On Crime and Punishment

Dear Kids,

Before your dad and I were parents, we talked about disciplining our future children. No, we didn’t sit around fantasizing about how we could torture you; although I know that is what you think.

Both your dad and I were brought up with pretty strict rules and consequences for breaking those rules. We both feel that your grandparents did a good job of raising us to be awesome adults. We wanted to be firm, yet fair with you.

I can’t speak for your dad on this one, but for me there were aspects of your grandparents’ approach that I wasn’t crazy about. For one, I felt like I was afraid of what they would do if I broke a rule. I wasn’t afraid of getting a beating or anything abusive, but as a little kid my brothers and I were spanked from time to time. Your grandparents were not violent people (HA HA HA…can you imagine Grandpa or ESPECIALLY Grandma being violent? It’s laughable, right?), but they did punish with a firm hand. I think this was probably reminiscent of how they were brought up.  And they turned out great too.

So when I was pregnant for the very first time, daddy and I talked discipline and punishment. We shared how we were disciplined as children, and I talked about what sort of behavior management I use with the teenagers I teach. Before any children were born, we decided we wanted to be firm, but fair. As for any other details, we would handle it on a situation by situation basis. At that time, we didn’t rule out spanking.

I can’t remember the exact conversation,or what Eddie did, but I do know that at some point when Eddie was entering the phase of toddler-hood where lines are explored and pushed, we decided we did not want to spank. Since thinking it through and talking on it, we have a number of reasons that spanking just doesn’t jive with what we are trying to accomplish as parents.

First and foremost, your dad and I believe in nonviolence; we believe that problems can be solved using words. Using your hands against another person for whatever reason (other than self-defense) is wrong. Your dad and I do not hit each other. It is not Ok for you kids to hit each other.  Therefore it is not Ok for us to use hitting as a punishment.

Telling you not to hit and then using our hands against you to punish you for hitting feels icky because it’s hypocritical. I can remember Grandma telling me that it hurt her more than it hurt me when she spanked me. I didn’t believe it at the time because I was thinking of pain physically. The few times that I have swatted a bottom or slapped a hand, I have felt so, SO bad. I cried right along with you.

If hurting another person physically breaks me like that, it’s the wrong choice for us.  Love should not be physically painful.

Photo of Cort and Eddie by mL photography

Photo of Cortney and Eddie by mL photography

Each of those times broke you a little too. I saw the hurt and confusion in your eyes. I saw trust seep away. I cried for that too.

We don’t want you to mistrust us. We don’t want you to feel like you can’t come to us. We don’t want you to be afraid of us. We never want you to think, “but what will my parents do to me?”

I grew up wondering that. Not because your grandparents beat me or were awful parents.  Quite the opposite, but things were just different, I guess. I am sure it didn’t all have to do with the way your grandparents punished me either. It’s not like every crime’s consequence was a butt-paddling.  Not even close. It’s just how things were done and it’s just how things were.

Dad and I just don’t see a purpose to it in our family now.

If the purpose of a spanking is to serve as a consequence for wrong-doing, we feel that we can do better. Since we don’t believe in violence (we see “violence” in this case as an act that physically, mentally, or emotionally hurts another person) as a consequence in the adult world, why would that be an appropriate consequence for our children?

The consequences we give {so far in your young lives} have ranged from time-outs to removing privileges. These have worked so far, so we go with it.

We also are firm believers in talking about problems. If one of you lashes out and speaks to someone rudely or inappropriately, we usually call for a time out and then a re-group to discuss why it happened and to discuss why an apology is not just appropriate, but needed.

If your “crime” is something potentially dangerous as hitting or throwing toys, you are removed immediately from the situation. You probably lose things as your punishment in that case. The point is, we go on a case by case, kid by kid basis.

We don’t consider parenting a job that requires us to “train” you, our children. We teach you and guide you  and show you how to be good, kind people. We help you to problem-solve, make decisions, and create and nurture relationships with people, hobbies, beliefs, and yourselves.

While we are happy our decision to not spank is backed by many psychiatrists and psychologists and pediatricians, our reason for making the choice is out of love.

All our choices with you kids is out of love.

Your dad and I want to be your safe place.

Safe places do not have hands that hit, rather arms that embrace.

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. I love that last line.
    I have swatted bottoms and hands too.
    I never ever feel good after that. It’s more a reflection of my reaction, than of my kids.
    You’re right. Love doesn’t lay hands, unless they’re loving hands.
    This is something I tell myself each time I feel my fuse growing shorter.
    Thank you for the loving reminder.
    Alison recently posted…FullMy Profile

  2. What a beautiful post, Katie. I love your way of parenting with love and thoughtfulness being the focus instead of training and discipline.

    Our ancestors were brought up in a different time than our children and relationships are meant to evolve. Just as a Model T Ford isn’t the best way of getting around anymore, neither is spanking the best way to teach our children consequences.

