Mom’s Such a Martyr – Parental Sacrifice and the Six Year Challenge

 

One of my many differences with people in the parenting groups and with the prevailing climate in the gentle parenting movement is around sacrifice, around parents looking after themselves as well as their kids, because it’s important to model self-love and care, and because we figure happy, less stressed-out parents will have more success with their efforts to make the gentle change in their parenting. All this and more, and it’s obvious, impossible to deny in theory . . .

LOL. Of course I’m kidding!

My contrariness is not easily intimidated. I don’t know if you, the postulated reader realize it, but I’m kind of living on the edge here, when I start these sorts of rants, often the subject of my critique is something apparently unassailable like this. This is a high wire act in my mind, unconventional thinking, and it’s not easy. But with every new aspect of my study here, I’m gaining confidence and I don’t think I’m going mad. Fooling myself that I’m winning any points in these arguments doesn’t seem overly difficult or complex, which tells me I’m not so far diverged from the reality of things. Of course, for a curmudgeon, this is where the fun is. So to it, then.

This generation’s allergy to parental notions of sacrifice has some strange roots. The image of the sacrificing Mom is that of the Nineteen-fifties middle America, thing, Dad off at work and Mom at home, a slave to the house, the laundry, the kids, and of course Dad, and Mom lives out her life never doing a thing for herself, a martyr for the family. That, yes, a horrible standard for Mom, working twenty-four seven and the most hardworking of Dads not working those hours at all, home time being largely off-time for Dad. This is a situation at which to rebel, and when I was young, it was Women’s’ Lib, the women’s’ liberation movement, or more generally known then as today, feminism, that broke the spell and let us all know that this sacrifice was neither ‘its own reward’ or the model anyone should set their daughters up for.

All right and proper, not strange, I know, but here it is: was that also not the time and culture that beat the crap out of their kids, out of our parents, us and our friends? (I’m fifty-five as of this writing.) I know, right, parenting blogs and feminist blogs and never the twain shall meet, but, folks, it’s all one world out there. Our martyrs passed on their second-class citizen status and associated abuse to us, right? I know, many acted as protectors, shielding us from our more violent fathers, but really, in that demographic, who raised the kids? All I’m saying is, I get it, that culture of “sacrifice” was bad, that model needs to go, for both feminist and – childist – reasons, no argument for that larger thing: that whole culture needs to change, absolutely.

But (and here come the comments), was the sacrifice really the problem in it?

If it seems to be, I think it’s only because of its close ties to abuse, that Mom’s sacrifice means she allowed herself and therefore us to be abused. Does the feminist movement want to say that Mom was complicit in her own and her children’s’ abuse, that is, is Mom’s shared guilt what they want to shine a light on, or should we not just keep the parenting talk focussed on abuse? Abuse is the real scourge here, focussing on sacrifice is oddly misogynist when we’re talking about abuse or parenting, it’s a form of victim blaming – as though there are impersonal, automatic cycles of abuse with lives of their own, but these martyr women, they’re making a choice in it, like they’re the only ones who are. It just smells off to me. Mom may have done it as an adult, but abuse is still abuse, even if we seem to volunteer for it. It’s the driving force in the dark side of our parents’ and grandparents’ parenting and Stockholm Syndrome in itself is a reaction, not a cause. All I’m saying is, Ladies, mothers, feminists and those who are both especially, yes, no-one should model that, that was some misguided sacrifice indeed.

To give the devil and the dark side it’s due, though, some bullshit in the name of a virtue is not a new thing in the world, and many a callous abuser has beaten his chest and cried about his “sacrifice.”  As Dark Side as I can ever be: is the flip side of ‘happy parents are gentle parents’ an ultimatum: ‘Call me out on my bullshit and I will beat the tar out of this kid?’ Misreads and abuse exist for everything, including sacrifice; it doesn’t mean things can’t ever be the good, proper versions sometimes. Sacrifice was our mothers’ and grandmothers’ immediate personal problem, their battle, and maybe still many ladies’ battle today, and solving it saves women, absolutely. Suggesting that fighting this battle somehow saves children, and that the two groups, women and children (read adults and children) can never be in conflict, that one’s gains can never negatively impact the other, however, isn’t right and it’s not helpful. Your fight for freedom was and is against the men, the adults. It’s still OK to sacrifice a little for your kids.

How sacrifice hurts us as children is only one of the many, many ways abuse hurts us. Let’s keep our eye on the prize.

So. ‘One of my many differences.’

I don’t mind some sacrifice. Yes, I’m a cultural Christian, and while that doesn’t mean I agree with the sacrifice of human beings in the literal sense, nailed to trees, I do think sacrifice is, at least in it’s better forms, a good thing, a moral act. In fact, it’s a big part of my planned cure for abuse and punishment in the world. In it’s most practical, generational terms, what I’m advising is that some punished and also possibly abused generation swallow that pain and find a way not to repeat, in fact to sacrifice what they see as a “normal, happy life,” live with the pain and troubles their childhoods left them with and keep their fucking hands off of their own kids, even if they think “raising their kids right” will make themselves feel better. That is gonna feel like some sacrifice, I won’t lie to you.

I felt it, believe me.

I can’t imagine how many times I’ve told the half-joke that I sometimes wish I had beat my second daughter up at least once, just so that during all the frustrating times with her afterward, I could have just closed my eyes for a second and treasured the memory. Man, it would be nice, once in a man’s life to bark an order and see it swiftly carried out. That is an immediate gratification I have rarely enjoyed, believe me. I have fantasies of personal power, my worldview tells me we all do, and I have happily (usually happily) sacrificed getting the payoff those fantasies promise.

In practical terms in a slightly shorter time frame, I would say the sacrifice of our inheritance of parental power needed to last until my younger daughter was old enough to talk and reason with, old enough to understand things, and as I remember it, she was five or six. She was born a full three and one-third years after our older one, so the difficult years, where we manually did everything we might want to train our kids to control themselves for, were then over before ten years had elapsed from the first one’s birth. I mean, ten years into our life as parents, we never had another cause to consider punishing. This when the teen years were still before us, and they aren’t anymore. We sacrificed, and it paid, sorry if that sounds ironically old fashioned.

