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Archive for January, 2011

My Reply

(Note before you read: Although I am very concerned about the results in any family who is spanking, my main concern in communication with FOF is their faulty teaching)

Thank you for your response. You are right, I do care very much about this topic, and about the impact FOF is having on the Christian community and the world at large. I am not a person who enjoys the “Mommy Wars” found so often in online communities. My main concern is not the parents who are carrying out corporal punishment in a “perfect” manner, because they so choose. My concern is for those who’re preaching that parents must spank to obey God, and for the imperfect parents trying to carry out these practices, fearing God’s displeasure if they do not discipline in this specific manner. This is what I find so dangerous, because a) parents are not perfect, and will not carry out this punishment with perfect control everytime, and b) if they fail, or the discipline doesn’t work to correct the behavior, they may continue it anyway, out of fear of disobeying God.

You stated in your response to me that, “a parent who is denied the use of [spanking] during this [early] phase of the confrontation may find that irritation, frustration, and anger increase as the problem continues unresolved”. As a long-time follower of Focus on the Family, I need you to be aware that the same thing occurs (mounting irritation, frustration, and anger), even when a parent starts out early in the confrontation with spanking, in the manner set forth by Dr. Dobson, if it does not resolve the behavior. Then, what has developed is an angry parent, with hand raised, not knowing what to do next. It is a very frightening, and very common, situation! Add to this the fear of disobeying God, and you have a parent repeating this tactic, with the same results, and no end in sight. The household can become a battleground. A family should not be so!

A major turning point in thinking for my husband and I was when we viewed a DVD set by the Rainy’s (which was purchased from Focus on the Family, if I’m not mistaken), entitled “Beginning at the End”. You may be familiar with the principle behind the title, which is, to think in the beginning of parenting, what kind of adult you want your child to become.

Towards the middle to end of the set, Mrs. Rainy related a time in their parenting years when spanking became so frequent, that she was becoming exhausted. (I should mention here that both Dr. Dobson and the Rainys suggest spanking harder, and more frequently, when the spanking doesn’t correct the behavior the first time.) At this point, she’d been spanking harder and more frequently, until, for the peace of their home, and to prevent further exhaustion on her part, they compiled a list of alternative discipline tactics to use instead of spanking, and posted it on the refrigerator, for use on such trying days.

It became quite obvious to us what we needed to do for our son and our household: begin at the end. That’s when we began searching for alternative discipline tactics. It makes me very sad for Mrs. Rainy that they did not do this in the first place. I can’t imagine the hurt a mother must feel at spending days on end in such a battlefield against her own child. It truly breaks my heart for families.

When we started researching other tactics, they were surprisingly difficult to find! Especially on Christian websites! Which is how we happened upon gentlechristianmothers.com. From there, we found GOYB Parenting.com, (which has by far been the most helpful tactic), ways to sooth a tantrum, teach our child (and ourselves) better ways to handle anger and calm down, ways to recognize the underlying need causing the behavior, and ways to model and teach the right way to behave instead. This is the kind of adult we want to see our child become.

I completely agree with you that there must be consequences for misbehavior. We believe the consequence must make sense, and hitting never really made much sense in any circumstance. (We’ve never had a problem with our children hitting other children, either.)

In the history of our country, the Bible has been misused, intentionally and unintentionally. I do not believe it is the intentional purpose of Focus on the Family to misuse Scripture, but that is what I see happening. There are verses in the OT which state that if a slave owner beats his servant to the point of death, they should be punished. People used to think this meant it was okay to own slaves, and beat them, as long as they didn’t die from a beating. If we were to follow the rod Scriptures exactly, we would literally need to beat our children with literal rods. But, we don’t, because we’re willing to admit it should be taken somewhat figuratively. (There is some doubt cast on if the verses refer to actual children, or adult offspring in rebellion.)

As I mentioned before, Christ showed us a different way, other than stoning, for women caught in adultery. We also know that, in the OT, adult children were commanded to be stoned, if caught in rebellion. But, Jesus gave us the parable of the prodigal son. Surely, if you cannot accept a figurative interpretation of the rod verses, you can see that Jesus meant for us to handle things in a different way.