    So, so good.
    Andrea recently posted…SOSMy Profile

  3. Last night David and I were wondering how we can get our children to be neater (I know the answer is consistency and modeling, but that’s hard), and we brought up how we were not allowed act like that as children. I said, “Well, we can be the same kind of parents that ours were, but I don’t want to be that kind of parent.” I love my mom and I think she did a great job bringing me up, but yeah, times were different. I’ve also realized that one of the reasons James behaves at school is because he is scared of getting into trouble, and nothing bad has ever happened to him. I can’t imagine if he got spanked at home how he would feel. I would rather live with a messy house. And now I feel like I’ve written a blog post.
    Jennifer recently posted…PotentialMy Profile

  4. Where do I sign? I agree with everything you say and I’m here to admit that I have slapped my kids’ butts a few times and it sucked. Not only didn’t it change anything for the better, but it made things even worse.
    I do find that in certain stages words don’t even work; after realizing that spanking definitely won’t work and when I felt that words would just be unheard (can you say 5-years-old…) what worked well with both my kids was to just hug them and sit with them until we both calmed down.
    Kerstin recently posted…5 Rules for SuccessMy Profile

  5. We decided not to spank either for much the same reasons but also for a deeper reaching, sad reason, relating to my husband’s childhood. So far we seem to be doing okay and the kids are pretty well adjusted. 🙂
    Susi recently posted…Sunday Snapshot #3My Profile

  6. Spanking rarely happened when I was growing up, though it did on occasion. And, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t the spanking that scared me when I knew I had misbehaved. My parents were very good at letting me know they weren’t happy with me, ha! The thing I really liked about my parents was that they were strict until we had proven our trustworthiness, and then they were lenient with privileges. I appreciated that and as an adult now, I see a lot of wisdom in strict parenting. But no to spanking for us either.
    Laura recently posted…Start Organized, Stay Organized: To Do ListsMy Profile

  7. i’ve swatted hands and bottoms out of frustration and desperation too. It never feels good. ever. I vow to be better every time. Reasons? Oh, because just about everything you said in this post. Violence begets violence. What kind of message does it send when I say it’s wrong to use your hands to hurt someone else and yet I do it myself? That’s confusing and also in my book….wrong. it goes against everything I believe. Lots of love to you on this post. xx.
    sarah reinhart recently posted…Photo Tip Friday: how to see lightMy Profile

  8. As you know, we spank, but so very rarely. The kids got, maybe, 5 spankings in their lifetime (and never in anger, never after 5 years of age when they could be reasoned with). But I think your way of addressing it with your husband and planning how you would be together shows excellence in parenting.

    xo
    Lady Jennie recently posted…When You Can’t See the MeadowMy Profile

  9. My Mother always tells me about the one time she spanked me when I was around 3. She said I was so personally offended and cried so hard that she never thought to do it again. But I’m pretty sure my brothers were spanked a few times.

    I am proud of you for never spanking your kids. I’ve swatted mine a few times but I’m not sure where the line is between the two. Of course I did it out of frustration and impatience which I am not proud of. This post makes anyone who wants to spank think twice and I think it is awesome that you and Cort agree and use other tactics. Good for you and of course, for you boys. 🙂 xo
    Elaine A. recently posted…Just You and Me GirlMy Profile

  10. Fantastic post, Katie.
    I was spanked a few times as a kid, and I’ve swatted at the twins (but not in years). I’ve never spanked Piper, and I think we’re done with it. You’re right — violence isn’t the answer. And when I did it to the twins, it was mostly out of frustration, but a few times b/c of something very dangerous (i.e. they ran out into the street). And I didn’t know what else to do to impress upon them the importance of NOT doing that… but it’s been so long now that I can safely say there won’t be any more spanking in our house.

    xo
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  11. Beautifully written, Katie. I admitted I had swatted my son’s bottom before and I felt so very bad after. Now I feel like talking works so much better and taking away privileges works much much better but yes I still yell sometimes. Sigh.
    Maureen recently posted…Joy in Antigravity YogaMy Profile

  12. I once swatted my son’s little hand for a pretty minor infraction, and I felt terrible. I never thought much about spanking before I had my son, but have made a conscious decision not to. My husband and I were both spanked on occasion as kids, but not that I can remember, so I must have been pretty small. I decided that I didn’t want that for my son, for the reasons you put so eloquently.

    I love your message here, and I support you 100%!
    Kristin Shaw recently posted…Brave: what can you do with one arm?My Profile

  13. This is a great letter to your boys. Tim and I decided we would not lay a hand on the kids and we are so glad we made that choice. I think it’s a very good idea to figure this out and make a plan early on.
    anna whiston-donaldson recently posted…FrozenMy Profile

  14. Beautiful post, Katie, and I love the pic. Tough one for me since my husband and I do not agree in this. But since I spend more time with my child I’m hopeful I can make a difference.
    Heather recently posted…How My Infertility Empowered MeMy Profile