Some years ago I came across a talk on discipline by a well-known speaker, an experienced family man, an ‘expert’ perhaps. The talk went something like this:
The father must be the authority figure in the family. The mother should keep a misbehaviour chart for each of her children. When the father returns from work, he must deal with all the discipline issues that have occurred during the day. If a child has a ‘mark’ against his name he must call that child into the privacy of his study. The father should tell the child how disappointed he is in his behaviour. A child must be obedient. As he has broken the rules, he must be spanked. It is only fair. After the punishment has been inflicted, the father must take his crying child into his arms and reassure him of his and God’s love. The father has only been tough because he cares. Tough love. (It is just as hard for the father as the child.) The child will dry his eyes and resolve to do better.
I felt there was something wrong here. How can a father inflict pain and shame on a child one moment and then say, “I love you” a moment later, and expect a child to believe that? I couldn’t get my head around that at all.
At a time when wooden spoons were commonly used to paddle little bottoms (and chopsticks were used to deter misbehaviour in babies), I just couldn’t follow this advice by an ‘expert’. It went totally against my mothering instincts. When others talked about discipline, I kept quiet. I did things my own way, which didn’t involve corporal punishment.
I believe discipline must come from within. A child must want to do what is right, not from fear of punishment, but from an interior sense of what is right and what is wrong. Otherwise how will a child learn to be disciplined when parents and punishment are not around? And where does that interior sense of right come from? I don’t think I have worked out all the answers to this question. My second son Callum and I discussed this once. We mulled over a few possibilities. We both agreed that the essential ingredient is unconditional love. You can read our conversation in my post Influencing a Child to Do What is Right and Necessary, if you are interested.
So how did my children turn out? Are they wild and spoilt and undisciplined? No. They are not perfect, but nobody is. They are however well balanced, considerate, pleasant and very loving people. I am glad I followed my mothering instincts and took no notice of that particular talk on discipline presented by an expert. I’m glad I chose the way of love.
It wasn’t easy to go my own way. I wondered if I was just being a soft mother. Sometimes a good parent must do things that are very difficult and unpopular. She must be tough now so her children will thank her later. At least that’s what some experts say.
Of course I am not an expert. There is no reason why you should read this post and take any notice of my opinions. You must of course do what you feel is right for your family.
Follow your own mothering instincts. And when in doubt… love.