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

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The First Condition for “Legitimate” Punishment

1. Lack of proper authority:

The practice of punishment is a very specific, legitimate sort of abuse; are its effects very different though? Considering the case of children, and assuming that retribution is not supportable when practiced upon children (which I will elaborate upon later), let us postulate a scenario, one where some person is imposing something unpleasant or aversive upon a child, we may make some observations:

If it’s the authorized person punishing a child, then what results?

For the child, education, moral direction, and respect for authority, society and the rules, because he knows he is being corrected by a caring and trusted adult? I believe these are purported to be the goals of punishment.

And if it’s the unauthorized person dishing out unpleasantness, what results then?

For the child, trauma, confusion, fear, potential damage to the psyche? Certainly many people would at least consider that to be something between a possibility and a probability, depending on the severity of the unpleasantness and a number of other variables.

And what if it looked identical not to a passing stranger, or to us, as omniscient observers, but what if it looked exactly the same to the punished or abused person, to the punished or abused child? What if the child thought any number of things that would invalidate the authorized nature of his or her punishment in his or her mind? This is not uncommon, that a punished person, child or not, has a reason for his transgression, somewhere between an outright, far-fetched rationalization and an actual, arguable reason. More importantly however, what is also far from rare is it that a punished person has reason, good, bad, or in between, to feel that his punisher isn’t or shouldn’t be considered to be a respected and trusted authority. So in the likely event that something like these thoughts are in the child’s mind, then what comes of it?

Education, moral direction, respect, because that is what the punisher intended? Or:

Trauma, confusion, fear, potential damage to the psyche, because what the child perceives is not punishment but abuse? Which of these?

Of course, the question of what is effected in the punished or abused child’s mind is rhetorical. We, people, human beings, we suffer physical damage according to the blows we receive, according mostly to the targeted part of our person, and the force of the violence, all of which are determined by the intent of the attacker. This is not the case with psychic damage, which is more complex. The punished, the abused person, their internal effects, those are more closely correlated to their own mental and emotional structures than they are to what’s in the mind or heart of the abuser or punisher. And so, as beauty is in the beholder’s eye, doesn’t the trauma of abuse reside in the mind of the punished or abused person? And so, doesn’t authority lose its transformative power and the act of punishment move some steps closer to becoming only abuse?

Again, rhetorical. I’m saying yes, and maybe every step, the whole walk.

Abuse is a subjective determination, is what I’m saying. I don’t think that is news for anyone, but perhaps it doesn’t get the traction it deserves in our minds. It cannot be the punisher or abuser’s decision as to whether a given action is abusive. If that were any sort of logical possibility, that the people dishing out the unpleasantness got to say what is abuse and what is not, where could we be in terms of crime and punishment, morality, or support for the sufferers? There would be no concept of abuse. No abuse, no rape, no concept of personal human rights. Abuse is, must be, a subjective determination: if I feel raped, I have been raped, if I feel abused, I have been abused. That is the criteria. Therefore, if a child has been subjected to punishment, and he has reason to believe that the three conditions for punishment have not been satisfied, for instance that his punisher, for any number of real world reasons lacks moral authority (not a rare thought), then the child will feel abused.

Again:  if I feel abused, I have been abused. That is the criteria.

The Three Conditions for “Legitimate” Punishment

Remove authority and punishment becomes abuse. We can’t just go about making peoples’ lives unpleasant in the sorts of ways we use to punish, even with a reason and good intentions unless they’re somehow our people, somehow under our legitimate authority.

Remove the intent and it becomes wrong, it becomes an authority simply practicing retribution. If there is no intent to modify the subject’s behaviour, if it is only the exacting of a price, retribution is the word for that, not punishment. (Retribution is or should be considered wrong except as a deterrent. Retribution is unproductive, other than providing some sense of justice for the wronged party in the original crime, it belongs on the ‘wrong’ side of the ledger for any person or institution that is hoping to improve things for people and society. It is an evil that balances evil in an imperfect world, but that balance comes by increasing hurt generally.)

Removing the intent of correction makes handing out pain or unpleasantness abuse. Even where wrong has been done, without the proper intent, imposing a penalty becomes something on a continuum between retribution and only an excuse to abuse, if even a proper authority is doing it. The same would hold true if the intent to change was there, but the aim of the change was unacceptable. Punishment is defined by these three conditions; it is a table with three legs. So, in terms of these definitions, in what ways can punishment be disqualified?