We sacrificed a lot, all the other things, besides the sense of parental power I will save for another post, but there was a lot of work, and we had opted out of much of normal life around normal families, we sacrificed the support normal parents get from each other. Not kidding, it was a lot, but again: for six years after the birth of your last child, then it’s payoff time. Not kidding about that either.

 

 

Conclusions

 

That old model of family life, yes, that was bad, let’s do away with that, but let’s also make sure we’re fighting the real devil here, not some victim proxy. Mom’s sacrifice didn’t help, but abuse and force, these are the issues that shape us, negative things like these. Sacrifice is still a moral tool, with a legitimate existence. Do we imagine that in harsh, unforgiving nature, sacrifice on the part of parents is not a survival adaptation for the young and so for the species?

Having said that, part of what was wrong with the model of Mom’s martyrdom is that it never ends, the payout is never made. They thought the payout was our success and our happiness – but again: they whooped our asses while they said that to themselves, so that payout maybe never came either, right? Sacrifice for nothing really isn’t, in hindsight. What I’m offering you here is old-time, tried and true sacrifice, hard work for actual results.

Face that Mom and Dad were and all your friends and colleagues are wrong about the benefits of any sort of punishing, and hold back your punitive urges until your kids are six years old. Make that sacrifice and see what happens. And don’t get me wrong, be nice to yourselves, that part is true, it will be easier if you’re getting breaks. If, however, when it gets hard, and you can’t help but feel you’re somehow repeating Mom’s errors, over-sacrificing, I promise you, six years. Six years of feeling like something of a fool, six years of letting your kids get away with stuff you never would have gotten away with, six years of feeling like your inner child has lost a fucking lottery, and after that the hard part is behind you – a decade or two earlier than it was when our parents parented us, if you recall. For my wife and I, it meant it was that long before it ever got any easier for many of the parents around us, and neither the strictest ones nor the least so were immune, which, BTW, fits the social science study data.

Some sacrifice is a good thing, sometimes.

 

Jeff

Jan. 16, 2016

#SixYearChallenge

Advertisements

All Right you Mothers – Part #1

First of all, women are oppressed second-class citizens, no argument. I’m all about the equality. Having said that . . .

Ladies, get your shit together, and just like Pink Floyd told the teachers – Hey! Leave those kids alone.

I spend a lot of time criticizing parents, and I don’t mean to be sneaking it in under the radar: mothers are the main parents. In most of the world, most of the child-rearing, and therefore most of the child-rearing mistakes are made by mothers. I suppose in places where the men have proprietorship over their women (old world cultures, sub-cultures where the law doesn’t reach, among the very rich or the very poor), we can say that mothers have no choice, there certainly are places where a lot of misguided mothering is forced upon the mothers by a brutal regime of men – but not in my life! In middle-class suburban or city life in my corner of the former First World, the west coast of Canada, for the most part, it is mothers who have control, mothers who are the autonomous rulers of the family. Men here are still children to some degree, still living in the power-shadow of their own mother; the industrial revolution has removed men from the family structure. We’re like lions now, we will be called upon to fight if there’s a war or a threat, or when the children grow beyond the mother’s ability to control them herself. Other than that, we will defer to the mother, as we always have, from our earliest days.

On a personal level, I would have been one of those minimally involved men – I still am, half the time. Honestly, I still have the weak male core-belief that my contributions to running the household are optional. I cook and clean sometimes, but it’s still sort of voluntary, and sometimes I don’t. I’m sure I would have happily taken the suburban male’s back seat position regarding parenting too, except for this idea I had, my epiphany that children should not be punished. Un-punished children would not have happened if I had left things up to my wife. In my house, it was me, the man, who stood up against potential violence, against the betrayal and disregard that punishing brings to parenting. In my mind, it was about that, about saving my kids from a lot of unconscious brutality, but I have to admit – I wasn’t excited to be that uninvolved, un-consulted father. I was, as so many young men in this First World life are, staring down the barrel of familial irrelevance.

Having seen the effect of that in my own father, as well as in the patriarch of my in-laws’ family, and knowing my constitution wasn’t matched for the alcoholism that was their answer for it, I knew that wasn’t going to sit well with me.

This whole ‘no punishment’ thing, though, this started long before I was able to articulate that fear. I never recognized my dad’s situation that way as anything he didn’t deserve, and I only thought about it in a personal context. It was getting to know my in-laws that gave me to understand that it was a situation many men have to deal with.  Or not, I guess – and that I was facing that crisis/choice also. I think the chronology speaks to any conscious need to build a rationale I may have had – but I’m willing to grant the possible overlap of interests. Much as I’d rather look at it as a pleasant surprise, some collateral repair in my life from choosing to do the right thing, that I fought a careful and prolonged battle with my still-beloved wife to implement a form of child-rearing that very few people would understand or agree with.

I felt for many years, while the girls were young and vulnerable that I was walking a wire not to piss the wife off to the point of divorce while trying to bring her around to my idea, and to this day, I can see the pain that her lack of control over things gives her. The poor girl has done what I advise in my blog, she has lost at both ends, powerless with her own mother, and then cut off from the inheritance of power she needs so bad as an adult, never permitted to enjoy the topside of our eternal parent-child power struggle. I was trying to make the same sacrifice, but I had talked myself into it already, her parents were present in her life . . . for whatever reasons, it was me driving the change and was my wife losing her parental power simultaneously with starting to see the situation of her childhood powerlessness. It was very hard on her. She would never have it any other way now, but I think young motherhood was harder on my young wife than it is for some, thanks to me. Not to mention that I was intervening and insisting on changes because the girls were here now and needed to be spared a lot of “normal” stuff now – and a lot of the “now” was before my wife had understood or agreed with the whole ‘no punishment’ (so no force, so no bedtimes, no mealtimes, no toilet training) thing. If I ever succeeded in one of these interventions, it was often only that I had complained long and loud enough that she would just capitulate.

There wasn’t mostly a meeting of minds while the girls were little. It was a pretty stressful few years, bad for me, probably worse for her. It’s been a lot better since the younger one was maybe five or six, for all of us. Having said that –

My wife is the sweetest, most passive girl I could have found. I would say nine out of ten women I’ve met during the child-rearing years of my life would not have either allowed me to make this change, either would have whooped the kids’ asses while I wasn’t around or left me and had them all to themselves, something. I know what we did, what I made happen is what was in my dear wife’s heart, and she’s been very happy with it for many years now. We have always known we were loved, all through the teen years, always the communication and the honesty has been there.

