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January was a month for white water rafting. Let me explain. When my kids were in their teens, I listened to a James Dobson show on the radio and he said that dealing with teens is sometimes like white water rafting. You just have to hang on as best you can until things calm down again. My eldest grandson Connor is heading into his teens.
Connor has been a bit more than my daughter can handle, so I have been helping out. He has been staying at my place more often and giving me some challenging moments. Like last Sunday when I was sick and he was deliberately annoying me, regardless that I had been sneezing all weekend and my eyes and nose were trying to see which could outdo the other in depleting my body of moisture, and cold sores were blooming on my nose because it was chafed so much, and I was tired and wanted to sleep. Heather was sick, too, but I figured I could handle Connor better in that condition than she could. I ended up feeling like I wanted to rip him apart limb from limb. Thank God, that did not happen, but I felt horrible that I got so angry at him.
My remorse about my ugly feelings and the way I ranted at the kid were the motivation I needed to start reading yet another book on child–rearing, this one by John Gray, called Children Are From Heaven. Again, as I read this book, I thought, "Man! I've been doing just about everything wrong. Why did it take me this long to find out?"
Amazingly, though I am flummoxed about how many mistakes I have made, this time when I reviewed the situation, I did not beat myself up about it. I think that it has to do with the tack that the book takes that ministers understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness towards children. It helped me to be understanding, tolerant, and forgiving towards myself, as well.
It really helped to read about how a child's brain develops and what they are capable of, and not capable of, at each stage. It said some powerful things that totally changed my perspective. For instance, because of where they are in their brain development, kids truly cannot remember things that we expect them to remember, and this is particularly true if stress is attached to what they are supposed to remember, such as if they are nagged.
When kids are nagged, they tune out because they can't handle the stress. And here all this time, Connor's Mom and I were getting bent out of shape because we thought he was selfish and simply didn't care about what we wanted, and we were getting offended, which translated into more nagging, and therefore more forgetting on his part, and us getting bent out of shape all over again. Well, how can a person be angry about something that a child can't help, once they understand that the child can't help it?
The book also talks about learning styles and temperaments that really helped me understand my grandsons better, and realize some things about myself, too. My parents made a lot of mistakes, but how could they have known better what to do? This book wasn't written until 1999, and could not have been written until our culture had changed and the author had learned through, not just his education, but also his experiences, more effective ways of parenting.
Indeed, as the Bible says, in these last days, knowledge is being increased. Thank God for this knowledge about better ways to raise kids. A lot of Christians probably don't receive as many miracles and operate in miracles the way we ought to because of lack of grace in how we were raised. We have transferred our parents' flaws into our concept of God.
As with all books I read, I did not agree totally with the author, but there sure is a lot in his book that has helped me. I needed to know this stuff about brain development. I thought, "But books about children's brain development have been written before now. Why did it take me so long to read anything about it? I should have read parenting books long before I had children, so that I would be ready to do a good job when they came along."
I thought back to where I have been at in various stages of my life, though, and realized that I had not seen the need before now. The mistakes my parents made set me up to think that I knew what I needed to know about parenting. They tended to be rather overbearing and I thought that was the way that kids were supposed to be handled. "Don't do as I do, but do as I say," was a favourite saying of my beloved Grandmother, who passed it on to my mother. "Children should be seen and not heard," was one my parents drilled into me. And the famous, "Why? Because I'm the Mom and said so, that's why," whether it made sense or not, and there was no room to negotiate. Well, maybe there would have been for a really clever child, but we were raised to be compliant rather than clever.
In my younger years, if I read books about relationships, which was rarely, they were books about marriage, not so much parenthood. I thought I had a handle on the latter already. I knew how to diaper babies and feed them, basic stuff like that, and when they hit toddlerhood, then some spanking was applied. After all, the Bible says that to spare the rod is to spoil the child, and that a parent who does not discipline their child actually hates them and is helping them go out of control and end up in Hell.
I figured that as long as spankings were truly deserved, my children would not resent me for long. That was my experience as a toddler when my grandmother spanked me with her wooden spoon. I always had done something I ought not to have done; she never spanked me to take out an uncontrolled temper on me. I hated her fiercely when she spanked me, but within a couple of minutes, I always felt keen remorse about having such ugly feelings about my wonderful grandmother and was soon clutching at her legs, forcing her to drag me around the kitchen with her as she did her work.
I had issues about how my parents administered spankings and what they considered justifiable cause, but I figured that as long as I emulated my grandmother, rather than my parents, it would be okay, but I got frustrated with my kids a lot, and a good part of it was because I was frustrated with their Dad. When he left the picture and I was no longer subjected to the stress of having to deal with him, I was amazed at how much more patient I was with my children, and how much more obedient they were when he was no longer around to undermine their respect for me by undercutting my authority in front of them. In fairness to the man, I did that to him, too. We weren't into keeping our disagreements private from our children and sparing them the stress. Neither of us were as tough on our kids with spankings as our parents had been on us, but I wished that we never spanked or yelled at all.
My husband's drinking problem was our major source of contention. I wanted him to go to AA and for our marriage to get straightened out, but he refused to do that. He left when I insisted that he had to go to AA. I was so devastated by my husband's desertion that I had a nervous breakdown, and he managed to get custody of my children at that time. Then I was restricted to having only visits with my kids, even after I recovered from the breakdown. Because of where I was at in those days, I was willing to leave my children with their Dad. I was praying that my husband and I would get back together, and did not expect that it would take very long. I did not yet realize that he was not a good person for me to be with, nor could I conceive of having to wait longer than a year for our issues to be resolved.
It was in that circumstance of having only visits with my children that I realized that I did not know as much about parenting as I thought. I did not want to do things the way I had been doing them. Being confined to having only visits with my kids, I wanted to make them happy memories for the children, without spankings to dampen their enthusiasm about spending time with me. I became more thoughtful about what my children needed, rather than what I wanted. I felt like I was out of my depth and floundering. In this humbled condition, I cried out to God for wisdom, and He gave it to me, helping me find unique solutions for individual situations, rather than applying one solution for every situation.
I was starting to make some real progress in developing better parenting skills when my ex–husband took off to another province with my children, and then blocked me from having access to them. It was my word against his about what kind of mother I had been, and because I had had a nervous breakdown, whereas his alcoholism remained concealed, he was able to win government support in taking his side in the issue. My breakdown was due in a large part to the stress of living with an alcoholic all those years, but the man succeeded in manipulating the prejudices and ignorance of unbelievers to make me look like I'd had the breakdown because I was weak–minded, citing as support that I believe in angels and miracles and speak in tongues.
It's water under the bridge, but it's all a part of my journey to enlightenment. During the years I was apart from my children, I read a lot of Christian self–help books that focussed more on personal relationships with men, rather than on how to parent children, though I read some of those books, too. My counsellor at church finally said to me, "Lanny, I think you should stop reading those books. You have read enough of them to keep you going until Jesus comes." Meaning: I did not need to read more books, but to just work on applying what I had learned from them. So, I stopped reading so many self–help books.
A lot of what I read about relationships with men helped me to be a better mother when I got my kids back five years later. For one, I figured I was better off steering clear of men and just concentrating on raising my kids, unless someone really exceptional came along. My kids sure needed a lot of attention; I could not have given them the attention they needed, if I had been into dating.
I can't recall reading any parenting books in those days, but I got lots of helpful advice from psychologists whom I saw on a regular basis after applying to the province of Alberta for victim assistance. My daughter was supposed to be seeing them, but she refused, so they offered me the counselling and I jumped at the opportunity to get good advice on how to handle the kids, as well as to sort out my issues some more.
My counsellors helped me to be more patient and effective in my parenting, but even so, the kids were more than what I could handle as a single mother. Their father had withdrawn from their lives and was no help. When he brought them back to me, all he did was fix them with a gimlet stare and sternly tell them to listen to me and do as they were told, as if that could undo years of programming them to hate and despise me. The kids found out that I had been misrepresented to them, but their emotions still saw me as someone whom they could not respect and trust, and they behaved accordingly, so they ended up in group homes. I stayed in contact with them through visits, and their behaviour eventually settled down. It was a wild four years of white water rafting until that happened.
Now here I am again, dealing with an unruly child. Well, he is not always unruly. Connor is actually a great joy and delight to have around most of the time, but when he tests my boundaries, he is like a little commando – quite single–minded and resourceful in trying to see how far he can go to get his own way.
The Children Are From Heaven book has helped me so much in dealing with him. I don't feel so angry at him when he pulls his stuff, now that I understand better what it is about. Now I understand why he pushed my buttons when I was sick. The author says that children pick up on our stress and express it, which is why they tend to throw tantrums at awkward times. True enough, I had been dreading the possibility that Connor would decide to be uncooperative when I was feeling ill and not up to dealing with misbehaviour, and when he did it, I blew a gasket.
I can't agree with the author's stance about absolutely no punishments for disobedience, which he says some people disguise by calling them "consequences." I think that reality discipline is valid and necessary, but I am persuaded from this book that the necessity for it can be greatly reduced.
John Gray gives several steps that parents can take to enlist their children's cooperation, and he says that they always work. Not for me, they don't. The last step is a time–out, and Connor simply refuses to take a time–out. I would have to physically pick him up and put him in the laundry room, which is the only room where he can take a time–out, but he is too big for me to do that, and I don't want to risk injuring myself trying. The book says to let the kid have a tantrum, but I can't have him yelling and saying nasty stuff to me when I have neighbours who live upstairs who should not have to put up with that noise. So, nix the time–out.
I have had some success with John Gray's methods, particularly with little Jake, who is very well–behaved and cooperative anyway. Some of it was working even with Connor. The most powerful thing I got out of the book was that I was not angry when he misbehaved, or, at least, not very much. But he was sensing that he was not going to be punished, so he started to push the boundaries again, using some bad words, being careless where he put his stuff. It made me feel really depressed and the dishes sat piled up, while I indulged in some escapism and read nearly all Connor's Norah McClintock library books when the kids were outdoors playing with their friends.
That night when I went to bed, I thought, "No, something is off here. The Bible says that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. Of course, that needs to be put into New Testament terms, but it is still valid." I no longer believe that God wants us to use a literal rod to discipline a child. After listening to Andrew Wommack's teaching on grace, and understanding grace better, I figure that since Yehoshua told us to love our enemies and forgive them, rather than to seek an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (though that is what the Law said to do), He surely wants us to cut kids some slack, too.
When it comes right down to it, I cannot imagine Yehoshua giving a child a spanking when He was walking around in His flesh 2000 years ago. When I visualize Him dealing with children, I see so much love coming from His eyes and such a warm and gentle way of requesting their cooperation that I imagine the most hardened little thug would melt and do as they were asked. He raised His hands to bless little children, not to strike them. When kids act up, it is probably because of how their parents talk to them and deal with them, rather than because they want to be a problem to other people just for the heck of it. Mea culpa. I was a pretty good parent, as far as the average parent goes, but now I know that there is a higher plane of parenting, and I want to operate on that plane.
If we cannot forgo the concept of our kids accepting consequences for their actions, we can go to the higher level of applying discipline by engaging in reality discipline, rather than taking a switch to their little backsides. For instance, if a child refuses to get up in the morning when their alarm goes off, make them walk to school, instead of giving them a ride, if they normally get a car ride, and then they have to deal with the principal about being late and work a little harder to catch up on work they missed. It ends up being less work to get up when the alarm goes off or when they are called the first time.
No matter how wise John Gray thinks he is, the Being who directed the writing of the Bible understands human nature far better and knows better than John the solutions to our problems. If I had not received as much revelation as I have about grace, though, I would not be so open to the good ideas that this author, and others that I have read, have to say. I would still be stuck in the mud of thinking that kids should be spanked until they are old enough to be reasoned with, and anyone who says otherwise doesn't know what they are talking about, so don't bother paying attention to what they have to say. But even if a person does believe that parents ought to spank, reading those books can help them to reduce the number of occasions when they think it is called for.
On the advice of a psychologist, my daughter has been giving Connor more independence. Up until now, we have kept him on a pretty short leash because ever since he was three years old, he has considered himself competent to run his own life. Seriously, the kid figured back then that if we would only let him go anywhere he liked on his own, he would be okay. We have watched him like a couple of hawks to try to keep him safe because it is really hard to convince him that he doesn't know everything. He even said to me when he was three years old, "I know everything."
Connor now has a bus pass to get him to school when he is staying with me, and to use on weekends to visit friends. His first weekend that he went to see friends in his old neighbourhood, he was half an hour late getting home. I took the bus pass away when he got home, but as we discussed the situation, I realized that I should cut him some slack because the bus service is not good in that area and can be confusing, especially on Sunday when some of those buses don't run. It took me a while to figure it out, and this was his first time getting to know that system. He was not able to get a car ride to the bus loop from his friend's mother, as I had expected he would.
However, as I was trying to explain the bus system so that he would know the next time, he interrupted me and said I did not know what I was talking about. Excuse me? I had to get home plenty of times on a Sunday when my daughter lived in that neighbourhood, so I think I know what I am talking about, but he kept insisting that no buses stopped on Sunday at the particular stop that I was talking about. I had given him back his bus pass, but I confiscated it again because he wasn't listening to me about how to get home from that neighbourhood. I could have shown him with the bus schedule that it does pick up on Sunday, which I later managed to do, but the trick is getting him to let me talk, instead of him insisting that he knows all about it. I told him that his attitude and behaviour did not demonstrate that he was mature enough to handle the privilege of having a bus pass.
The next hour was not very pleasant. I thought he should go take a brisk walk around the neighbourhood to cool off after receiving the disappointing news that he would not be allowed to go anywhere on the bus next weekend, though he would be allowed to visit friends who live in my neighbourhood. Connor was not amenable to taking a time–out. It was really amazing how calm I felt, regardless of his ranting and raving. The book helped me understand his needs better, as well as where children his age are at in regards to their brain development. I painted a few pictures on my computer's Paint program and sang some songs that kept my spirit calm. They reminded me that God loves me and wants me to be treated respectfully, regardless of the disrespect that was being shown to me by that kid. But I thought to myself with resignation, "It looks like I have a lovely evening ahead of me."
He calmed down, though. I had not taken everything away from him. I had said that he could still play with friends next weekend, though they had to be within walking distance, and that he could have his bus pass back the following weekend. I had briefly explained that the curfew and checking in by phone is for his safety. He had not been home when expected, so it was up to him to get his own dinner. This was a reasonable consequence of being late.
When he started to wind down, which was much sooner than I expected, and he wanted me to read to him, I said that before I would do it, he had to make up for some bad words he had used. Ten lines per word, wherein he had to write out, "I use sound speech that cannot be condemned." He negotiated the discipline into simply saying the lines. John Gray talks about kids being free to negotiate, and this is something that I have been open to with Connor all along because he usually has very sound reasoning when he negotiates. He must do it differently when he deals with me than when he does it with Heather, because she said that it feels like she is trying to negotiate in a hostage situation when she deals with him. She sometimes has a way with words that paints very vivid pictures. In this case, I conceded to Connor because I don't assign lines or give out any other kind of consequence to punish him, but rather to program him with healthy ideas.
Some people object to the terms "programming" and "reprogramming", as it seems to imply to them that we are robots who can be programmed, but it is a fact that the brain is like a computer, and it is also a fact that people are programmed almost every minute of the day, one way or another. They are programmed to buy products through television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and billboards, and also programmed towards political agendas by the same means. They are programmed to embrace various types of moral values through the lyrics of songs and through novels. It is going on all the time, and some of the tapes in our heads need to be erased and overwritten with wholesome ideas that are geared towards healthier values, morals, and behaviours.
Anybody's interpersonal skills are improved by eliminating name–calling and profanity, as well as learning to say things in the right tone of voice. It is doing the kid a favour to implant healthy ideas in his head about how to talk to others. He is quite aware that this is what I attempt to do, for the purpose of helping him be successful in life, when I tell him he has to write lines to earn back his allowance, or to get me to do something for him when his behaviour has made me feel disinclined to do him favours. If I had said that the required sentence is, "I will use sound speech that cannot be condemned," it would imply that it was something he could put off to a future date, but that is not what I am aiming for. I want him to stop doing it now.
Connor repeated the lines, which I wrote out for him, and I kept track of each line as it was said by tallying it on the paper. He tried to make it clear to me, through looking at other things, that it bored him, but I insisted that he look at me when he said the lines, and told him that the whole point of the exercise was to teach respect. He did not get a tally mark unless he did it properly. As he said each line, he could see by my tallying that he was reaching closer and closer to the finish, which encouraged him. After that was done, I read to him while he continued to cook various things to eat.
I saw results right away. He accidentally dropped a slice of French Toast in a pan of water that was sitting in the sink, but he did not swear when it happened, which would be a normal reaction from a lot of people, particularly since the last of the eggs had been used up. He might use bad words elsewhere, but I don't want to hear them around me, and I have hopes that eventually it will sink in that he should not use them at all.
So, instead of the rest of the evening consisting of a lot of commotion because I had confiscated the bus pass, and informed him that I would be asking his mother to support this measure of discipline, we had a lovely evening reading one Norah McClintock's books.
A word of caution about Norah McClintock's books; some of them aren't very helpful, from a Christian perspective. I talked about them in my last newsletter about how useful they are, but Connor brought a couple of them home that are written with older teens in mind. Connor warned me that he thought they were for older kids, but he figured that I could just skip the bad words. Way too much work and too defiling to be alert for them; those books were chock full of profanity, and that included the characters frequently saying, in an irreverent manner, "Jesus Christ!" They also seem to approve of fornication; to skip those parts when reading aloud would make some aspects of the story confusing.
I understand that a lot of teens swear a lot, but putting so many swear words in a story for teens probably encourages them to swear all the more. I guess Norah figures that putting swear words in her characters' mouths and having some of them engage in sexual activity helps kids identify with the characters, and she doesn't mind kids swearing or fornicating, as long as they catch on to the ideas in the books about being law–abiding and not flushing their lives down the toilet, but profanity and blasphemy are verbal abuse. It shows disrespect to others. If people can be encouraged to not practice even small abuses, such as verbal abuse, they might not ever get to the really big stuff that disrespects people, such as beating them up physically or stealing from them.
There have been a lot of ups and downs this month in dealing with my grandson, but when I got hold of that John Gray book and learned that I had been making more mistakes than what I was aware of, I felt really thankful to the Lord that Connor's behaviour got out of hand to the point where I was compelled to read several parenting books and came across this one. I feel so thankful to be corrected, because I want to be a blessing to children that I am involved with and help them learn wholesome life skills.
At first I thought, "Well, why didn't I read books like these years ago? I could have spared my kids some pain, and what I am learning from these books probably would have helped my marriage, too." When I reflect back, though, I can see that I just wasn't ready. Besides the mistakes made in my upbringing blinding me to seeing my need for more education about parenting, and making me resistant to taking advice, I was a ditz simply because I was young. Becoming more teachable is a mark of maturing.
Maturing does not always come naturally with age. Some people just get more stuck in the conviction that they know it all, and nobody can tell them anything. But why, oh why, do so many of us not reach this state of teachableness until after our kids are adults? I guess so that God can demonstrate that there is nothing that He cannot redeem, if we will turn our messes over to Him and let Him lead us out of them.
When I stopped being so hard on myself about mistakes that I made as a younger parent, realizing that because of the person I was in those days, and because these books I have been reading were not written until after my kids were grown up, so I could not have known better, I felt a lot more tolerant of mistakes I saw my daughter making. She read Connor the Riot Act about some things when she brought him to my place this weekend, and I knew that what she was doing was counterproductive to what she wanted from him, but I just figured, "Well, she doesn't know any better because she hasn't read that book, yet." Like me, she has to be ready for it, but I am not going to loan it to her until I have read it at least twice. I will probably read it more than that because I want the things in it that I agree with to become second nature to me.
When we are in the wine press, we can whine, or we can become wine. It is our choice how we choose to respond to life's pressures. I went through this once before with my kids, and my daughter used to demand that I apologize for mistakes I had made when she was a teen. I never would because I honestly could not think of how I could have done things better. Finally she conceded that I, at least, tried to do my best and said it counted for something with her.
I would still insist on a curfew, and chores, and that the kids go to school, and not use profanity, and I would still not have a TV because it is so defiling, or let them listen to horrid songs that foment rebellion, and they still would not be allowed to bring anything into my house that I consider "unclean". Smoking cigarettes, as long as they did their smoking outside rather than in the house, and the way they dressed, as long as their clothes did not have anything vulgar written on them or occult/death symbols, dyeing their hair and wearing ugly hair styles – stuff like that – were not big issues with me because I had to save my energy for more important issues. The rules would still be the same, but now I can see that there were better things I could have said, and better things I could have done, that would have helped my children feel more like cooperating. So I am making it official. Andrew and Heather, I am sorry. You poor kids. No wonder you guys got riled with me sometimes.
Copyright © 2011, Lanny Townsend
Page modified by Lanny Townsend on Febuary 7, 2011
Scripture references on this website are closely paraphrased from e–Sword's King James Bible.