Wow, that was hard to admit.
It was before I fully embraced Attachment Parenting, way back when. I was a new parent, I was intrigued by AP and positive discipline, but I was struggling against the punishing mindset I grew up with.
SpankOut Day is Monday, April 30. What will you be doing to promote AP and positive discipline? I think one of the greatest influences we as parents can have on others is by modeling it. Just the other day, my daughters got into a squabble outside the courthouse and as I helped them work through their emotions and the conflict, unbeknownst to me, there was a woman watching us from her car. Would I have done the same if I knew I had an audience? I think the introvert in me would’ve waited until we were in our own car, but by practicing AP in public, we are demonstrating to others as to what respectful parenting looks like. My challenge to you, and myself: The next time your child behaves in a way that might elicit a spanking from a non-AP parent, if you’re inclined to downplay the situation, try instead to provide an example to parents that force, shame, and punishment need not be a part of discipline.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I didn’t really think about doing anything differently than much of Western society’s perspective on parenting. I wasn’t actively thinking about how I would parent; I figured it would all fall into place. I wonder if that’s how many new parents approach childrearing – with no plan at all? Flying by the seat of your pants.
I remember being pregnant and thinking that, of course, my baby will go to daycare, of course she’d be drinking formula since I’d be working, of course she’d sleep in a crib in the next room and never make a peep all night, and of course children should be punished so that they can learn what is expected of them. And by punishment, I was thinking spanking.
Then, my world turned upside down when my baby was born – nearly three months early. For three months, I lived at the hospital with her, with an AP-minded medical team that introduced me to the power of feeding my child with my breastmilk, the power of skin-on-skin contact, the power of responding quickly and sensitively to crying, and the sheer power of presence.
The day she was born, I knew I would be a stay-at-home mom. Eventually, I went into the office to try to negotiate a work-from-home contract and ended up quitting when they refused. (The day after my three-month maternity leave was finished, which was my official end date, I started freelancing for that company and still do today, and they now regularly extend work-from-home positions to staff members.)
The first night home from the hospital, I slept on a sleeping bag on the floor of my baby’s bedroom while she snoozed in her crib, hooked up to oxygen machines and apnea monitors. Four months later, I was still sleeping every night on the floor, and my husband moved the crib into our room. I was a little resistant to the idea of bedsharing at first, until I met the late Karen Heimes, a Nebraska La Leche League leader to whom I will be forever thankful. She gave me books to read and let me air out concerns and offer alternative ideas. And when my baby was nine months old, the doctor gave the OK to take the apnea monitor off when she slept and, beginning that night, she slept with me in my bed.
AP fit me perfectly for the first 18 months or so, and then the social pressures from my family and church began to filter into my life. They said my daughter needed “discipline” – that I needed to start now to teach her right from wrong, and the best way was through spanking. I didn’t do it for long before I sought out help with my online AP friends (I had no one nearby at the time.). I could feel it in my being that spanking wasn’t right – yes, my child was obeying me, but we were losing the closeness we had shared. Truth be told, it me three years for our relationship to heal from what only took a couple months to damage.
The transformation from a punishing mindset to one of empathic discipline was excruciatingly difficult for me. I had a couple setbacks in there and a bout of depression as I worked to completely change my view of my child, children in general, myself, my childhood, our culture, the world, my faith in God, everything. It took many tears, sessions with a therapist, humility and forgiveness, a great deal of grace from God, and wonderful support from my AP friends to be able to get to where I am today. It wasn’t enough to stop spanking; I wanted to stop punishing. I had to get to a place where trust, empathy, affection, and joy were the center of my relationships, of my being, not control and coercion.
I envy a bit the parents who never had to struggle within themselves to learn how to relate with their children, but I know I’m better for it. I can empathize with parents for whom some aspects of AP don’t come as easy. It has taught me to be careful when I feel like judging another and to instead offer not advice (unless requested) but rather compassion and understanding. Certainly, I cringe a little inside when a parent tells me she or he spanks, but for some of us, it can take a lot to change how we think to get to a place where punishment seems unnecessary. The most powerful influence in a struggling parent’s life may be that proverbial, or real, shoulder to cry on.
Article by Rita Brhel
Rita Brhel is a stay-at-home mother to three children. She is also a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, the Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International, the managing editor of the Attached Family magazine, an API Support Group Leader, PSI Postpartum Support Coordinator, Sidelines High-Risk Pregnancy Peer Counselor.
Rita has written 41 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.
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