Black and white or a bit of grey

It is no secret that I have strong opinions. This post will touch on 90% of the hot issues of parenting. Consider yourself warned.

I’ve always had strong opinions but getting pregnant and having a baby has made a lot of my parenting opinions stronger. Now there are plenty of things on my “I said I never would and instead do it all the time” list but there are also plenty of things that I am set on and opinionated about. I’ve noticed lately that I no longer talk about/respond to group posts about breastfeeding. I feel strongly about breastfeeding but as I am no longer doing it I just leave that space for other folks to discuss. There are other things that I feel strongly about but don’t discuss. Circumcision is a perfect example. I speak out on circumcision whenever anyone asks for opinions but I normally stay pretty quiet about it. If I find out a friend is having a boy I might say, “I’d be happy to talk about our experience with leaving our son intact” but I leave it at that. These two things, two big issues of conflict in the parenting community, fade away as kids grow.

As fast as those fade out I am finding new ones fading in. In the past couple of days I have been reading a lot of mom group posts about spanking and time outs. There is a lesbian mom group I am in where people recently discussed on a thread how effecting spanking is in their family. To be honest, I was blown away. I am very anti spanking. I’m not going to list my reasons here because either you know and agree with them or don’t and don’t care and that is what it is. But it was shocking to me to see so many people in favor of it. I am also very anti the traditional time out model. I think there are a lot of things that people consider time out that not sitting in the corner with your nose to the wall for a set number of minutes but there are folks who do that to which is mainly what I take issue with. In groups people talk about that being effective for them. One woman mentioned that she is anti time out but when she upset her daughter recently her daughter said, “mama go to the corner!” and she realized that her daughter’s daycare did time out. But it is a great daycare…

I think about the controversial issues of early parenthood and how they fade out and these new issues and how they are going to stick around much longer. And then I realized that the next step is navigating friendships with these issues. After our New York trip went bust our friends from Michigan talked about coming to see us. It didn’t work out as they could come the same time Lesley’s mom is coming and that was a huge relief to us. One of the reasons why is because I know they are not on the same page as we are with these issues. I know that because we have known each other for a long time and I’ve seen them parent and heard them talked. I felt like we dodged a bullet by not having to deal with it.

I always think we’ll be fine because we live in this hippie utopia but then I realize that people here, people we know, think differently than we do. People all parent differently. And we are now at a time where these things will come up. That makes me twitchy.

The other night Lesley was putting Gus to bed. He has been a completely bear to get down lately and she had a migraine. She was trying to go the distance with him and sat on the floor next to his bed, rubbing her eyes. He looked at her and said, “Mama sad? Mama crying?” It was the first time we have heard him identify an emotion. He knew she was upset and was concerned. This makes this idea of navigating different parenting styles on the forefront of my mind – he senses it, he worries, and I don’t want him to be in a situation where he sees kids punished for struggling with their emotions.

So I am left wondering how these things are navigated. What is black and white and what is a grey area? What do we let go and what do we stand up to? Everyone parents differently and the standard rhetoric is to do what works for you. But what happens when what works for other people is something that does not work for me to have Gus around?


Posted on April 29, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. Have you & Lesley talked about your black & white & greys? Wife & I had to have that conversation (re: punishment) early on, because our good friends (who lived very close to us and had a kid the same age as one of ours) are very much pro-spank. As you noticed in that Lesbian Moms group, I am vehemently anti-hitting. It’s 100% a make or break thing for me, no matter whether the hitting is of a spouse or of a kid. Guns in the house are also a make or break thing for us. It’s such a tricky aspect of parenting, figuring out how to deal with how others parent when your kids are present. I imagine it’ll be an ongoing conversation, because it’s bound to get more tricky the older our kids get. Sleepovers are one aspect of that conversation that we haven’t made up our minds about – then it’s a double whammy of other parenting without us even there to debrief plus the whole sexual abuse potential. I am so glad they are young still and we can blissfully not think about it for awhile.

