Friday, 17 January 2020

A Spoonful of Fear

I overheard a child the other day talking about his dad to his sibling.

He started by saying “There’s a difference between mum and dad when they tell you off".

Growing up we had the “wait until your father gets home” repeatedly said to us when, in fact, the one we were primarily worried about upsetting was mum.
Dad was the laid back one.

Mum was a classic 80s parent. She was the woman who would fight your corner against the teacher who was telling on you but yet you get out of eye line of the school and she would turn on you.

She would use disappointment, her embarrassment of our behaviour and extreme techniques that would have any social services knocking on your door now.

For example: At age 16, my brother decorated his room without checking with mum. He painted it and expected mum to accept it for what it was. Mum didn’t. My brother went on holiday with his girlfriend and came back to his room being painted bright pink and the majority of his furniture removed. All in an act of “This is my house, my rules, my stuff and you would do well to not forget it". To the point that the room was not decorated a different colour until he moved out. The lesson, at least from my point of view, was not to do anything without mums permission.

She was also the 80s parent who would smack her children.

She had the wooden based, slip on scholls sandals. Having one of them whipped across your bum hurt.
However, in my friends houses it was the other way round. The dad was the disciplinarian and the mum was the laid back one.

With this in mind I continued to listen to the boy.
He said “You don’t really want to make dad cross. When you do he grabs you by the arms, gets right in your face, grits his teeth and tells you off growling".

Alongside him the sibling was nodding their head.

On hearing this my heart sank for the boy.

No one is a perfect parent. No one, however much we try, is Mary Poppins. We get things wrong and we are trying our hardest to parent better than the way we were parented ourselves.

Many of us go down the line of “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down". We try to spare our children some of the harder stuff in life.

Yet, overhearing this boy it felt that he was having a “spoonful of fear helps the children behave".

The thing is I hear many parents and older generation adults saying “children nowadays have no respect of anyone” or “in my day if I acted like that I would have got a clip around the head".

To some degree I can see where they’re coming from because vandalism, teen violence and antisocial behaviour has risen however I think there is a line between fear and respect.

Teaching a child respect, educating them on empathy and sympathy and showing them the difference between right and wrong is a massive difference to “putting the fear in them”.

It’s the added cliché of “if you’re showing them violence and aggression then you’re teaching them that these are tools to use when things are going wrong".

There is never a need to grab and restrain your child to discipline them. Restraint should be only used to protect them from harm. There is never the need to physically dominate to make a point.

Parenting with fear is not showing them love.

Yet, you hear and see many children “having the fear drummed” into them.

I was lucky in many ways. Despite mum being this way I watched my brothers mistakes and learnt what not to do. I would go as far as saying that relationship wise I had a closer relationship with my mum than my brother did. He, as far as I knew, never went to mum with a problem; why would he when he knew what the response would be?

Parenting with the use of fear is only ever going to put a block between the 2 people involved.

Personally, I would like to think that I am an open parent, one who brings a spoonful of sugar to their problems and they can come to me over anything. Yet, I also recognise that I am the “main" disciplinarian in the house.

Listening to this boy talk really did hit home though. You could tell that his fathers actions were drilled into him. He had that level of fear that he didn’t want to cross.

Since then I have made sure I stop and think before disciplining my kids. Am I teaching them anger and fear of consequences or am I teaching them empathy and respect?

It seems such an obvious statement and one that I think many would disregard because it “isn’t them" but I think it is something we need to check once in a while.

I’m confident that I’m not parenting with fear but it didn’t harm me checking beforehand. Importantly, I try to parent with love more than fear.

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