Using your power early on takes that away from you; it’s a trade no-one in my house will ever again consider, I’m happy to say. Having said that, that, to a considerable degree, is motherhood, this power trap that my wife so painfully escaped, the stage of life where at last a young mother gets to feel her own power rather than her parents’ power, at the expense of her children’s power. I’m hopeful that we have lessened the power of that cycle for our girls and that the cycle will not simply resume with them, when they have children.

I’m hoping that my beautiful wife’s suffering won’t have helped save only our girls, but their kids, and theirs, won’t have been for a blip in history, but the start of something.

So I know how I’m framing this, and it’s horrible. It’s like male/master/rational – female/slave of unconscious needs – and I’m sorry. Any psychologist will remind me that I was getting my unconscious needs met too, of course. As I say, I powered my way into a strong parental position. Also, I acknowledge that most parents will grant that she too had a rational position to argue; I don’t agree, but if it makes me seem less authoritarian, I won’t try to convince you!

Hmmm . . . 1,300 words . . . better leave off for now . . .

Jeff

Oct. 8, 2015

Familiarity Breeds Contempt – Corporal Punishment and the Catholic Church

Just when I thought we had an enlightened Pope, the obvious truth comes out to smack me in the face – well not in the face, I guess. This obvious truth smacked in some other part of my body, some part where being struck isn’t going to cost me my dignity, I guess.
This Pope has come out on the side of many marginalized groups, gays, Muslims (marginalized in the West), even women, I think. He even said righteous atheists could go to heaven! But this –

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31163219

“He made the remarks during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, which was devoted to the role of fathers in the family.
The Pope outlined the traits of a good father, as someone who forgives but is able to “correct with firmness” while not discouraging the child.
Some child welfare campaigners have questioned his comments.
The Pope said: “One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say ‘I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them.’
“How beautiful,” he added. “He knows the sense of dignity. He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.””

– this was rather disappointing. It says in the article that the Catholic Church argued that it “in no way supported corporal punishment,” but one has to wonder if this most shockingly liberal Pope could say this then what would more conservative back-benchers think about it. The article also mentions that the Church had come under criticism last year by a UN committee that was monitoring the progress of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
So, I’m a little afraid that we’re all getting a peek behind the curtain at this Great and Liberal Pope. If he can be supportive of corporal punishment for everybody on Earth – after all, we all start as children – then perhaps that gives the lie to his support of smaller groups, perhaps that support might start to look merely political.
The premise I find amusing: that as long as we’re not struck in the face, we retain our dignity while receiving our corporal punishment. I’m sure we all remember how dignified we felt when our pants were pulled down for it.

Personally, I feel this as a slap in the face, and sort of well, personal. The guy supports every possible cause they throw in front of him except mine. Murphy’s Law, got me again.

#antiparenting

#antiparenting

It’s not personal, Folks, but I think I have to separate myself, I think I have to stop hoping that people might ever find me by searching for “parenting.” You’ll find a lot of people, and a lot of blogs, books, advice, bloggers with thousands, even hundreds of thousands of followers, but from a random sampling of the content, it’s all “parenting,” and in the overwhelming number of cases it’s all synonymous with “control.” I hope I’m not hurting feelings here, but be forewarned: if that’s what you’re talking about I’m not going to follow you. More yet, if I’ve been following you, that’s likely to end soon. Again, not personal, but if I had a brand, you’d be hurting it. I can’t be associated with you.

I’m pretty old, the other side of fifty, and so I’m not the most savvy fellow on the interwebs; much of social networking is counterintuitive to me, and I may have lost my way. I thought I would be followed more if I followed more people, and who knows? Maybe it worked a little. Maybe half of my thirty-some twitter followers and half of my hundred or so WordPress followers are the reciprocal kind, and if those numbers were larger by a few orders of magnitude, I suppose I would accept the arrangement. But really – who compromises for those sorts of numbers? For those numbers I’m going to allow myself to be confused with the likes of Barbara Coloroso?

Not personal, Ms. Coloroso. You’re normal, and as such, you’re a fine specimen of your type – but I am in the business of telling people what they don’t want to hear. I’d love a bestseller, of course I would, but this is not my day job. No-one needs me to make any money at this. Folks, when I tell you you’re all bad parents and you’re destroying the world with your efforts for control, this message comes only from the goodness of my heart. These insults are free for anybody. You’re welcome.

“Parenting” has a lot of positive connotations. We protect our kids, we feed and house them, do all we can when they’re sick and we hope for best for them, of course we do. I have no objection to the things we wish for our children. If that was the entire list of what we do – well, that actually should be the whole list, that’s the point. It is the other side of parenting, the side we don’t like to see, the dark side that I’m taking issue with: punishment has no place in that positive list of parenting activities. It certainly deserves no credit in any positive outcomes our children may have. I tell you here, when a firm hand doing the hard thing appears to save a child from serious trouble, we can be certain it was also what led them to trouble in the first place.

I have to say here, that much of the modern parenting advice never says “hit your kids,” or even “hit your kids if nothing else works.” It’s just that they don’t say not to, at least they don’t say it strongly enough. They’re trying to get read, trying to sell some books or gain a large group of followers; they can’t tell everyone, most of whom have already hit their kids, that they’ve caused irreparable damage. Who wants to hear that?

Let me pose this question, though: who, in the history of the universe ever solved a big problem by hearing only what they wanted to hear? Who, in the history of the universe ever changed people’s minds by only telling them what they already thought?

So the best of the “normals,” as we call the punishers of the world in my house – the degreed ones, the educators, the psychologists – are writing parenting advice, trying to nudge people toward a slightly more gentle sort of parenting, hoping to lessen the damage parents cause through the betrayal and abuse of punishments, but they can’t take a stand on the principle of the matter, not when they’re hoping to be read. There are a few voices in the wilderness. You can find a few people, try searching on “No Punishment,” or variations of that, there are a few of us, as the least of which I count myself.

Again, with no boss to worry about, I’ll say it.

Trying alternative methods first isn’t good enough to stop the damage; ending “corporal” punishment isn’t good enough to avoid the betrayal, the resentment and the world-crippling harm. It is punishment, all punishment, that needs to be purged from anything we should be proud to call parenting. If punishment is a part of the good important work of parenting – I’m anti-that.