1.Lack of proper authority
2.Lack of intent to change behaviour
3. Intent to change a behaviour for an unacceptable purpose

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.

There is no “Right Measure” of Punishment.

A great deal of this judging and this talk between parents and about parents naturally centres on these different rules and the discipline we use. We say “Oh, she’s too easy on him, that boy is going to be impossible,” or we say “Oh, that poor kid, did you hear the way his dad talks to him?” In the tragic event of a son or daughter going very bad and winding up on the streets, we hear,

“Well, they beat the Hell out of him, no wonder he wanted to get away, to anywhere!”

Or maybe the opposite hypothesis,

“Well, that’s what you get when you let them just do whatever they want. It was obvious things weren’t going to go well for that kid.”

When a kid goes bad, it’s natural to look at the parents and the parenting. It seems we all see the huge effect parents can have, it’s always probably been obvious or maybe psychology has also had its effect on our minds, but it’s a sure thing that those ruined kids weren’t raised in the exact manner that our successful kids were, so it’s judgement: too hard, too soft, too something.

If our own kid goes bad or if we lose one, it’s regret. Half of us will say,

“If only I’d been stricter, if only I had stopped her from . . . “

Half of us will say,

“I was so mean! If only I could have been nicer, more supportive . . . “

It seems with discipline, with punishment, Murphy’s Law applies; it’s somehow never the right amount. At least that is our natural assumption when things go wrong. It’s too much, it’s not enough, it’s too soon, or it’s too late. They shouldn’t be punished for that, or that should never go un-punished. Any of these opposites could be said about the very same situations by someone, and this state of affairs begs the question: if there is no good version of a thing, is it a good thing? If a thing can fail in every sort of instance, is the abstract of the thing to be relied upon?

That is the question I am posing here, and the subject is punishment; yes, all punishment.

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!

There should be no punishment of children at all, period. Any questions?

I see a few folks are liking my posts here enough to want ot follow me, and that is terrific, but I must warn you – I’m running out of things to say already!

The title here states my position, and there is some elaboration in the posts, but I don’t see any comments, no questions or arguments. That surprises me a little . . . OK, a lot. On other sites, I get a lot of outraged comments and arguments.

I would like to maybe hear from anyone who thinks my idea here needs some more explanation, perhaps there are aspects of child-rearing that need some clarification in terms of punishing or not. I’d love questions, objections, a chance to talk about my favourite topic, so feel free, please. Have at me.

Abuse with an Excuse – Doctrine in short form . . . Part #3

C. Childhood Misbehaviours are Irrelevant

1. When we are punishing our children to teach them not to cause any harm in our lives, not to break anything, not to hurt anyone, we are causing permanent harm in our attempts to avoid short term and material harm. The damages of abuse and corporal punishment are long lasting, while the damages of childhood misbehaviours are, for the most part, either material or temporary, sometimes both.

Temporary damages are bruises that result from infantile violence or carelessness, or simply missed or disrupted adult social occasions; material ones are broken dishes, damaged or stained clothing or furniture – of course material damages can be either permanent or temporary; a loved glass heirloom is forever, a coloured wall until the next painting. Things like painting the wall cost labour and money, which, if it happens to a modern person living in debt, may be a permanent harm to their finances. Young children can cause real harms, but again, as in the previous section, this would only justify the damages of punishment if those damages were small and temporary, and they are not. The damages of corporal punishment (and it is my position that there is no other kind) are long lasting and impact every aspect of life. This, again, is well documented.

2. Childhood explorations and mistakes, when they go bad, can cause some damage, things get broken, caregivers and other children get bruised and inconvenienced, but for the most part, these are individual, one-off incidents, that is, single incidents, with a single instance of damage per case. If we consider that each instance is a learning opportunity, each instance can teach a child a single lesson such as the fragility of pretty glass objects, or the fragility of human relationships (when one toddler hurts another, and the other expresses his feelings somehow), we can see that trading any one such lesson off against a lifetime of suffering the damage of having been punished is a bad bargain. The long term damages of punishment would only be justifiable by considering that the damages of the child’s misbehaviour is also long lasting. In reality, the occurrence of a misdeed or a mistake by a child will rarely be habit forming. These things, dish-breaking, punching other children, do not become chronic if they go un-punished. In reality, punishing increases defiance and misbehaviour in the long term.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World.

