Becoming a parent is undeniably the 2nd most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me. (The MOST terrifying thing that has ever happened is the fact I will be a parent until the day I die!)
When I first became a Mummy, besides the usual pondering about which brand Nappies allowed the least leakage and how much we should save and tuck away in their Trust funds.. I found myself thinking a lot about discipline.
I know kids that are challenging, sometimes through personality, sometimes through lack of parenting skill, often a mixture of elements and it isn’t so much the behaviour of the child that shocks me most, but the looks on the parents’ faces. I’ve seen the full range from embarrassment, exhaustion (mental and physical), bewilderment, frustration, horror, regret, apathy… the list of undesirable consequences rolls on. I knew one thing for sure – I needed to work out how best to discipline my kids not only for their good, but for mine.
Parenting is surely the greatest gift given to us in life but it is hard, so so hard – and cruel (ever felt Mother’s Guilt??). I needed, and need all the help I can get.
I need more grace, more love, more patience, more wisdom and more perseverance and I must continue to stick to my parental guns when the going gets tough but above all else, I need a Plan. Not a daily plan of routine or structure for my kids, but a plan in my heart and mind for how I will guide and shape these little lives as best I possibly can into sensible, responsible adults who can enjoy their own path in life to the maximum.
I need to go to my grave knowing I gave it my very best shot. My heart can’t afford to aimlessly or accidentally parent these little souls or allow the world to ‘parent’ them for me. So yes, TV will be limited and age-appropriate (what I call appropriate, not the media), emails and online surfing will be transparent and open, the time-out corner will be occupied from time to time, the people we allow to interact with our kids will be carefully chosen and the influences around them will be managed and the examples set for them by us as their immediate role models will be endlessly worked on.
I am always disgusted when I hear the Bible being quoted by both sides of the ‘is smacking OK?’ debate when it comes to child discipline. I grew up in a church where a minority of the parents believed that the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ scripture was all the bible they needed to allow them to lash out on an unruly bairn.
I very rarely, if ever, feel the desire to hit or strike anyone, let alone my own child. It’s just not something I do. Granted, I’ve felt like smacking a face or two when I’ve been cut up on the tired road home late at night and nearly ended up wrapped round a tree or when I’ve been mown down by a frenzied shopper, despite my being 8 months pregnant.. but it’s angry frustration which easily dissipates – not a genuine intention to actually reach out and deliver a punch. (Besides, I’d be too scared I’d hurt my hand but that’s just me…)
Meanwhile, back to the whole ‘is it OK to smack my kid?’ train of thought.
Twice I have smacked my boy. Once on his backside when he would not stay still to get shoes on and he stamped on my fingers. Spontaneously I whacked his peachy little derrier with such a pathetic swipe I barely made contact. However, the look on his face and the rip right across my heart said it all. I vowed I would never ever smack him again. I apologised so many times over the next 4 days that even he was getting annoyed.
I did smack him again. This time his curious little digits were heading for a piping hot tray of food on the counter and my previous warning not to touch had gone unheeded. This smack was different. It wasn’t spontaneous or out of my pain or anger. It was a smack to get him away from the (minor) danger and pain he was about to experience.
Some I guess would claim I should have used the energy to quickly remove the hot tray, rather than smack his hand away. But it’s sometimes more effective to guide the sheep away from the freezing river with the bark of a dog, than to try to stop a river flowing… there will always be hot trays, but now my son knows he doesn’t need to find out first-fingered just how hot they are!
My son, being a sensitive soul burst into floods of tears and by this age was articulate enough to say just the right things to make me feel just about half an inch tall.
What this taught me was how awful God must feel when he has to discipline his kids. As the saying goes ‘shit happens’ and I try not to attribute the random dung of life to some kind of celestial teaching schedule – but sometimes I do believe He does indeed discipline. But He doesn’t do it in a fast smack way (those events tend to just be life, get over it) but in a planned, civil and purposeful way. A friend that was leading you in a bad direction suddenly moves house, a band who’s lyrics filled your soul with a melancholy your moods could do without split up, a job opportunity which would have moved your life in a brand new direction doesn’t pull off. At the time you are gutted but looking back from the right time distance away, suddenly it makes sense.
Psalm 23, perhaps the best known Psalm of all with the famous words ‘thy rod and thy staff they comfort me’ made me really think about the whole smacking thing. Something doesn’t add up. If thy rod is a source of comfort, then God surely didn’t mean for parents to start beating their kids.
The Shephers’ rod was there as an extension of the shepherd’s right hand, a symbol of his authority and ability to protect and care for the sheep. The rod was used to gently separate the wool on the animal’s back to check for disease and health issues which could then be treated. The rod was used to guide and direct. The rod was used to batter away wild beasts which approach with intentions to attack. The rod was never used to inflict pain or to teach a lesson. The rod was the tool used by the shepherd to care for and preserve his flock. Now, THAT kind of rod is a comfort.
So, the child is spoiled, ruined and devoured by life when the parent does not fend off the beasts that approach (sometimes in sheeps’ clothing…), the child is ruined when the parent does not use the rod to slowly and carefully check for first signs of illness (attitude, heart, understanding) and the child is spoiled when the parent fails to provide guidance and explain the direction that child should take.
I once heard children described as ‘books to be read, not blank pages to be written on’ and I couldn’t agree more except that the wonderful and fearful story that is each child’s destiny can be scrubbed out, scrunched up, ripped apart by poor parenting. I want to learn from others, learn from Him and learn from my mistakes to preserve as much as possible of that gorgeous original first edition that is my childrens’ story.
Everything leaves an imprint. We don’t get to choose what our kids think when we let them witness a shouting match between their beloved parents, or when they see a sexually explicit pop video, we don’t get to manage their response or the memory it leaves. Kindly, some of our failures will be overlooked, forgotten but it is a guarantee that even the most carefully parented child will not leave home unscathed by some reaction to something or someone who has hurt them, offended them or confused them. Our job is to minimise the risk or scarring, minimise the chaos and to create a sanctuary – in our home but mostly in our arms.
We can’t wash the world of its harm and its cruelty – all we can do is create a safe place where that child, even when grown knows they can rely on to be there. The sanctuary may be represented by a house, a beautifully decorated bedroom or a cupboard full of favourite toys but the real sanctuary is US, Mum & Dad.