sampled, and it showed how routine and typical it is for parents to hit small children and scream at them over both large and small issues.
And something changed within me. I will no longer hide how we parent. I will not pretend that I think our approach is one among many approaches – hit them or not, yell or not, be kind or not, kill animals for fun or not, watch violent television or not… all personal decisions about what is best for your family.
Because how we raise our children is not just about our families. It is about the world we live in. And hearing on NPR children being hit and screamed at… I mean, I am shocked that people are surprised we have a “bullying” problem in this country. It is not a “bullying” problem, it is a kindness problem. If we treat our children unkindly, do not show them the respect we wish them to show others, and use violence with them, how are we to ever expect that they will grow up and reject violence? And unkindness?
I have been so profoundly lucky to have access to and read about people’s ideas on parenting. I think the most influential to me have been Mothering Magazine and a blog by Kelly Hogaboom. I have also been so lucky to have a partner who is not only with me on this, but teaches me about this – that trusted and continues to trust that when we explain things gently and repeatedly to our son, he will understand this in his own time and it will be real understanding rather than something he does because he is threatened.
This does not mean we are perfect (oh. my god. are we not. perfect.) or that we don’t mess up all the time or that we are not missing big important things that he will need therapy for someday. Or that it is not harder to do it this way. That it is not sooooo hard. This does not mean that I will go around glaring at parents who act differently than I think they should. Or will I be some sort of consensual family living evangelist. But it does mean that I am no longer going to pretend “I do it my way and you do it your way and, hey, it is all just fine.” It isn’t just fine. I have been lucky that people have been willing to gently and with deep compassion challenge me to be a different kind of person and different kind of parent. They risked that I would feel judged, that I would be nasty, that I would reject them. And I am thankful that they risked that. I think I will be willing to risk that in my life now.