Saturday, November 19, 2011

When to Speak Up

A couple of days before Reese Dixon's post, JoePa and the evil of apathy, I was at our church book group listening to the discussion of Richard Wright's Black Boy and the shock about the violence Wright witnessed, was a victim of, and participated in himself as a child. But then, a woman spoke up and said that it's not like in our times children aren't hurt and then went on to talk about times when she saw children kicked down an aisle or even smacked on the head in church in our ward. I was completely aghast and kept thinking, "Why didn't anyone say, 'Hey! It's not ok to do that!'" But I do know. Sadly, I do.

I've been thinking about the times I've witnessed violence and did nothing. I believe that I would absolutely get the cops involved and stop the rape of a child if I saw it. But I'm no angel, and I've looked the other way at times.

A lot of things constitute as violence. I absolutely love the book, Non-violent Communication because it has shown me how even a conversation can be toxic and violent. I need to memorize that book, I really do. And it's given me the courage, especially in online conversations in various fora, to say, "Hey, it wasn't right for you to say that." I'm not very good at it in person. And it's hard. Because violence is so varied. Personally, I think that some ways "time out" is instituted is violence. Spanking is violence. Yelling can be violence. Calling someone names is violence. Routine infant circumcision is violence. Road rage is violence. Bullying is violence.

But do I speak up? Not always. Should I? I don't know. Or I'm afraid. Mostly that last one.

I once was in a restaurant eating dinner with people and a mom in our party told her son to stand in the corner with his nose to the wall. In public. I felt this was violence: the public shame and embarrassment was cruel. I didn't say anything.

I once was at a house where a little boy about the age of 3 or 4 needed to change his clothes. As he was, his parents and another couple catcalled at him, "Take it off! Ow Ow!" because he was doing it in front of a little 3 year old girl (not his choice, just the circumstance). I didn't say anything.

I was at a playdate when a little boy had a hard time being soft with other people and so his mother spanked him. I didn't say anything.

I once let my parents yell at a sibling for something I had done. I didn't say anything.

When I walk around town, I sometimes hear people yelling at each other in the streets. I don't say anything.

More than once, when I was in school, including in college, I heard people bullying another person. I didn't always say anything. I only remember speaking up 3 times, each time was very difficult for me and I'm proud of that, but it's such a miniscule number to the many other times I let it go.

Most regrettably (and please, don't send me emails about how bad I am for this, the shame of my conscience eats me up every time I think about this), I once woke up while camping in Provo Canyon hearing a woman scream over and over. And I did nothing. It was faint and far away. And dark. And I was scared myself. But those excuses feel so pitiful to me. I think that's the one thing I truly regret in my life and I hope that if I ever hear something like that again, that I not go back to sleep.

So yeah. I really want to delete that paragraph, but that doesn't delete it from my life.

I want to say that from here on out, I will always speak up against violence that I witness. But I know I won't. I have noble friends who I'm sure would have spoken up against a mother spanking her child. My policy is that I will never do a play date at that woman's house and if spanking ever happens in my house, I tell the person that they have to do it outside off the property because my house is safe for everyone, even young people. Luckily I've never had to tell a parent that. But what do you do when you're not in your own home? And the person is someone you are going to see for the next many years over and over and you worry that saying something will burn bridges? What do you do if you hear something and a weapon might be involved? What if it's violent words and no one's physically being hurt?

I don't know. I could have been the spanking parent myself because, after all, that was what I knew. If I hadn't chosen an unassisted birth, I would never have heard about attachment parenting and started studying it. Well, I might have, but not as early. If I hadn't gone to my first LLL meeting, I might not have found the local-to-Provo AP playgroup to watch other moms parent. I learned so much from them and am very grateful for their examples. So when the spanking person could have been me... I don't know. Spanking feels mild when compared to sexual assault. But it's still violence. We need someone to show us how to be nice to each other, we really do. But stepping in and calling out an already violent situation is uncomfortable, painful.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I know I'm not perfect (see above). I don't know where the line is for stepping up and saying something. Or is there no line and I should call out all violence when I see it? How do you handle those situations?


  1. Occasionally spanked, still adore my parents10:38 PM

    I know you're against spanking, and yellingt, but I don't think that speaking up in those cases is appropriate. You may consider it violence, and I know many others agree with you, but it's a parenting choice that others make and are responsible for. How would you like it if someone told you how to discipline or gently correct your child? Or how to breastfeed? Those are choices that individuals get to make, that you may consider "violence" that are really none of your business. You can choose not to associate with those people, but I would be upset if someone told me how to parent my child, whom I loved, because they thought I was behaving in a violent manner.

    I think your sentiment in right, but the examples you gave don't seem like instances where you should have spoken up. Those are choices that people get to make and despite your distaste for them, it's not your place to call them out on it.

