Letter from a Teenage Son
A gentle mama overseas gave me permission to share parts of our email exchange that spanned several months and ended with a deeply touching letter from her son:
Hi, I spanked my three elder sons when they were younger. I am a very gentle person so it was never in anger ( I struggled to do it but read how I had to gain control). My teenage sons love me very much and seem to have no hassles at all with listening and respecting me. I have raised my younger two daughters, aged 8 years and 19 months without hidings. As I read up on gentle parenting only after their births, I am struggling with both of them to respect and listen. Ok the baby is still so little! But my oldest daughter is really loving and kind, but does not listen! My sons spoke to me the other day and said I have no authority with them and why don’t I just spank them already. I am at a cross roads. My older daughter of 8 is too old to spank! Have I made a mistake? My baby girl is so sweet and I don’t want to smack her on her bottom but I feel like when she throws tantrums it takes me ages to negotiate and in the end she gets her way, whereas when my boys were little they threw a tantrum and all I said in a calm voice was “stop or you will get a smack on the bottom” and they stopped shortly. I want to be a good parent, but above all I want my babies to be safe and know to listen. Please encourage me with facts as to why I must stick to no spanking for defiance, because I am very confused now.
I shared You’re Not the Boss of Me! and Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline with this gentle mama and discussed how changing parenting styles is hard on parents, but sometimes we forget how hard it can be for children, too. Her older sons were upset with their mother for not spanking their little sisters as they were spanked. They felt like spanking was good enough for them and remembered being forced to obey and didn’t understand why their mother was letting their sisters get away with not listening. In our discussion, I asked her to look at it another way–she would never allow her older sons to hit their little sisters, but her boys wanted the little girls to be hit like they were. Thinking of it that way understandably upset her…
My boys are very gentle boys and have never hurt their sisters and would never HIT their sisters and they don’t wish for them to be HURT. They are incredibly protective. And a lot more polite and caring than almost all of their friends. I have a lot of children over to play and I really don’t see a mean bone in my boys’ bodies. They just feel that their sister is disrespectful towards me and at times her not listening makes it unpleasant for everyone. They feel there should be consequences to her actions.
Here is the rest of our email conversation:
I hear you, mama. Replacing euphemisms like spanking, smacking, hidings, etc. by their definition, hitting, is very uncomfortable. The thing is, even domestic violence used to have euphemisms such as “reasonable smacking of wives” and “necessary chastisement” in order to make them more palatable. It wasn’t until society began to call it what it was, hitting, abuse, beating, violence, that society’s views changed. The same is true for parenting. If we want to change, we have to face the reality of what we are trying to change from. If we whitewash it with euphemisms, our motivation to change will be diminished and our chances of success limited. Your sons sound like wonderful boys, and I’m sure they love their sisters in the same way you loved your boys even while you were spanking them. But now you want something better for your little ones, and it’s not too late for you to want that same better thing for your boys, either. Yes, they got hit when they were little and misbehaved. And now they think hitting is the way to control small children, which is why they want you to hit their little sisters. But if you talk with them honestly about regretting having hit them and ask for their support as you try to move away from using threats and hitting to control their sisters and trying to work toward a communication-based, peaceful parenting style, then your sons will begin to learn that maybe hitting children isn’t they best way to raise them. And, since you will be communicating with your sons respectfully and honestly, you will actually be modeling the exact kind of parenting you are wanting to use with their little sisters…connection, communication, respect–an invitation to cooperate. It’s not easy, mama, but your boys will end up more peaceful parents themselves if you take the time to involve them in your transition to gentle parenting with not only them, but their little sisters, too.
I am trying to wrap my head around it all. We were raised with abuse and my older four children’s dad, who is no longer around, abused us too. But I am remarried to a very gentle man who does not agree with spanking, so he supports me now in trying. I will persevere. Thank you.
I know you are, mama. And it is so, so hard. The Little Hearts community of parents are all here for one reason, to support and encourage and share with each other on our gentle parenting journeys. None of us are perfect, and all of us have things to learn and struggles to overcome. Working together will help all of us do better, though, and that’s why we’re here. ♥
(A few days later): I have been reading your work and thinking about my parenting ways so much! I considered myself a gentle parent all these years, simply because I never smacked in anger but out of a duty almost to stick to the “rules” I had been taught in Christian Parenting books on disciplining etc. I am a loving Mommy and meant well, but something always bothered me about smacking my boys. I was told it bothered me because I had not been properly raised. Anyhow I was praying as I was washing the dishes today and felt my heart swell and a rush of emotions. I am so positive that the Lord spoke to me. I felt completely determined to follow your advice and believe now in my heart that this gentle parenting is the right way to love and care for children. I sat my sons down and read a few of your quotes etc. to them. I then apologized for smacking their little bottoms when they were younger when they were defiant instead of talking it through with them better. My sons all hugged me tight and my 16 year old son said, “Mom, we’re sorry we didn’t listen to you because we don’t care that you smacked us but we care that you had to be someone you aren’t to feel you had control of us. It’s not in your nature to smack, Mom, that’s why you were always so upset after you smacked us, because it changed how you felt about YOU. Now you can be the parent you will be proud of.” Ah it broke my heart. I am so grateful I found your wisdom. I will never meet you to thank you, but I am sending you gratitude across the oceans!!
Oh, mama, that’s so beautiful. Your boys sound like amazing young men!
(Weeks later): Things are working well. Thank you for your wise kind heart. I am loving raising my children this way!! I am truly happy for the first time. I have always loved being a mother, but hated the confusion and regret after hidings, never sat well with me. Always had to psych myself up to go get the wooden spoon, take them to smack bottom…ahhhhhhggggg the knot I get in my tummy just thinking if it! Really pleased I saw the light and had the strength of my convictions at last TO CHANGE. I found your site two years after I decided no more hidings! So I had been doing the gentle parenting thing already, but I almost gave up. I am so grateful to you for encouraging us all to wait for the greater long term reward.
Thank you, mama. You don’t know how much that means to me to hear that! ♥
(Months later): My son wrote a letter to me. I thought it may help other parents. I cried so much I felt sick. I regret the past. I used to think I was such a great mom. I thought I was fair and set good boundaries and tried to protect them from their biological dad’s temper by ‘keeping them in line.’ I am working daily to heal my older sons. This letter was confirmation and also the realization that we cannot escape consequences. My son is loving and affectionate towards me, but is this letter ok? I mean in your opinion is he ok?
Oh, mama, that made me tear up. Your guy is more than okay. He’s brilliantly more than okay! He’s thoughtfully working through his feelings and sharing them with you honestly because he trusts you with his big emotions. And he’s extrapolating from his experiences and yours and coming up with a life plan based on a strength of character that is very, very evident in his writing. ♥
♥ Changing the World, One Little Heart at a Time ♥
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.