We have chosen not to spank our children and we aim to parent with respect and gentleness. This is a departure from how we started (though, to be honest, we would have told you we were parenting with respect and gentleness with spanking and yelling because we believed it was necessary) and it has been a transition, one we consciously chose about 10 years ago. It was incredibly hard at first and sometimes still is. Seriously, before you accuse a parent that doesn’t spank of being lazy (“parents these days don’t spank because they are lazy…”), spend a day following them around, it is SO much harder to not spank. I’ve done both and have found not spanking to be significantly more challenging, requiring not only more creativity but more patience. Patience doesn’t come naturally for me, specially patience for myself. At first, no longer spanking felt like we lost a parenting tool but hadn’t replaced it with something else. Now I know that we didn’t need to replace it, we needed an entire shift in our thinking.
With giving up spanking we wanted to give up yelling, emotional manipulation, and coercion as well. These were much, much harder to stop than spanking was. Spanking is, in a way, easy to stop. You just don’t do it. You may not know what else to do but you know you’re not going to hit your child. Yelling, emotional manipulation, and coercion aren’t as obvious. I would know before I was going to spank that I was going to spank but I often didn’t even realize I was yelling until I was already yelling. Emotional manipulation and coercion are even harder to spot, often I wouldn’t recognize what I was doing until it was already done.
The problem was in how I knew to relate.
It gets better. Less because I learned better what to do with my children, more because I am learning so much about how to do better with myself. Changing in how I relate, how I interact with others, even how I view those interactions has had the greatest impact. Developing peace within myself has led to more peaceful relating.
But I’m still a passionate, outspoken person. My opinions are still strong and I absolutely won’t tolerate abuse. And I’m human. We’re 10 years into our parenting shift, or life perspective shift really, and it’s way more than how we parent, we have discovered. I still make mistakes. I still find myself from time to time reverting back to relating styles that are hurtful. There are times when I’m exhausted and stressed and can’t find the resources within myself to respond the way I want to.
Yesterday I had a moment where I yelled, stomped around, and made a scene. In my dining room. I hate yelling and over the years I’ve gone from a reactionary yeller to almost no yelling. But I hit a wall yesterday with two of our children fighting about who was doing more work with helping get ready for a meal. This has been going on for weeks, increasingly getting nastier. We’ve tried to help facilitate better communication, used the peace path, and encouraged them to each reflect on their own feelings and to just be responsible for themselves, not worrying about the other. Jeremy and I had tried to identify what was really going on within each of them and where this was coming from. Was it because they felt invisible and not recognized for their contribution? Were they overtired? Could it be that they had lost sight of how communities all benefit when everyone does their part according to their personal skills and gifts? We weren’t sure so we tried to address all of those areas. It wasn’t getting better. Yesterday morning I had enough, their arguing as we got ready for breakfast was just too much, starting the day that way makes it hard for everyone. So I yelled (because that was going to start the day off better). I expressed my frustration that they were once again bringing the energy down and filling our meal space with negativity. With my voice raised I ranted about how the rest of us were suffering because they refused to work things out using the communication tools they have. I lectured. I sighed and sighed again. I sat the plates down a little too loudly on the table. I ran out of things to yell about. I felt release.
And I felt horrible. Immediately. So I apologized and took a deep breath. The two it was all directed at didn’t respond and one left the room to go vent to her pillow and cry. It was quiet for a while except for the sound of Sugarbaby needing comfort because my yelling had scared her. It sucked. Completely.
Then one of the girls who had been fighting came over to me, looked me in the eyes, and told me she was sorry. That she had been so focused on being angry at her sister she hadn’t noticed or cared to notice how it was impacting others. She apologized for hurting me and apologized for being selfish. She explained how she didn’t realize how yelling and fighting can tear people down even when they aren’t involved. She asked me to help her figure out how to talk to her sister about their conflict. And then she told me that she knows it had to be really bad for me to get so angry and she knew I was upset that I had yelled and she wanted me to forgive myself. Sometimes, she said, we need to yell to get the attention of those that may be hurting others and not realizing it, like someone driving a car distractedly with music too loud and they don’t see that they are going to run over someone. Then she really surprised me, she told me that she was glad I sometimes lose it because it reminds her I’m a person too with feelings too and none of us are perfect. I love her with all her mistakes, she said, and she loves me with all of mine.
I’m not glad I yelled yesterday and I will continue to work to grow in how I relate with others, including my children, even when I’m stressed, tired, or angry. But I will cherish that moment forever. The grace, forgiveness, and strength our teenager exhibited in that moment not only helped me grow and heal, she reminded me why we continue to do so in the first place.