Parenting With Fear: Why I Don’t Agree With It

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. It was originally published on October 11, 2013.

I have long pondered and thought about how I was raised and how my siblings, from infants to young adults, were raised. As we get closer, hopefully, to have children of our own, Phil and I have had lots of conversations about how we are going to raise our little ones. My parents went to several of the Pearls’ conferences, had pretty much all of their books, and I distinctly remember sitting in [home]church watching my dad “train” the baby of the family at the time. My sibling was probably 6 months old, and was sitting on dad’s lap. My dad held a flexible rubber plumbing rod in his hand and would swat the child on their leg if they started making any noise or squirmed. Then of course, the child would start crying and they would get swatted again to be silenced.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with everyone, and dad force feeding another child. The baby didn’t want to eat what was in front of them, and in a few cases, it was because the child was sick. Dad would start yelling at the baby, setting timers, and getting the baby down from the table to be given a spanking, all because they weren’t eating their food. Mom wouldn’t do anything to stop the “disciplining” and all the rest of us kids would sit at the table, petrified that we would be next if we didn’t eat or made a noise. We got disciplined for making too much noise, we got disciplined for running to get mail if we didn’t ask, we got disciplined for not eating or for losing tools we hadn’t even used.

My dad created the illusion of a well disciplined, well put together family, but under it all was this idea that the kids were only there to be seen not heard, and there was no room for children to just be children.

I grew up understanding that children were evil and only capable of disobeying and had to be trained fiercely and kept a close eye on because anything they did was with the intent of disobeying. 

It wasn’t until I started nannying that I began to see just how wrong and destructive my parents’ parenting styles were. I was closely tied into helping raise the little girl I was nannying. I remember many conversations and shared articles between her parents and I. I remember feeling confused and scoffing at the idea that children were their own identities and that their “disobedience” was simply their way of exploring the world they were growing more aware of. I watched my little charge closely to see if maybe my employers were right. I was amazed at what I started seeing as I began adjusting my beliefs on how to raise a child. I saw a child enthralled with the silliest things, things to me that were boring and not worth noticing. But to that little girl, those things were fascinating, something she had never noticed before. The entire world, even if it was only certain areas of the house, was brand new to her. It took a lot for me to break out of the child training ideas I was raised with. It helped seeing how ludicrous those ideas were when it came to this little girl I watched almost every day.

To shut down her healthy curiosity seemed so wrong, to train her to stay in a certain area, even though other areas were safe for her, seemed so cruel. 

I had to go through a massive shift. I couldn’t, in my right mind, treat this little girl like I had been treated growing up. When she cried as she was being put into her highchair, more often than not there was something actually wrong. But, because she couldn’t speak, crying was her way of letting me know something was wrong. It was not her fighting me or being sinful and disobedient. Babies, infants, toddlers, even most young children aren’t fully capable of logically and thoughtfully telling you, an adult, what is wrong. I realized my parents’ ideas of training me and my siblings was as if they were treating us like full grown adults capable of interacting on my parents’ level. There was no leeway given for children’s developing brains, their natural curiosity, their eagerness to understand the bright new world around them even if they can’t understand what is bad for them or not. Nor was there any room given for natural fears a child faces, like a fear of the dark, nightmares, or scary noises. It most likely was just the way my parents were, but I remember there being very little grace and love for any of those natural fears I or any of my siblings faced. Oh, then add in the abuse and yelling my dad did often, and then the entire home environment was one of fear.

My parents raised us through fear; fear of my parents’ spanking stick and the consequences for being a child. I found a quote the other day is the exact opposite of how I was raised.

“Don’t stand unmoving outside the door of a crying baby whose only desire is to touch you. Go to your baby. Go to your baby a million times. Demonstrate that people can be trusted, that the environment can be trusted, that we live in a benign universe.”  Peggy O’Mara

Babies are brought into the world fully dependent on us adults. They only know the warmth of their mother’s womb, the safety in being held by loving arms. An infant has no cause to distrust their safety. Unless we give them cause to distrust and fear us by disciplining a child for something they cannot understand they have done. I am willing to change and give up my comforts to comfort any child I may have. I believe it is very appropriate for moms to find time for themselves and to leave their child(ren) with a friend or family member for some “me” time. But my habits should change whenever we have a baby. I will then be responsible for that child, for its comforts, safety. I shouldn’t expect to continue living as I have and expect my child to adapt to my lifestyle and to force it into unnatural habits.

I believe in teaching a child, when they are old enough to start beginning to understand, the difference between right and wrong. I don’t believe, nor do I agree, in teaching a child, an infant, toddler, or an older child, the theology of sin. If we as adults can’t even fully understand what real sin is, then how can we expect a child, who doesn’t even have half the understand we have, to understand it? Raising a child is raising a fully human being, not a little being you get to twist and train however you so please. They have feelings, they have memories that will haunt or warm them as they get older. But they also need to be guided as they grow and as they begin to understand their place in life. I believe in teaching a child how to make wise choices for themselves and to not be afraid of their own opinions.

I don’t ever want a child of mine to question whether or not they matter, nor do I ever want to give them cause to fear me or Phil. I believe in showing a child respect. Just because a human being is pint sized and needs to be carried by you does not make that person any less important.

Our children are brought into this world helpless, how can we then hit them and treat them like animals to be controlled? 

I heard a phrase once about house-proofing your child. This has got to be one of the most selfish things I have ever heard. The parenting styles my parents’ tried to implement on me and my siblings had to do with them not really changing how they do things, but instead expecting and “training” us to do what they wanted. The only place I think house-proofing anything is appropriate is when you are training a puppy or a kitten to be house trained, but a baby? Hell no. It is so selfish for parents to expect for their children to conform to their ideas of what a well behaved child looks like, instead of taking the time to make the house a safe environment for the unsteady, curious baby. Much less forget about treating a child as a real person.

Comparing my siblings to the little girl I nannyed is heart wrenching. It has only been in the past maybe two years that my siblings have somehow broken the harsh bonds they have been tied up with and are finally starting to act like real kids. But in some cases, it is too late. I never had a childhood. I had to become a full blown responsible adult by the time I was 12. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, was expected to complete my homework, and became a second mother to my youngest siblings. This is part of the problem I have with having a large family. I know I am not the only one and I know others have not had this experience. But as I have said before, this blog is specifically about what I have been through and my journey out of it.

I want to see my children be happy, allowed to be curious, and their inquiring of how things work to be encouraged. I will respect my children for the amazing little humans they will be.