When else in life is it okay to hit people? It’s only “okay” to hit children because they’re smaller than us, and we can get away with it? My children, including my very spirited, strong-willed son, have learned to obey, without us hitting them.

Again, I don’t presume to change the minds of our culture about spanking, but I beg of Christian ministries to stop teaching as though it is, without a doubt, God’s best plan for discipline. As Christians, we ought to be coaching parents on ways to control their anger, and disciple their children to obey, in effective ways. Instead, Christians everywhere are hitting their children in the name of “love”. It may “work” for some families, but we have to accept it may not really be what God meant for us to be doing, and it doesn’t always work, ESPECIALLY for strong-willed children.

Again, I love Focus on the Family ministries. It has been the light on my path for ten wonderful years of marriage. But, I am repeatedly dissappointed and ashamed of Christians telling other Christians that they must hit their children, because God says so. It is, in my opinion, the “gateway drug” to abuse in families. So, I just need you to know, in love, it doesn’t work, and it isn’t right to keep telling parents they must. In a way, I view Dr. Dobson as a loving “grandpa” in my life, with whom I’ve had a disagreement. I pray he’ll do the right thing.

With Sincerity of Heart, and Christian Love,
[My Real Name]

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Their response:

Thanks for your e-mail, [addressed me by first name]

It was good of you to contact us with your thoughts on the subject of spanking. We appreciate your sharing specifically from your personal experience as a mother. Honest feedback like yours is always welcome here at Focus headquarters. Because of the importance of your concerns, we want you to know that we’ve asked our professional staff of licensed therapists what they would advise in response to inquiries like yours. Here’s what they wanted us to pass along to you.

We are familiar with philosophies of discipline that regard corporal punishment as inappropriate under any circumstances. With all due respect, we find them to be unbalanced and reflective of a fundamental misunderstanding. As we see it, the key to effective child discipline is the implementation of immediate, significant, and consistent consequences. When delivered in the right way, a spanking can serve as a meaningful negative consequence in cases of undesirable behavior.

It goes without saying that child abuse is a very real and persistent problem in contemporary society. In no way do we wish to minimize or make light of this tragic situation. At the same time, we would insist that corporal punishment in the hands of a caring parent is altogether different in purpose and practice. Rather than an expression of hostility, it is an act of love by which harmful behavior is inhibited.

We’ll go further and suggest that the perspective which excludes spanking altogether or uses it as an absolute last resort may inadvertently contribute to violence against children. During the early stages of a conflict, when parental emotions are under control, corporal punishment may easily be applied with restraint, love, and good sense. But a parent who is denied the use of this tool during this phase of the confrontation may find that irritation, frustration, and anger increase as the problem continues unresolved. The result may be an uncontrolled explosion of emotion, leading to physical abuse.

The key is to avoid extremes on either side. Control must always be balanced with love. Too much or too little discipline can have a serious effect on a child. When in doubt, it’s generally safe to take the route closest to the “middle of the road.” It should be obvious that spanking for the slightest disobedience is not “the middle of the road;” it is a dangerous detour.

It’s vital to add that a spanking is not the only tool that’s useful for shaping a child’s will, nor is it appropriate at all ages or in all situations. It tends to be most beneficial — and necessary — when a child is under 3 and a half years of age. That’s because reasoning and taking away privileges simply don’t work with very young children. With kids from three to five years of age, parents can use spanking and time out as part of a comprehensive discipline plan, but they should also begin to work with other types of consequences, such as taking away privileges. If mom and dad rely solely on one method, it will become less and less effective as a child grows and matures. For many school-aged children, the removal of pleasures or privileges is actually more “painful” than a spanking.

However, when it comes to a strong-willed child, it’s vital to remember that every child with this type of temperament is unique. That’s why there is no single book or parenting program, no comprehensive curriculum package, no one individual’s advice that can solve all the discipline problems and provide all the answers you need. In the final analysis, it all comes down to finding the energy to hang in there, stick to your guns, and win your battles one day and one step at a time. We are glad that you and your husband found an approach that worked well with your son.