    • We have a little bit. We talked about our friends coming and my concerns and she said I was stressed over nothing – which to an extent is true as they are not coming. Lesley and I are good at debriefing when we leave situations so I think we might just figure out where the line is as we go but it does warrant further conversation. (I didn’t comment in the lesbian mom group because by the time I saw it you had said everything I would say and I hated every one of those people so much.) Guns is a hard one for us. Lesley was raised with guns and believes people can be responsible gun owners. True, but… I’m also glad our kid is of an age where we never leave him with anyone but us and his daycare.

      • Yeah, I was raised with guns too, kind of – although only hunting guns, not handguns. Our line is kind of wiggly, like a “no handguns maybe period?” but hunting guns are okay as long as they are not kept in the living part of the house and are locked up. My dad and brother both have guns, but keep them locked up in their garage or unfinished basement, so places where our kids hopefully wouldn’t be anyways. It also helps that they both live out-of-state, so it’s unlikely that our kids would be at their houses without us around. Laura grew up in a no guns home, so she’s even more against them than I am. Our guide for compromise is that generally the more restrictive rule will be the one we go with, unless there is a compelling reason to push the other out of their comfort zone. So sleep away summer camps will probably happen at some point, because even though one of us is very hesitant about them, we both agree that the experience is valuable enough to take that risk.

        It’s probably good you didn’t comment… although you are much more diplomatic in your wording than I tend to be. 🙂 My strong opinions were not welcome. I didn’t bother playing nice and biting my tongue in part because I haven’t been loving the group. Queer Mamas and the various offshoots feel more relevant to me, and the LM group seemed to mostly be single moms posting hookups in the evenings and discussions that felt like “yay, we’re so “normal”!” and nothing that ever really vibed with how our family is or what our family values. So if anything good ever does come up in the group, you’ll have to pass the info along to me.

  2. Discipline is a hard thing, and it’s going to get exponentially harder for you soon as Gus enters true toddlerhood. I’m not a spanker, but I’ve been close enough that I’ve had to put her in her room and walk away for a while so I get it. When it comes to friends, most of them have kids significantly older than Ali so discipline doesn’t come up, but they aren’t shy on giving their opinion!
    I think you all will figure it out as you go, it’s way more nuanced than spanking or timeouts when you are with people. For instance, when Ali acts up around others, one of us immediately removes her to another room, tells her what she did wrong and bitches her out a little, then we make her go back and apologize. Is that a time out? Is bitching her out a bad thing? Is the forced apology messed up? We have heard opinions on both sides of it, but it’s what we do.

    • I think I almost prefer people who aren’t shy because then I know where they stand. We have these newish friends I enjoy. They like beer too and have a kid a month younger than Gus. Gus LOVES their son. We were recently at a public play thing with them and the boys would be playing and then Gus would wander off. After a minute he would realize his buddy was not there, stop, call his name and search frantically for him, and then run back to him. Loves him. The mom mentioned a while ago that when playing with a playgroup they are in (with mostly younger kids) she has had to put him in time out. She explained that time out for her means moving him to a different area and telling him “time out” for a minute. It’s hard because I don’t know enough detail about this to know what I think. I don’t think it is bad necessarily but is not how I would handle it. It’s not enough to stop me from being friends with her by any means, but man, I wish she was just chatty about discipline so I could figure it out more.
      I don’t know that what you do with Ali is wrong. It’s what works for Ali. Also, parenting is public is so different from parenting at home. I will get down to his level and discuss feelings at home but in public we act faster. I do know I wouldn’t stop being your friend over that. 🙂

  3. For me, personally, how others parent is a non-issue for me (provided they’re not abusing or neglecting their child). Even when they’re around my kid. The way I see it, Charlotte is going to be exposed to people who do things differently than she does her entire life–why should childhood be an exception? Hell, even at the grocery store she’s going to see that some mommies put Oreos in the cart, but her mommy doesn’t. Some kids get spanked, but she doesn’t. It’s okay for her to have feelings about that. It’s okay for her to understand that all families are different from the way they look, to the way they act. I think back to when I was a kid and there was different discipline depending on whose house I was at. My grandmothers disciplined me differently than my mom did. My stepmom disciplined me differently than my mom did. Everyone has different rules, but we all need to find a way to coexist.

