Thursday, September 18, 2008

When your friends aren't.

So we have experienced a very interesting transition in one of the church groups we participate in. We were about to embark on a study of parenting, which of course we feel very strongly about. We tried to approach the conversation with as open a mind as possible - while we feel very strongly about our beliefs, of course there could be more for us to learn. Immediately the conversation turned to spanking...and we were mortified and shocked into silence by what we heard. One of the people outright said he was very pro-spanking while his wife was more into gentle problem resolution and that difference sometimes causes conflict in their home. Another person said that one of his greatest parenting tools was "fear" and insinuated that physical discipline must be used because making your children fear you is how to make them obey.

By this time in the conversation, I was having a full on panic attack. I felt as if I might pass out...I could barely breathe. As I struggled to calm down, my stomach turned. The idea of hitting children is so distasteful to me, I felt I might vomit. The night wound down and on our way home, Hubby and I talked about how we had struggled to speak up during that conversation, and we decided we would have to say something about how physical discipline isn't the answer.

Here's a few reasons why we believe so strongly in gentle discipline...some of them have to do with our upbringing, some are purely logical and others have a strong Biblical foundation:

1. Growing up, we were both hit and spanked as discipline. In Hubby's house, when they misbehaved they were sent to their rooms, to wait for Daddy to get home. Then Daddy would come home and spank them. How ineffective is this? You send the kid to their room to play with their toys all afternoon (ooh, big punishment) and then when their father arrives home, his first duty is to go hit his son, for an infraction he knows nothing about and wasn't a part of.

In my childhood home, my mother frequently lost control and didn't know the difference between spanking for punishment and hitting us because she was angry or frustrated. Many times, she hit us in ways that were clearly not spanking (she broke my nose) and more often than not, her "spankings" were actually beatings that she would have, could have and probably should have been criminally prosecuted for. I remember several times as a teenager, I had to physically restrain my mother from beating the snot out of my baby brothers. It was a horrible, painful way to grow up.

What did this teach me? Well, basically it taught me that it's okay to hit people when you're mad. I guess that's why I endured so many bad relationships with people whom I would allow to use and abuse me. That's why I put up with my doctor ex-fiance who used to purposefully hurt me in ways he could fix (nobody ever knew he hurt me if he fixed it and I didn't say anything). That's why I worked in a hellhole for 4 years, for a boss who disrespected me and treated me like an indentured servant. That's why I endured 7 years of an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship and marriage. It took me a lot of time and personal and spiritual growth to realize that A) I deserved better than these relationships, B) it is incorrect to treat people in this manner or allow myself to be treated in this way and C) this isn't how Jesus would behave.

I had to fight hard against the thought that if my own mother could haul off and smack the living daylights out of me and it's okay, why isn't it okay for all these other people too? Well, the short answer is that it's not okay. It's not ever okay. It may be your natural human impulse, but that doesn't make it right. When it comes to my hands on my children, I want them to know that hands are for love. Hands aren't for hurting. We're breaking the cycle.

2. Violence only begets more violence, and an important way to promote peace in our society is by being peaceful, non-violent people. This seems totally logical to me. I don't want my children to be the big bullies on the playground. I don't want my children to grow up with a shortage of self-expression that leads them to express themselves in violence. So we talk about problems, we remind our son to be gentle and kind. And when he messes up, we show him how he has made his friend or us sad by his actions, and show him how to do better next time. Moose is a very sensitive, sweet little boy. When his friend cries, it upsets him and he wants to fix it. Is this just a coincedence or has he learned to treat people this way because we are sensitive to his feelings and are gentle to him physically? I firmly believe that a child learns from how he or she is treated...I know I did. I want my child to love others and live a life of harmony and peace.

3. The Biblical basis for most Christians believing in spanking as punishment comes from a misinterpretation of a couple of verses in Proverbs...the "spare the rod, spoil the child" texts. The original Hebrew word used here that is translated as "rod" is "shebet" which could also be translated as "authority". So what the verse means is the man who spares correction would be spoiling his child. This same "rod" isn't very different from the one mentioned in the 23rd Psalm...the "rod and staff" that "comfort" the Psalmist. This "rod" isn't so much a physical tool of discipline as much as it is gentle correction and direction.

With that in mind, we sent our small group leaders this email:

Dear Group Leaders,

We were approaching this parenting study with a bit of apprehension since punitive discipline is such a sensitive topic. After experiencing our initial meeting on this topic, we are very uncomfortable with this book study and would like to suggest that we redirect the study towards how to raise our children to know Christ. A group like ours would be a great venue to discuss how to teach our children the ways of the Lord. A text like this is something we would really be happy to get on board with:

A book on parenting, and especially discipline, can lead to so many different interpretations. Through our own thorough and ongoing study of discipline, we have chosen to follow gentler parenting practices that don't involve physical punishment. We feel very strongly about our position. We do not want to promote discord, however; we are very passionate about gentle discipline. We feel that we must present our positive, Biblical viewpoint on why a gentle, non-physical approach is what we believe to be the better option.

We understand that it's a little late in the game to change books, so maybe we can try to investigate them both side by side or some other variation. Thanks so much for taking the time to prayerfully consider our concerns.

Tim & Felicia

You'll never guess how this matter was resolved. The group leaders decided that since we were "so strong in our convictions" and our "parenting style" is so different, that our group "wasn't a good fit" for us. I am flabbergasted by this. I also feel angry, hurt, and censored. I had a differing opinion, soundly based on Biblical principles, but they didn't care to hear it so we get the boot. They said that they "still consider us friends" and that it isn't "personal". Well, I beg to differ. I can't be friends with someone who has chosen to exclude us from a Bible study because we don't hit our kid and it is VERY personal. Someone tell me why I invested in this group of "friends" only to have them turn into...I don't know what.

Now I have to wrap my brain around forgiving them...for treating us in such an unChristlike way, for treating their children with corporal discipline, for this entire debacle. Jesus forgives them, so I have to's just hard to do that when you're so hurt.

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