  2. I was spanked and am still on good terms with my parents as well. But spanking isn't a parenting choice in the way breastfeeding is. For one, breastfeeding doesn't involve physically accosting another person.

    I guess your comment made me more sure in my desire to speak up. In all the parenting cases- from the cat calls to the time out to the spanking, a simple, "Hey. That's not cool. They're just a kid," probably could have helped. It really isn't cool. If spanking is done to anyone else (excluding consenting adults, of course), it's considered sexual assault. But kids. They're just kids. Spanking is just not necessary.

  3. Wanted to pop in again and say that I know parents who spank are often trying their best with what they have. I would have too if I hadn't learned new ways to parent. I think speaking up and saying, "Hey, children can get to adulthood and be happy functioning adults without experiencing violence at the hands of the people who love them!" (in less words- mostly by example- of course) would actually be beneficial. I know we're doing our best with what we've been given and many of us (myself included) grew up with violence against children as ok and even right or "God-approved." It's hard to break those habits and thought patterns, but it's possible. We can end the cycles of violence and have a more peaceful world. I really do believe that.

  4. Can you write a post about how you discipline gently? (Or direct me to one you may have already written. Or a post well written by someone else, even). I sometimes spank. And I sometimes yell. And I know I can be violent in other ways. But I don't want to do those things. I often try to use other forms of discipline (but even time out isn't gentle enough). I have had successes with being patient. But mostly, I fail miserably! I keep trying and failing. And I need a way to get my husband on board for help. I want to know what other parents are doing when they are at the end of their rope, trying to help direct a child.

  5. Sure, Mallory. I'm not perfect by any means, either, but I try. I think I'll take this week to carry a notebook with me and write down as many instances that I discipline that I can think of and share what I did good at or not so good at. Can I have a week? :)

  6. Sure! In the meantime, maybe I'll go browse the forums! :D

  7. As one of those parents you are going to see over and over again through the years...yes it would bother me for you to tell me how to parent. And not that I do any of those things you mentioned except yell sometimes, but I also don't agree with the way you do everything and just because you think it is a big deal doesn't mean it is right or truth, it is just your perception. I try really hard to respect you and your way of parenting and I would expect the same. Some of the more extreme situations you mentioned are the exception but I don't think all of the things you consider to be extreme to be as such. And maybe you see things differently because we're family or not, but I would never put you out of my home for the way you choose to parent your own children, you will always be welcome with love because we are all just striving to do our best and to do what we think is right for our family and I believe I am entitled to revelation as to how to be a steward of my own family. I completely understand the fear you feel about standing up and I think we all experience that at times, but I also have to always consider that I don't know the whole story and see the whole picture so I really try hard not to judge others and just try to improve myself. I do read that as your main point of course, to try and improve yourself. I hope you understand my point of view as I don't mean to be critical but you did ask the question about the people you see over and over again and I thought I ought to speak to that!

  8. For those who wouldn't speak up about spanking- at what point do you speak up? I really do want to know where people think that line is.

    farleysmiles- I do yell at my kids sometimes and it's absolutely wrong for me to do. I would never defend it as something that is an acceptable choice. I'm feel like I'm pretty open to criticism- both McKay and Margaret tell me when I haven't been nice and I appreciate it their reminders. Also, I wasn't using every example in my post to be an extreme- it's definitely a spectrum post.

    I hope it doesn't sound like I'd "turn someone out." I don't let my kids hurt each other, and similarly, I don't want other people hurting each other in my home. I don't throw my children out when they hurt each other: I remind them to be soft and ask that they not do it again. I want my home to be a safe place for everyone.

  9. My sister-in-law spanked her then 3year old in my house and I wanted to tell her to pack her things and get the f*ck out. But I didn't.

    You know, mountain lions make a sound that is often described as sounding like a woman screaming. I hope this might be what you heard.

  10. The problem I see is this: If I see a child enduring something I believe to be harmful, regardless of what the child's parents think/feel, what kind of person am I to say nothing?

    My husband and I have discussed this at length, and even though his siblings spank their children, no spankings are allowed in our home, ever. Yes, this has the potential to hurt feelings if we have to ask someone not to do that in our home, but my responsibility is to God first, feelings second. So maybe the solution is actually not asking the person to leave, but offering a different discipline solution. "When we see this problem, we try this" and just DO it with the child. Or, if you have friends over that you know spank, maybe you can be more proactive about mitigating any potential disasters before they spill over into 'defiance' or whatever constitutes a spankable offence.

    Because, in the end, I will have to answer to my God. For now, I have to answer to my conscience. And neither is ok with me just looking the other way while someone is hurt.

  11. Thanks, mamapsalmist. This is why I love blogging- because I learn from you all. Every time I misspeak (mistype?) there's someone who is calm and nice that I can emulate. The "how" to bring it up is hard because we're human and these things take work! And things like spanking catch me so off guard that I don't know what to say and I get tense and I end up saying the wrong thing. But I do feel like something should be said. Yeah, I probably wouldn't be showing anyone the door immediately, but I couldn't be ok with myself if I let people get hurt in my home.

  12. I love, love, LOVE reading all these posts about gentle parenting!

    My personal preference is prevention. I try to prevent 'misbehavior.' If our cat is getting into something he shouldn't, I remove that item and give him something he can have (he can't eat rubberbands, but here's a cat toy instead.)

    I don't share this much, but I'm a teacher and I definitely use prevention as my main discipline in my classroom. I keep a box of shells for students to play with while they read because it's hard for some people to *just* read and not have their hands busy. Basically, I try to have my class set up so that I say "no" as rarely as possible. I don't say "Stop talking when I'm talking" but "It's my turn now and then it can be your turn." or "Your conversation must be really important if you're having it in the middle of our class, so I'll wait til you're finished."
    I don't have any classroom rules that are negative - my only rules are "Be neat, be kind and be safe." I don't like saying "no" unless it's necessary so I try to avoid that word.
    "Can I go to my locker?"
    "Yes, you can go to your locker when the bell rings."
    Thank you all for sharing parenting techniques! I agree, it is SO hard to speak up about things you think are wrong. I am lucky because in my profession I have counselors I can talk to immediately if I think something isn't right with a kid.

  13. Sometimes I see people checking out at the grocery store with a cart full of frozen dinners. They are killing their kids with that kind of food--literally. But should I speak up and tell them to take it all back and go buy fruits and vegetables instead?

    No, for a lot of reasons. I don't know what's going on in their life, maybe this isn't their "normal" maybe this is a temporary fix to mom having morning sickness or dad being in the hospital and not having anyone else around to prepare food for them. Maybe mom is really just feeling lazy and already is feeling guilty about buying the food because she knows it's no good. Or maybe she is uneducated and really doesn't know how bad that food is for her kids, or really is uneducated about preparing her own foods from fresh ingredients and lacks those skills.

    For any of those reasons shaming someone will not encourage them to change their behavior. Shaming people makes them want to dig in their heels and continue doing exactly what they were doing.

    Education encourages people to change, but only if they think its motivated by love for them, not just feelings of "my way is right". I really don't think loving correction can happen easily in public either --just like your story of the child in the restaurant being public humiliation. If you are humiliating a mother in front of her peers, you may succeed in stopping her from spanking her child in your home again, but that doesn't mean that your manner of dealing with her was right in that situation.

    How did you say you learned positive parenting skills? --by the good example of women you respected. I think that has the most potential for actual meaningful change in a persons life.

  14. I definitely agree that shaming is counterproductive. But is mentioning it at all going to always be considered shaming? Is there a way to be vocal without the guilt and shame? I really would like some opinions on that.

    I wonder if something like saying that spanking isn't allowed in my home is just always going to have some heated emotions with it. I've run into this on my blog in other things. I once said something on the lines that breastmilk is the ideal food for babies and someone got upset that using the word "ideal" would make people who use formula feel less-than. But I don't know how to say that in any other way. To say formula is just as good is not accurate. I feel like this sort of issue is similar: Yes, spanked children can grow up to be fine adults, but that doesn't mean that spanking isn't violent and that I don't want that around my family. (And before someone takes this too far and asks me if I wouldn't allow formula around my family, I say of course I would allow it. Feeding children is essential for survival. Spanking is not. All analogies break down. I wanted to point out that it's hard to talk about things without someone getting really upset and I don't know what to do about it or how to approach it).

  15. I response to "But is mentioning it at all going to always be considered shaming? Is there a way to be vocal without the guilt and shame? I really would like some opinions on that."

    I wonder what your opinions are on the other side of the fence? When people have approached you because they truly believe that you baring your chest in order to breastfeed is "wrong" in that setting-- how have you felt? Have you ever felt like like you could see that those comments were motivated by love, or a person trying to follow what is "right," (even though you still disagree with them) or are you instantly affronted by any such comment? Can you think of a way that someone could approach you over that issue that wouldn't be shaming or offensive to you?

    I think that could be a comparable situation to spanking--in both situations the observer feeling that the actions of the other are morally wrong. Is there a way to bring it up delicately? And if so is it therefore our duty to do so in any instance where we believe someone else is in the wrong?

  16. Jeanette- I'm thinking of the times when it was mentioned but I didn't feel affronted was when the person actually didn't want to mention anything but felt pressured by other people to say something and at that point it was a "Well, I'm saying this because I have to, not because I want to." So I don't know if that really fits the bill.

