“We hate children.” ~ My pastor as we were talking about the comments people were making on Facebook about punishment (not discipline)
“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But expecting our children to “grin and bear it” when privileges are withdrawn, restrictions are imposed, or when we refuse a request is not fair.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.