It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Paradigm Shifting, maybe

Or at least an adjustment, I think. Before I can explain that, I want to give you an example:

When my Wonderful Husband first moved in with me, he was bemused by my parenting style, particularly my discipline methods. Interested, mind you, but bemused. He’d been brought up, as had I, with the discipline methods of the day: clear expectations, scoldings when necessary, and the occasional spanking.

When my children came along, I started off as an occasional spanker, but soon discovered that clear expectations, firm follow-through, consistent consequences, and praise for the good stuff was sufficient to achieve the behaviour I was striving for. If I didn’t need to spank, why would I? My first was spanked perhaps a half-dozen times; my second once or twice, and my third, not at all.

I don’t think spanking is abuse. I don’t think parents who avail themselves of it — within certain very careful parameters — are bad parents.

It’s just unnecessary.

But this isn’t a post about spanking. This is a post about the evolution of thought and attitudes. Spanking just happens to be the example.

Though we’d started out in the same place on our parenting journey, my husband and I diverged when we began parenting. His first marriage was, by mutual consent, a very traditional place. He went out to work, she stayed home with their children and did the bulk of the child-rearing. Discipline involved spanking.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable with spanking, but he didn’t see what their options might be. The parents he knew who didn’t spank were entirely at the mercy of their unruly children. His children were cheerful, lively… and well-behaved. So for him the choice seemed to be “Spank, or Have Brats”.

Then he moved in with me. A non-spanker… with cheerful, lively, respectful, well-behaved children.


He moves in with me, and he observes parenting and discipline that deliver the results we want — cheerful, considerate, well-behaved, nice people — without that form of discipline that he had always believed was, while unpleasant and regrettable, the only viable option.

End of example. Now on to the philosophical musings that are the real point of this post.

My husband had one set of experiences resulting in a certain perspective, and even though he wasn’t entirely happy with his conclusions, the alternative didn’t seem viable. He was making a pragmatic compromise with reality in a way that seemed reasonable.

That’s what people do, don’t we? We develop a perspective, we evolve into a way of doing things that seems right and reasonable to us. And then, often without being conscious of it, we downgrade the other options. “It’s the way I do it,” we think, “or that other, silly, ineffective way.”

I don’t think most people are trying to bolster their position by making the other options out to be stupid. It’s just that the way we do it makes such sense to us. And of course, you can always find examples of people doing it some other way, and it not working so well.

(A small tangent: In my husband’s defense here, I will add that he is a man of enormous integrity, remarkably open to new perspectives. He has had a full-on paradigm shift in his life where, after much careful thought and no little gut-wrenching anguish, he changed his world from top to bottom, to bring his life into alignment with his new perspective and convictions. This takes more courage than most of us possess. Rather than make those sorts of wholesale changes, most of us would settle for being disgruntled and increasingly depressed. We’d grumble to our friends, but we’d stay in that rut. He made the changes, and the process was agonizing. As I say, courage and integrity.)

Back to the main topic: I am beginning to wonder if I’ve been guilty of that myself. I’ve been framing a certain parenting pattern as an “either-or”, where the “either” is the way I do it, and the “or” is that other way which doesn’t work. You get polite children my way, and ill-mannered self-centred rotters the other way. No middle ground.

When in fact, there’s a range of options between my way and the other way. When in fact, the other way may very well work, or at least have aspects I could incorporate into my familiar way.

I’m finding it all very interesting, and when I’ve sorted it out a little more in my own head, I’ll tell you about it.

How about you? Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been quite contentedly muddling along in your own way, happily convinced the way you do things is reasonable and effective, and then experienced a shift of perspective? Where you’ve started with one set of attitudes and then realized you could, if not change them outright, maybe adjust them?

June 14, 2011 Posted by | controversy, parenting | 8 Comments