This meme was made by the Facebook page Sharing Along the Way, using a quote from my book The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting. It has been shared thousands of times across Facebook, and while most people agree, there are also many who misunderstand this quote. Misunderstandings are common when we take a part of a book without seeing the surrounding context.
Most often, the misunderstanding is that we don't teach them any better. This is a common misconception of positive parenting. Authoritarians assume that we don't discipline at all just because we aren't spanking or sending our children out of our presence when they aren't living up to our ridiculously high expectations, but true discipline doesn't come through threats and punishments. True discipline is what we teach our children day in and day out in all the million little interactions we have with them. As we model appropriate behavior and teach them diligently day after day how to handle their emotions with techniques such as deep breathing, journaling, or walking away to cool down, as we teach them how to manage themselves within the boundaries of the family, giving them tools they can use instead of consequences they can't, and lovingly, gently correcting, guiding, teaching, coaching, mentoring, we are disciplining - making disciples of - our children, and it takes so much more effort than a quick spanking or a few minutes in a time out chair. Authoritarians think it is absurd to raise children without punishment, but I think it is absurd to expect children to learn how to truly manage themselves by taking something away from them.
But the misunderstandings I most often see point to a larger problem of adult entitlement, and this directly points back to the reason I've chosen a different parenting path.
What happens is, as children, we are told what to do, what to say, how to look, what to like. We raise our hands to go to the bathroom, we get bullied for not fitting in just right, we sit through hours of school and come home to hours of homework. Our feelings are dismissed as ridiculous or annoying. Big kids don't cry! Suck it up! You're being silly! We are criticized on everything from our size to our hairstyles, our grades to our ambitions. Someone is always exerting their power over us until that one day, that one special day when we pass through the magical portal into adulthood. Poof! We go from being the lesser of society to being the top of the chain! Suddenly, overnight, you can no longer hit us without an assault charge. You can no longer criticize us because we adults are covered by the DON'T JUDGE ME ACT that apparently got passed somewhere in recent history. You can't criticize our mistakes any longer! You can't expect us to not grump at our spouse or yell at our kids. We are stressed and worn out and busy, for goodness' sake! And we can't be judged!
Ah, the entitlement of adulthood. The best bit is when we have our own kids, though. Now WE have the power to wield however we'd like. Now we can complain about today's kids because we were complained about, and that evens the score. Now we can dish out punishments if our children don't meet our expectations because it feels good to be on the other side, to be the one with the power! If I don't like your attitude, I can banish you from my sight! I can demand respect for the simple fact that I have passed the magical age of 18 and am now entitled to it, and if you don't show it to me, you can face the consequences! Intoxicating!
The thing is that these entitled adults drop by random parenting pages to tell us how fine they are, how well they've turned out, and in the same breath cuss other people or call them names. They tell us how they learned respect when THEY were kids, and then disrespect people on the threads they're posting in. Go ahead and take a leisurely scroll through a few parenting pages on Facebook and tell me how well behaved and respectful today's adults are.
That's exactly what happens when the threat of consequences are removed. Sure, we have to obey laws, like not stealing or killing anybody, but I have to tell you it's a whole lot easier to stay out of jail than it is to stay out of the corner. Our attitudes though? There's no one to correct us when we get rude and disrespectful, and it's especially prevalent on the internet where, as Sally Clarkson says, there are no tear-filled eyes staring back at us. There's no one to stop us from being disrespectful to our kids. In fact, it's almost expected. We can yell at them every day, what are you going to do? We can grump at our spouses and disrespect the store clerk because you can't spank us or put us in time out. No sir! Don't judge me.
Here is a comment left on this meme recently: "Yes I do hold my child to a higher standard than myself I am suppose to. If u continue in the same cycle what have u changed. My child is my child not me. What I achieve is not her best its mines she must be better because its in her. Just like my mother change my behavior I must do the same with my child. Each generation must improve that way the world improves."
I'm sorry, but this is a cop out, plain and simple. It's time adults held ourselves to a higher standard. We need to learn how to control our emotions, handle our frustrations, and speak respectfully to the little ones in our care and even to the people we can't see. We need to stop hitting our kids, stop yelling at them and our spouses, and learn to effectively communicate with the people we love. We need to stand up and be the change. If we can't live up to our own standards, why should we expect our children to?
The quote in the meme doesn't mean don't teach your children better. Please do. It means rise up and give them something to aspire to. That's the only way things will really improve. It starts with me. It starts with you.
*Oh, and I need to mention grace.*
Here's a quote posted on Ann Voskamp's Facebook page.
While we should absolutely teach our children how to handle their emotions, not project their bad moods, and how to be respectful, there are times when, like us, all they need is grace. Grace isn't an excuse to continue bad behavior, but it's a loving embrace of understanding and acceptance of the soul you're nurturing. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes we mess up. Sometimes they mess up. Sometimes we can skip the lecture and just offer grace. If God doesn't expect me to be perfect, I surely don't expect my children to be.