    • I think that’s a good point and to some extent, in the long run, very true. But I’m not sure that at 2 I want Gus to realize that sometimes kids get hit when they misbehave. I’m not sure at that point he can understand that he would never get hit. Also I’d never leave him alone at a house where people hit children so if we’re making friends I wouldn’t call on for help in an emergency what’s the point?

      • But if you really think about it, aren’t the kind of friends that you could count on in an emergency also the kind of friends that you could trust not to spank your child if you’ve asked them not to? (Although I do agree about 2 being too young to understand that because 1 is spanked in his home doesn’t necessarily mean 2 will be spanked in his home. I always think of spanking as something for an older child rather than a 2 year old. I can’t imagine that I would be okay with watching a friend spank a child that young. In fact, I once called CPS on a neighbor who posted a photo of their hand print on their 2 year old’s butt.)

      • Right. I also think there are different kinds of spankers. Lesley was spanked maybe twice for something really bad. Do I agree? No. Is that the kind of parent I wouldn’t leave my kid with? No. We were friendish with a woman for a while with kids Gus’ age. She talked about being anti spanking but then mentioned that she got her twins to sit in the bath by “swatting their butts” when they stood up. I did leave Gus alone with her once because we desperately need it (daycare provider sick and we both had meetings so for like two hours) and I trusted she would not hit him. But overall her casual attitude about “swatting” her kids made me uncomfortable. GREY AREA!

    • No Oreos?! Such abuse…
      Actually, food differences have come up as an issue waaaay more then discipline for us. We are pretty middle of the road, our kids get lots of full strength juice, some candy, and various other things full of sugar and preservatives. We take an everything in moderation approach. We don’t do pop and we don’t do snacking outside of designated meal/snack times though, which is a problem sometimes when we are with people constantly giving their kids snacks because mine want them. On the other side, I’ve had a friend freak out on me for giving her kid a Twinkie when I had a bunch of people over for a pool party. Now I know to ask about food preferences though!

  4. This is a really long comment and is basically a blog post in itself, but oh well!

    I have also been thinking about this a lot lately, which I why I solicited opinions about time outs in one of our mom groups. I always thought they were the “mild” form of punishment. But maybe punishment is not a good way to handle a child’s behavior at all. Now that I am starting from scratch (rather than coming in with a toddler, a kindergartener, and a gradeschooler, like I did with my step kids) I have different, gentler opinions about it. For me, parenting is not about control, it’s about teaching. Generally, there is no benefit to a forced time out, other than maybe giving the parent a 3 minute break. There IS benefit to taking time out when you’re feeling strong emotions, sitting with those emotions and feeling them, until you feel like you can be around the situation causing those feelings again. I liked what someone in our group said about the PARENT being the one to take a time out when she was feeling stressed by her toddler’s behavior. The kid later internalized that good example and asked for a time out when she was upset, then she went and had a lie-down on her mom’s bed until she was feeling ready to join the family again. When I assisted at a Montessori school, the time-outs were always a choice. (“You can give Susie back the truck that you took, or you can go take a chair. It’s up to you.”) I like this method too. For the record, the kids often chose the time out.

    For me, the trickier situation with punishment/forced timeouts arises when safety is an issue. When my step-son was 3, he used to try to run out the door and into the street when he was upset. The only way to calm him down was to put him in his room and not let him out until he was done raging. Sometimes we sat in there with him, but more often our presence just made him angrier, so we sat outside the door. We only had to do it a handful of times, but it always felt terrible to hear him screaming and furious and not be able to help. We were just at a total loss as to how to keep him safe while he moved through his emotions.

