Choosing To Love Over Choosing To Control

I come from a generation in which spanking was and may still be normal. I understand that as a strategy that worked in the past. That’s what people knew. That’s was the way things were done. I was raised by my mother in Ecuador until I was 15 years old before I migrated to the US. I always remember my aunts and grandma telling my mom to take it easier on us. The solution wasn’t too hit us “too much”. But how much is too much?

I had a conversation with my mom today. She was concerned about this little girl at the house she works at that keeps being very “obnoxious”, “disobedient”, and talks back. She didn’t understand why the girl could get away with it and how she is not “put on check” enough by her mother. She gave me several examples of how even psychologists in Ecuador said 15 years ago that the problem with children nowadays is that they don’t know how to respect and that even if their parents want to discipline them, now the common threat is that the police was going to be called.

My mom then explained how “it is necessary” to spank, unas cuantas nalgadas (a few spanks on the butt) con el dolor del alma (with pain in your soul) were needed for children to know who was in charge. I was troubled by this! How do I explain to my mom that that is not something I believe in. How do I explain to her that that really doesn’t work in the long run? How can I explain that I can not bear the thought of me hitting my child and having the sensory memory of my child’s pain in my body?

After my failed attempt at wanting to share with my mom the choices I wanted to make in my parenting, I felt sad and frustrated. I wondered, when did hitting become normalized as a way to show power and control, especially over our kids? I felt much empathy too because I can see how sometimes hitting or spanking is the last resource for some parents. The impotence of not knowing how to “rear” her child. The embarrassment of what the family might say because his child doesn’t behave. The judgment that will come from her lack of authority!

I think about all these things too as I look forward to becoming a parent. I know that I will face many struggles and I WILL only know once I’m a parent the uncertainty that comes from being the creator of a human being. But I also remember back to when I was a child and how it felt to be spanked, how it felt to be hit. I know my mom somehow has blocked it out of her memory that she truly did hurt my brother and me. They were never simple “nalgaditas”. She gets very sensitive now if we bring that up or she gets defensive about it. Embarrassment perhaps? Or fear of being judged I presume! I remember how much I feared her and how much I loved her at the same time. It was so perplexing that the person that loved me the most was the person that also hurt me the most. I don’t judge her. I know she did the best she could to raise me as a single mother. She, like most parents thought that to teach values they needed to use their power to control their children. That proved their worth as parents. We needed to be “good, obedient” children to be accepted.

I remember that fear and I don’t wish that for my children. I see how there are other possibilities, other options. I want my children to feel complete and understood. I want them to have a voice and to know that they deserve to be respected too. I think sometimes about what would I do at those moments in which I will be ready to chew my child’s head off and she will be ready to chew off mine… I don’t know… but I breathe! I breathe hoping that in those moments I am be able to breathe as well. I trust that I have the intelligence – emotional intelligence as an adult to pause and see what is going for my child. What need is she trying to meet? What feelings is he having? My boss wrote a wonderful phrase that inspired me, ” [Patience] isn’t something magical outside of us. It is what we do when we are under stress, ‘flooded’ with feelings to center ourselves to stay in the ‘present moment’. That’s what I hope my child finds in me, infinite patience and unconditional love.

I know that in most if not all situations there is never a black and white cause or solution. I know that some parents or people in general resort to violence because that is what their dis-regulated body is telling them to do. They get over-flooded with anger and it spreads all over their body causing a physical reaction: hitting. Also when many children are reacting to their parents requests or demands they can be over-flooded too and respond with verbal or physical anger. What concerns me is that when it comes to dealing with issues like this most people focus on “curing” or “masking” their children’s symptoms (managing their behavior). “Don’t you dare raise your voice to me. I am the adult and you need to show me respect. I said so and that is reason enough”.

The interesting thing is that usually when children react, actually when any human reacts in such a way to others they always have hidden built up feelings that have accumulated over a period of time. Their “harsh” behavior is symptomatic of other experiences with and unmet needs from their parents. So I wonder, if I’ve always modeled for my child that it is acceptable to hurt and hit others when I’m upset, then it would give that I am teaching her that it is ok for her to do it too? How will that affect his future relationships and his ability to cope with others?

Although by any means I do not presume that I will be a perfect parent, I am wanting to model a way of living that honors the integrity and wholeness of my child as human being. I want him to know how to celebrate the joys the world has to offer at the same time that she knows how to mourn and grieve her disappointments. I want to create human beings that are capable of feeling, people that are able to be open and compassionate at the same time that know how to establish their boundaries. I see how I struggle in my adulthood to do this and I constantly have to go back and re-parent myself to meet the needs of my childhood and adolescence. I am learning how to feel fully, have autonomy and be respectful of myself and others. It hasn’t been easy.

But then I think, how wonderful it would be if I can give my children that gift! How amazing that they can be ready for anything that life throws at them. What a gift to them and to others!


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