A Conflicted Society – the Dreamer, Part #2

My family was always involved peripherally or otherwise, in psychology. My mother was a great reader, we always had copies of “Psycho-cybernetics,” “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and such around the house, “I’m OK, You’re OK” – self-help classics. In my late teens and when I returned home in my early twenties, it had gone to Alice Miller, Jon Bradshaw, ACOA. This was the early 1980s. My brother was working in an emergency shelter for teens and getting his degrees, and one sister did that sort of work as well. Both of my sisters were big readers and were on voracious journeys of psychological self-discovery. I’d say the elder was more based in the classics, Freud, Jung and R.D. Laing, and the younger loved Alice Miller during that period – I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know who she’s been reading since. So this is what all the conversation was about in that time, around Mom’s house. Suffice to say, I came by this obsession honestly.

Mom had been taking in foster kids, teens. Screwed up kids were our world, either we worked with them, or we were still busy being one, like me. Or both, I guess. We’d also had some sexual abuse in the family.

During this period, talking Bradshaw, ACOA (would invoking Suzanne Summers’ name help or hurt here? She was the voice for Adult Children of Alcoholics, wasn’t she?), and Miller, it seemed that there were many sorts of abuse, and that almost no-one escaped them all. After all, we all have problems, and this whole survivor movement was based in the idea that it was childhood trauma that caused our disorders. Physical, sexual, verbal, emotional abuse, abandonment, alcohol and substance abuse, divorce, there were books, support groups and movements for all of these traumas . . .

. . . and it was starting to look to me that lines were being drawn between them all, I had a creeping feeling that everybody, despite the support, was somehow on their own, fighting their parents’ particular brand of abuse. It began to look to me like all parents were abusing their kids, and yet no-one was saying that, no-one would say all parents were abusive. It was starting to feel apologist in that way. Most parents are good, they all mean well, but a certain percentage of them are violent. They all mean well, but a certain percentage of them are drunks. They’re mostly OK, but some are child rapists. Mostly, they’re good folks, they’re doing the best they can, but some abandon their kids, and some are emotional blackmailers. Parents are good and selfless, but many are verbally abusive. Now, I know this is to some degree the ranting of a developmentally arrested person, but it’s all adding up, isn’t it? I was starting to sense the presence of a common denominator.

I wish I could say when the exact moment was, when the crux of the matter occurred to me, that punishment was abuse, that punishment, despite its legitimate status was, uh . . . scientifically, functionally . . . made of the same stuff as abuse. I can’t, though. This wasn’t the moment, but maybe it was the catalyst: when I moved from my rooming house in the town where I took my trade school and home to Mom’s house, I was twenty-three, and I ran into a girl I’d known before, during my lost years. It was love at first sight, well, first sight after several years.

She was twenty or twenty-one, she was just separated from someone, and she had a little boy. He was around one year old. It wasn’t long before we had bought her parents’ condo and we lived together for three years, and I brashly, foolishly took the role of the boy’s father, as if he didn’t already have one. These are regrets, I look back on that time and I’m embarrassed and horrified, the whole period seems like a bad dream. Taking on the role of husband and father with that prefabricated family was like putting on a suit of clothes or something. It seemed to me that I knew everything about it, automatically; it felt like a programmed thing, like I was living on autopilot, and I barely remember it now. I don’t think I was actually conscious. But one episode I do remember.

She was emotional and kind of volatile, and I had come home from work one day and found her at critical mass, waiting for me at the front door. The toddler was driving her nuts, and it going to be my turn.

“He’s not doing” something, or “He won’t do” something else, she said. I don’t remember much, I’ll warn you. I wasn’t high or anything, I wasn’t smoking during my time with them, but drinking weekends. I was just unconscious. I wasn’t angry before, I don’t think it had been a bad day or anything, but as soon as she complained about her son, as soon as she gave me a target, it triggered me. I was instantly pissed off too, and I marched into the house, yanked that two or three year-old’s pants down and smacked him several times, hard. That is the end of that fragment of memory, I’m afraid, I can’t say how we got through that, what the rest of that evening was like, but I think the spell was broken. I think after that I realized that I was living someone else’s pre-programmed life. That was nearly thirty years ago, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never hit another kid.

His mother and I went our separate ways, and a few years later I met my present and only wife, the mother of my kids and by the time our girls were born in the mid-nineties, the thought had come. There would be no punishment, at all.

The lesson of my poor little rent-a-kid, the guilt of that beating, and the unconsciousness, the feeling of having been . . . used, there is no other way to say it, used by some generational repetitive process with a life of its own, that lesson stuck with me. I hated that feeling. It cropped up on other occasions while my girls were young, while my wife and I were fighting over our child-rearing (I mean, what were the odds my wife would come to all the same conclusions as me, and on the same schedule?), that feeling of repetition, that feeling of doing just what my parents had done. It was like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, or some evil Deja Vu experience. I hope it’s not necessarily true, but I worry that the feeling meant I was doing something terribly wrong. Of course I did. I was a full-time pothead through those years, always out in space, emotionally unavailable, physically unavailable for half an hour or more at a time, every three to four hours, for a smoke. The smoke was there to make that feeling go away, but of course it only operates on the feeling and doesn’t change anything concrete.

Still, though. Those are problems, things that will have their impacts on the kids, bad things that will leave some scars, but even so – most kids get stuff like that, and punishments and all that they mean as well.

You know, maybe addiction is a fractal sort of thing, a theme that runs all through the lives of folks like me and the people around us. I think maybe that feeling of unconscious repetition was the same one that made it so easy, and made it seem so natural to slide into that first family situation, with my live-in lady and her little boy. Feeling automatic, feeling that I could know how to do it, having never studied it, having never put conscious thought to it for a minute, it was like my first high, the free one, the best one, the one you end up losing the farm trying to recapture. Did I learn to associate that sense of comfort with a trauma, like a kid who gets wasted and crashes the car, killing a loved one? Was whooping that kid’s ass my car crash, and now the feeling of repetition and familiarity, that sense of life as it has always been fills me with terror and guilt?

Whatever it is, I have tried very hard to be a father and a husband consciously this time out, and that has had my wife and I swimming against the current since the kids were born, fighting the grandparents, at odds with our friends, the parents around us, and fighting our own urges for control, because we feel control requires force. If it weren’t for each other, meaning all four of us, which it always has been, it would have been a lonely journey.

It hasn’t been though.

My first experience as a father was a trauma, a horror. This time around has been the exact opposite.

The Fight against Corporal Punishment will Fail

I’ve said it many times, so the waiver here will be brief: of course I’m against corporal punishment. The science is in, it is indistinguishable from abuse psychologically, except where there is a difference in the degree of it, and except that the legal status of it brings its own problems and complications.

Having said that –

The acceptance of non-corporal punishment, of supposed non-physical forms of “discipline” gives oxygen to corporal punishment and abuse. As long as we keep fooling ourselves that there is some form of “discipline” that isn’t harmful to the little people receiving it, there will always be physical punishment and outright abuse. I’m sorry, folks. I know you mean well.

You just don’t understand it.

Let’s take a bird’s eye view, a high level look at it.

One of the most basic tenets of a worldview that includes psychology is that negative stimulus brings negative effects, in a word, damage. We all agree, apparently so long as the negative stimulus is negative in a legal sense; I think we mostly see that the negative outcomes associated with illegal outright abuse prove the basic idea. As corporal punishment approaches illegal status we can begin to see that its negative stimulus brings negative outcomes . . . but we’re missing something. We’re failing to take the single next logical step.

That next logical piece is this: the theory of punishment, in its most basic form, means applying a negative stimulus in order to discourage unwanted behaviour.

This is the core concept of punishment, “core” meaning that it is the central concept, not something that only applies to extreme forms, or some forms of punishment, but that this is what punishing is, what all punishing (by any name, “discipline,” “consequences,” or not getting a “reward”) is. Forms of punishment we use on children that are not violent, such as the “timeout,” “grounding,” removal of a desired toy, restriction of screen-time, with-holding of love or attention – all of these are negative stimuli. So if our worldview is partly informed by psychology, we should expect that these negative stimuli also bring negative outcomes.

This should tell us that if we wish to lessen the negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment, that it’s a little schizoid to exclude the negative stimuli of all the other sorts of punishment from the conversation. Let alone that so many folks are actually promoting these other forms of negative stimuli! Again, all that sort of talk is well intentioned, but based in a dismal failure of reasoning. To view it arithmetically, we should see that this way:

To criticize a particular form of a thing – the corporal form of punishment – while supporting the basic form, the general form, the logical “pure” idea of the thing – punishment in general – is more support than it is critique. By a long shot. By, in fact, an order of magnitude. It’s fundamental support and only peripheral critique – put simply, it does more harm than good in the long term – and this battle is multigenerational. It’s the long game we need to be playing.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this conversation, but I’ve said it elsewhere and will continue to talk about it, always. For now, I don’t want to say anything that will distract us from this point, one that should be clear to us, but apparently isn’t.

Corporal Punishment is not the Whole Story

A few words about corporal punishment before I get into something new on the subject. Bear with me. I promise, love it or hate it, I won’t bore you.

There’s been a lot of talk again lately, prompted by the Adrian Peterson story and it’s all good stuff, pretty encouraging. Here’s a great article, even if it does reference the racist aspect of the current spate of outrage:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/09/corporal_punishment_in_black_culture_what_charles_barkley_doesn_t_understand.html?wpsrc=fol_tw

 

That article breaks it down racially, which doesn’t interest me much, but it references one study that says that between 73% and 89% of most Americans (not all races are represented) stated that they spanked their children. These number aren’t changing very much. I think the big studies from decades ago give pretty much the same numbers. Corporal punishment of children is not going away, despite that the science is in, despite that we have known of the damage for years. Here’s what is probably the definitive metastudy regarding the damages of corporal punishment, from Elizabeth Gershoff:

http://www.nospank.net/gershoff.pdf

 

Don’t follow that link if you’re already on board, if you already oppose corporal punishment. That information is good, but it’s old, and more to the point – it’s not helping as much as we might have hoped. Everything in it about the damage is good and correct, but here’s the issue, found in the first two points in the “Recommendations” section:

 

“1. That parents, caregivers, and all school personnel in the United States make every effort to avoid using physical punishment and to rely instead on nonviolent disciplinary methods to promote children’s appropriate behavior.

  1. That all public and private schools and institutions that care for children in the United States (including foster care agencies and group homes) cease using physical punishment and rely instead on nonphysical disciplinary methods to promote children’s appropriate behavior.”

(Gershoff, E. T. (2008). Report on Physical

Punishment in the United States:

What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children.

Columbus, OH: Center for Effective Discipline.)

 

The problem lies in these two terms: “nonviolent disciplinary methods” and “nonphysical disciplinary methods.” This is the trap that all the brilliant and well-meaning educators and parenting gurus have set for us. This is the myth, that there exists any such thing, or more to the point, that there can be any such thing or any such thing that actually works. I don’t deny that there can be instances of nonphysical discipline; we’ve all seen them. You don’t have to punish a child every time you want the child to do something. (That sounds like I’m advocating for punishment, but I’m not. I’ll explain before this is done.)

I deny that a program of punishment, a lifestyle of punishment, can exist without physical means.

I deny that a child willingly takes a punishment, I deny that a child willingly self-punishes. A child who takes his or her timeout, or early bed, or the loss of a toy, loss of screen time in stride, with only a word from the adults has learned his or her physical lessons previously. (This is the part you’ll hate. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) When a child volunteers for discipline, most often that child knows it’s his or her best option; that child knows that compliance isn’t really optional, and that things will very likely escalate if the child resists. Remember what old-school discipline is. The old parenting books, before Doctor Spock, the religious child-rearing books, they had people swatting their babies, for the very reason that they were babies and babies can’t be talked to, they lack language. In that world, children know what happens when they resist by the time they can talk. Those families were able to demonstrate “nonphysical disciplinary methods” too, but their verbal control of their children was very much based in physical punishment.

Allow me to try to impress on you that all punishment is physical with a few rhetorical questions:

How do we non-physically place a two year old in timeout?

How do we non-physically stop a grounded teen from walking out the door?

