Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Are Christian Parents More Susceptable to Abusive Tactics in Parenting?



                                                                   
      There is a popular method of child training that basically says that most child expressions are a child vs. parent  battle of the will, which a parent must win at all cost.

   Speak a command? Your child should obey instantly, fully, and cheerfully.

   Lay down rules for the house that you’ve decided are best? Enforce them to the letter. Your child doesn’t know yet what is good for them, and your job as parent is to convince them of this.

   Serve a super they don’t like? Your child should not be given other food options until they have submitted to your choice of cuisine, no matter how many meals you must withhold other food, and offer the original plate of food.

   Your child has a sweet tooth, desire for money, or social events? Be sure to use that against your child when trying to win other battles. Withholding what they love most is sure to break down their resistance to you and ensure compliance.
   Of course, spanking liberally is an easy method to ensure obedience and subjection.

  Above all, - a parents job is to enforce their will upon the child, and hone the skill of making a child’s resistance futile, or at least FEEL futile to the child.

   Just writing this out I feel a wave of stomach knotting anxiety.

   Like so many things in the last couple of years, I have a vague sense that I think I actually thought some of this made sense at some point in my life. Like waking up from a dream, when I think through some of these things, I have the feeling they were part of the alternate reality that seemed so vivid and real that I unconsciously accepted as true. Thankfully this has changed.

   Now you would THINK that Christian parents would be the least likely candidates on earth to accept these notions. However, - to understand why Christian parents are paying big money to buy books that teach these ideas, and pay for speakers to demonstrate the most ‘effective’ punishment techniques you have to understand that there is a bigger underlying philosophy at work.

   It isn’t just a desire to beat their children or make their lives miserable that draws most parents to this kind of teaching (though clearly there are parents in this world who do both and enjoy it)  but I believe a larger underlying mentality that is fueling the acceptance of this kind of teaching.

    I know some would say it is desperation, ignorance, fear even; parenting is the hardest thing on earth so what SHOULD you do when your child will not sit still/ throws tantrums/ will not eat/seems impossible?

   I believe all parents search for answers. I think many of us are susceptible to anyone who lays out a list, or can make us believe that THEY have the answer.  But what fascinates me is that certain kinds of child ‘training’ (harsh disciplinarian tactics especially) are dominated by those who claim to believe in a loving God.
  If you think about that for a second it seems extremely counterintuitive.

   So why it is that it there are so many Christians who seem attracted, maybe most attracted to this philosophy? I believe that many Christian parents have one major disadvantage to many of their unbelieving counterparts; a wrong and deeply distrustful view of God. They believe he exists, and they fear him. They believe his wrath is real and that pleasing him is impossible, but they are determined to spend their life trying.

   These parents face a formidable  conundrum.
  First, They do not know God’s grace in their own lives, there for they feel there is little to no room for them to ‘screw up’ their job of parenting. Any ‘wrong’ actions of their child are personal reflection of the job they’ve done; in other words a child’s failure is not just a child’s failure, it is their own failure as a parent, and to be sure there are always observers for your child's worst breakdown.
   Secondly, they may see this life in many ways as not just something to be lived, to learn from, fail, and try again, but as a test for an eternity determined by todays actions. Unbelieving parents have to deal with the consequences here and now of their kid's mistakes, but a religious parent see's every single action as charting an eternal course, with eternal consequences. Without a focus on what is happening internally, they may find themselves obsessed with their child's appearance and behavior.
Third - in an attempt to do a good job safe guarding their child from wrong, they may believe that their job is to enforce their will onto their child, which is best way to prepare a child to become an adult who will submit to God’s demands in the future.

   That tantrum? It isn’t just inconvenient, embarrassing, and probably because their kid is tired, hungry or bored. That tantrum represents an unbroken will, - the inability to submit to even the cruel ‘justice’ of God that demands perfect righteousness.  These parents do not just see a child who didn’t get a nap. They see a human soul in which they feel obligated to literally ‘put the fear of God’. But short of that, - a fear of their parents, and their actions consequences.  They may also feel shame and guilt. If they were ‘raising’ their child properly, - surely there would be no tantrum.

   I have heard parents make quiet snide remarks when seeing another family’s child melt down, ‘Looks like someone needs to spend more time disciplining at home so things like this don’t happen.’

   These parents do not know a God of grace; they have no grace to themselves or anyone else.

  So here is the thing.

  If you look up the definition of abuse, - it says this:

1.

to use wrongly or improperly; misuse: to abuse one's authority.

2.

to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: to abuse a horse; to abuse one's eyesight.

3.

to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.

4.

to commit sexual assault upon.

5.

Obsolete . to deceive or mislead.
rape or sexual assault.
 

   If abuse in action is mistreatment, I think a major reason for abuse can be summed up in a single idea.  One person trying to exert personal power, control, or force their will onto another person, essentially being willing to hurt the other person if necessary to accomplish their goal.

    Can I ask; is this how you view God?

