Friday, October 17, 2014

Ridiculousness in the Discipline/Spanking Debate

A couple years back I posted about disciplining kids and really struggling to figure out what we should do, what I was okay with, and all that stuff. Well, Judah is now three and a half, smack in the middle of testing boundaries constantly, and.... have I moved ahead at all?

So here's the thing. I would still love to not spank my children. There's enough research on the topic that is negative and I have personal reservations about how negative spanking can be when it's linked with anger. But then in the middle of struggling to discipline in the face of direct defiance, I have felt like... I just don't know what else to do! Kids have to learn to obey and behave. And yeah, I know that they need to run around and be crazy and that they get tired and hungry and struggle to keep themselves in check. I know to get down at eye level and speak to him lovingly and firmly. This, however, doesn't take care of disobedience, at least not for us, at least not right now. So, I have spanked, though not often, because sometimes I just don't know what else to do.

I am nearly finished with Shepherding a Child's Heart, the book that so many people in my circles love and recommend. I mostly hate it. There is some good stuff in there about communication and about the ultimate goal of parenting being to point a child to glorify God and enjoy Him. However, the thing that sets the book apart from other parenting books is that it specifically endorses spanking, and I decidedly hate the way they come to this decision. Essentially, they quote the Proverbs about “the rod” and discipline, and say that all other methods of discipline are insufficient, inconsistent, or punitive, and children must be spanked because the Bible says so. They also say that children should be spanked every time they do not obey quickly and directly.

Sorry folks, I just disagree. The scripture speaks about discipline, with “the rod” being a method of discipline of the day. The message is that parents must shepherd and discipline their children, not that children must be spanked. The book also has little in it of grace and there is a lot of talk of children being out of the “circle of blessing” as soon as they disobey in any way. There's no understanding of the constant “twilight' of our souls in which we are being made new but always still also dealing with our flesh. We are either in sin or in holiness and apparently we must discipline our children out of sin and into holiness. 

So. Frustrating. I ranted and raved about the book to Isaac nearly every day. 

In the midst of that frustration I engaged a community of women on a Facebook group I'm involved in. They are believers and fellow Moody alumni, and I know a lot of they (us?) follow attachment parenting methods. When that was being discussed, I threw in my questions about discipline. For those who don't spank, help me understand what else you do? What are the other options? I put in a specific example, but most responses coming from the attachment parenting crowd seem to be about overall theory. That doesn't do me much good. I need to know what you specifically do in response to direct defiance from a child.

I've since been pointed repeatedly to Laura Markham's website, and have read article after article on there and you know what? I am at a loss. According to her, time outs are no good. Spanking is no good. Parent-instituted consequences are no good. So, as I said, what do you actually DO when a child is disobedient and there isn't a natural consequence?? One page gave a play by play response and this is what I come away with. Essentially you do everything you can to avoid coming to that point of direct defiance (yes atmosphere, offer the child win-win options, redirect, etc.) , but if you happen to get to it, remove the child from the situation and talk it through.

Which.... you know.... I quite frankly do not believe that is a sufficient way to address inappropriate behavior and defiance. That is the first thing I do with my kiddo, and on occasion he is then able to resolve the situation. Often, though, nothing changes in his actions or attitude after being removed and speaking seriously together about that situation.

Secondly and more importantly, Markham's ultimate goal in discipline seems to be maintaining a positive relationship with the child at all costs. Creating a strong relationship means the kiddo will respond to gentle guidance instead of needing ultimatums. Evaluate all responses based on whether they strengthen or weaken your relationship. “Defiance is always a relationship problem.” Gosh. There is no sense that the child might sometimes have a heart problem and might make their own negative choices and firmly stand in them. 

In the end, I am equally frustrated by Laura Markham and what I have seen so far of the attachment parenting ideology about discipline of toddlers/preschoolers. On the Shepherding a Child's Heart side, the child is viewed as bad and in need of redemption via spankings. On the other side the child is viewed as good and simply in need of everything being nice and that will be enough to “gently guide.”

I think there's a theological problem in the realm of anthropology and hamartiology here, and it drives some bad ideology about parenting and discipline. There's a song I loved in college by Shaun Groves called “Twilight” that played off the image of the “dawning day and dying night” in the soul, “saint and sinner mingled in my veins.” You, me, my kids, we are stunningly beautiful, precious beings that reflect a God of grace, beauty, creativity, and love. And yet I know my own soul is also “prone to wander” and that without discipline, whether it be from the church, community, the scripture, or discipline that I myself implement on my own heart …. I do damage.