So before I lose track, here is my point: punishment is inherently “corporal.” We are corporeal beings after all. I’m not OK with corporal punishment, that’s not what I’m saying when I say all punishment is physical, or based in the physical, impossible without a physical basis. When I say all punishment is corporal, what I’m saying is to end corporal punishment, we must . . . wait for it . . .

we must end punishment of children, all punishment of children – I mean if we want to end corporal punishment. Because these “nonphysical disciplinary methods” are a mirage, a weird dream.

I know that’s a big ask, not an easy answer. I know you see discipline as, uh . . . not optional. It is, though. It really is. It has to be, because the damages of corporal punishment are never-ending, and there really is no other kind. Not only that, but even if there were some kind of nonphysical disciplinary methods, even if it were possible to discipline without physically forcing it – again, there are instances of it, but there cannot be a program of it – even then, much of the damage isn’t the physical kind anyway.

Many of the well documented damages are non-physical. They are in fact, overwhelmingly emotional, psychological, and cognitive in nature. I know nobody really thinks the lion’s share of the damage wrought by corporal punishment is the physical damage, but to reason it along just a single further step, it is logical to acknowledge that physical damages are the only kind that require physical causes. It is the other aspects of discipline that bring on the other sorts of damage, again, namely, emotional, psychological, and cognitive damage.

So there you have it. Two arguments explaining why corporal punishment isn’t the problem, two arguments why punishment, period, is the problem. Love it or hate it, I beg you, just remember it. Of course, spread the word, re-tweet this, re-post. Spread the word. Try this idea on, look at these issues this way for a time, a day, a week, a month . . . you’ll see. These issues can make sense, when viewed this way, it doesn’t have to be an emotional, personal choice sort of thing. It’s not religion. It’s real-world stuff. It’s right in front of us.

My wife and I have raised two daughters without the use of any sort of punishing whatsoever. Our girls are still in school, one is a senior in high school and the other is in university, after two years of college. It’s not a controlled double-blind study, but we’ve proved it’s possible, and it’s looking pretty good at this point.

Thanks for reading. Really.

Consistency of Discipline

Something we hear a lot from those who advise parents, is the need for consistency with our discipline. Logically, in terms of the need, I couldn’t agree more. It’s not a deterrent if the miscreant lacks a reasonable expectation of the penalty and if punishment fails for no other reason, this would be enough, and this may be the most epic of all of the failures in our system of punishment. Consistency is an illusion. First, consistency is not completely within our control, is it? You have to catch them first: any misbehaviour that is undetected can never be punished in the first place, and so, regardless of whether we are capable of machine-like consistency ourselves, consistency fails in the real world.

The success of the use of punishment depends on the subject’s knowledge that the unpleasantness is coming, so that he or she may alter their actions to avoid the consequence. Therefore, there must be a warning, an explanation of the process, “you do this, and you get that.” The explanation, and/or simple repetition connect the behaviour to the punishment, and the child learns to change their ways, and so the child’s behaviour is improved, hopefully in the long term. It needs to be said, that the sort of control that could provide the recommended consistency to make punishing reliable is only possible with very young children indeed. Punishment is insidious that way; it can appear to work on babies and very young toddlers, but as soon as a child gets his legs and a little freedom, as soon as he discovers for that very first time that all his crimes are not detected and punished, it’s over.

(Of course, I don’t advocate for improvement in our consistency, quite the reverse. If we were to do what would be necessary for one hundred percent consistent application of detection and penalization, that would be a nightmare even worse than the random abuse we live with now. That situation would be a futuristic police state that even George Orwell would not wish to imagine.)

With the failure of consistency being the norm, we must confess that the deterrent component of punishment fails, yes, but also the whole concept. Human beings are not inanimate things, we can see that the behaviour our punishments are intended to change do not have to change for us to escape the penalty, only the detection of the behaviour. When punishment is the tool being applied, we only ever need to learn a single lesson, “don’t get caught,” and we will also have our justification to ignore the intended lessons. With the failure of consistency comes the failure of punishment to correct behaviours, and our ‘punishments’ therefore fail the definition and fall from grace into mere abuse, at least in the minds of the punished. Of course, that is where the damage occurs.

Good Violence / Bad Violence

We hear a lot of talk these days about abuse, therapy, your inner child, life as a grown child of alcoholics, and the like . . . while on the other hand, at that point in my life when I’m having kids and everyone around me already has them, all these parents tell me the same story of how “Oh Yes, You Have to Discipline Them.”

Am I the only one who’s hearing both these things?

Am I the only one who has seen through to the first cause, the elusive but finally simple and obvious heart of our troubles? Hear me out, people, because I think I know what’s wrong with things. With, in fact, practically everything.

It’s not even new, really. All the information is available, all the data necessary for anyone to make sense of it all – but, unfortunately, this being a large, integral part of our problems, we can’t make sense of anything. That’s a function of repression. A modern, psychobabble concept, and for those rare among us that can and do read but haven’t heard it yet, I’ll explain it briefly.

Repression is the function whereby one or more of a person’s desires and/or needs are not met (or not even allowed to be expressed) and are therefore buried by the person, along with the pain, buried beyond consciousness. It’s a survival tactic, particularly for children, and it works. However, the main side effect is that the person’s unconsciousness of the pain and need remains, extending into the future and onto other people. For instance, if a person is obliged to repress feelings of say, helplessness, then that person will be unable to see or appreciate any feelings of helplessness in others. If the person can see it, likely they will despise it.

Did I say ‘brief?’ Anyhow, that’s the basic theory.

Now, I don’t really hold with what appears to be the lay version of childhood trauma at work. In the most unflattering, simplistic terms this theory has it that, in an otherwise normal early life, incidents of trauma can cause harm, causing repression to occur, therefore causing symptoms later, blind spots that leave us and those around us at risk and in trouble. Actually, put that way, I don’t disagree. It’s possible; I’ll give you that. But it’s hardly worth worrying about, really. Compared to the truth.

Anyhow, the theory boils out something like this: mostly everything’s OK, but you get some people who have problems and there’s a name for the great cause, and that’s abuse. Now abuse is, I think, having any kind of sex with children or with anyone who, for whatever reason cannot give full, conscious, free consent; and something I will diplomatically call Overdoing it in the old Discipline Department. Violence, in short, or better yet: use of Force. You ask me, this theory falls a little short of reality.