Generally speaking, we take the view that corporal punishment should be applied only in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority — never for mere childish irresponsibility. In no instance should it be administered harshly or capriciously. We also believe that spankings are not appropriate for children younger than 18 months old. Conversely, spanking an adolescent is almost always a serious mistake.

If you need further information, feel free to call our Counseling Department Monday through Friday between 6:00 A.M. and 8:00 P.M. (MT) at 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459). Our counselors would be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you over the phone.

We hope this reply has been helpful. Thanks again for caring enough to contact us. We always appreciate hearing from our Focus friends. Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of any further assistance. God bless you and yours!

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My Letter to Focus on the Family

Hi,

I am a long time listener and supporter of Focus on the Family. From the time I was a teenager, I listened to and from school and college, collecting much wisdom for the path ahead of me. A strange thing for a teen to do, I guess. But, I truly love the Lord, and wanted His best for my future. I hold a high respect for Dr. James Dobson and his marriage advice. I’ve been very happily married for almost ten years.

However, when I had my first child, Dr.Dobson’s advice nearly broke my heart. I’d always assumed I’d spank, and followed his advice for my spirited 2 year old. I cannot express to you in words how wrong it felt. The spirit of God was convicting me, and this precious son, whom I’d nursed for 21 months, and had continued a very close, in-synch relationship with, even through the addition o a new baby, when he was 28 mos….become afraid and distrustful of me. Not only that, it wasn’t working to improve his behavior. He fit the bill for “strong-willed”, certainly. But, could he be beyond hope, since the very method tailored to his personality wasn’t working?

With much prayer, my husband and I began to research other discipline methods. I came across gentlechristianmothers.com in my search, and discovered some very eye-opening statements about Biblical discipline.

Out son is now 4 yrs old. We are complimented often, at church, by family and friends, and even by strangers, on how happy and well-behaved our children seem. Life is not perfect, and he’s not a perfect child. But, we are a much more peaceful, loving family since learning to discipline with the Grace of Jesus.

What I see lacking on your website is acknowledgement that these verses in Proverbs may not mean what we think they mean. You can do the research yourself and find that there are many reasons to doubt that these are commands to hit children. More than likely, they are wise principles for being a constant source of authority for our children. The OT has many things to say that are covered under grace. Another good example is the treatment of women caught in adultery. We all know how Jesus chose to react. This should be the ultimate example, among many in the NT, of how to apply grace.

I write this because the advice from Dr. Dobson about strong willed children is at worse, very dangerous advice for new parents. And, at the very least, it is impractical and unecessary. I say dangerous because it’s using God’s Word to convince parents they must hit their children. I believe there are FAR more Biblical principles we can apply to child discipline, besides a few commonly misunderstood proverbs, written by a king who ended his life in such disgrace against God, and was held with such irreverence by his own sons  (Solomon). Let’s instead apply the wisdom of Christ, Himself.  How did He disciple? How did He view children? What principles of love, forgiveness, reproof, and correction can we glean from the NT church?

I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind completely about spanking. It is so ingrained in our culture, most people don’t think twice about NOT doing it, as I once thought. However, I hope my letter will at least open the eyes of Focus on the Family and it’s wide-spread influence, to impact the world with Christ’s love.

My husband and I have experienced a total life change, and it has not been easy in the face of criticism. But, thus far, it has been one of the best decisions of our young life. It is my prayer that one day, Dr. Dobson will realize his mistake and change his heart on this subject.

Many Prayers,
(My Real Name)

I’ll keep you posted if I receive a reply.

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Recently, I stumbled upon a website for mothers following advice to allow their newborn babies to cry, without being fed, from 10pm until 8am. They instruct mothers not even to pick up the crying newborn at these hours. They allow for one middle-of-the-night feeding in the first six weeks, if you so desire, but encourage skipping it all together, as soon as possible, so the whole family experiences “harmony” and a good night’s sleep.