And so, I believe my children need love and relationship and discipline. As their parents, we are responsible for that. What that specifically looks like, I still am not sure. I just know I'm disappointed by the extremes on both sides, and the way the evangelical world sometimes buys into them. Anyone have any other favorite resources/books about parenting? I'm in the middle of struggling with it, and I find that reading keeps my thinking and being intentional in how I respond to Judah in this stage.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Seeing Ferguson Unfold from across the World

I watched the Ferguson situation unfold from across the world, in another culture. I don't know the nuances, I don't know how is at fault, but I know one thing. We all see situations through the lens of our own experience. Here is mine.

I went to college in downtown Chicago. It was an area with a reputation for both street violence and police brutality. One day Isaac and I were coming home from having watched a movie and stopped at the McDonalds down the street from our school to grab a quick burger. We were sitting discussing the movie when a black man in a wheelchair with a cast or bandage on his foot started wheeling around the restaurant and asking for change. This was common - there was a homeless shelter around the corner and although panhandling in the restaurant wasn't allowed, it happened often.

A white cop came in to usher the man in the wheelchair out of the restaurant (also common). He told him to move along and the man grumbled and avoided obeying. The cop requested again that he move towards the door, and the man again sort of avoided and grumbled and complained, with his voice rising and people turning to watch. The cop reached down and took hold of the back of the wheelchair to move it forward towards the exit. The man in the wheelchair resisted, reached down and pulled the footrest off of the wheelchair and brandished it at the cop, yelling at him. Totally inappropriate behavior towards an officer of the law.

At that point the cop also lost it. He grabbed the footrest from the guy, pushed him against the wall, and began beating the man's leg (with the bandage on it) with the footrest. They pushed each other back and forth from wall to wall and there was blood from somewhere and as a woman screamed and said, "CALL THE COPS!", they pushed each other out the door and down the street. That was the end of what I witnessed.

When things happen like Trayvon Martin or the situation in Ferguson, I always think back to that situation. Sometimes people attack cops and often they are incredibly disrespectful. I also know that sometimes cops lose it and do things they should never do.  I tend to think that the burden of responsibility lies heavily on the police. They are officers of the law. They are, by definition, guarding against lawlessness. So it should come as no surprise when those that they deal with are unlawful, disrespectful, or violent. They are trained to respond appropriately. It is NEVER acceptable for a cop to lose his temper and explode in anger, even when they are being treated unfairly. How sad is it that in that situation we were in desperate need of an officer of the law, but the screams of the witness went unheeded because the law was already there and was escalating and beating rather than averting a crisis? I also know that most likely that situation was never publicized because, you know what, who is to know? If it's a homeless black man with no advocate in a ghetto McDonalds, the cop subconsciously probably thinks, "No one is going to report this."

There's another experience that provides me a lens through which I view these situations, and it's being refined right now, across the world from Ferguson. I mostly grew up among a minority people group in this country. They are black and they are of a different culture, race, religion, and just about everything than the rest of this country. I grew up surrounded by a very tense political situation as rebels fought the national government, often in very inappropriate ways. I heard the frustration of the local people as they felt different, unheard, unempowered, voiceless, systematically disenfranchised, scorned, and sometimes persecuted. They were sometimes afraid.

And now here I am, doing language school in the center of the majority people group. I have been having conversations about the diversity of this country. I am astounded by the entirely different perspective they have. These are good people here. They are proud of the diversity of their country. They see the minority as a part of the this beautiful nation... different but part of it. Where the Papuans would say that the money, power, and cultural superiority flows from here, the people around me do not see themselves as privileged. They know there has been a political struggle across the country but it is seen as separate. They would never view themselves as a part of the problem. Why? They respect the minority. There may be a certain stereotype of the minority as ignorant, lazy, and uncouth, but they aren't going to judge people by that stereotype.

It's been a bit shocking to realize just how different the two sides see the same situation. Because I am seeing this as the situation in Ferguson unfolds, I realize that I am seeing us in the mirror. This majority group is like us in the US. We struggle to understand that situation because, well, it is possible that some guy attached a police officer and the police officer shot him in self-protection. We DO NOT see the systematic struggle because we don't personally feel prejudiced and we live entirely separate from the reality that is everyday life for the minority.

I think that's the crux of what I'm realizing. We are clueless. See, here's the thing. Systematic struggles stay the way they are despite individuals being personally blameless and unprejudiced, because the system perpetuates itself. This is a great blog on that topic. Read it. We also don't realize just how much powerlessness feeds the abuse of power. We look and see poverty, crime, and educational problems, and don't realize how much that exact problem allows a cop to do something that he would never do across town in our neighborhood. We see a problem that is not OUR problem, that we aren't personally contributing too, and forget that in a society, every member of the society contributes to the system. If the system is unjust, then as a part of this society, we are a part of injustice. And we are, indeed, our brothers' keeper.