    At the end of the day, when thinking about people’s parenting or discipline, I think it comes down to harm. I think it is harmful to my child to see another parent hit their kid. It undermines a lot of my teaching about compassion, and not using our bodies to hurt others, and consent. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s harmful to have another parent ask (not force) their child, or even my child, to sit on a step. Probably not what I would do, but ultimately not harmful.

    • I agree with so much of that. I don’t think it would be harmful for Gus to see someone in time out, even if it is not my choice. The biggest issue I have with things like that is the lack of feeling validation. I think it is possible to ask a kid to take some space while still validating how they feel. I’m guessing when big brother had to go to his room for safety reasons there were also conversations about it. About how you know he is upset but that is not a safe choice. The time out I have more of an issue with is the standard “that was wrong, go to the corner, okay time is up” model. I think that beyond that there is a lot of grey based on who your child is. Did the girls ever have to be locked in the rooms to rage? No. Will Bumby? Who knows. It wasn’t your top choice but it was what what needed. That’s the kind of stuff we should not judge over.
      We took this parenting class and it talked a lot about why kids act out. They act out because they have emotions and don’t have the tools to deal with them. We’re here to teach them those tools. Big Brother learned how to take space and calm down when angry. Gus has already learned the word sad. They are capable of learning but it takes a long time and a lot of practice. I think a lot about how I would feel if someone yelled at me when I was trying to learn something new.
      I read a post a while ago on a peaceful parenting facebook page where the poster said that she wants to be a peaceful parent but gets angry and sometimes hits her daughter when she touches the tv because she knows not to. Her daughter is Gus’ age. Gus does not know not to do things, he is figuring that out. I always use the dog’s water bowl as an example. He can play in the bathtub, and play in his water table, so why not the dogs bowl? What are so different about these things to a one and a half year old? Nothing, so we move the bowl (and poor dog gets way less water than he should). It’s absurd to think kids know not to do something because we have told them not to. It takes a long long time. That’s why we can say shit like, “We can’t go outside right now, we’ll go in a little bit” knowing full well it is not true. (I try not to, I swear, but sometimes…) THEY DON’T KNOW. And hitting them isn’t teaching them anything. It’s not our job to hurt our children, it’s our job to help them learn.

  5. Good discussion! And thanks for not unfriending me 😉
    I think a lot of this really depends on the kid. For my girl, her default strong emotion is angry, so when she’s upset she rages like nothing I’ve ever seen before. When that happens, which it did daily and sometimes several times a day from about 20-25 months, she goes to her room until she stops. We can talk about it later, and since she’s so short tempered we can talk about how to manage her emotions when things are good, but in the moment it’s not practical to talk to her. My foster boy who is her age is totally different. His default strong emotion is sadness, so it makes more sense to comfort him and get him through by being compassionate. He has other stuff from his time before us like being pretty violent with other kids where we remove him from the room, but we usually stay with him even then and talk to him about it.

    • Totally agree that it depends on the kid. I don’t think getting down to their level and talking about feelings works for each kid. But I think punishment without any emotional follow up works for no kids. But sometimes that follow up is a ways out.
      This is true for adults, too, of course. In couples counseling years ago we discovered Lesley can’t do big conversations without warning. If we need to talk about something big I need to say something like, “I’d really like to talk about ____ this weekend.” Otherwise I talk and she looks at me and then I go on and on and get frustrated she won’t engage and say mean shit to bring it out of her. Humans are weird.

  6. Callie and I sit in a super, different shades of grey area. See, we were both raised very differently, and also in our respcetive childhood homes, each of our siblings was treated differently. For example, in my house, I was the oldest, which basically meant that I was responsible for my younger siblings and their shenanigans. Lots of times at 14 you really don’t know better, even though my parents insisted that I should. So, lots of times, I got hit (spanked pretty hard!) for my siblings infractions. Now, my sister on the other hand, the one that is 16 months younger than I am, she was very very sensitive. You could just look at her with a scowl and she would run off to the other room HYSTERICAL crying, and would try and make it up to you for weeks. I only remember her getting hit once and that was because she told my mother to SHUT UP! And my mom backhanded her right across the mouth. My youngest brother NEVER got hit! EVER! The worst I remember is my dad grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and shaking him around a bit. All of that to say, every person parents differently, and they parent each child differently. There are things like drinking and smoking pot that Callie and I go back and forth about. There is the whole cutting school and dating that we discuss all the time. To spank or not to spank. To watch tv or not. Whatever feels right in your home and for your family is really the only think we can do. I gives 0 fucks what people think about my parenting style. My kids are healthy (for the most part), smart, and so far, pretty well rounded. Have we decided if we are going to be a spanking family or not? Nope, but right now we aren’t, and I’m ok with that….