We, as a society, seem to believe in a two-sided kind of violence, what I will call Good Violence/Bad Violence. The idea of GVBV goes like this: if some private citizen takes a person and locks them up in his basement for weeks or years, then that’s illegal, immoral, traumatic, psychically and emotionally devastating. I think most people, and certainly most experts would agree. But, according to GVBV, when an old man in black robes in a legal position to do it sends someone to the giant cellar called prison, that’s supposed to do something positive for society (read people). Then we use different words; it’s not abduction and torture, it’s a deterrent. It’s not abuse, it’s punishment. The point here is we are talking about the same act. Unless you have the appropriate license, it’s a crime, and a wicked one; with the credentials, it’s a good day’s work serving humanity.

Morally, the problem is obvious. Wrong for you, wrong for me. Now, I know it would be turning the world upside-down to just adopt that moral stand, but that’s not my thrust, not really. The real point is in how we think about violence, or the broader concept, force. If we thought about it, no-one would really believe in GVBV like it’s portrayed on television, where the good guys shoot the bad guys, for, guess what, shooting people. Good murderers and bad murderers. Individually, I hope half of us can’t believe that kind of stuff, but as a society, we appear to.

When the awesome non-logic of GVBV is brought into the light, one can’t help but question it. If violence from an unlicensed, freelance source is bad, then so too is it bad from a sanctioned one. Now, so far, I’ve confined my argument to the justice system, but that is only a side effect. The other licensed source of violence is the real problem: child rearing. The rest, the justice system, the corporate world, etc., these are only fractal offspring: child rearing is the model, the base unit. What if GVBV is false? What if it is, and every act of discipline, punishment, and control ever practiced on us all, all of our pre-adult lives, had no good effect? What if it’s a simple law of nature that violence and force are harmful to their objects? That it’s . . . bad? And that our well-meaning parents and educators did it to us and we in our turn will do it to our children, believing in this mythical good violence?

What I’m saying is, there is no good violence. It’s all just violence, and it’s what’d I say, immoral, traumatic, etc. GVBV is a myth; it’s all bad violence, however well meant. This seems clear: we are never going to win our war on violence if we believe in the good violence we practice on our kids (and our criminals), and expect it to produce good things in them, and in the world. We sanction violence when we sanction good violence. We are continually supporting the very violence we hope to minimize by our good violence, for example:

We punish a child somehow, by hitting it, or by some more creative way of making it’s life less pleasant perhaps, not necessarily hitting, for, guess what? For, oftentimes, hitting, or finding a more creative way to make the child’s sibling’s life less pleasant. When really, we know the child’s violence toward it’s siblings to be bad violence, our identical, or at least analogous act qualifies for good violence status in our minds, because we are teaching them how to behave. This, ironically, is true. We are teaching them how to behave, but not the way we think. We are teaching them our behavior, not our ideals. According to GVBV, though, if there’s a lesson involved and the punisher is licensed, then the violence isn’t what’d I say, immoral, traumatic, psychically and emotionally devastating. No no no, not that kind of violence! This was good violence!

Again, I keep missing the point, which is the confusion that GVBV causes. Sanctioned violence, unsanctioned, with a huge gray area between . . . it’s anarchy calling itself civilization. Rules for me, rules for you, rules for the police, different rules for the very rich, and again for the very poor. In the preceding parent/child/sibling exchange, likely as not, the real issue was played out: the explanation. This is where the parent gives the lesson, “Don’t Hit your Brother. ‘Here’s the deal: you hit him; I hurt you (or more creatively make your life less pleasant), until you learn not to. This is me, proud of myself, teaching you not to hit.’” This is where it’s passed on, the belief in good violence. That was bad; this (identical act) is good. No wonder the world is full of people who continue to break the rules, no matter how much legal violence we use on them. It’s hopelessly confusing.

I’ll try another tack. We seem to think there’s a ‘safe’ amount of force and/or violence to use on children, you know, like ‘safe’ levels of pollution, or radiation, heavy metals in our food. Knowing full well the damaging effect of illicit violence – to the point where victims are awarded lottery-size compensatory payments – knowing that, we still think a little bit of it is actually good for you! A person needs discipline. Well.

Who are the most disciplined people in the world – soldiers, elite soldiers, say, the Marines? And what are they good for, what is their function, their job? That should tell us what discipline does for us. And if that doesn’t tell us, what about our children, in the cities, in the gangs? What is that but kids hardened by abuse and Good Violence, doing basically what the Marines do, that is, shooting one another over economic and territorial issues?

We have to really look at whether or not it really is that simple, that violence, force, is simply bad in any quantity, regardless of who is dishing it out. Like gravity, you know, it counts for everything and everyone; it’s a natural law. It’s an unlikable notion, but here it is.

We cause all the bad violence in the world by dealing out good violence to our children, that is, everyone, at the beginning of all our lives. In the name of education and socialization, we induct our young into a life where ‘Might is Right’ is the only truism, all the while selling them our concept of child rearing which is GVBV. Now, if the test of a theory is whether or not it explains more than the old theory, try this one on. Take it into your heart for a week or two; try to look at things this way. If the theory is good, you should understand more through it, it should explain phenomena that was previously not understood, or misunderstood. If it describes a pervasive, almost universal force, revealing its effects everywhere you look, then it’s a revolution in thought, enlightenment – but only history shows us those. Of course these things take time. Also, it would require that we face the awful truth that all those nice, struggling people who raised us – even if we don’t consider what we would all call abuse – unwittingly raised us up with all manner and degree of control, from withdrawal of love to force to violence to torture, and, and this is the killer, all to no good effect! I mean, if violence has bad effects, which it does, no matter who deals it out or why, which in all likelihood it does, then all that yelling and screaming and spanking and being locked in the playpen, and being sent to our rooms, forced meals and mealtimes, toilet training, all that did us no good whatsoever. In fact, guess what?

Remember? When we were the kids, and our parents pulled some of that parenting stuff on us (Boom! ‘Don’t hit!’), remember what we thought then about their ‘explanations?’ Well, we thought they were full of shit, didn’t we? And you know what? They were. We were right, then. Back then, at some point before we were completely broken, we knew ‘Boom! Don’t hit!’ made no sense. Maybe we even guessed that something had to be terribly wrong with our parents for them not to see it. And it did us no good whatsoever, did it? In fact . . .

