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There Were Two Trees in the Garden, And What That Says About Parenting

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 26 Comments

How to End a Clutter War

Yesterday Daniel and I had a tiff about who was going to find a home for all of Katie’s new toys. Her grandparents got her tons of educational stuff and I am SO EXCITED to really begin working on shapes and the alphabet with her, but I have NO IDEA where to put this stuff. My mom, who has been our guest in this home for far longer than we expected to be here, offered to give her room to Katie and start sleeping in the van.

We are getting a new house this spring. Period.

Anyway, back to the tiff. You know how he resolved it? He handed me our camcorder, which was playing a home movie of Katie jiggling around our house in nothing but the fat little rolls on her legs. She must have been about 14 months old . . . not quite steady on her feet but definitely becoming her own person.

I wish I could go back there and squeeze those little rolls until she laughed out loud. But not just for that.

I would like to have a nice, long chat with myself.

It Takes More Than Discipline. MUCH More.

When Katie was born, I had zero experience with babies. In my fourth month of pregnancy I made the mistake of admitting to a book club that I couldn’t remember holding a newborn, like, ever. One of the club members just happened to have her newborn son with her, so they put him in my arms.

He screamed. Not quite the confidence boost I think they had in mind.

To make up for my ignorance I read everything on parenting I could get my hands on: nutrition, games for developmental stages, baby sign language, sleep tips, discipline advice.

About that last one . . . all the books I read seemed to give the same advice. Get ‘em while they’re young. Gain their respect now or you’re going to end up with an out-of-control teen. Oh, and of course for Christians there’s always “spare the rod spoil the child.”

I’ve attended funerals for friends who never put on a cap and gown for high school graduation. I’ve seen the desperate looks on their parents faces . . . the look that told me all they want is to turn back the clock and try again.

But that doesn’t happen. We get one shot at raising our kids, so with a heart full of anxiety I clamped down, became strict, gave no quarter.

It was horrible.

My easygoing girl with the smiling eyes became anxious and frustrated. I felt her heart pulling away from me, and I knew I was missing the opportunity of a lifetime.

If you’ve ever watched a father cooing to his baby and you’ve noticed the baby responding with a wide open smile, you are witnessing the co-creation of a mutually attuned state of joyfulness. When this act is repeated many times the infant brain grows and organizes itself to develop the individual’s capacity to experience joy throughout her or his lifetime.

As with all other emotions, the capacity for joy is acquired in the early relationship between parent and child. In infancy the primary caregiver’s nervous system acts as a template for the infant’s nervous system to develop.

When an infant is born her undeveloped nervous system has the capacity for basically two states: ‘on’, or hyperarousal (excitement) and ‘off’, or dorsal vagal. In the first 2-3 years, when 90% of the nervous system develops, the neuropathways that make joyous states possible are imprinted. That is, joy states are actually learned.

This happens through interactions between the infant and its primary caretakers. The parent’s nervous system provides a template for the developing nervous system of the infant to follow in its development.

Because of the “use-dependent” nature of brain development, the child who receives fewer opportunities for positive emotional attunement with a primary caregiver can expect to develop less capacity for joyfulness. For example, if the mother is anxious or depressed her lessened facility for attunement may result in the child’s diminished capacity for joy later in life.

Joy in Emotional Health

Two Trees and a Robot

Did you ever see the movie I Robot? You know, the one where Del Spooner (Will Smith) suspects a robot of murder. Which, of course, is impossible because of the Three Laws of Robotics . . . except that it’s not.

As the main computer that controls the robots continues to analyze the three laws, she decides that in order to protect humanity “some freedoms must be surrendered” because “you charge us with your safekeeping, yet despite our best efforts, your countries wage wars, you toxify your earth, and pursue ever more imaginative means of self-destruction.” People are locked in their homes after curfew, unable to drive their cars, etc. Their lives are decided by the robots they designed to serve them, and the fate of humanity rests in the potential of one robot to learn to the power of choice.