I don't have answers. I know it's complex. I just also really believe that we have to open our eyes and realize that we ARE a part of this, and it IS our problem.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Privilege and Responsibility as an American Overseas


I am privileged. I grew up with it, and then I simply took it for granted. I knew my family had more money than our neighbors in their wood slat houses, more money than the ladies with small piles of fruit stacked in front of them at the pasar, more influence than those around me at church who could do nothing but pay the bribe, bow to the will of the police and military, and just live with injustice. For the most part our lives were the same. Eat. School. Sleep. Parents. Romance. Marriage. Kids. Sickness. But in so many ways that I simply took for granted because I was a child, I had privilege simply because of the family/nationality that I was born into.

Then I spent my adult years in the US, enriched by the fact that I knew what life was around the world. So, I was entirely okay with at times being "poor" compared to those around me. I picked up dropped coins in college, thankful for a little more to pay for a train ticket. I paid my way through college. We paid for seminary, lived in small apartments, drove old cars, and struggled to pay our medical bills. We shopped at Walmart and Aldis and Payless shoes and Goodwill. It wasn't always like that, but it was at times.

And now here I am across the world again, and instead of being poor, I not only know I am rich compared to the majority, the people around me know it too. There is no denying it. Based on where I come from (the USA), pretty much no matter what sector of society I come from in the US, I am wealthy here.  It might take a good amount of money and effort to get here, but once here, I am wealthy even when I live on a very small US stipend. I have people who work for me to watch my kids and help keep the house. I could eat at the nicest restaurant in town without batting an eye. My "oh, I just got them at Payless" shoes are worth a week's wages for a laborer.

How do I live with that?? It weighs heavily on me and I find myself wanting to hide it. I am SO so thankful for the ladies that work for us that allow me to go to language school, but I feel guilty that someone else scrubs my bathroom floor. I can get most things at the local open air market but it is much easier and more comfortable to shop at SuperIndo where there is AC and carts and everything in packages. It's more expensive.... but we can easily afford it because it's still way cheaper than US prices. Do you do what you can afford? We have been living in a house without a shower, oven, or dryer, so we are living differently than most of the Westerners. But you know what, my friend lives with six people in a house with a dirt floor and a mat on the floor for living room furniture. Oh right. Perspective.

I sit in school and I recognize that my instructors are young women my age, with kids my age, and I see us as equals. They worked hard, they have a profession, they are doing well at their jobs and are blessing others. And yet when we talk about where to eat, shop, and relax, I realize that they are giving tips for the wealthy Westerners, and they live a different life. I am wealthy.What?

It's hard. Hah, did you hear that? It's hard? Ridiculous. Poor wealthy American girl, has a hard time knowing what to do with her privilege.

As I struggle to know what to do, I can't take a queue from the Westerners around me. They may be wrong. The wealthy measure themselves by the standard of other wealthy folks, and it's too easy to simply continue on as you were. I also sometimes want to hide my wealth, to pretend that I don't have this privilege, because I am not comfortable with it.

Instead I am going to open my Bible this year and read it differently. I'm going to read the many, many passages about money, wealth, and possessions and realize that I am the one that those passages are written for, and that I better sit up and listen and obey. Jen Hatmaker wrote something recently on her blog that was helpful.
Two things I want you to get rid of as soon as you can: first, that guilt. Really. You were born into privilege. You didn’t pick that, earn it, or deserve it – this is simply your lot in God’s sovereignty. The sooner you can quit lamenting your advantages and your distribution of them, the better. God is not engineering a Guilt Trip. Just go ahead and knock that off. He is giving you eyes to see a little better and ears to hear a little clearer, and you wringing your hands and mourning lost years is not helping. You did the best you could with what you knew. Now God is just giving you more to know, so off you go. Don’t be guilty; be grateful, be generous, be brave.  
That's what I want to remember. Guilt doesn't help anyone. Instead, now that I realize what I have been given, what do I do with it? How do I use what I have been given for good and for God's glory? It's not about me and what people think of me and how I feel.... it should be about obedience and love.

And so... I am reading and praying with new eyes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Living in the Village

There was a blog post that went viral among my mommy friends over the past few months titled, "I Miss the Village." The fact that it went viral just highlights the isolation that mommas in suburban America feel. I felt it too. 

It's different here, so strikingly different. I'm IN the village everyone is dreaming about. Since I'm here, let me just say that I'm not sure you could hack it, Western mamas, if you were given the chance to create "the village" over there. You'd have to make major adjustments... to things that you value. Consider, what's more important to you? "The village", or your independence, the privacy of your family, your extra-curricular activities, and the security of your children?

