Too Strict? Or Not Enough?
My parents divorced when I was three years old. I saw my father in my early childhood, basically every other weekend. In my teens, my relationship with my father was strained. Meanwhile, my mother who had primary custody, lived with her mother and an aunt. My mother worked second shift, which meant, when I came home from school, I dealt with my grandmother and aunt who were often quite busy. As my mother married again, in my mid-teens, I would still find myself lacking supervision and direction as I did at my grandmother’s home. I came and went as I wanted. I did pretty much what I wanted.
Examples of what a family could be considered would come from friends’ families. I spent a lot of time in the homes of three different friends. I was always included and treated as one of their own. During these times, I would notice the roles of the “father” and the “mother” in a lot more detail than what I had grown up witnessing.
So when I became a Dad, I had a pretty good idea of what I expected from my role as a father. I needed to make sure that my children not only received a good education, but were encouraged and praised for their efforts.
Needless to say, when it came to being punished, I do not recall facing any kind of punishment, not for lack of discipline, as much as not getting caught. I never saw any of my friends being punished either, other than “grounding,” the act of being restricted to the home, and telephone usage (we had no computers or smart phones, so this was pretty much a very effective method of punishment. But at no time, had I ever been spanked or hit as a form of punishment, nor had I witnessed any of my friends being punished in this manner. That is not to say that I have not seen a parent unload on a child in a public place. I have seen this all too often. And also too often, the impact being too extreme that it was clearly abuse. I have been known to approach a parent who abuses a child that harshly.
It was during my psychology studies that I came to learn, and believe, violence begets violence. And when a child is punished by the slap of a hand (or worse), then what we are enforcing in the child, is that violence is the only way to correct a bad behavior. And I do not accept that tenet.
And so, when I became a Dad, I had a clear plan in my mind, if the time came, that either of my children would have to be corrected. Not even up for consideration, any kind of physical punishment. I was never hit, my children would never be hit.
One thing was certain, that if I made a “threat” of punishment, I had to follow through. Whether it was removing a toy, issuing a “time out”, “grounding”, or even cancelling a trip, my daughters knew I meant what I was going to do. There was no line in the sand to cross. I am fortunate, my daughters never tested this theory. Because one of the most important needs of discipline, is consistency. And I gave that to my daughters from bed times, to school preparations, to even just a phone call. My daughters know that I will always be cosistent.
So, the other night, the conversation came up, if my daughters felt I was a strict parent, which I always believed I have been. I am not flexible with our roles – they are the children, I am the parent. If they have grade that can be better, I push them to improve it. When my daughters are with me, they know there are “expectations”. I purposely do not use the word “rules” in this post, because to me, that implies that there are problems with behavior. But 99.9% of the time, if either of my daughters were asked to do something, it was done and without even an eye roll.
But the answer that I got from both of my daughters was actually quite surprising.
I am not strict.
I was confused. I was firm. I made sure things were done. I made sure that behaviors were not imposed on other people. Sure, we played and such, but I made sure that my responsibilities as a father in raising my daughters were met.
So I asked my daughters why they felt I was not strict. Sadly, they both believed that being strict was related to some sort of physical discipline such as spankings. And because I have never laid a hand on my daughters, they felt that I was not strict. But just as I witnessed when I was a child, my examples of a “strict” family through those of my friends’ families, this is what my daughters were witnessing.
I was kind of disappointed that my daughters felt I was not strict. But to them, the way that I raised them, is not because of being strict, but because I care as a parent (their words, not mine). I was saddened that they equated strictness to some form of physical punishment. Having never been exposed to that, either being spanked myself, and certainly not spanking either of my daughters, I had a hard time understanding why they felt this way. I know I get uncomfortable when I witness a parent spanking, even if lightly enough just to get the point across, because I really do believe that act of spanking, to make a child “good”, actually does build the idea in the child, an act of violence does result in the desired behavior. And if that is not guided as the child grows up, this can lead to problems.
I tried to convince my daughters that I was strict. But just as other things that I want them to learn from me, it is the end result that will count. I want them to learn most importantly, that to care, to be respectful, and to be consistent, are all important qualities when it comes to raising their children some day.