Okay, I’m a little off track here, so it’s time to get to the point. Like I said earlier, “spare the rod spoil the child” seems like THE definitive scripture on parenting. But is it, really? Because I think it might be this one:

In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:9

God gives us choices, but what if one day he came to the same conclusions that VICKI in I Robot did? Rather than allow us to make bad choices, what if he took them all away and chose who we loved, what we wore, where we vacationed (head tilts left toward photo.) Sounds fun, huh?

I don’t really get the whole “God as a father” thing, but I’m trying to figure it out and this is what I’ve got so far: God chooses to parent us by allowing us to make choices. The variety of choices he provides communicates the level of freedom he intends for us to have.

For example, if I allow Katie to choose between seaweed and kale as a snack, I am limiting her freedom to two options that are both good for her. If I gave her the option to have seaweed or jelly beans I am placing much more trust in her ability to responsibly manage her freedom.

From the look of things, it appears God is not the control freak I used to think he was. It seems more like he is a more easygoing parent, gently guiding us toward maturity while making room for our bad judgment calls . . . some of them doozies. If he gives us this kind of leverage to manage our own lives, shouldn’t we be doing the same for our children?

That’s the conclusion I have come to. It’s not all peachy and sometimes I hate watching Katie make an unwise choice that costs her, but hopefully giving her age-appropriate freedom now while the consequences are relatively small will help her develop her judgment for the big stuff later on.

I read somewhere that punishing kids is a lot like being a traffic cop. I don’t know about you, but when I see a cop I check my speed and hope I get through unnnoticed, but as soon as he is gone I totally forget that he exists. A cop makes me think about how I’m driving, but only for a second and only with quit a bit of resentment.:) Cops provide external behavior modification, but they can’t add an ounce of wisdom to a child’s inner reasoning capability.

A drivers ed teacher, on the other hand, gets to go through life with a child instead of critiquing from outside the car. That inside perspective is probably more terrifying. It’s hard to be there while your child puts their heart (and yours) in danger, but the hands on role of a teacher comes with a benefit the cop doesn’t have . . . a chicken brake.

It’s not like choosing to be a teacher instead of a cop in my children’s lives means they’ll never experience consequences. Life provides plenty of opportunities for a child to experience the natural results of their actions.

Oh, and that “spare the rod” thing? It could be that advice has been misunderstood. We could ask ourselves whether it’s a popular shepherding style to use rods on sheep like we do with children. They probably poke and prod and nudge much more often. But that’s another discussion entirely . . .

What do you think?

Recommended Reading

Loving Our Kids on Purpose

Grace-Based Parenting

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26 Responses to There Were Two Trees in the Garden, And What That Says About Parenting

  1. Heather, I’m wrestling with these exact same concepts right now. It’s produced many discussions between Caleb and I.

    Since I really respect (though not always agree with) the multiple Dr Sears, I am borrowing their The Discipline Book from my local LLL. They have a whole chapter on ‘spanking’ and a whole section within that to address Biblical references to discipline and the Christian sub-culture’s belief in ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’…

    First of all, that specific quote is NOT in the Bible. The Dr Sears suggest that the word ‘rod’ within the very few scriptures that use it is actually the same word used when referencing shepherd’s rods (note: I have not done my own word research on this…yet). They make the point that a shepherd would not hit their sheep with their rod, but guide them with it.

    For us, right now, our main conflict is whether spanking should be a tool in our discipline toolbox. We know parents who only spank, some who do that and other things, and some who practice full on ‘gentle discipline’ with NO physical discipline at all.

    This is disjointed, as I’m really working through all of the discipline part of parenting right now personally, but I wanted to respond. As a Christian, though, the one thing I *do* know is that we are not born good. I must disagree with parents who say that children are ultimately good and just trying to please us as parents. My daughter, sadly, was born a sinner and there are (very definite) times that she is doing something because she is an individual human and is learning about choices (and how those can be made incorrectly). One place that I see a very clear example of God’s parenting/discipline is in the story of Adam & Eve. He gave them complete freedom with their choices, but the rules were very clear. If they chose to disobey the rules, the consequence was very clear as well. When they DID chose to disobey, the consequence was quick, accurate to what had been promised and, interestingly, done AFTER they had admitted their guilt.