The ‘legitimate’ abuse that has a thousand names, punishment, correction, discipline, consequences, training, spanking, timeouts, quiet time, penance, detention, etc., this practice is done by nearly everyone. People of many races, religions, nationalities, creeds, sexualities, income levels, education levels, and both genders, most people hold with punishment’s basic, unquestioned, unacknowledged premise, that you can improve people, their behaviour, their development, their character – by hurting them. By somehow making life less pleasant for them when they stray from the caregivers’ idea of what is done and what is not.
Now, for me, this seems to contradict a great deal of psychological thinking, which developed, to some degree, by tracing suffering people’s lives to the unpleasantness that damaged them to the point of seeking a doctor’s help, in the early days, damaged them to the point of being committed to a sanatorium. For a dysfunctional patient, often after other causes had been explored, physical ailments, etc., often the next, or maybe last logical step might be the psychoanalyst, and psychoanalysis has had some success, making connections between mental trauma and social dysfunction.
Of these two apparently opposing ideas – punishment and psychology – the latter seems the more logical, dare I say, scientific. So with this argument, and the ones in the preceding chapters, I’m going to push on, taking as a given at least as my premise, that unpleasantness, only different from trauma by a matter of degree, damages people rather than improving them.
OK, the use of punishment has looked like it works, you punish someone and the unwanted behaviour appears to stop – but does it? Do we think a punished child becomes a model citizen forever afterwards? Do we think a punished adult ceases his criminal behaviour and goes on as a saint? I don’t think even the most energetic of my unconvinced audience thinks that, do they? So again, unpleasantness makes people worse, less functional, rather than improving them. Having said that, I want to extrapolate that whomsoever punishes a person the most, does the most damage.
If one’s parents are active participants in the practice, the culture of punishment, then I feel I must say, that the parent who does the more parenting, very often the most punishing, must be the parent causing the most unpleasantness, the most trauma, the most damage. And, sorry to say, in my world, probably in most of the world, it’s Mom doing most of the parenting. Certainly many fathers are responsible for horrible trauma, perhaps the more serious punishments are administered by the father in some families, but basically, day-to-day parenting and punishing, falls to mothers. This is especially true during the earliest years of the child’s life. Uninvolved fathers are bad in many ways, of course. Neglect is a form of abuse, there is the lack of male modelling, but there is the other side too: if parenting means punishing to the mother, and if she overdoes it, then Dad’s neglect is downright dangerous, he can be rightly accused of not protecting his kids from some hands-on abuse. Also, if he’s not helping, then the mother can become stressed out, also not a good thing for a parent who already thinks punishing kids, that is, hurting kids, is good for them. So yes, that is what I’m saying: in the culture of punishment, your mother is probably doing you more harm than your father. Dad’s no saint, don’t get me wrong, he’s letting her do it, often participating . . . but the myth that needs busting here, is Mom’s sainthood. Having said THAT, the other ramifications of this are the more important thing. Blame is even, one does it, one allows it, and sometimes they trade off. I don’t make this point to place blame; this isn’t about the trauma of children.
This principle, that mothers raise the children, that mothers punish the children, this is the root of misogyny, the root of violence against women. We love our mothers, we love our system of punishment, we all hold the family unit as a sacred, ancient tradition, but that is the surface of it all. That is only what we say, what we think we feel, but the dark side is this:
We all know who punished us, we know who damaged us. Violence against women is a trend, a tendency, it is far more prevalent than the incidence of extreme abuse would indicate, the expression of infantile rage against the one who hurt us, that is the great secret. This is another piece of the great puzzle of life that falls into place when you work from the premise that punishment is violence.
The culture of punishment in which we live has turned the most natural, organic beautiful thing in the world, mother love, into a violent act, and one which brings a terrible vengeance to the half of humanity we should all hold sacred, our mothers. Now to blame. Women, putting the blame for misogynist violence on men isn’t working; stop spanking your sons. Men, you’re not fixing it either. Stop making your women “correct” your sons. This is the issue. Violence breeds violence.
The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Women, your safety, the safety of your daughters and grand-daughters is in your hands. Hurting kids, dishing out unpleasantnesses, damages them, it doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help women. Help your kids, help yourselves, give up your punishing ways. Love looks like love, and it doesn’t invite revenge.

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.