It's so incredible in some ways, being here. I came home from the store with Elly in her wrap and the neighbor told me next time to just drop Elly off at their house while I go to the store. At the corner is another sweet lady who calls herself Elly's grandma and anytime I walk by she takes Elly and tells me to go work on homework... so I do. 30 minutes of free babysitting! The neighborhood kids all gather in little packs after school and can be found playing games or just hanging out in random corners of the neighborhood. The little ones are looked after by the big kids, and every local parent knows all of the other kids and is responsible for any needs that pop up when the kids are in their front yard. When I go to the store the employees take Elly and watch her while I shop. Hands free shopping! When we eat out for Sunday lunch, the family next to our table for the last two weeks has noticed that my attempts at eating while holding a wiggly infant are less than successful, and have taken her until I'm done. Judah wanders to the field beside the restaurant with other kids and plays while the adults eat.

It's not just with kids, either. We live in a small town but it's still the "village" in the sense of a small local community. Things are very local here, both as a culture and as a governmental policy.  Our neighborhood, maybe 40 houses, has a head guy that we reported to when we got here. The neighborhood plans holiday festivities, greets new members, divides up neighborhood watch duties, and attends to important neighborhood issues. It's as if your neighborhood association was actually the city council. At our first community meeting we introduced ourselves so that everyone would know who we were, where we live, where we came from, etc. If we are out of town for a couple of days or have someone staying with us, we let the community leader know. If someone dies, it's announced from the local mosque loudspeaker and immediately (as in like, within hours), the corpse is laid out in the home and the entire community gathers and sits with them, joins in mourning, and pays into the funeral expenses. On Friday everyone goes to mosque together. We've been here two months and we know half the neighborhood and gather with them for at least three official neighborhood meetings each month. In the US I would have probably just met the people next door.

So here's the thing. To get the village, you give up other things. You give up privacy. For neighbors to know each other, you can't have soundproof walls and gates and cars so that you pretty much get from your bedroom to the cubicle without speaking to anyone except perhaps someone at the Starbucks drive-through. Here, neighbors may well know when our kid is throwing a fit, what we generally cook, if we've had a fight, when bath time and bedtime is, recent purchases, when we go on vacation, etc. There's no keeping your house messy and no one knowing it, there's no having a pantry full of overpriced luxury goods or crappy dollar store brand but no one knowing it.  In the West we idealize the community support but then we really like to go home, get away from people, lock the front door, and know that we can squabble, discipline, and have a private family routine that is away from everyone else.  The more private you are, the less you live in the village. Which do you want?

It's kind of ironic actually because at the same time as the "I Miss the Village" blog was going viral, another blog was as well, about how moms feel constantly judged by each other and calling for an end to mommy wars. Here's the thing. If you really want the village, you're going to have to give up the desire to avoid critique. If other people get to help parent your child, they also get a say in how it should be done. Here I have received constant advice on how to dress my child, what to feed them, when to bathe them, school, play activities, safety guidelines, medical advice, etc, etc.  It can totally make me feel judged and like I don't know the best thing for my kiddos. Guess what. I may actually not know the best thing, and if I want to parent in the communal village, I best get over it.

Then there's independence. We like our cars because .. well... we don't know how to live without them. With them we get to the store, to church, to school. It gives us the freedom to get where we want to go, right? That way we can do all the extra curricular stuff we like to do. Sports. Church events. Art classes. Library time. Etc, etc. And then you can swing by your favorite store, drive to church on Sunday, and eat out at your family's favorite restaurant afterwards. Except, you know what almost every single one of the those activities do? Takes you away from the neighborhood. What if you used your car only to go to work? What if you only chose extra curricular activities you could walk to, ate only at restaurants within a mile of your house, shopped only at the closest grocery stores, and went to the church around the corner instead of across town? Could you do it? You have to give up the ability to choose your favorite things if you really intend to foster "the village". Church in the US attempts to recreate its own village through a host of community-building activities, but the down-side of that is that they are only attended by church people rather than people around you of all stripes, including different religions, ages, and socio-economic status.

It's the same thing with people. It's true that in the US we've lost some of the village, but the benefit is that you pick your people. You decide which groups your or your kid are in, but if you are limited to your neighborhood then, well, what if the guy next door is weird and the mom across the street is controlling and the kid on the corner is a bully? Are you still willing to live in that village? It'd be great to have others helping to raise your kid, but you also are giving all of those people your trust to guard your children and be an influence in their lives.

In the end, I'll take the village. I just think that the Western world needs to weigh their values and understand what they have to begin setting aside if they really want to foster that "village".