I’m constantly amazed how well-behaved (and brilliant!) Ari is. My definition of “well-behaved” has probably changed since I was at my parents’, because I also believe she is a small child and will act like a small child, and she DOES have meltdowns (usually if she hasn’t had a nap or is hungry). Most of what she has learned has been just by example. She shares her food with us, because we share our food with her…not because we whacked her every time she didn’t share. She hugs us when we’re upset, because we hug her when she’s upset (if she wants hugs). We are very affectionate to her, so she is very affectionate to us.
I remember a story my dad told about me, when I was just crawling, how I put my hand in a tape player. He said “No!” sharply, so I put my hand in again. He then came over and whacked me every time I put my hand in, some 20 times. I was under a year old. I probably didn’t even know what “no” meant. Wouldn’t it have just been easier to move me somewhere else and give me something else to keep me occupied (not to mention take the damn tape player off the floor)?!
I’ve written before on how spanking is the lazy way to parent. The thing with spanking is, you don’t have to be a good example. You can do whatever the fuck you want, but spank your kids if they do the same thing. “Do as I say, not as I do.” It was sort of a joke in my house, but it was painfully clear to me that that’s the way things were. In order to be a good parent, first you need to be a good example! Not a perfect example, nobody is perfect…but basically, model how you want your kid to act. We model boundary-setting, sharing, respect, empathy, and sympathy, and that’s what we get in return: a toddler who sets boundaries, shares (when she wants to; I don’t believe in requiring her to share everything that’s hers), respect, empathy, and sympathy.
Occasionally I think about how different she would be if we did spank her for everything. What if, instead of letting her go in the kitchen, we spanked her every time she went in? (That was a common thing my parents spanked for. The little ones weren’t allowed on the kitchen floor until they were three or four, so they didn’t get into stuff or get in the cook’s way.) She’s learned to “feep” (sweep), do the dishes (unloading and putting away the stuff on her level and handing me the rest), and make a Rice Side (a simple microwave dish). She doesn’t really get into the cupboard, and if she does, we either find something else she can play with instead (distraction is my best friend!), or ask her to help us and put it back. She loves to help! We don’t force her, and the result is that she wants to help.
Even her interactions with Scottie and I are much, much different than my (or my siblings’) interactions with our father. My dad would say, “I don’t know why none of you kids just comes up to me and crawls on my lap!” Firstly, we were afraid of rejection, and secondly, why would we want to cuddle with someone who just half an hour before was beating the crap out of one of us, or yelled at everyone, or stormed off and locked himself in his office? We feared him. He explained the fear of god like the way we feared him (since it wasn’t a secret!). He said we were afraid of him, but that we wanted to be close to him, and that was how we were supposed to feel about god. Well, the fear was the reason nobody sat on his lap unless he invited them. It’s why little ones didn’t run up to him when he got home. Everyone was afraid that something would set him off and he would find a reason to spank us or be mad at us.
Ari’s relationship is in stark contrast to that. She loves snuggling and cuddling. She’s not afraid of being hit. She negotiates when we don’t want her to have something or play with something. If she grabs my phone and I say “Oh, Ari, that’s my phone, please don’t play with my phone. Please hand it to me,” she’ll say “No!” then she’ll say “Daddy!”…in other words, I don’t want to give YOU the phone, but I’ll give Daddy the phone.
She does run up to Scottie and want up on his lap. She is very loving and affectionate. She is aware of her own needs and wants (and because we respect her needs and wants, instead of telling her her needs and wants are less than ours because we’re “the boss”, she will have a much healthier level of self-esteem!). Instead of making her feel even more powerless, we try to empower her.
Instead of demanding complete, immediate obedience, we realize that she is still learning and her brain is still developing, and also that we don’t want her to blindly obey any elder who tells her what to do. We were raised with one purpose: to obey authority. As a kid, that authority was our parents. Adult women were supposed to obey their husbands, and adult men were supposed to obey their fathers (yes, even when they were married). We, quite literally, were robots in training.
I’m not raising a robot. I have no desire to control my kid until I die. Sometimes I wish my dad could see me now, to see how Ari behaves. I would want him to see that we don’t have to hit her to get her to be nice…we just have to be nice to her. I know it really wouldn’t make a difference; “because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” And, of course, “discipline” here means “spank”.
But whether or not he ever sees Ari, I’m going to raise her to be a good person…not to be a robot full of fear. I turned out to be a good person in spite of, not because, I was spanked and abused. Ari will have a huge advantage in life that I didn’t have. I’m very, very happy to provide that for her, and I’m also a bit jealous. I don’t know where I’d be in life if I had had a loving, non-abusive childhood. But I’m going to make damn sure Ari gets the love and support she needs throughout her entire life. And somebody needs to tell my dad that it’s a hell of a lot easier to just give your adult children love and support, rather than try to control them their whole lives!