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Violence-Free Parenting: (NOT an oxymoron III) Emotions are Human and so are Hormones

“We hate children.” ~ My pastor as we were talking about the comments people were making on Facebook about punishment (not discipline)

“STOP Crying!”

“I’m going to give you something to cry about!”

My older son came in from school one day very angry and slamming doors. I was in the kitchen and heard the huffing and puffing and the slamming and rushed in to the living room. “What is WRONG with you!???” I demanded. “You better STOP slamming my doors, boy!” He looked me in my face and through his clenched teeth with a ferocity he said, “Mama, teenagers have bad days, too!” I softened my face and put my arms to my side. He was heaving. I didn’t really know what was going on and I had charged him without any concern for him, but for the door and for my own peace of mind. “You’re right son. You’re right.” We stood there and I waited for my words to soak in. He started sobbing. I reached for him and he came to me and let me hold him. He wasn’t ready to tell me what had happened. But he was ready to let me comfort him. When he calmed down, I said: “You’re right. We all have bad days. I”m sorry you’re having one. If you want to talk about it, let me know. But you can’t slam doors.” With that he went to his room with his own emotions, free to share them or not.

We reminded ourselves and our children that it’s okay to have emotions. We have tear ducts for a reason. We get disappointed, frustrated, angry. None of these emotions is sin. They are human. And my husband and I had to remember that preteens and teens have the added rush of hormones coursing through their young bodies, with changes rapidly happening that they neither understand nor could control. Add a menopausal woman to that mix and the interactions could be volatile. Unless. Unless we allow each other to be human. Unless we are kind and tenderhearted toward one another. Unless we refuse to keep a record of wrongs.

But expecting our children to “grin and bear it” when privileges are withdrawn, restrictions are imposed, or when we refuse a request is not fair. As adults, we don’t expect ourselves not to feel disappointment, grief, sadness, or anger. We learn to govern our emotions, not deny them.

This particular son had emotional outbursts often before this moment, or as he came to say, “anger issues.” I taught him a proverb (Proverbs 16:32) when he was very young. That text reads,” One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.” I told him that if he learned to manage his emotions it would make him a mighty man. It became our touchstone when he was out of control. And he disciplined himself with it even now. But my discipline that day was to re-train myself as to how to react to human BEING. He needed to emote. He didn’t need to slam the door. But if I had focused only on that door, I would have unnecessarily provoked more frustration and anger. Instead I nurtured him and made space for him to bring his full self into that room. I admonished him not to destroy anything in the process (thus the “don’t slam doors”). Both were warranted.

We were NOT perfect parents. We prayed often and repented as much. We didn’t get it right all the time. But I had a delightful conversation with my now 32-year-old son about parenting: mine, his dad’s, his… And the fact that we managed to live into our commitment to violence-free parenting. He said the whippings he can count on ONE hand (without using all the fingers) he absolutely deserved. I argued that he did not; that we could have found other ways for consequences to be in play. But to hear him talk about discipline (not punishment) and the fact that he NEVER (his word) felt we were being punitive in any correction he received blessed me beyond measure.

We were committed to treating our children with respect and dignity. After reading all the horrific comments on Facebook and twitter advocating for brutal and violent parenting euphemized as “spanking,” I had to reflect on key moments rearing my children. I’ll keep posting about it until I’m done. I will post some Epic Fails as well. But I start here. Because I can’t believe how cruel we are to our own children–in the name of love.


Violence-Free Parenting (NOT an oxymoron II): We do not own our Children

“I worry about us. We treat children with such disdain. We hate children.” ~ My pastor when we were discussing the Creflo Dollar episode

Sweet Honey in the Rock put to song the poem by Lebanese poet/prophet Khalil Gibran. “Your children are not your children.” These words no doubt make some people bristle as we really believe that we “own” our children, like slavers “owned” slaves.

Rearing children is daunting. I often said to my sons: “You have the seed of a man in you, but you’re not yet a man. I’m trying to rear boys into men that I’d be glad to be friends with were I to meet you in your grown self.” Most days I think we pulled that off. My daughters-in-love think so most days as each have thanked us for the men we reared. I remember a conversation between my older son and me. I was lamenting that neither of them had, as yet, finished a college degree. He begin to recount who they were in their character: men of integrity who respected women and children and loved God. “Mom,” he said, “you didn’t get it how you wanted it, but you got what you wanted in grown men.” I had to stop crying. And I had to remind myself that they made their own choices and would have to live their lives. They do. Not perfectly at all. They’ve had their struggles.

That is the way growing up can be. Full of struggles. But as parents we sought to give them tools to handle life–tools suited for their individual lives. My mother taught me that “train up a children in the way he or she should go” means exactly that: each child has her or his own path. You can’t treat all your children “exactly the same” as people often argue. The parent’s role is to be discerning and try to bend each child in her or his own direction. Sometimes we pull it off. Sometimes not. But as my ethics professor said to us: parents should take neither too much credit nor too much blame for how their children turn out, for good or ill. They are their own persons. We can “screw” a child up and they can become phenomenal in spite of us. Or we can give them all the loving boundary-laden discipline with a home full of laughter and joy and they can choose a deleterious life.

