I've never hit my child. I don't use threats or humiliation as weapons to control him. We are on the same team.
My parenting approach is along the path of peace.
Peace is a popular concept. It is also an elusive one. It's the buzzword in beauty pageants, the United Nations has an entire department dedicated to it, and 126 very different recipients have been awarded Nobel Peace Prizes, but one look at the news suggests we live in a decidedly un-peaceful world.
I've always tried to embrace the concept of peace beginning with me. So when I edited a story about a video of a mother hitting her own child that went viral last week, I was sad. The story was our most popular published post in April.
I was also surprised – not because it happened in my country, Trinidad and Tobago, which like many other societies isn't exactly child-friendly – but at the number of people who didn't bat an eyelid at the mother's approach. Some didn't even realise they were participating in the abuse by sharing the video.
Modern scientific research shows a direct correlation between violence against children and how their brains, physiology and behaviour are affected. Yet, in my opinion, we continue to rationalise corporal punishment with outdated and irrelevant psychobabble.
So here goes my attempt at disrupting the discourse with ten reasons why I try to be a peaceful parent:
1. I love my child. Real love does not hurt. Instead, it uplifts even as it grounds you; frees you as much as it gives you a place to come home to. Sometimes love means you need to be firm, but you can do so lovingly. I am my child's ally – and so are other key adults in his life.
2. Actions speak louder than words. What does my son learn if I yell while telling him to calm down? To not be calm. What would he learn if I hit him to stop him from doing something? That violence can be used to solve problems. I can't teach my child self-regulation if I haven't mastered it myself.
3. My child is not mine. Well, he is – I've got the birth certificate to prove it – but he's also his own person. Adulthood does not give “big people” the right to belittle childhood. Kids are not in a holding pattern waiting for life to begin once they become self-sufficient; the fact that they are small does not negate the fact that they are people – and all people deserve respect.
4. Punishment is not discipline. There is no merit in telling my child, “Do this, or else.” I much prefer to relate to him; to find out the motivation for his behaviour. Discipline is an opportunity to teach.
5. I refuse to be part of the problem. There are exceptions, but we lean towards being a nation of bullies. The loudest voices are usually the ones that get attention. Journalist Sunity Maharaj said it extraordinarily well: “In our impotence, we resort to the standard weapons of the disempowered: character assassination and personal humiliation. We boo, we spread rake, unable to access institutional tools for initiating change.” She was talking about politics, but it can apply just as easily to parenting.
6. Fear is counter-productive. When kids are afraid, they shut down. When you use it to intimidate children, all they hear is the anger, not anything you might be trying to say. I choose love over fear.
7. I will not compromise our bond. I won't confuse my child by hurting him and trying to demand respect in return. I must earn the respect I get. Talking things out, dealing with powerful emotions, using logic and reason to solve problems, all require a greater effort and time investment than the traditional “because I said so” approach, but the results are more enduring.
8. I believe in the power of “why”? Questions are more important than answers, because they can lead to discovery and understanding. Doing things as they've always been done holds no interest for me. We have access to research that proves how traumatic violence can be for children; buying into the “spare the rod, spoil the child” ideology makes as much sense to me as smoking cigarettes and hoping you won't get cancer.
9. I don't believe in being wrong and strong. When I've made a mistake, I apologise. Yes, to my child. There's nothing wrong with being wrong. There is something wrong with being wrong and not admitting it or worse, refusing to make amends. I won't play the power card just because I'm the parent and I can.
10. I don't have it all figured out. I'm human. Rather than convince myself that I have all the answers, I reach out. I understand that not everyone may have access to the same breadth of resources, but if you seek support you can generally find it.
Sometimes though, my connections are not even far-ranging. I simply listen to my child, realise how much he's teaching me, and I continue to grow into the parent he deserves. And that gives me a tremendous sense of peace.