Thursday, April 28, 2005


I really appreciate the positive feedback on my last post. And I'm flattered that you want to quote me, Mo. Please do let me know the context, and use my full name (Amanda Gauthier-Parker). Even better, include a link to this blog. :)

Don't have much more to say tonight as I'm recovering from the stomach flu. We've had a pretty good week despite illness, a four-day lapse in internet service and the car in the shop. Tomorrow we're going to buy our first new car. We've been spending as much as a car payment on repairs for the last eight months. It's finally time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


First, thank you for your thoughtful comments on my last post. I may not know who you are, but you're inspiring me to write more! Tom, I wish I had an 18-year-old sister I could hook up with you. :) Thanks for the link info.

Regarding the comments by the second anonymous poster...

"I don't know exactly how to say this, but I do feel that I need to defend myself. I am not offended at all by what you have said Amanda, but I do believe that there is an area of acceptable spanking. Not out of anger but out of getting a child's attention. And only when it really truly is a 'teachable moment'. I don't mean hurting a child either. But if a tantrum is thrown in the middle of the store a startling swat can do the trick with the right child."

Let me first say that I know many loving, good mothers who do spank. I would never judge one's parenting solely on that issue. The fact that I don't spank does not make me a perfect parent. However, I think there is a misunderstanding regarding the necessity of spanking, and also of the right of a parent to hit his or her child.

For me, it comes down to the Golden Rule. If I am having a fit because I'm hungry or overstimulated or frustrated because I can't get what I believe I need, do I want my child or my husband to hit me in order to get my attention? Definitely not! Would it really take that action to get my attention? No. Am I going to learn anything if my husband slaps me? Well, I might. I might learn that my husband doesn't really value my feelings, that he doesn't really want to listen to what I need, that if I express myself emotionally I'm going to get hit, not helped.

Suppose instead that my husband comes to me, puts his arms on my shoulders, looks me in the eye and says, "Honey, I can see you're really upset. I'd like to help. But I don't want to be screamed at." Then I can calm myself down, and trust that I'll be heard, and my problem will be addressed one way or another.

It's perfectly okay for a parent to set a boundary, to say, "This is unacceptable behavior. I don't want to be treated like this." But it should ALSO be okay for the child to say that to the parent. And that's often what a child is saying with a so-called tantrum. As adults, we have to remember that young children often simply don't have the verbal skills necessary to express what they need. They do learn, however, that being loud in public usually gets our attention.

This is what I've learned about shopping with my children... If we go when the boys are hungry or tired, it's going to be more challenging. If I am the one who's hungry and/or tired, it's going to be the worst. The worse my expectations, the more tense I get, and the worse the shopping experience. And if I'm in a really bad mood, I'll leave the story never wanting to go back, and doubting my entire parenting philosophy. Thank goodness those times are rare.

If, on the other hand, we are armed with snacks, and I don't worry about getting back home quickly, and I try to enjoy my children along the way, then we have a great time. I relax about whether they're in the cart or walking alongside me. I don't freak out if one of them wanders a few feet away. I let them help put food in the cart instead of trying to rush the job by doing it myself. I speak calmly about what extras we can get, and what we can't, and they accept my "not this time" more easily.

My children's behavior is often a reflection of my own. The more hurried I am, the slower they move. The more irritable I am, the more they whine. The more I push them away, the more they cling. But when I am calm, and centered, and really listening to them, they are able to cope better with their own problems and emotions.

"Or if the child is about to run across the street without looking, it makes the connection that what is going on at that moment is a bad choice."

To me, this is simply illogical. "Mommy doesn't want you to run across the street without looking because you might get hurt. Oh no, you did it anyway, and didn't get killed, so I'm going to hurt you now myself." If your reasoning is that entering the street might lead to pain, why is the pain of a spanking justified?

The "connection" argument is actually based on studies done by humanistic behaviorists on rats, which you're probably familiar with. As a Christian, I reject behaviorism as immoral because it justifies treating human beings as objects, not subjects with God-given free will and the ability to reason. Behaviorists do not believe people have souls.

Yes, children's behavior can be manipulated or "trained" with rewards and punishments. I do not dispute that. (Though there are always "strong-willed" exceptions, thank God!) But each time a person is treated as though he has no soul, no will of his own which needs to be recognized and respected, that soul dies a little. The more external motivators are used to control a person's behavior, the more his internal motivation is suppressed. That is, in fact, the goal. After a while, a person can be stripped of any internal motivation to do good for good's sake, or simply for the sake of others. Instead, they do it to avoid punishment, or only because they believe they will be rewarded.

Behaviorism dismisses the possibility that a child might have some good ideas of his own that would be worth exploring even without approval by outside interests. It ignores the importance of independent thinking in a free society.

It is also the philosophy behind the decision of school administrators in my town who are offering $100 to students who report dangerous or threatening activities by their classmates. First, if there is really a threat, the reward should be unnecessary. Second, what kind of moral lesson is being taught by bribing students to rat out their friends? What kind of community is that? The problem is that we ARE a society of people dependent on external motivators. Schools believe in this, they promote it, and they ensure it every step of the way, from kindergarten to high school graduation, with report cards and award ceremonies and special privileges for the well-behaved. Then kids arrive at college, and their professors complain that no one's really there to learn, all their students want to know is, "What's the least I have to do to get the grade I want?"

