[OPINION] Parenting needs more than a hit-and-miss approach
I was deliberately parented and have been a willing and conscious parent for 23 years and 3 months, to four children. I have three younger sisters and my memories growing up are filled with safety, love and boundaries.
Our friends and our family talk about our father lovingly, respectfully and cautiously because he was a fair, firm, no-nonsense parent. He taught us we were part of a world where we had to conform, follow rules and take calculated risks, never free of the consequences.
I had a strict, decisive father. As a teenager, I took no dangerous risks. I was not meeting boys who had jumped over our school wall, I was not drinking gin behind the statue of Mother Mary on the school property and I did not consider bunking until I was in Grade 11. On the day I did play truant and saw my parents seeing me, seeing them! The trip home was silent and heavy. We never spoke about it, we didn’t have to. I knew I was wrong; I had to be responsible for it. My friends were not blamed, it was all on me. I knew better, no talking to resolution was necessary.
I attribute my sense of right and wrong to being instructed what to do as little child, there were no requests. Once we knew the rule and we broke it, there was a consequence. This did make us think twice about stepping out of line. If it was fear, so be it! The point was made, thinking before we did anything and always aware there was a consequence was what we knew. It was not going to be a verbal warning after the fact; you would have been taught before and had a reference.
We used to get hidings, on the bum with a belt. We were responsible, reliable teens and our friends were welcomed warmly in our home. They knew our house was not the one in which you didn’t respect the few and non-negotiable rules. If boys who l had any interest in visited, we sat in common areas with open doors. If our classmates visited we had freedom to relax, play games, watch videos, listen to loud(ish) music, cook, bake, take long bubble baths giggling and sharing stories in the bathroom for hours, as girls did.
I felt my father was unfair, I felt he was too strict, I knew I would NEVER be like him. I often didn’t like the rules. I did look at my friends who had access to money for movies and tuck shop as they requested. I did feel envious they were allowed to backchat their parents, click their tongues, roll their eyes and walk out while their parents were talking to them. I wished I could also swear and call people names. I wanted to sleep out and wear makeup when I was 14; I didn’t bother with boys because it was going to be too much of a mission. We had a landline so to give my phone number to a boy, I had to really like him and he had to know not to call after 8:30 pm. Those were all no-go areas in our home. I only remember us four young girls being obedient and thoughtful about how we showed up. Where we stepped out of line, we were allowed a few warnings and then a sharp slap on the bum or legs would get us back in line.
We were not regularly punished physically. My only understanding of that is that our parents were strict and clear about the rules and consequences when we were very young, so it was not necessary when we were tweens. I remember my dad slapping me in anger once. I turned down an opportunity to go on a family drive and lunch as I had to study. That was fine with my parents as long as I studied and didn’t sit on the passage floor on the phone with anybody. Although I promised, they didn’t look convinced. As they pulled into the driveway, my boy crush called at a time that was acceptable according to my before 8:30 pm request, but not according to my arrangement with my parents on that day. As I answered and was asking him to call back, my father walked in and it looked like it looked. As I put the phone down, he stepped in angry and slapped me. I hated him. Completely, fully and forever! It took a long time to talk about it, years. But we did and I got to explain what happened and he apologised. That incident does not fall into the category of punishment we had been subjected to before. This slap was out of anger and he felt I was defying him and breaking my word.
As adults we and our friends enjoyed a familial relationship with my parents. Boys who visited my sisters and I were cautious. We knew they really liked us when they came back. Our friends knew the rules and where the door was. More importantly, they knew they were welcome in our home, and that the same rules that applied to us, applied to them. When we got home from parties we loved chatting about how it was and who drank too much, who embarrassed themselves and who liked who. My dad often did the pick-ups. He was on time at 00:00 am. I would round up my friends and he never had to get out of the car and look for us. That curfew stayed mine until I was 18.
In 1994 I became a mom. My manager at the time gave me a massive wooden spoon with a blue bow. I was disgusted, but as a father of five he was amused. How on earth did he even think that was an appropriate gift? By the time my son was 4, the wooden spoon was splintered. I never hit him with it, but I did bang it against the kitchen counter. I applied the same rules I rejected as a child. I would guide my son, warn him, show him what would happen if he walked too close to the edge of the pool, ran into the road, played with a knife, turned on the hot tap, messed with the bubbling kettle, walked too close to a burning fire, jumped around and splashed water out of the bath and many other potentially dangerous or difficult scenarios. There was a lot of talking and role modelling and demonstrating - and there were slaps. It was not a first resort out of anger or frustration. It was a final consequence once all the other boxes were ticked.
We have to teach our children that there are consequences. There is a priority on talking them through it. You cannot negotiate with a two- or three-year-old. All you can do is warn, let them explore within reason and then they must be clear that there is a consequence if they do not follow the guide. I have not hit any of my children for many many, many years. However, when they were little there were tight and few rules. Among those rules was a sharp slap on your legs that could be an outcome, it was up to you. I remember exactly the day I saw in their eyes that I was serious and pushing the boundaries to a point where they were in danger or someone else was in danger was not an option. I also remember more days from the first day we looked at each other that they never ever felt unloved, unprotected, abused, treated unfairly or abandoned.
Yes, we tried withdrawing privileges. We also did timeouts. We denied them play dates and took away TV remotes, had them use their own money from their allowances to replace lost school shoes, items of value and so on. All of this on their own is not working in the world around us. Children are adaptable and smart. I have heard children around me boast that their parents warn and threaten to smack them, but they won’t do it. I watch their frustrated parents, embarrassed and powerless, sigh and excuse their behaviour because they are “tired”, “sugared up” or not feeling well. I see their shame that they have no control over their kids, or I see them pushing out their defensive chests as they expect everyone around them to adapt to their children’s bad behaviour.
I have had four children. They enjoy our love and they enjoy the protection of a family and they know that they have been taught how we expect them to do things and how to behave in a world where you are very special at home, but in the world you should have the life skills and emotional maturity to live well and do good.
I oppose abuse, I oppose physical assault, and I reject the abuse of children. I want my children to be their best in their lives, I don’t indulge them, they do not feel entitled to anything, they do not put themselves first, they always think through consequences. Where they make mistakes we can talk them through and the outcome is a consequence that they take on. There is no physical punishment in our home because our children are being raised on love, rules, boundaries and knowledge that we are in charge of them until they can make their own choices.
Informed choices because they have been taught, they have not had unlimited options and free will and they do not enjoy the luxury of the world being their oyster where they can do whatever they want. They also know there are rules for a reason. The law is to be respected. You can play outside the lines if you know what your personal rules are. You know that because your parents have taught you and guided you.
I believe the lines are blurred with corporal punishment, as are the lines of parenting and befriending your children. If you manage to raise a successful adult, through talking and depriving them of their privileges, very well done. That is exceptional and admirable.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn