Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finding My Voice

For those of you who don't know, I grew up IFB. The Independent part of the name means there are some variations. For instance, I grew up believing the King James Version of the Bible was the best translation, but other translations of Scripture were tolerated. At my church, some kids went to Christian school, and some attended public school. Unfortunately, we Christian school kids thought we were "better" than the public school kids, but that attitude didn't come from the church leadership. We were in a rural community, so women wearing pants was a non-issue, although dresses and skirts were expected at church services.

The promotion of patriarchy and subsequent views on the silence and submission of women and the breaking of the will of the child seems to be pretty universal in the IFB, though.

As you can imagine, being a female child in a Christian Fundamentalist Cult is pretty devastating.

I am naturally gregarious and intellectual. I want to know the reasons why we do things. "Tradition," "the Bible says so," "because I said so," and "It's the right thing to do," are not satisfactory answers for me. I'm naturally transparent and open.

These attributes were shamed and squashed by the unreasonable gender roles and developmental expectations in the IFB cult.

I talked too much. (Women are to be silent in church & children are to blindly obey their parents.)

I asked too many questions. (Questions meant I was "questioning authority.")

I shared too much. (Truth is a liability in a cult!)

I was too smart for my own good. (I picked up on inconsistencies between what was preached and what was practiced.)

I expected to be treated like an equal. (Clearly, I was inferior and didn't know my place.)

I am learning to find my voice again, after being beaten into silence in word and deed. And it's hard. It's terrifying.

But after the shouts of patriarchy drowning my voice, insisting on my silence, I am hearing men telling me that not only can I speak, I must speak.

My husband, reaffirming countless times, "I want to know what you're thinking. You have good insights, and your opinion is important to me."

A brilliant author of prose and poetry who responded via social media to my throwaway comment that speaking out was a mix of terror and elation, "Then you know you're doing it right."

A pastor who not only asked my opinion regarding a particular church ministry, but also took me seriously and asked me to please work on speaking my mind more often instead of trying to placate me.

So, I am speaking, despite my terror, despite the possibility I will again be told to be quiet. Here is my voice.

I don't know how
to express myself
without sounding
Or something else I'm not
supposed to be.

Because I'm a woman,
I'm supposed to be
submissive (subservient)
pleasant (always)

But when I express myself, I'm
or (heaven forbid) ANGRY.

God is not embarrassed
by my expressions of emotion
or my questions.

God shares my RAGE
against victimization

So listen.
Just listen
to my words.

Don't police my tone.
You haven't felt
the whip of injustice
the helpless
of abuse.


Parenting: 1 to 2 years

I'm discussing my successes and failures with various Christian parenting methods.
As stated here and here, I used punitive discipline methods touted by Dobson, Tripp, and Ezzo, who are popular in Christian circles for my oldest two children. Starting with my third child, I began to transition toward attachment parenting and gentle discipline.

This post touches a bit on child development from ages 1-2 and the effects both punitive discipline and gentle discipline have on a child.

There is a huge amount of cognitive and emotional development that happens between ages 1 and 2. Your baby is growing into a toddler! Learning language! Refining motor skills!

At this age, your child is learning that s/he is an autonomous being separate from mom or dad. This can cause a lot of anxiety and because language is still in the early stages, often results in either clinginess or tantrums (sometimes both!) when the child gets overwhelmed.

Punitive discipline methods teach parents to view such reactions as evidence of the child's sin nature. From this vantage point, a tantrum or clinginess is a child's desire to manipulate his or her parent(s) into conforming to the will of the child.

Such "dictatorial" behavior must not be allowed in the authoritarian punitive paradigm, or the child "wins." Therefore, a parent who subscribes wholly to the methods espoused by Dobson and Ezzo particularly (and to a lesser extent, Tripp) focuses on changing the child's undesirable behavior without regard to the cause of such behavior.

As you can imagine, spanking (hitting) or even isolating an anxious child is going to make the anxiety worse. Each incident will either escalate, with the child growing more and more frantic and the parent increasing the level of punishment, or the child will eventually shut down his or her emotions once s/he realizes only certain feelings are allowed to be expressed.

In the gentle discipline approach, teaching (discipline) happens through modeling, conversation, and natural or applied consequences that do not involve hurting or punishing the child. So given the above scenario of a clingy child or one in the throes of a tantrum, a parenting ascribing to gentle discipline would first attempt to figure out the cause of the unwanted behavior in order to meet the child's needs, and then address the behavior.

For instance, if a child is being clingy, holding onto the parent's leg and screaming loudly, the parent would first pick up or sit down with the child to calm him or her. The parent may say something like, "I see you're really upset (or sad, or angry - whatever is accurate). Are you afraid I'm going to leave you alone?" The child may answer verbally or signal with a head shake whether this is so. The parent would then reassure the child of love and security; if the parent is indeed leaving the child with a sitter, the parent will reiterate that the baby sitter is a safe person, acknowledge that saying goodbye even for a little while is hard, and give the child a specific reminder for the time the parent will return, like "after your nap."

In the gentle discipline paradigm, there is no correction needed, because the child's behavior is normal and age-appropriate. S/he will outgrow tantrums as more language skills and understanding of time and place are assimilated.

Many people raised with the idea that all discipline is corporal punishment balk at the idea of letting a youngster's behavior go unchecked. They erroneously believe that this teaches young children their behavior can be used to manipulate others. I know I believed I would actually damage my children socially by not physically disciplining them.

Studies are showing and continue to show that the opposite is in fact true. Physical punishment (hitting, spanking, switching, belting, smacking, etc.) has been shown to retard the growth of grey matter in the brain, potentially decreasing intelligence and even increasing the risk of mental illness. Spanking causes increased aggression and devalues both parent and child.

In my own experience, I saw that my spanked children feared me. They often behaved perfectly appropriately and followed instructions immediately. But they were like automatons. Their imaginative play became stunted. Instead of the elaborate scenarios they used to act out that were variations on a theme, they played the same scene over and over, almost like the movie Groundhog Day. Their nightmares increased. And when they did show inappropriate behavior or tantrums, it was huge, over-the-top, utter meltdown behavior.

My children who were parented gently were more work. Yes, it's much easier to threaten and smack than to work through a situation and try different solutions. But, my gently parented kids delighted in my presence instead of looking skittish. I enjoyed them more, too, because I saw their behavior as normal development rather than a personal affront to my parental authority. Our relationship was build on mutual respect instead of a hierarchy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Parenting: Newborn to 12 months

There is an axiom which states, "Children spell love T-I-M-E." This is true throughout childhood, but it is especially true for the baby.

Today, I'm writing about my experiences parenting 5 babies. I've moved from rigid scheduling to attachment parenting in the last decade.

As stated previously, when my oldest was born, I used Gary Ezzo's Babywise. Therefore, we had a very strict schedule of eating, sleeping, and play time. If my baby was hungry during play time, I waited until feeding time to nurse her. If my baby was sleepy during feeding time, I tried to force her to finish a nursing session. And if she wanted to play when it wasn't play time, I would respond with a firm, "NO." and try to force her to follow the schedule.

As a result of trying to get a baby to conform to my needs and routine instead of being flexible, I had a lot of anger and frustration toward my baby. Since Ezzo repeatedly warns the parents are teaching their child to be selfish if they bend even the slightest to the baby's will, I viewed my newborn as manipulative and strong willed.

I used prefold cloth diapers with pins, and I would instruct my baby to be still so I wouldn't poke her. If she squirmed, I would allow her to be poked, instead of placing my hand between her and the pin to keep her safe. I look back now, and I am so ashamed of myself and somewhat shocked that I thought a baby could understand and comply with an instruction like that. However, when I remember that I had the toxic mindset that babies are manipulative, selfish sinners and that Ezzo implies babies understand more than we think, my actions are understandable. Unforgivable and ridiculous, true, but understandable.

My second child was born 16 1/2 months after my first. He had some life-threatening health issues and was transported by ambulance to a hospital with a NICU hours after birth while I remained behind in the hospital where I delivered.

As a result of this traumatic event, I threw out almost everything that I'd done with my first baby and spent a lot of time playing with and holding both of my littles. I still responded punitively (smacking hands or diapered bottoms) to unwanted behaviors, BUT... my new little guy was obviously very sensitive, physically and emotionally. I could see shock and pain in his eyes when I smacked his hand or even when I firmly and loudly told him, "NO," for things like hair pulling or squirming during diaper changes. My oldest had responded with loud, angry cries, which I read as confirmation of her "rebellious spirit." (Extreme fundamentalist brainwashing will completely twist how you view normal behaviors.)

But the pain my little guy responded broke my heart and made it obvious I'd have to be more gentle with him. Besides, with two kids in less than a year and a half, I was too exhausted to stick to a schedule. I was in survival mode.

I did still do my best to keep a fairly consistent sleep schedule for the littles, and honestly, I was very fortunate that they both slept well (and long) from very early on. My oldest began regularly sleeping 6 hours through the night at two weeks and my second did the same around four weeks. I later found out, this is not typical!

By the time baby 3 was born, I was learning about both gentle parenting and attachment parenting. I was also shedding a lot of my fundamentalist mindset, so the methods I'd used before were no longer appealing to me.

I was also aware that the methods I'd sworn by previously only worked because my kids were afraid. Afraid of being hurt, afraid...of me. Their mother. The one person in the world who is supposed to unconditionally love, nurture, and protect them.

The time I spent with them, just loving on them, reinforced to me that everything I'd done previously was counter-productive to building our relationship. Proverbs 14:1 says "The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down." It was with great grief and moral conviction that I realized my own actions, however well-intentioned, had created a rift in my relationship with my children.

My third baby really drove this point home to me. With two other small children to care for, I chose to wear the new one in a wrap carrier. She spent much of her time snuggled in close to me while I fixed meals, folded laundry, pushed other children on swings, and went for walks. Nursing and naptime could also be accomplished in the wrap!

Honestly, she is a pretty high-maintenance gal, but she was so easy to care for at this time because her needs were met. And because her needs were met, there was a trust between us I'd not experienced with my older children. Because we were always in close proximity, I learned to trust her cues for feeding, sleeping, and playing. She trusted that I would meet her needs.

I've heard over and again how true love cannot exist without trust. How then, can we expect our tiniest children to understand love when we consistently and repeatedly break their trust by physically harming them when they do not comply with our wishes? 

Minor infractions at this age are just that: minor. A "nip it in the bud" mentality will only serve to create disunity in your relationship.

For this age, the best discipline is teaching your child unconditional love. Respond to her needs. Snuggle with him. Play. Laugh. Take the time to enjoy each other's company. 

You won't regret it.