in Fatherliness, Life

Learning to spare the rod

Growing up, my parents were not above delivering the occasional spanking to keep me and my three brothers in line. It worked for us – I don’t remember any of us ever getting smacked more than a handful of times, and we’ve all become reasonably well-adjusted and respectable members of society. We all knew that spanking was at the top of the consequences table, and none of us was ever eager to do anything that would result in the dreaded sentence of waiting until Dad came home. Since it was such an effective tool for my folks, I assumed that it would work just as well for me.

I should have remembered what happens when you assume.

In fact neither of my boys has ever responded well to physical punishment. Unfortunately I’m a slow learner, so they’ve both had much more experience with the rod hand of correction applied to their seats of learning than I ever did. In hindsight, it seems obvious that if a certain punishment does not correct offensive behavior, then maybe a different strategy is needed. It’s not so clear in the moments when Gabriel talks back to me in a manner that I wouldn’t have dared use for my father, or when Rhys demonstrates an unlimited capacity for stubbornness (and over the stupidest little things, natch.)

Here’s the thing that I’ve recently realized. I am not my father, and neither of my boys is me. I am much more laid back and less authoritative than my dad, and both of my boys have a different way of responding to parental authority – and the threat of parental force – than me. It doesn’t follow that a tool that worked well for my parents and me should necessarily be appropriate for the situation with me and my sons, or that I should even be capable of using it.

So what am I doing instead?

From the moment they started talking, Q and I have encouraged our boys to use their words. Strangely enough, I’ve been getting better results lately when I use my words. Instead of angrily swatting someone’s backside, I’ve been working on calmly sitting down and talking with my boys when they misbehave. I get them to state whatever it was they did, and tell me why it was wrong. I’ve been taking a page from my friend Bethany’s playbook and ask them what they can do to make it right. Then I take away something that is special to them to point out that their actions have consequences but with the understanding that they can (usually) start over fresh the next day. Is there room here for me to mention how I’m also trying to demonstrate to them the concept of grace? Maybe that’s another article.

The “calmly sitting down and talking” part is easier said than done, of course, but I’m working on it. Also, it turns out that Gabriel & Rhys both hate losing a toy or a privilege much more than a momentarily sore bottom, or so the wails of anguish when I take away their daily ration of Minecraft lead me to believe.