    • I think that is a good point, too, just because something is not done now doesn’t mean it never will be. There are some things that are black and white for me and will not happen, but I do need to evaluate where I am flexible on other things.

      • I think this is important. At one point I looked around and realized what we were doing wasn’t working, and we had that out of control asshole kid no one wants to be around. We changed our approach drastically, and we both had to re evaluate our black and white stuff, and we both had to leave our comfort zone.

  7. We are starting to think about this as Ansel begins to do things with intent and need more boundaries. I was spanked, usually out of anger, by my father and I feel VERY strongly that it is NOT a form of discipline I will use with my children. The time out thing is a new idea but (as you know?) I just read something about it and posted it on my FB wall because the reasoning was so in line with my general feelings about child development. La laughs at me because I reason with A even now, but I honestly do think that when people (even tiny, 13 month old people) understand things, it feels better. I’ve always thought of time out as space to get calm and figure things out, but lately I’ve seen my brother in law use it as a very intense form of punishment that also devolves into a power struggle, which is never good. All this to say . . .I feel like I have some clears NOs but not a lot of YESes when it comes to how I think I want to handle discipline, and I appreciate the conversation.

    • The best thing that we did was this parenting group. It reinforced some things I knew in theory but talked a lot about how to re-frame behaviors that we think of as bad. We talked a lot about how kids are sorting and trying to figure out how they can do one thing but can’t do this other things that is seemingly like it. How they just don’t know how to process emotions. The class calls tantrums “Upsets” which totally changes how you talk about them. It’s some hippie bullshit, sure, but it really made me think about Gus as a person going through something difficult rather than a “bad” toddler. I don’t know how this will translate into the next stage of his life but it has for sure made me a more patient and loving parent now. It is so hard though – there are many times I try to reason or talk through something with him that I know he doesn’t fully get. But I figure if nothing else it is good practice!

  8. When Wallace sees a little one upset in public, he gets very concerned. If there isn’t a direct way I see that I can help the family (like picking up dropped items), then I explain to wallace that that chil.d is having a hard time right now. That means no laughing or instigating or gawking. If there’s more to talk about and help him understand, we can do it out of earshot and in a non judging way. He has yet to witness an adult hitting, dragging, etc a child. Meanwhile, I need to get better at working with him when he is having a hard time.

    • It sounds like you are setting a good foundation though! You are teaching him how to help and respect other kids going through a hard time – that has to translate to him somehow I’m just not sure now. 🙂

      • Lol right!? He’s in a hitting me and being a “mean pirate” and being really wild stage. I don’t even know where he got that from. I am having a hard time being consistent in my responses to this stuff and according to my child psych class, inconsistency is really bad… ugh. I haven’t had to deal with friends and people parenting very differently than me (ie spanking, time outs).

      • Yeah, we’re trying to figure this all out as we go. We’re in the same place that Andie mentioned- lots on our “No” list, not a lot on our “yes” list. It sounds like it is time for all of us to figure some of this out!

      • I didn’t get to read all the comments because I was being attacked by a mean pirate and really just wanting him to leave me alone. I feel like we need a way to discuss all this together and help each other brain storm. Like wallace has already gone through the stage Ansel is in.

