Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Arbitrary discipline

Arbitrary discipline == Hobo Mama

I can't stop thinking of a webpage I was reading last night. The more I think about it, the more it disturbs me.

I won't link to it, because I don't want it to become some sort of flame war. I'm sure the site owner is a lovely woman and beloved mother, but I strongly disagree with her take on child discipline.

I was looking for like-minded church-nursery avoiders, just to see if anyone else online had had bad experiences with leaving their children. I came across a website run by a mother with 10 children, and at first I admired her take on nurseries -- that you can't expect the volunteer staff to be the mother, that that's your job, and it's such a short span in the baby's life that it's all right to miss a service now and again. I was with her at that point.

But then she wrote advice to a woman who wanted her toddler to sit still during church, and the mother suggested a discipline technique that she then proceeded to demonstrate while writing, giving little updates on how it was going as she wrote the column.

She started giving her 18-month-old son arbitrary instructions, to stop playing and sit on her lap, to face forward, not to touch the computer, to play with something and then not to play with that same item after she took it away, and she reinforced each command with a sharp voice, direct eye contact, and twice a swat on his thigh.

How amazing, she's thinking and for a minute I'm thinking, that her 18-month-old is so well behaved, that he'll sit on her lap and let her write this long column, instead of her having to fit it in during naptime as I'm doing.

But what must her son think!

What kills me in this example is that she didn't even really want or need her son to sit on her lap just then -- she was just demonstrating how it's done. It seemed like power for the sake of power. She said that if you, basically, put the fear of God (or parent) into them on a consistent, daily basis, then when you need them to do something specific, such as sit quietly in church, they'll already be primed to obey.

I guess at heart I have a problem with obedience itself. I'm not raising a child -- I'm raising an adult-in-process. What I want most for Mikko is not a broken spirit, a cowed attitude toward authority, an inability to question caprice and cruelty. What I want is for him to be curious, to stand up for himself, to reach out and be fearless.

I guess obedience is out of the question then.

Sam & I just rewatched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on DVD, because that was our first and last great attempt to take Mikko to a movie in an actual theater. Disaster -- if only I'd begun disciplining him as a newborn! Ha ha. We decided it would be lovely to hear the dialogue this time through, and be able to pause when the screaming began instead of having to pace the lobby.

In the movie and the book, there's an unfair authority figure, Dolores Umbridge, who makes capricious rules and inflicts barbaric punishments, all with a smile. And while I was watching (even though I knew what would happen), I kept rooting for Harry and friends to stand up to her, to simply refuse to obey. Because what she was demanding was wrong, so she was not a proper authority.

But here's the thing -- as a child, I never would have thought along those lines. I would have thought, if I were a Hogwarts student, that there was no choice but to go along and suffer under her power as best I could. You know why?

Because I was a very obedient child.

I want better for my son.


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