Embarrassments, Discipline, & Love

Pastors and their spouses who are parents have been in the media lately for doing nutty things.  In the last few months, I’ve listened to stories about ministers who’ve physically abused their kids.  Spouses have sexually molested their foster children.  And there have been mentionings about corporal punishment, malnutrition, and deprivation.  The latest story I’m aware of was written last week when a Georgia pastor was arrested because his daughter called the police after he hit her.

It seems that the teenage daughter disrespected her father and probably hit him.  It seems that the father responded by hitting her.  There are probably many details.  I’ve read a few responses to what happened.  It’s unavoidable on the pages of some of the things I peruse.

My conflict has been over the fact that the father hit his daughter.  My double standard’s coming up there, sure.  But I just can’t wrap my head around a man hitting a woman, a girl.  My conflict hasn’t exactly been over the hitting itself.  I keep wondering about the mother’s proximity to the escalating situation that landed the father in jail.

I guess the current question is, is this an embarrassing moment for the pastor.  He told his congregation that he should have never been arrested.  He relied on that long historical parental practice of physically disciplining your child.  People feel a lot of things about physical discipline.  Me among them.

Yesterday in this article on Essence, Demetrius Lucas wrote

Our collective cultural acceptance of beating our kids is not for their benefit or in their best interest. It’s primitive, a symptom of our own inability to handle frustration constructively. It is not okay to treat our children this way, nor should we sweep it under the rug when others allegedly do it too.

I agree with much of the article and all of the spirit beneath and around it, my disagreements being apparent in this post.  The last thing I want to do is enter the discussion on the merits of physical discipline.  My flat answer is of course there’s merit.  I happily tell people, if I’m asked, that I’m raising a black child and that I am using every possible way to parent him.  I am loving him with everything available to me, and if that child of mine requires me putting my hands on him to restrain, spank, check, or correct him, I will.  I did it this week when he pinched a little girl in a birthday party pool.  The physical discipline was me pulling him to me, holding his arms, opening his hands, and telling him not to pinch the girl again.

Of course, I will respect the laws around physical discipline (though I don’t stay up on them).  Indeed, I will even read beyond the language of the laws because in the collective experience of the people from whom I come, laws are tricky.  Laws enabled my forebears to be physically punished in a gross assortment of ways.  So the idea of someone saying what black parents should do needs some room in my approach.  I’m first among them who say that that history complicates the practice of punishment.  It does, but our history doesn’t require dispensing with it as a good option either.

I think the general wisdom in scripture is like all the proverbs; they are general principles that can be practiced in general.  That’s the mistake we make with quoting proverbs and basing our entire parental philosophy on one reading of this or that.  We go too far.  I don’t want too go to far.

I want to parent in a way that my practices aren’t hidden.  In a way that my ways are seen.  Like my love for the boy, I have little issue with my closest people, those who watch my life, telling me what they think, pressing me with hard questions that make me change.  They will know my love for the kid.  They will recognize my familiar refrain from time to time, when I tell my son that he will obey his parents, that he will not go to prison, that he will be a good person.  I tell him that he is great and that great people listen to the folks who love him.  I tell him these and other things.  I pronounce them over him, often.

I suppose it would be embarrassing to you, if we were eating together in a restaurant, and you heard me go into this for Bryce.  Chewing your chicken, I go on telling him to stop doing something silly like throwing a fork, and I say, you will obey me little boy.  You will not go to prison.  But, alas, that’s a part of the potential picture, isn’t it?

I usually don’t need to touch my son to restrain him.  He responds mostly to what I say.  But the objective of my life concerning him is to love him well.  And love brings results.  When my words don’t, I improvise and do what’s next.  That’s not always punishment; sometimes it’s doing something with him.  We may have to put our forks down together.  We may have to sip water instead.  But sometimes the next thing is punishment.  And sometimes that punishment gets physical.  I may need to snatch the fork he’s gripped inside his little hand.  That may hurt him, but it may also be necessary.  I may need to restrict him when he’s running from me on the sidewalk by clenching (in his physical experience it would be that) his hand while explaining that cars are big and he is small.  None of these options would be an embarrassment for me to engage in because all of them would be done with love.

You have anything to say on the matter?  I really do have thick skin.


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