The longer I parent, the more I see punishment as complete bullshit. Punishing kids by taking things away or grounding them or whatever other retributive thing you can come up with in the moment of rage or shock or heartbreak is pointless. It resolves nothing. Offers no justice. Teaches no lesson. Well, except one.
Q: What does punishment teach kids?
A: Not to get caught.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend a Quaker Parenting class taught by Harriet Heath. Harriet asked each parent to write a list of the top 10 qualities that we wanted our adult children to have.
I have misplaced the original list but I'm pretty sure it was similar to this list (in no particular order):
This list was a tool to help us realize that the values we instilled in our children were more important than the individual behaviors or situations. She encouraged us to look at that list as our guide about how to discipline and nurture our children. We should look at each situation in light of these values/qualities.
What is the larger lesson here? Am I seeking to punish or guide? How will this interaction lead to an adult child with these qualities? Is this even important to my child's growth? Can I let this go?
I had forgotten all about this framework until recently. I bought a copy of Harriet's book and am re-reading it in hopes of finding my center again. My children have struggled at school over the last couple of years and I could have used some of this centering to help decide what actions to take and how to speak to them about their behaviors.
The main point of Quaker parenting (in my eyes, as a non-Quaker) is to see that of God in our children, to honor their Light. Our job isn't to break their will or make them submit to our authority. I certainly do not want to raise little Followers who do not question Authority and follow whatever orders they are given. Nope.
Making decisions from a center of personal values makes sense for everything in life. Where are we trying to go? What are the most important things? With just a moment of reflection, we can see the nonsense and petty annoyances fall away. And this gives us room for the big stuff. The stuff of a fulfilling and purposeful life. A happy life. Exactly the kind of life I want for my kids.