About an hour ago I got home from the monthly ladies’ night out for our playgroup mamas. Towards the end, this evening, we were talking about some pretty hefty stuff — discipline from our perspective as former children, and as current parents.
One mama had been reading a journal article about spanking and IQ, that suggested that kids who are spanked have lower IQs. Another article she’d read suggested that kids put in timeout concluded that they were only loved conditionally, when they behave well. Discussion around the table included the proper value of IQ, personal stories of good and bad examples of spanking or other discipline forms, surprise about the timeout article, and, especially, the likelihood that neither article adequately addresses all the factors that affect the effects of spankings and timeouts.
How easy it is to be fearful. To fear our own power combined with our fallenness. To fear the endurance of our negative moments, and the ephemery of the positive ones. To fear that even our best efforts and most loving intentions might backfire forever, and that we might not see it until it’s too late. To fear that we are the only ones who must fix all our errors, to fear that redeeming ourselves and our kids is our job alone, with God fiercely watching to see us fail again.
Today was Amy’s first day of dance class. It’s a dance sampler for 3-, 4-, and young 5-yr-olds. She was a little shy at first, one of only two not dressed in leotard, tights, skirt, and toe-shoes. She had on a regular knit dress and regular tights and regular shoes — the teacher very kindly suggested she remove her shoes, and as I left Amy seemed like she was part of the group, focused on the teacher and not caring that I was leaving.
I returned several minutes early and peeped in. I couldn’t see the whole room, but once in a while the dancers were briefly in view as they moved through the space. How fun to catch sight of Amy among them. When she came out, she was happy and excited, and told me there was dulcimer music during part of the class.
Then it was time to put her down and ask her to put on her shoes. She started to whine and fuss and flop on the floor. I asked again, and counted to three. Escorted her to a seat hidden by the stairs, for a timeout. Meanwhile the teacher came out and found me and told me how well Amy did in class and how much fun she had. I asked Amy if she was ready to cooperate, and sent her back to put on her shoes. She went and stood by a window instead. I started to count again. She headed across the lobby, but took a detour to the water fountain. After she had a drink, another girl came over to drink, and Amy wasn’t making way — I told her she’d had her drink and now to let the other girl have a turn. I reminded her about the shoes. She flopped on the floor again. Eventually we ended up at the shoes, and there was more back and forth about how best to prepare the straps — finally they were on. Up the stairs, out the door, down the outer steps… then instead of following me she was walking around the edge of the patio.
When I finally got her in the car I lost it briefly — threw her sunglasses down and told her how frustrated I was because we’d just been talking about this sort of thing before going to the class — about how there are times for being silly and teasing and taking detours, and times for doing what you’re told right away.
How hard it is to maintain grace, compassion, and respect when there are so very many of these little fights all in a row like that. I shouldn’t have to say “Come on, right now,” at every single step of leaving an activity.
How hard it is for her to choose cooperation and obedience, when she’s had a busy day with Bible study in the morning, a nap with no sleep, and a brand new dance class.
How hard it is for me to let go when I get that angry, that fed up with the continual fight. It takes me so long sometimes to get to where I want to even be around her after that.
I was thinking, later, how perhaps the most gracious and merciful thing would have been, after that first timeout, to have said, “You’ve had a busy day and no sleep; you’re having a hard time cooperating with me, so I’m just going to carry you out to the car.” She likely wouldn’t have liked that idea, but it would at least have avoided all the additional iterations of the fight. And it might have helped me not get to the point of throwing things.
I think about how Brazelton talks about using gracious and positive explanations along with any form of physical discipline, such as a timeout — “You’re having a hard time _____, so I am stopping you until you can stop yourself.” It’s short and to the point — no long and involved lectures or questionings. And it’s a good middle road between mercy without boundaries (“You can’t stop yourself, and I won’t stop you either”) and boundaries without mercy (“I am the stopper”).