    • Christine says:

      Adam and Eve were in the old covenant, we are in the New Covenant. No punishment needed.

      • Heather says:

        Christine – Do you make a distinction between natural consequences and punishment? Daniel and I try to allow Katie to experience the natural consequences of her actions wherever possible, but sometimes because of her age we have to create some (it takes too long for her to realize that if she doesn’t brush her teeth she will get cavities . . . and the natural consequence is too heavy for her maturity level). We don’t consider this punishment, it’s just our attempt to help her manage her freedom in an age appropriate way.

        • Christine says:

          Yes, we do. We also protect against some natural consequences based on age or ability (ADHD for example). We used to do more a punitive style (time-outs, but used in a punitive way) with our oldest, up until a couple of years ago. So its hard to say how it would have been. Our oldest has been showing a ton more creativity as we’ve moved into more of the grace based parenting. I think its like the article on joy that you linked to, I think our brains develop better under grace (as opposed to punishment.
          I really like the Loving your Kids on purpose book (I agree with Danny Silk’s message about how fear-based parenting is so damaging). We do the hassle time concept that he talks about. But I don’t think all of it works the exactly same with kids with ADHD. Ross Campbell wrote something about how kids like this need 10 times more of the positive (affection, etc).
          I like Crystal Lutton’s book (Biblical Parenting) for laying out the biblical roots of grace based parenting.

          • Heather says:

            Christine – Thanks for sharing about how your approach has changed with your oldest. I’m glad I’m not the only one that isn’t sticking with the first approach I picked up. I have to say, too, that I used to think grace was scary . . . more like a license to make huge mistakes. Parenting has changed my view for my children’s life but also my own. I am MUCH happier with myself and in my marriage since I began to understand grace. :)

      • Adam & Eve weren’t a part of the old covenant, as it was enacted with Abraham. They were actually before it.

        And I don’t think God used a non-grace-filled way to deal with them. I don’t think that story justifies corporal punishment/physical punishment. But the consequences were clear and He did follow through immediately when the guilt was brought to light.

    • Heather says:

      Morgan – We have struggled deeply with this as well. I hope you find what brings your family peace.

  2. Christine says:

    I agree. I like your analogy of the traffic cop vs drivers ed teacher.
    Here’s a helpful article on the spare the rod issue from a grace based parenting site: http://aolff.org/spare-the-rod

    Thanks for this post!

  3. there are few things more controversial than the subject of disciplining children! you’re brave. so thanks for opening this can of worms, heather! i look forward to reading everyone’s response. riley and i are still struggling to figure out what’s best for our kids in regards to discipline! to spank or not to spank, to count or not to count, to time-out or not to time-out, etc… i agree that we need to give our kids more positive attention/rewards, somewhere i heard that for every criticism or correction you give your child, you should be giving 10 compliments/praises. that was pretty convicting! “grace-based parenting” has been a good read so far and i have “loving our kids on purpose” in my “to-read” basket of books.

  4. Pippi

    says:

    We don’t spank, but I doubt Alfie Kohn would approve of everything we do :) I think a lot of discipline depends on the child. My daughter has always wanted to do everything herself. She’s just an extremely independent child. I figured out pretty quickly that the most effective “punishment” is to do something for her. For example, if it’s time to leave the playground (and I’ve prepared her by giving her two times more down the slide, etc) and she won’t get into the stroller I’ll tell her that I’m counting to 3 and if she’s not in her stroller I’ll put her in it. And then I follow through even if she kicks and screams. Most of the time she hops in and we go on our merry way before I have to mention counting.

    I aim not to get to the counting point, though (and have failed a lot more often since my second child was born…). I have tricks up my sleeve before we get to counting. If she’s well fed and rested the problems are few and far between. If she has a choice (seaweed or kale, like you said) we can usually avoid a confrontation. I have my limits, though. I won’t spend 15 minutes trying to cajole her into putting on her underwear while her sister screams. Sometimes Mama just needs to be in charge.

