“We don’t punish our children.
Punitive punishment simply isn’t a part of our parenting toolbox anymore. But it used to be.
I know for many it seems like parenting without punishment is letting children do whatever they want. Without punitive punishment, children must be vile, evil things with no understanding of limits and boundaries, bound to become criminals. To many, a home with children without punishment must be a real Lord of the Flies type environment.
That’s not been our experience.
Not having punitive punishments doesn’t mean there aren’t logical and natural consequences, boundaries, and discipline. It just means the consequences aren’t manufactured punitive punishment power-flexing.
We haven’t always parented this way. Since both of us came from homes with a lot of punitive punishment (which was called discipline) we started off similarly. Though we knew before we had children we wanted something different, we didn’t know what it could be or what it could look like or how it would even work without being complete anarchy in our home. We started with what we knew, choosing a less strict approach but still authoritarian parenting, relying on punitive punishment to establish control and maintain order by achieving desired behaviors through fear.
It wasn’t what we wanted, and though we were shifting to a more connected, gentle approach, the process was slow going until two of our children were sexually assaulted by someone in our lives we had trusted. Through the investigation (resulting in a conviction of a first-degree felony) and therapy, we felt some of our parenting choices enabled the abuse and our children now had trauma that required us to alter our parenting drastically.
Trauma-informed parenting called for no more punitive punishment, no more shame, no more controlling of our children, no more parenting based on what others will think of us or our children, no more manipulation, no more expectation of obedience without question, and no more displays of power.
The deconstructing process was messy and unclear. Honestly, it sucked sometimes. We had some idea of what we wanted to NOT do, but didn’t know what it would look like nor what we even wanted TO do. There were pivotal moments for us that began to really shape what would ultimately be a 180 in our parenting. From disconnected authoritarian parenting with punitive punishment and a desire to control, to connected parenting developing emotional intelligence.
It was a great parenting experiment and it scared the crap out of us.
The big questions we had to ask ourselves were: Could we come through conflict and misbehavior MORE connected? Would our children learn right from wrong and understand boundaries without us controlling them through punishments?
We went from spanking, yelling, shaming, washing mouths out with soap, grounding, taking toys and items away, stressed out and frustrated all the time, to listening, understanding, connecting, and mindful parenting. This doesn’t mean it isn’t still sometimes difficult and overwhelming, it is, it just means we’ve shifted our parenting to unlearn some of the disconnecting practices that had been normalized for us.
It hasn’t been easy nor is it a complete process ever, but the shift away from dysfunctional interactions has led to a more calm and connected home life. By removing punitive punishment we’ve experienced more self-regulation, collaboration, and trust with our children.
While it would take a book to share everything we’ve learned (which we do want to write someday–join us on Patreon to be the first to know about it and help us get to that point), here are a few points we found to be instrumental in starting the process:
Identify values. Make parenting goals (what really are our goals?).
Question how our current practice aligns with values and achieves goals.
Understand that behavior is communication.
Including our own behavior- question our own actions and responses to understand what our own behavior is communicating.
Breathe. No really, in the moment, pause and breathe.
Listen to our children–conversations with ‘I’ statements rather than lectures and yelling.
Natural and logical consequences rather than manufactured and punitive ones.
As to what this looks like in practical application and how we implement it step-by-step, well, this is just an article. But we’ll keep talking about it. Full disclosure though, venturing down this road is exhausting and a 3 steps forward, 2 steps back kind of thing. It is hard and will require more self-awareness and introspection than our culture supports. During the transition of such a paradigm shift, consistency is difficult and boundary testing is normal. It is worth it, but it takes work and a lot of ‘failing forward’ to see it payoff.
The connection we have with our children, the ease with which we see them regulate themselves, and the emotional intelligence they demonstrate has convinced us our experiment worked. Perfectly? Nope. Not even close. But better than we expected and the results in our adult children today and our current elementary/middle school children have bolstered our commitment to connected parenting.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber of We’re All Human Here. Follow We’re All Human Here on Instagram here. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.
Read more from Jessica and Jeremy here:
‘I have 7 children. They do not give me purpose and meaning. My world does not revolve around them.’: Mom finds meaning beyond her children, ‘I will not burden them with being my universe’
‘I breastfeed in front of my teens. May ALL teens see breasts whipped out in public and have the mystery of titties ruined for them.’: Former teacher mom calls for normalizing breastfeeding, ‘They can handle it’
‘She growled that nothing was wrong. She skulked off. ‘Would you like a hug?’ She paused, and moved closer.’: Mom’s heart aches for daughter whose friends ‘never have time for her’
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