Really, the WHOLE family experiences harmony?

The infant’s stomach is no larger than the size of his/her tiny little fist. I learned this from my hospital’s lactation consultant when my first child was born, because I was concerned that his frequent hungriness meant I had low milk supply. (I was relieved to hear the word, “normal”, as are most moms!) She also explained to me that breast milk is naturally able to digest very easily and quickly, because it’s species specific (i.e. not made for cows), so the proteins are more easily broken down and used by the infant’s body.

When my four year old goes to bed without supper (due to pickiness), he wakes up white as a ghost and throwing up.  This is due to low blood sugar, from not eating when he was hungry.  This is pretty scary. Four year olds are very little people.  When my grandmother had low blood sugar, it sent her to the emergency room. The bodies of the elderly are very delicate.  Infant’s bodies are both delicate, and very, very little. Even a chunky baby is little in comparison to you and me. Pair this with the crying, which burns up so much energy, and you have a baby in a dangerous situation.

Now, I don’t doubt that this book/website offers some good advice, and that some families benefit from some of the advice. And, I don’t think these mothers are purposely placing their tiny newborns in danger. They, like me, were really hoping that having a child could be an orderly, manageable experience, and here someone is telling them it can be. I don’t blame them for feeling some pull to try it. I do, however, blame the source of this faulty infant scheduling information. It’s very dangerous, outdated advice, at worse. And, at the very least, it’s misleading.

This technique is not a one-time-fix-all for night wakings. I’ve known many mothers who’ve had to repeat the crying-it-out process, each and every time baby enters a new stage of development. During the first year, especially, this occurs many times, as the baby’s rate of growth is faster than it will ever be again until the teen years. It also doesn’t necessarily lead to more sleep and harmony in the home, as they claim. I know of couples using this method who spend their sleeping hours with ear plugs and white noise machines (to drown out the baby’s cries), dads who sneak out of bed to go comfort the baby, because mom won’t go against advice (or vise-versa), and dads who sleep on the couch to escape the noise of the crying. This is real life.

Also real life: Having a newborn is a tiring experience, no matter what your approach. It is stressful. You will lose sleep. You may even cry, yourself, at times. But, I don’t know of a single worthwhile relationship that didn’t require some sacrifice and hardships. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather keep my precious memories of middle-of-the-night soothing, than replace them with memories of miserable, holding-myself-down ignoring. It was difficult, yes, but it produced patience, and better still, it nurtured our relationship with our child.  Even my husband admits, it became a very rewarding experience. Through those nights, we gained confidence in learning our own special ways of soothing. (Daddy preferred singing, and boy did they love it!)

The good news is, there are many wonderful ways to help your baby sleep, which are much more respectful of their needs, growth, and development. You don’t need to “train” your baby to know when he/she is hungry or sleepy. They know this instinctually, and they let you know by crying, their only language. You don’t need to “condition” yourself to know when to answer their cries, by following a procedure in a book. Your body knows; your hormones make certain!

A very helpful resource for me when I had my first baby was the DVD “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, by pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp. I don’t recommend the book form, because a) what mother of a newborn has time to read a book? and b) if you’re a Christian, as I am, you may find fault with his many evolutionary references in the book. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak! The DVD is ideal for busy new parents, because all you have to do is sit and watch it! We were able to apply the 5 baby soothing techniques the very night we watched it, and we DID see immediate results, as so many of the parents in the DVD claim. It’s completely natural, respectful of the baby’s needs, and respectful of the parents’ needs to get more sleep.

I’m not one to say that what worked for my family will work for everyone. But, I do want to encourage a) that mothers will trust their own God-given instincts above any book of advice, b) that parents will trust that the baby’s crying signal means it truly needs something, and c) that parents use methods which truly respect everyone’s needs. So, with that in mind, on this blog, I will be sharing with you what worked for us. And, I encourage you to take what works for you, and leave the rest.

http://www.happiestbaby.com/book-dvd-excerpts/the-happiest-baby-clips/

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