    I don’t think what I do works with every kid. In fact, I know it won’t. My sister fought every attempt at discipline and as a teenager my mom basically had to hold her breathe and hope the natural consequences wouldn’t be too steep. It worked — my sister’s a happy, well-adjusted adult today. My friend grew up in a household with spanking and washing your mouth out with soap. He, too, is a wonderful adult and my mother, who would never do anything like that, says hands down that he got the parents he needed to grow up into a happy adult.

    I think overall parents need focus on building a relationship with their child, setting the boundaries and expectations they feel are most important, and being consistent. But there are many, many ways of doing this.

  5. Pippi

    says:

    Goodness! I wrote a book! Sorry to take over the comments!

    • Heather says:

      Are you kidding? I just got Micah down for the night and the whole time I was soothing him I was obsessing about how vulnerable I felt that so few people interacted on today’s post. Kinda made me feel like I’d said something really inappropriate and the cyber-universe was politely turning it’s head away. Maybe it WAS a bit bold, but most of the time I can’t quite shake the feeling that I am sitting at my kitchen table talking to my close friend when I write. Although I wouldn’t necessarily say this stuff to a stranger it feels okay to share it here where there’s a more common understanding. Make sense?

  6. Alexis

    says:

    (Have been reading your blog for a few months now but first time posting)

    If it makes you feel better maybe people didnt interact as much because of Christmas vacation and people are gone away from home and the computer?! Just a thought!

    As for this post I think its a good one, my daughter is 21 months old and this is something that comes up in my mind almost daily as she is definitely testing out her boundaries. Already she knows she cant get away with as much when my husband watches her but somehow thinks she can get away with more around me!!!

    A book I have read good reviews about that I am going to be reading in the next week or so is called “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp. Another older book I was recommended to read is “Leaving the Light On” by Gary Smalley.

    • Heather says:

      Alexis – It’s wonderful to “meet” you! And it DOES make me feel better, but mostly because you took the time to comment and remind me that it’s the holidays. Duh!

      I read “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” thanks to the recommendation of several friends. Ironically, it convinced me that the “love and logic” style of parenting is unbiblical . . . then the next book I read (Loving Our Kids On Purpose) said the opposite! Personally I have come to embrace the love and logic approach. I would love to hear your thoughts after reading the book. :)

      Oh, and my daughter thinks she can get away with more around me, too. Sadly, it’s actually true. I am with her all day and sometimes I just have to let stuff slide because I need to put Micah down for a nap or something.

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daniel Dessinger. Daniel Dessinger said: good thought-provoking post by @mommypotamus -> There Were Two Trees in the Garden, and What That Says About Parenting http://bit.ly/e5uAGY […]

  8. Brittany

    says:

    Okay, so I’ve read your post and have been working my way through the comments. I’m struggling with this mostly because I’m right around the corner from having to figure this stuff out for myself. Nathan and I have discussed parenting techniques and we pray that God gives us wisdom regarding rearing our child and training him in the way in which he should go.

    I was a very strong-willed child and grew up in a home where spanking was implemented. I can honestly say that I never felt hurt by my parents (emotionally) when they spanked me and I’ve often wondered what kind of a hellian I would be had they not used this mode of discipline. They tried others with me, but nothing got through to me like a spanking. I always knew why I was getting the swats and don’t remember them ever occurring out of anger (not saying it never happened, but the fact that I don’t remember it happening means it certainly didn’t scar me). I have always had a wonderful relationship with my parents. My mom is one of my best friends, even though she was the one who delivered the spankings 99% of the time.

    On the other hand, as a teacher, I have liked the Love and Logic method of discipline in the classroom setting and I can see using many of the same principles in my child-rearing.

    The way I see it, we are commanded to train our children. It is our huge responsibility. God as our loving Father is the example we should be following. No, he does not punish, but the Bible is clear that He disciplines us for our own good even in the New Covenant (See Hebrews 12). Spanking can be punishment, but it can also be loving discipline. The same goes for time-out, either punishment or loving discipline. I think the motive behind the action plays a huge part in whether it’s one or the other.

