. . . brown trouser time, only I guess I never knew it.
When I made my decision, when I determined that it was punishment in any and all of its forms that was the problem with the world (because I’m the sort of person who feels duh, there’s a problem with the world), when I decided I would never punish my kids, ever, I must have been out of my mother-loving mind. A more educated person never could have made this mistake.
I mean, I was living the Blank Slate and the Nurture Assumption fallacies, for starters. I really believed that no part of the human character was written in the blood. I really believed that it’s how we’re treated that makes us who we are – well maybe I wouldn’t have bet my life on those things, but I always assumed they were true enough, that if how we’re treated matters at all, then we should treat each other well. Wait, that sounds like Idle at the end of ‘the Meaning of Life’ – “So that’s why I became a waiter!” I mean, adults should treat children well, and punishments aren’t good treatment. At least that’s what I decided I must have been thinking at some point afterwards, because I hadn’t really looked into any nature vs nurture stuff back then, not yet.
But I’ll admit it:
I really had no idea what I was doing. Looking back, it was an emotional thing, I just thought ‘nice’ was good and ‘mean’ was bad. I didn’t think I needed to know what to do, what parent really does, at first? I knew what not to do, and that seemed like more knowledge than anyone else had claim to . . . wow. Does that sound a little uppity, coming as it does from a man with only a pair of High School Equivalency certificates that got him into trade school? Sometimes maybe not so brave as just plain nuts. Such conviction, and I’ve since been given to understand that the basis of my philosophy has been debunked, it was all Blank Slate nonsense that drove it, stuff like the only thing that matters is how we are treated. I should hang my head and not open my ignorant gob regarding child-rearing or development ever again, right?
(I talk to people now who seem to base their gentle parenting ideas on the same basis that I had, and I cringe a little. But I also had my little epiphany, that punishment is identical to abuse except in the rationale, and that’s the difference. They are Blank Slaters still, Nurture Assumers still for the most part unless they’re professionals, who would punish (be it timeouts and such), while I would not punish and I’m presently accepting the Nurture Assumption Challenge, that is, questioning my previous assumptions. While my insight seemed oddly both revolutionary and self-evident to me, no-one else seems to get it and so I now view that too as naïve and unsupported, to some degree. I no longer expect anyone to see that one my way. I’m amazed, and I can’t believe it, but I have memorized it: this idea, punishment as abuse with an excuse, doesn’t fly.)
Having said that, sometimes a bad thesis produces the most interesting results!
I’d be humble, mortified and silent forever, if my more than two-decade philosophical faux pas here came out, showed itself to the world, how wrong I was, how on the wrong side of history I’d been, such a denier of human nature, but, apparently . . . apparently all that wrong-headed leftist science isn’t so completely wrong that anywhere it leads will mess up your kids. It led me away from power and authority, from punishment – something maybe even the worst of those commies weren’t trying for. And a good thing. Not just a one-dimensional value judgment, I hope: a good thing scientifically, like the discovery of penicillin from a sample gone bad and mouldy. I’m not sure that’s what happened there, but you know what I mean, like I’m the rock-tossing goatherd who discovered the Dead Sea scrolls. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of him and what happened there either, but . . . well, there it is. Ha.
I had my little epiphany, my idea, and we went with it, brave and crazy. No punishment was to be the rule, and like dominoes, everything went with it: bedtimes, mealtimes, clean house, organized life, and any sort of support in our child-rearing efforts. (The hugs and kisses tribute due to the family matriarch was not forced either – imagine the potential for hurt feelings.) If you’re not willing to force it - and that was exactly our choice, for better or worse we weren’t going to force anything – then none of the things that you want to happen but your young children don’t are going to happen. I mean they might, sometimes, but not in a dependable way. So I saw that as my choice, control or gentleness, and I can’t explain why control seemed negotiable to me when it doesn’t seem to be for most parents, but I gave it up, we gave it up. Brave and crazy, sure.
I didn’t word it this way until very recently, but here’s the bad thesis: hurt hurts and harm harms. Abuse hurts because hurt hurts, and it harms because harm harms, simple like that, and that also accounts for a lot of ‘normal’ hurt and harm because punishment is ‘normal’ hurt and harm. Simple, as opposed to the newspeak of punishment, strength from hurt and good from harm. That might be a plausible theory if we merely dispense with Ockham’s razor and not consider the obvious, simple truth of my proposition, but really, not as plausible as hurt means hurt, as the fact that words are always synonyms for themselves. Hurt hurts and harm harms, that really is about lower case abuse, meaning negative experience, like the abuse your shoes take; it’s not about ‘parenting styles’ and I would agree: it’s not about the process of child development. All that is as it should be, abuse is a different conversation, indeed. It’s just that it happens in the same places at the same times and at the hands of the same people. Apparently if you do it wrong, it’s not “parenting,” it’s abuse, and by this definition, parenting can never be a bad thing! By this definition, parenting has never been shown to affect children in a meaningful way.
So hurt hurts and harm harms, simple and true. Is that so crazy?
Hint: it’s not; we are.
It worked out great. I mean it was tough, mitigating the damage toddlers cause without dis-incentivizing it, without forcing the child to learn to control herself to adult standards, the first several years were constant legwork, exhausting. It started getting better when the girls were five or six, old enough to talk and reason, and it never got difficult again. As it turns out, if you can manage not to punish your babies and toddlers, your children will trust you and the communication will remain open and productive throughout your family life together. That was a hoped for but unexpected result for us, really amazing, better than we could have imagined. We really were making a change, though. We weren’t raised this way, it was uncharted territory, no kidding, brave, crazy and . . . lucky, I guess. Against all odds.
Again, no argument, I admit it. It was naïve, and it was irresponsible. It just wasn’t supposed to happen (ask my mother-in-law) . . .
. . . and
Eureka! Whatever that is. It’s another accidental scientific miracle, human beings, living together in relative harmony right through the teen years and into adulthood with their parents. Is that so crazy?
Happens all the time, doesn’t it?
Of course I mean the accidental huge scientific discovery, not the harmony, LOL.
Jan. 10, 2016