One of the things we gave our children was the right to speak their own mind at a very early age. You can say anything you want to say to me as long as you are respectful, we said. Ouch! They sometimes told us about our selves. And MOST of the time–they were right. Once we went out to dinner at a swank (enough) restaurant to honor an award my younger son had received. Something happened in the car that ticked me off. I began a tirade at the table that was, in fact, ruining the celebrative mood. My older son looked at me and said, “Mom. You’re out of control and what you’re saying is way over the top.” He said it in a low (and I admit, loving) tone. I was stopped in my tracks. I got up from the table and went to the bathroom to cry and then to laugh. I had just heard myself coming out of his mouth. And he was RIGHT. I went back to the table after fixing my face and thanked my child for calling me on my bad behavior and apologized to my family. We had a lovely meal.

But they were not always that respectful in their language. Once I walked out of the living room as my son (15-years-old at the time) was yelling. My first instinct was to yell back and to yank him. Instead, I walked into my bedroom and locked the door. He banged on it, screaming that he was talking to me. About 20 minutes later, when he calmed down, I went back into the living room and asked whether he wanted to talk with me. I was talking to you, mom, he said. I said, “No, you were yelling. And it occurred to me that I was being yelled at by someone who paid nothing to be in this house and for whom I bought all his food and clothing.” He dropped his head and apologized. It didn’t always go this way. We valued violent-free parenting, even if we didn’t always live it. But these kinds of interactions were more common than the violent ones we sought not to have.

Both my sons (and ALL my godchildren) have a stubborn streak. I mean an “I’ll-take-the-consequences-because-you-can’t-make-me” streak. And they often did. So my husband and I often had to check ourselves on who did the disciplining, to answer the question whether we were responding to a teachable moment or whether our buttons had been pushed. I walked away a few times with the words, “go deal with your son because I’d be beating the Valerie out of him.” That is, many times what we respond to in our children is the shadow side of us that we despise or with which we have not dealt.

I thank God that we were able to communicate to our sons the integrity of their own personhood–the fact that they were not “mini mes” and not beholden to think, believe, act, or emote like their parents. They are not ours. They belong to the future to which we cannot visit, not even in our dreams. They belong to God. We were given the daunting responsibility to see them from helpless baby to productive adult, allowing them their own mistakes and learning along the way. But we don’t and never did “own” them.

Violence-Free Parenting (NOT an Oxymoron)

“We hate children.” ~ My pastor as we talked about the Creflo Dollar episode

I reared two sons alongside their father in a two-parent home. Black parents. We had a commitment to be as “violent-free” in our parenting as possible. We didn’t always pull it off. My children can tell you how many “whippings” they got because they were that few. And even then, those whippings were borne out of their parents’ lack of restraint, sense of embarrassment, frustration, or sense of having been disrespected. My ex- and I often checked one another’s behavior with these boys with these words: “We’re the adults. ACT like it.” Expecting toddlers not to throw tantrums is ridiculous. Expecting teenagers not to be insolent or even disrespectful is a sign that parents know nothing about stages of development, OR that they don’t remember their own growing curves. Granted, neither of us came from much parental violence. I didn’t say “any,” I said MUCH. My husband liked to tell the story that his father would talk to him to the point that he WISHED for a beating. I have story after story of my mother choosing more creative ways to discipline me. Which is why I remember two whippings in my life from my mother, neither of which I thought I deserved; both of which she said later (when I was grown) that I was right.

I was appalled in the light of the Dollar family story. This post is not about Creflo Dollar (though I do think it’s about my sympathy and concern for his daughters, the 15-year-old who was attacked and 19-year-old who was there). And yes, if you beat a child with a shoe and wrestle him or her to the ground because you want to “give them something to cry about,” you attacked her. OK. Maybe this post IS about the Dollar episode. But several people have written very good pieces on this matter, like the one at Crunk Feminist Collective  or the one by Mansfield Frazier on Creflo Dollar’s corporal punishment defense.

I was appalled because consistently I saw statements like: “Good for him for yanking her butt,” or “these children.” I was shocked that people were quick to give Dollar the “benefit of the doubt” (“we don’t know what happened”) while immediately and virulently vilifying the daughter who called 911. I confess. I once told my then 15-year-old son who threatened to call the police on me: “Do it. And we’ll see who’s standing when they come; one of us will go to the hospital; the other one will go to jail.” I hadn’t put my hand on him, but I was threatening him. I am not proud of that statement or that moment.

I have been stunned by people’s willingness to call a violent act discipline, even as I confess (and have repented to my children that I’ve participated in this behavior). Discipline comes from the same root as “disciple.” Discipline assumes the more mature parent seeks to teach not to punish. But much of the language on Facebook among black folk has been punitive. I had a flash of that scene in the movie, The Color Purple, when Harpo asks Celie for insight on how to “control” Sophie. Celie, who has been brutally beaten and sexually assaulted from it seems birth, says, “beat her.” And THAT is the point I want to make on this post. People tend to go with the brutality that was visited upon them (as in, “I was beat within an inch of my life and I turned out okay.” I really want to say, “No, you didn’t, boo. You survived brutality and you’re still working that ish out on people. Get you a good therapist and work on that”).

I’ll say more on the next blog on how we think we own our children… we don’t.