    Just thought I’d share from the other side of the fence. Like I said, this is a difficult topic, especially from someone who is only expecting my first child and has no experience on the parent side of things. =)

    • Heather says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brittany. I realize I opened up a can of worms with that last statement on the rod. My main thought is that the research I’ve done indicates the modern understanding that the rod=spanking is not necessarily correct. Some words change in definition over time. In my post on circumcision, I explained why I believe circumcision as our culture practices it is very different from the way the ancients did. We use the same word and most people that practice it believe they are receiving and passing on an age old tradition. The same may be true of the rod (i.e. the ancients meant something other than spanking).

  9. Alexis

    says:

    Heather – great to “meet” you as well :-)

    Thank you for your input of “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”! I have ordered the “Loving Our Kids on Purpose” book instead because it sounds like it is going to be a better book. And I’ll let you know what I think about it once I am done reading it in about a week or so.

    And I know what you mean about letting your daughter get away with things. There is only one of her but I work from home 2 days out of the week and I guess I would say I let her explore her boundaries more so haha!

    I wanted to let you know that I came across an e-book about 10 minutes ago and immediately thought of you and this post. The book is called, “Parenting with Positive Guidance” by Amanda Morgan. Here is the link: http://notjustcute.com/parenting-with-positive-guidance-the-e-book/ – another book I am looking into purchasing and reading!

    Thank you very much for your blog! Happy New Year’s & many blessings in 2011!!!

  10. Wendy Good

    says:

    Hi, Heather! I followed all the comments on this post with a ton of interest. I was raised by parents who went way too far in the “no sparing of the rod” style of parenting, and have seen the destruction in all of my siblings’ lives. While pregnant with my first child, I was terrified of being the same kind of parent, especially of “getting angry”, and sought a professional councilor to help me with it. She introduced me to the Love and Logic series and it really, really set my mind at ease with the confidence to have an assortment of tools in my belt to help train my little boy. Coming from the perspective of someone who knows what it is like to be beaten bloody on more than one occasion for nothing more offensive than speaking out of turn in class, I was terrified to have the power to choose what kind of discipline to use with my son. Fortunately, my husband was raised by very loving, if distracted, parents, and he helped set very clear guidelines for me. I felt I needed guidelines as my own experiences and what I was taught in the way of how to discipline were not trustworthy sources of advice. Through the catharsis of raising my own son, I have received a lot of healing from the hurt done me in my own past. I learned from my son that, while we are born as sinners, age-appropriate discovery and mental development strides on his part are not “rebellion”, but acceptable as what they really are. Coming from a background where week old infants were whipped with a pencil if they cried too hard “in their desire to wickedly manipulate and control”, it was freeing for me to choose to wait until my son had the mental capacity to understand choice and consequence before ever applying a spoon in a single admonitory swat (and single they are and generally remain, unless his life is at stake. He has gotten more than one swat for running out into the road directly after I told him not to, but that was singular and memorable.) My internal rules say that he is not to be disciplined if his behavior is influenced by lack of sleep, illness, food reaction, hunger, inexperience, or several other things that are blank in my mind right now. Discipline is only appropriate in my world when a clear set of choices is presented and disobedience is deliberately and more importantly, defiantly, chosen. My son is almost three, and is a very happy and confident little guy. My goal each day is to enjoy him and for him to enjoy me. The more I exercise the happy part of his brain, the better! I am always on the lookout for wise counsel regarding my son, and make a personal rule of reviewing with my husband any conflict I have with my son each day. When discussion shows that I was wrong in any interaction with my son, I go back to him, explain that I was wrong, and ask his forgiveness. This is a huge departure from the way I was raised! But I definitely want a different outcome for my son than my siblings experienced. Thank you for being so brave as to open this discussion. One thing I have learned for sure is that no one set of rules applies to every child the same way. I liken it to the Apostle Paul saying that he became all things to all men that by all means he might win some. The burden on each parent is to find what is best for their child, and not impose those views on someone else’s parenting. The challenge is also to look beyond our own experiences to learn what is best for each child. Anyone with more than one child knows that what worked for the first may not work for the next! God doesn’t treat us that way, and He is the best Father of All. I hope this isn’t too much, but am very glad to get to participate in such a discussion. Thank you!

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