"And of course you have to explain why that behavior isn't good. I mean, it doesn't stand alone unless the reasons and expectations have already been stated. I didn't swat my daughter until she was three and I can't remember the last time I did. So for her, the effectiveness of a swat has gone away and now I use other forms of correction."

If that's the case, do you really think it was necessary for that brief period at all? If there were other things you did to get her attention before age three, and other ways you influence her behavior now, isn't it possible that there could have been an alternative to "swatting" during the interim as well?

I think that when we include hitting children as an acceptable means of discipline even under rare circumstances, we prevent ourselves from finding more respectful ways to communicate with our child.

"Generally when she acts rude towards me or is disobedient she simply needs a verbal reminder. Fortunately she aims to please and wants to be a kind person. I do believe there are ways that spanking can be an effective and non-damaging way to instruct behavior."

Most children do aim to please, if they haven't lost faith that it's possible. God is merciful, and this is a huge blessing to parents. Even if you don't believe in God, it is biologically imperative that children please their parents. Too often we take this fact for granted, or don't believe it at all, instead using rewards and punishments to control our children, and then the opportunity for mutual trust and respect is lost.

Even if the rest of your parenting is positive and loving enough to prevent damage to your relationship with your child via spanking, she is still learning that it is okay for mommies and daddies to hit, even though it's not okay for anyone else. That's hard to swallow, and hard to follow. It expresses the belief that adults are human, but children are subhuman. There are people who believe this. I am not one of those people, and neither is Jesus.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

So, I'm sitting with a small group of mainstream Christian mothers, one with teens, two with young children, one a grandmother.

Much as I try to avoid it, I broach the subject of spanking because it is relevant to our book. Each woman admits to relying on physical punishment and finding it justified with certain children if not all. The grandmother found the threat of a wooden spoon in her purse necessary to maintain order in the grocery store when her five were young.

As usual, my thoughts remain in my head. I sit there, lips tight, feeling like I can't say anything without coming across as either judgmental or naive. Who am I to suggest that spanking isn't necessary to a mother with five mostly grown children, all of whom are good citizens and love their parents? I have only two, and they are still young.

The mothers admit to each other that discipline is complicated, that some children need stronger discipline than others. And time-outs don't always work. I insert that I don't believe in time-outs either, but I'm cut off before I can explain.

Everyone assumes my children are not "strong-willed." Oh, but they are. I am their mother, after all. And my own gentle mother broke so many spoons over my bottom as a two year old, she finally left the task of discipline to my father and his belt. I received my last "spanking" at age 12. (My mother regrets this, and my parents and I have made peace about the issue.)

The mother of teens laments what to do when your children are too old to spank. When they don't take responsibility for things you think they should, what do you do? Talk leads to withholding privileges. The grandmother suggests that at some point, you just have to call it a day and hope for the best.

On the way home, my eldest mentions his friend who gets a lot of time-outs. (Was he listening to the grown-up talk from down the hall?) Why don't I get time-outs, Mommy? he asks.

And I finally get to say what I wish I had said to the other moms.

Because I think you should do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, not because you're afraid of being punished.

What's "punished," Mommy? he asks.

Punishment is doing something bad to someone to make them want to be good, I say. It makes no sense. I want you to be kind and considerate and giving because you love people, and because you know you are loved.

But sometimes people aren't nice, he counters.

Yes, I respond. Sometimes people do things without thinking about how their actions affect other people. Your friend gets time-outs when she acts impulsively, like when she sprays her sister with the hose. But when people are punished for being impulsive, they start thinking about whether they want to risk punishment, instead of thinking of whom they're affecting. I try not to assume that she didn't want to upset her sister so much as she just wanted to spray the hose.

This is my theory... People are neither bad nor good. We were made in God's image, but we are vulnerable to all kinds influences, both positive and negative. We are capable of both great evil and great love, depending on our experiences and how we learn to respond to them. We were given free will to choose good or evil. But we are also offered the Grace necessary to overcome our negative experiences and choose good.

When children are treated with respect and trust, when they are expected to do good, not assumed to be Sinful, they want to do good, to trust, and to be respectful. When they are loved, they want to keep that love. Yes, some children are more impulsive than others, and have a harder time doing the right thing the first time. But when their motives are not assumed to be the worst, when they are given a second chance, they try that much more.

Christ took our punishment. Because of Him we no longer have to suffer needlessly for our mistakes. We can look to Him for never-ending love and mercy. I have never felt punished by God. I have punished myself by running from Him when I needed Him most. I have punished others out of my own fear and shame. I have suffered because I did not trust Him fully. But He has not punished me in order to teach me. I have learned from my own failures, and I have learned to trust Him because He is always trustworthy. He has taught me to love by His example.

I am able to love my children because I have been so loved by my Heavenly Father and my Savior. I do not do it perfectly. But I am thankful that I am not dependent on punishment for influencing their behavior. Sometimes I wonder if my God is not the same Person as the God of other Christians I know.
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