    I guess the difference I see with nursing openly is that no one is hurt by it. I don't think we need to step in every time we think someone is wrong as that's pretty hard (impossible) to determine, but I think it's important to step in when someone's being hurt. And it's hard because sometimes there isn't physical pain- like in sexual harassment. I'm thinking of times when I was sexually harassed at work and I really wish someone had stepped in because in the situation I was feeling so disempowered that I didn't know how to react. And I think of the little boy I mention in my post and wonder if I was wrong in not saying anything.

    If someone were to come to me and say that my breastfeeding openly is bringing up trauma or otherwise really hurting someone, I think I might say, "Ok. I'll try to be respectful, but please understand the needs of my children are very important to me and I'm going to nurse them when they need it and I promise I'm not trying to hurt you as I meet those needs."

  17. I wanted to comment earlier but my thoughts weren't together. I really like what Teacher Tom says to his class during clean up time. He doesn't say "YOU need to be cleaning up. Why aren't YOU cleaning up?" He makes statements: "It is cleanup time. Right now we are cleaning up." I think it is perfectly appropriate to say to a parent who is about to hit their child in your home: "There is no hitting in our home." You don't actually tell them to do anything, only stating your expectations for behavior in your home. If they take offense, again, it is YOUR home.

    As for when to speak up, as a foster parent I am what is called a "mandated reporter" and I am legally obligated to report anything that I consider abusive. Granted, I have been trained as to what our state considers abuse but I am never supposed to approach the person myself.

    This is what I would do if I were you: continue to be vocal about how you parent and what has worked for you on your blog, in conversation etc. In the end you can't or shouldn't tell anyone WHAT to do for themselves but you do give people food for thought.

    One last thing: When I was planning for a homebirth my mother-in-law and mother were both against it. For my mother, meeting my midwife calmed her fears and for my MIL watching "The Business of Being Born" has turned her into a fierce home birth advocate. It doesn't matter that I gave both women the same assurances and information, it was how the information was presented to them, in a non-emotional, third person, educational kind of way, that helped. I don't believe this is guaranteed to work for everyone but it is worth a shot.

  18. I feel that the problem goes a lot deeper than the actual violence. The problem is the anger.

    It is never ok to direct our anger at our children. I can tell from your post that you feel similarly, since you categorize many non-physical acts as violence. I agree; they are. Anytime we direct our negative emotions at another person, it is violent. And children, the most innocent of us all, certainly do not ever merit that violence.

    That said, we all get angry. We all make poor choices and then lash out at those around us, even those we love the most. We can express that anger in different ways but I really believe that there is no "good" way to express our anger. Especially not to our innocent children. But I've done it and so have you.

    This makes me so grateful for the mercy of our Father who has provided a plan in which all things can be made right again. No wounds are too hard for him to heal. And it makes me so grateful for the resiliency and the forgiveness of my children, who are ready to love me again as soon as I ask it.

    I'm not sure how these ideas translate into a plan for action but I do know that they make me feel compassion for victims AND for persecutors. If that compassion invites me to speak up, then I hope I will follow it.

  19. Oh heavens, this is interesting for me. I grew up in Israel, and there, yelling and hitting, etc is pretty normal- I never even thought twice about seeing people in the streets (on my way to school) yelling at each other or their kids. And there was forgiveness afterward, hugs and love. Here, if a mom yanks her child away from a fast-moving car in a grocery store parking lot, the police are called, and abuse charges are filed. I've also gone over to comfort several weeping friends whose neighbors have called social services on them for things like a lock on the front door (her 5 year old loves to run out at 5 am), a child not eating dinner (refused to eat veggies, NOT starving), and "We heard them abusing their children and loud noises" (a superbowl party- the children weren't even home!). Do you think this society has gone a bit far? And I agree with you on gentle parenting- I like to treat my children with respect. I have all boys, and none of them have been circumcised. Oh the irony for a mom raised in Israel. :)

  20. I speak up (have spoken up) when it's in the presence of my children, because I don't want my children to be subjected to that and think that it is okay. I word it this way, "Please do not (blank) when my children are around. We've told them that hitting/name calling/yelling at people to get them to do what they want/whatever isn't okay." There's one mama and I who meet at parks now because she has so many rules at her house and she snaps at the kids, including mine. We enjoy each other's company and our children get along very well, but they started hating going to her house. I didn't want to tell her how to parent, though, so I said it might be less stressful if we met outside since my children have different rules and it's hard for them to remember hers. It's important to me that my children be the comfortable ones.

  21. On a separate note, I find it both amusing and irritating that commenters are actually comparing breastfeeding to spanking. If my husband hit me that would be completely different from him handing me something to eat. They're not even kind of the same thing.


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