A Few Things I Learnt This Week

A few days ago I responded – without a great deal of thought – to a Tweet asking for comments from a Melbourne family on smacking.  Within 90 minutes I had a short interview with the writer, and a photographer had taken a picture of myself and the girls for the next day’s Herald Sun.

Two things came out of this experience:
1. Always think these things through before committing yourself. Now, this is something that at the ripe old age of 37 I really should know.  In fact, I have a half-removed tattoo on my heel that has been left in a half-removed state to expressly remind me to think before I act. It was cold and I had slippers on, so that didn’t really work for me this time.
2. I’m really not sure of my own standpoint on smacking, which has provoked considerable thought in the past couple of days.

I assume that, like the majority of parents, our parenting style has evolved as our children have grown.  We had loads of half-formed ideas on how we would like to raise our children but in the thick of it they all fly out the window and we rely on instinct.  And I guess instinct comes from the way in which we were raised. Fortunately, we were both raised by reasonable people – so our parenting style is reasonable.

But, that’s where I start to come unstuck.  I’m not sure I’m happy with my parenting being subconscious responses.  My kids deserve better than that.  They deserve more thought put into their childhoods.

Early in the Big Missy’s life we had a no-smacking policy, it just didn’t make sense and nor was it required.  The Big Missy is law-abiding by nature, and just raising our voices would send her scuttling to her bedroom from which she would reappear with a heart-felt apology for her misdemeanour.  We set in place a reward system (this was at the height of Super Nanny mania) and the Big Missy responded beautifully.  We mentally high-fived ourselves for our superior parenting skills.

However the Little Missy is another kettle of fish entirely.  They may be cut from the same cloth, but, boy, do they behave differently.  The dog wash lady yesterday, who sees the LM only in passing, commented “She’s cheeky, isn’t she?  I bet she’s a real handful.”  Yes, and that just about sums her up.  Cheeky.  Mainly happy.  Happy to be praised, happy to be cuddled, happy to make TROUBLE.  And if her sister is tormented along the way, so much the better.  She’s one of those kids who yelling and threatening have no meaning.  She’ll stare you down and call your bluff.  She also has a predilection to physically responding to the person who makes her angry.  The anger comes up from her toes and she’ll say “You’re making me ANGRY!!!!!!” before charging with her head down. Hmmm…so I guess she’s not happy ALL the time.

So, life has gotten a bit chaotic with sibling fights that make me want to scream (OK, I have actually screamed at times, my poor poor child-free neighbours).  The post-school period is particularly stressful.  And a chaotic life has lead to a  parenting style that hasn’t been thought out.

There is a discipline plan, an evolved rather than a planned one.  Roughly, we ask them to stop the behaviour, if they don’t (and they rarely do) they are giving a warning that they will be sent to their room/time out stool and something* will be confiscated or not allowed to happen, then they are sent to their room for an appropriate length of time.  They can come out of their room when they can tell us what it is they did wrong and apologise.  This is a short process for the BM, but has been known to stretch out for well over an hour for the LM.

Hmmm…..but smacking has crept in there, too. I just don’t know where or why. I do have unstated rules around giving a smack which include –

  • no smacking in anger.  That’s a sure fire way to hurt a child.
  • only use an open-hand on a clothed bum.  No implements (wooden spoon, strap, jug cord – hello 1970’s parenting!) and no bare skin.
  • only one smack.

But, I’d still prefer not to smack.  It doesn’t make me feel good, and even though it may short-circuit the behaviour I’m not convinced it’s for the right reasons. My girls don’t fear me, but I’d rather them do the right thing because it’s the right thing and not because they fear the consequences.

And here’s where it gets messy (Ouch, the top of this fence where I sit gets blardy uncomfortable).  I actually have no problem with smacking, per se, but I do have a problem with ‘beltings’.  I don’t believe that light open-handed smack used sparingly will damage kids psychologically.  Indeed, some of the words I hear other parents use with their kids are far more damaging – ‘useless’, ‘hopeless’, ‘lazy’, ‘good-for-nothing’ all spring to mind, and I’m positive many parents scream far worse than that at their offspring.  It’s phrases from my own childhood that hurt me now way more than the occasional smack (even with the wet wooden spoon) did.

But but but……I’m striving to use discipline methods that don’t involve smacking.

In a nutshell, I am aiming to be CONSCIOUS and PROACTIVE in my parenting.

Good grief, I sound like corporate middle management.

* The something depends on who it is. For the LM her Dolly (sleeping toy) will usually be put away until bedtime. For the BM, it may be a play date.

Anything to add? I love to hear your thoughts!

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