  He made a incredible techni-color sweeping and vast mysterious world, he created imperfect humans, demands perfection,  and when they screw up he nods in satisfaction as he sends them to hell (unless they hide under the loophole of Jesus and fearful right living).

Do you believe God’s desire is to force his will upon us?  Do you believe he is willing to do anything, take anything; to hurt you in any way ‘necessary’ to accomplish his plan?  Do you believe you are just eternal collateral in the big scheme of things?

 Do you think he cares if you are happy, healthy or whole? Do you believe he imposes a moral standard on us out of cruelty just because he can? Do you believe he willingly withholds good from us?

    I realize that I’ve just asked some pretty deep theological questions. So quick, before you think too hard let me ask one more; having just read this, how do you FEEL about God?  Not the pat answers you know, - not the bible verses or particular story examples your mind is racing to recall and organize in response; how do those questions make you feel?

    Do you feel like God likes you? Do you feel like his heart is full of delight and good toward you? Do you FEEL confident in his presence? Do you feel that he will always treat you with respect and that he adores everything about who you are?
  Those feelings you have right now, - THOSE are affecting your parenting. Your parenting reflects your view of God. Not necessarily the mental catechism, - the right answers you have filed away; but the real core of who you see God to be; THAT shows up in your relationship with your child every single day.

   My abusive childhood, my painful past, - they affected my parenting. Even though I was determined not to make the same mistakes that hurt me, and in outward ways I haven’t,  I quickly came to realize that some of my biggest struggles came from a place I thought gave me a parenting advantage; my faith in a Heavenly Father. (Since it was biblically unsound.)

   Thankfully through time, counseling and loving healthy relationships in the last couple years I can say that I am in a very good place in life, and feel at the best position in my life to parent. Not that I am perfect; far from it. Not that I have all the answers. I don’t. Not that I am not still learning and asking questions with each new age and new stage my children reach, I am and I do!

   But here are some specific mindsets I finally can articulate as how my perspective was always different than my past, or some ways it has changed over time.

   My goal as a parent is not to decide ‘how thing will be’ and enforce that upon my child at all cost. My goal is to do my best to provide a safe, loving environment for that child to grow, learn, explore, make mistakes and learn to express her thoughts, feelings and emotions and handle conflict in a healthy way.

    My goal as parent is not to make my children submit to me personally (or their father as ‘head of the house)but rather to respect the rule of love to which each of us in the house submit.

     My goal is not to strictly enforce manners, a code of conduct, or social expectations upon my children, but rather to help them learn to understand, empathize, appreciate and respect others.

     My goal is not to make sure they know how to submit to any earthly ‘authority’s’  ideas, desires or will for them; but it is it to teach them to hear their heart, and God’s voice for themselves, encouraging them to make their own decisions.

    I believe my children are capable of hearing from God things that I do not (like child prophet Samuel) and I act accordingly.

    My goal is not to decide what I think are healthy things for my child to eat, wear, etc. and religiously enforce what and how much and when; but it is my desire to make choosing what I see as good things as easy and appealing to my child as possible, giving them ever growing autonomy to practice making those choices on their own, and within reason to allow them to experience the effects of choosing otherwise.

     My desire is not to stop and silence all fits, temper, whining or defiance, but to use real, adult world perspective to practice and teach understanding, sympathy, and proper expression of anger and frustration, and setting and respecting healthy boundaries.

     I am determined not to expect of my kids what I cannot reasonably expect from myself. Sometimes I have bad days, say something stupid or mean, act selfishly, or have overwhelming emotions. If at 32 I experience those things, - I am banking on my 3 year old will! When I expect my kids to act like kids, I am never disappointed.

   Thankfully at this point in my life while I do not have the all the answers, - I DO have something to offer them that I didn’t before. As a recovering conservative I inadvertently discovered something that not only changed my life, but changed my parenting as well.

    I found grace.

    I found a heavenly Father who looks at me with love and delight and sighs in deep joy at my wild hair, awkward exuberance, my insanely deep thinking, and over analyzing mind that is never ever quiet, and my deep desire to share those thoughts with everyone and says ‘Isn’t she the most precious thing you’ve ever seen!? Don’t you just love her!!?”

     It is the same feeling I have for my children when I’m not worried about OUR behavior as a reflection of my personal score card with God.

     I’m banking on the fact that I am making parenting mistakes. I am banking on the fact that they will make dumb choices. I am banking on the fact we will both make ourselves and each other look stupid. I am ok with that.

   I am also counting on the fact that they will see me resting in the love and grace of a heavenly father, and that they can count on the same from me.
 
 
  How do you believe your faith has affected your parenting?
  
 
 
  If some of these ideas strike a nerve; if you wonder if your past has tainted your view of God, can I recommend a few links?  They were helpful as I processed how my past affected my present.  Do you wonder what domestic violence is? How do you know what is 'normal' levels of anger or control between spouses or parents and children? Click Here
Were you raised in an ultra conservative family? Are you questioning your view of authority, parenting, and God? Click here

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