In fact, it killed our spirits, separated us from our emotions, and the third crucial point, one often missed by bookstore psychological theory, it disabled us for rational thought. In the absence of any comparison and with enough force behind it, we were forced to accept, as our only working premise the logic of ‘Boom! Don’t hit!’, that is, of GVBV. The worst thing it did to us is that it made us into the kind of people who, believing in GVBV, will destroy our children the same way, conditioned, desensitized, brainwashed. Proud of ourselves for our use of good violence in raising our children. The kind of people who can do anything, even allow or support a state of war.

Although I’m not as concerned as some over the nuclear aspect of this conversation, that is, that the desensitizing effect of good violence might just lead to global nuclear holocaust, because frankly, I’m more concerned about this little problem of GVBV in child-rearing here, thank you. What did the man say? ‘The disaster has already occurred!’

See, if things are so bad here now that global nuclear war is a real option, then some kind of disaster of near-equal magnitude has already happened! By analogy: when you’re young and healthy, death seems unthinkable, no alternative at all, right? But when you’re old, sick, alone, suffering terrible pain and not long for the world anyhow . . . well pulling the plug gets less ridiculous. Newlyweds think divorce a horror, but a married couple with thirty years of unfaithfulness and resentment between them might see it as a godsend. Well, what kind of state are we in already that a nuclear war is a real fear, that it doesn’t look so impossible? Brutalized, desensitized, cut off from our emotions, and addled with the logic of good violence. Believing any horrendous lie that we hear in the absence of any example of logic or truth by which to know the difference.

Now, I ask you. In this state of affairs, can we presume to ‘teach’ our children anything but the twisted logic that ruined us, and can we still justify the force required to teach a falsehood to a mind that has not yet quit functioning? Any adult using any force or control to ‘teach’ a child teaches only one thing, over and over again: Might is Right. It comes, not only free, but first and foremost, with every other lesson.

This is the problem of nearly all parents: they are oftentimes horrified by the behavior of their children once the little ones have gotten their legs and their words, the parents being unaware, through repression, of the child’s previous abusive experience. What with cribs, playpens, forced meals and toilet training, by the time our parents can talk to us, we’ve already been damaged, well on our way to becoming either deluded, dangerous, or both.

Violence, good or bad, propagates violence, good and bad. Part of the problem is that there is no way to tell good violence from bad, because, truly the distinction exists only in our addled minds. Depending on the dosage one receives, one will draw the line at a different point when it becomes one’s turn to dole it out, as to where the good ends and the bad begins. We still do the bad on occasion, helpless to stop it, but at least then we are repentant, when we cross the line that exists in our minds. The real problem is the evil we do believing it to be good.

Because good and bad violence can often appear identical (because they are), the legitimate status of the good variety allows bad violence to thrive unseen and unnoticed on our streets and in our homes. Having taken this idea on, viewing the world through it, I’m convinced that at least some of the too numerous abducted and murdered children we’re all aware of were hauled away, kicking and screaming, in broad daylight. Likely there were even witnesses assuming they were watching a normal parent/child interaction. With any honesty, one has to admit it’s possible.

Now I’m not saying, “Ban the Good Violence Now” for two reasons:

One: we have a whole world now, populated with people raised on the old system, that is GVBV, both of the deluded, law-abiding citizen type and the outright crazy and criminal type, and without restraint, these people will make things even worse, things being as they are. Frankly, I’m afraid of violent people, and any we lock up seems a relatively positive thing. Consider this: once a person has been abused, it’s a long road to bring them back to sanity and gentility. We have all suffered it, and crazy, violent people continue to suffer it into adulthood: confinement in prison or mental hospitals and torture by their keepers as well as fellow inmates. This, this being my whole point, does not make them nicer.

Two: we would have to invest some of us with the power to enforce this no violence thing with what, guns and prisons? Kind of defeats my whole idea.

No, not more rules and reprisals (read punishments, read violence). But we must begin to move away from this largely unspoken and unconscious belief in the great lie of GVBV. We must stop believing that force and violence will be the tools to put an end to our social problems. They, by definition, once removed either way, are the social problems. Aren’t they?

1.R.D.Laing, Sorry, I can’t recall which book!

Love Looks like Love

People usually punish with the best of intentions. As children, we receive most of our punishments from those who love us.
Of course, it’s those who love you that are interested in correcting you, who want you to grow up as a happy, healthy, productive member of society, and so when you misbehave, they try to steer you on the right path. Unfortunately, most peoples’ choice of tools for such work is rather limited, and all too often, the tool that gets used is punishment; in fact, for some, that’s the only tool in the box. No-one thinks this,’ that it’s the only tool I’ve got, so I guess I’ll use it.’ They believe in it, it’s the only tool they think they need, a kind of wonderful, all-in-one tool that is all you might ever need to correct anyone, anywhere, anytime. The fact that they are trying to correct you, trying to set you up for a happy, productive life, this is believed to make you feel, well, loved. If they didn’t love you, they wouldn’t bother, right? They love you and they’re trying. That’s what parents tell themselves; it breaks my heart to tell them all.
I’m sorry, but it’s not true. Love looks like love.
Don’t be fooled by imitations. Love looks like love. Punishment looks like . . . well, it looks like what it would look like if you couldn’t talk about it, if you couldn’t explain it away. It looks like the opposite of love.
Love looks like patience, like thoughtfulness. Love looks like communication, difficult, cautious, slow communication. Communication with a lot of checking, a lot of error correction, a lot of testing, to make sure the communication is getting through, that the last thing got through before the next thing begins. Whereas punishment is a cheap, shoddy shortcut, whose results are highly dubious. An act of punishment marks the end of communication. I’ve said earlier, punishment is when attempts at communication are abandoned and the teacher, the parent simply resorts to the use of force, of negative incentives.
Love looks like love. It will be a sad realization if we have to face the truth of this. Unfortunately, many of us may really not know this, and it means, well, maybe we just haven’t seen enough loving correction to recognize it. Maybe we’ve been told how the punishment was good for us for so long we believed it, and started to think that was a sign of love, and perhaps the only sign of love we ever got.
Ouch. That hurt me, and I’m the one who said it! I’ll let that be it for today.