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


  1. Actually, I did it the other way around – I didn’t think spanking ever worked and then I had my third child. After reading about a consistent way to do it (Dr. Dobson, thanks) I spanked his third year some, and his first grade year more. Then I pulled him out of school and could stop. But the spanking worked and no, I did not like it. But it changed my attitude about being wholesale against spanking ever ever. Maybe he could have matured as well or better without it, that’s not really my point. I couldn’t do it and I had to change my attitude. It is interesting to have to rearrange ones thoughts at a more mature age. And I’m not (quite) as judgmental. By the way – I love your parenting style, think it’s awesome, and wish I’d read you twenty some years ago!

    Comment by Carolyn R. | June 14, 2011 | Reply

  2. Well, now you have peaked my curiosity. What is it that made you examine your perspectives – a very healthy exercise.

    Comment by Darcy's Mom | June 14, 2011 | Reply

  3. My marriage certainly required a shift in thinking, especially about the way to do housework. I would guess that it is common to begin living with someone and discover that “the best” way to do something doesn’t work for everyone or every combination of people. We tried meeting halfway, but the only way I could be joyous instead of resentful was to eliminate my expectations and create different ones. My husband had to do the same. Well, first he had to do some growing up for a few months, then he had to shift his thinking.

    Comment by Samantha | June 14, 2011 | Reply

  4. Never been a fan of spanking mainly because all too often I saw the abuse of it (not in my family though, we were spanked but rarely). Now long loud lectures THAT was another story. I discovered that my small scrawny Grandad had darn good lungs. I had a freind who’s father used to spank because a day without spanking was a day that charactar was neglected (TOTAL BS) Poor Mike. It seems from talking with many of my freinds there has been a big change in regards to spanking and here I enter the realm of the Paradigm shift, I think that many people are now finding spanking unnecessary because society as a whole has found other methods (not all effective) and Spanking is now to some degree a historic reference. I agree with your statement that “clear expectations, firm follow-through, consistent consequences, and praise for the good stuff [is] sufficient to achieve the behaviour [expected] ” and ” If I [don’t} need to spank, why would I?” My biggest complaint is parents that don’t show consistancy in dealing with their children’s behavior. A rule is a rule a consequence given is one that must be followed through with and no consequence should be more than can easiely be endured (albeit not comfortably) which again is not an endorsement of spanking. I agree with the statement that many people bring up that “I was spanked spanking never hurt me.” but in truth did it actually help or were the other parenting tools actually helping as much? Mary P I agree While spanking is not a crime do we need it? In that case getting rid of it is no problem but do we make criminals out of those that do it. Some maybe but all? I have always wondered what would happen if you (generic you) had not been consistant in discipline would spanking become the only option to reverse the damage (to behavior) that was done. alternately such as reversal in direction could do more harm than good. Hopefully when we eventually become parents (no Kids yet) we will take your advice and be consistant and communicative.

    Comment by Me | June 14, 2011 | Reply

  5. Here in the UK there are actually laws against spanking, or smacking as it’s more commonly called. In 2005 a law was introduced that if you leave a mark, such as “visible bruising, grazes, scratches, minor swellings or cuts”, then you can get up to five years’ imprisonment. I was smacked quite often as a child, and it didn’t do anything except make me more angry and more rebellious, so I don’t think it’s a parenting technique I’ll use with my own children. The fact that it’s against the law is very controversial, but actually I can’t see why it isn’t already covered under the law – in any other context it would be illegal for me to hit anyone, child or not, so why should the fact that they’re my offspring allow me to assault them?

    It’s interesting to hear that you’re in the process of rethinking some things. I think often we go through a slow paradigm shift without even noticing it; I can look back on myself four years ago and know that I’ve changed my behaviours quite radically but I don’t remember a time when I realised it was happening.

    Comment by May | June 14, 2011 | Reply

  6. I’d say I’m in the middle of a paradigm shift right now, thanks to Carol of IfByYes whom I found through you. 😀 Her writing has helped me to see that perhaps the anxiety level I’ve considered normal my entire life, wouldn’t be considered normal by a general member of the population.

    Why it’s taken me well into my adult years to wrap my head around this is beyond me – certainly I’ve been gently and not so gently teased for being a worrier my whole life. But just the thought that life doesn’t have to be lived like that has lessened the worry load for me.

    I love to re-examine my thoughts and assumptions, which is why I like coming here. You always provide great food for thought, and I love your parenting/caregiving style. Thanks for writing!

    Comment by L | June 15, 2011 | Reply

  7. I was never spanked and so have never believed in spanking.

    However, I didn’t think I’d become a co-sleeping Mom, but I have!

    Comment by IfByYes | June 16, 2011 | Reply

  8. I’ve been thinking about this post a lot and I really hope you give more details at some point Mary!

    For myself, I think I have gone through a bit of a paradigm shift on babies and sleeping. I neither wanted nor anticipated the sleep wars, but I sure got caught up in them. Cry it out? Parent (or coddle?) to sleep? Man, some vicious words are exchanged over that battle. With no initial opinion, I struggled with a baby who refused to sleep. Eventually we did let him cry it out (allowed him to learn how to sleep – check out the ideological vocabulary!) and it worked like a charm. I became a defender of the cry it out routine and a supporter of all the moms I encountered who worried so much about the long-term damage of this strategy. I watched a friend refuse to cry it out and saw her become ever more sleep deprived. I was right, right, right about how to do this.

    Then I had a second child. She had a tendency to throw up when we let her cry it out. That was a lot harder. We got her going to sleep by herself eventually, but I’m no longer sure how we did it.

    That first baby of mine? The poster child for cry it out? He’s seven now and goes to sleep by himself beautifully every night. But my sleep deprived friend? Her seven year old also goes to sleep by herself every night without difficulty.

    Now I think it may not matter that much what you do. Getting babies to sleep can be difficult. They will almost certainly learn how to go to sleep by themselves eventually. How you get from there to here depends on the family and on the baby. I was not necessarily right, right, right, but I was definitely right for my baby #1 in my family. I would wish for more tolerance of multiple methods on this issue and probably many others as well. I hope I can remember to be gentle and not vicious with new mothers and I hope others can do the same.

    Comment by Sarah | June 16, 2011 | Reply

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