  9. I started my social work career as a child therapist working at an abuse counseling center. So the issue of spanking and discipline came up a lot. I’m not a fan of spanking; and I’m always frustrated when people are so adamant that spanking is not only okay, but the downfall of our society can be traced to the moment hippies stopped spanking their children. I’m also not a fan of time out. I don’t think my son developmentally would understand time out. Discipline should always be developmentally appropriate and should take into account the reason for the child’s behavior. Right now, B. is just under 2 and any time he tantrums it’s because he cannot express himself, is over tired, or can’t self-regulate his emotions. How is hitting him or sitting him down in a chair going to help? Right now I’m mostly focused on keeping him from hurting himself since he tends to bang his head, change his environment, and distract him. Sometimes I need the time out though, because it’s difficult for sure. At this age though, distraction is usually the most effective.

    • Distraction is key for us now too. We try to validate feeling and talk through stuff but normally that is a good practice for us more than anything.

      • I validate as well, but I’m hoping by labeling his feelings he will learn the word for how he feels. I think because he doesn’t talk much yet but understands everything that he gets frustrated.

  10. Great discussion! I am against spanking – I was only spanked a few times as a child, but I remember how unjust and humiliating it felt – it wasn’t about discipline, it was about my parent’s anger, and over stupid stuff like refusing to have my hair braided. Beyond the fact that I don’t think it’s okay to hit a child, I think the potential for confusion between spanking as discipline and spanking as anger outlet is a real problem. Spanking for us is a non-negotiable.
    We don’t have friends with kids (as I’ve often complained), so haven’t dealt with these problems yet, but I can see where you’re coming from – there is a lot of parenting stuff that I don’t really want my kid around, and yet, will probably make myself deal with as long as she’s safe – as in, hitting is a never, but circumcision and time-outs (neither of which I would do) don’t bother me to have my kid around. But I mean, I think of myself as tolerant of other people’s parenting, but then see a little baby with pierced ears and have a visceral “wow, who the fuck would do that?” response.
    There are also a lot of non-parenting behaviours I don’t want my kid around (like the loud yelling done by both my dad and di’s dad when they’re frustrated) and we already think a lot about how to talk J through that as something that is not okay and yet happening (to be clear, I am not talking about them yelling at J – just yelling at no one because their frustrated and were socialized to believe that that is okay).
    Sometimes, the temptation to move to
    an intentional community is strong…

  11. Hi I have ready your blog from the uk for a while and after reading this post thought I’d mention that my partner and I have similar lines if thought about time outs etc with our daughter and we found the books by dan Siegel and Tanya something called ‘whole brained child’ and ‘no drama discipline’. They are super useful and sound very aligned to your point of view.

    • Thanks! I’ve seen those both recommended around parenting boards but this was the push I needed to buy them!

      • Ha just cringed at the typos in my post! Phone! Would love to know what you think of them.

        Also: we’re having a hard time getting my in-laws to listen to our parenting ‘no’s (e.g. Telling our little one ‘don’t cry’ and minimising her sadness, giving her sugary biscuits, etc) and funnily enough I tried some if the techniques in the book on the adults and the results weren’t too bad!!!

      • We ran into the friend I talked about in the post tonight. She mentioned that she is reading the whole brained child and it was life changing for her. She has been to every book store in town looking for no drama discipline. I’m lending her my new copy while I read whole brained. I guess this is a good mom match after all!

      • I found you guys through mutual friends (okay actually I found you guys first and then realized we had mutual friends, yay for small internet?) but I HAD to chime in to say here that the Whole Brained Child and No Drama Discipline are two of the best books I have ever read!! Tina Payne Bryson came to speak at a conference at OSU and she was an amazing speaker who really backed up her suggestions with examples from her own parenting adventures.

        Another one I really like is Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson. I just today reread her section on how a sense of autonomy leads to self discipline, which is pretty much a huge goal of toddlerhood.

        Sorry to geek out over here, and hi! nice to comment!

      • I just heard about positive discipline, too! Adding that to my buying list.

      • Also, it was easy to figure out the mutual friends. 😉 I’m sure if they are it we are bound to meet.

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