Then Came The Internet…

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“Love Perspective” is an original column appearing every other Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Serenity. Serenity is the mother of 4 boys and both a recovering mainstream parent and statist. She seeks to share what she has learned along her journey to voluntaryism, radical unschooling, and living a counter-culture lifestyle. Archived columns can be found here. LP-only RSS feed available here.

When my first son was born in 1994, I remember the very moment I saw his face, with his huge eyes looking up at me. I literally felt something inside me shift; I’m sure it was all psychological, but it felt physical. Looking into those sweet eyes, I became a new person, someone utterly transformed by love like I had never before known or imagined. My world tilted on its axis, and everything changed.

While meeting my son was life altering in many positive ways, I was also overwhelmed with absolute terror as the enormity of what had happened set in quickly. I understood that I could barely take care of myself, and now I had to not only take care of myself, but also this amazingly beautiful, small, helpless, fully dependent child whom I loved beyond measure. I wanted his life to be everything mine wasn’t. I wanted his childhood and beyond to be amazing. I wanted him to someday see himself the way I saw him – an incredible human being having unlimited potential with endless possibilities, being inherently worthy of all goodness, and undoubtedly loved without restriction.

So began a journey, a mission, a determination to fulfill my promise to my son, which was, “I will never do to you what was done to me.” But I quickly realized that not doing what was done to me left a void – I could choose to not hit or yell, but what should I do instead? My programming, my knee-jerk reactions, my life’s messages were deeply ingrained, and they were almost overwhelmingly negative. Nobody had demonstrated unconditional love and acceptance to me, so I didn’t know what that looked like. I didn’t have anything on which to model my lofty goals because I hadn’t done anywhere near the work necessary to overcome what had been done to me. I was, for all intents and purposes, still a hurt child who was now challenging herself to raise a child who would not carry that legacy.

Realizing I didn’t know what to do was the first step, so I turned to books. Unfortunately, the books I found reinforced mainstream society’s ideals on parenting, and I felt a great deal of disconnect from what I was reading and what I instinctively wanted to do (co-sleeping, long-term nursing, not allowing my son to cry himself to sleep). What I was not getting and could not find was support for what my maternal instincts were telling me to do in caring for my child. So I buckled. I caved into the pressure. I accepted that my instincts were broken and the advice of my pediatrician, mother, and mother-in-law must be better than anything I knew. What a colossal mistake. I bought the mainstream way of parenting hook, line, and sinker, and my son was the one who suffered the most because of it.

With the advent of the Internet came a plethora of information on everything imaginable (and many things I do not want to imagine!). Unfortunately, after so many years of society telling me I could magically transform my child’s behavior by counting to 3 before issuing a punitive consequence and religious leaders & well-meaning friends telling me I should “calmly & lovingly” hit my children to force their compliance, I spent my first few years online belittling people who advocated gentle parenting (non-spanking) practices. After all, *I* was spanked and was not a serial killer; thus I believed I was fine. Besides, how else was a parent supposed to get compliance of wayward children? How else could they convey the seriousness of the message and communicate, “I’m in charge”? Who were these hippy dippy people who had obviously either spawned the most compliant children on the planet or who were so high on illegal substances that they didn’t have brain cells left to care about how their children were acting?! Who were these awful people who were going to raise a generation of spoiled rotten, misbehaving, miserable children?!

Well, I’ll tell you who they were. They were people who had learned how to parent without resorting to physical force. They were not drug addled morons with minds so open their brains had fallen out. They were people who had tapped into a deep compassion and found ways to work in harmony with their children through creating homes full of love and respect. Their mission was not one of compliance; it was about mutual respect. And there was no need for them to resort to physical consequences when the goal was no longer about compliance and blind obedience. These parents had learned a plethora of ways to work with even the most stubborn, strong-willed, strong-minded of children without using force or physical punishment. When you change the goal, you change the way you see everything. When you put relationship above compliance, amazing things start to happen.

(For those who believe hitting a child is biblically necessary, please consider digging deeper and doing more research on the original words and intent of the passages in the bible which are being falsely used to encourage this type of parenting.)

Do you remember the first time you saw your child’s face? Can you imagine doing anything but loving that child and treating them like the precious blessing they are? Keep that in mind. When you say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you,” know that there are ways to parent without anyone being hurt.

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Perspective

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“Love Perspective” is an original column appearing every other Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Serenity. Serenity is the mother of 4 boys and both a recovering mainstream parent and statist. She seeks to share what she has learned along her journey to voluntaryism, radical unschooling, and living a counter-culture lifestyle. Archived columns can be found here. LP-only RSS feed available here.

The most remarkable tool humans possess is the power of perspective. Also known as point of view or perception, the ability to visualize life from varying angles is an amazing asset. When we recognize this truth and learn to consciously evaluate our own perspective, we can literally decrease our stress, which improves our health, and work toward healing or creating positive, loving, life-affirming relationships with others. As the expression goes, “There is no reality – only perception.”

From the moment we are born, our minds begin to form perceptions. These perceptions are the basis of our perceived reality. If our families were loving, nurturing, and kind to us, we learned the world was a good place, and that we were good people who deserved to be treated with love and kindness. However, if we were treated with disrespect, cruelty, indifference, or inconsistent affection which we had to work to earn, we came away believing we deserved to be treated that way. Every single thought and idea you have ever had has been filtered through your perceptions, and that is the foundation for your belief system. Your beliefs have shaped your life, your own personal reality. You have most likely surrounded yourself with people who have similar filtering processes and who can relate to you based on their life’s experiences.

Let me give you an example of how the power of perspective has played out in my own life as a parent. A few years ago, I filmed a clip of my youngest son doing his “Firefighter Guy Dance” followed by “The Scooby Doo Dance.” I lied to him by saying I’d put the camera away if he danced for me. I encouraged him to perform like a trained monkey when it’s clear he has other things he’d rather be doing. I muttered, “I see prom night in your future.” I then edited the short video to add credits and finished with, “Future shame and humiliation brought to you by…” and, “Show this to your therapist.” Sandwiched between those were the words, “I love you, son!”

Today, I look back on that video and feel my own shame and humiliation. I cannot see how it was loving to my child. It’s not that the video has changed, but my perspective sure has! My perspective at that point in time was with the mindset that it would be hilarious to break out a video of my toddler to show his future female friends how awesomely cute and funny he was when he was little despite how it would make him feel (ashamed and humiliated). That is the mainstream perspective I have since left behind.

If I could climb into a time machine and go back to that day, it would be a vastly different video. I would start by asking if I could record him doing his awesome dance. If he declined or showed no interest, I would stop right there and respect his wishes. However, if he chose to perform it, I would not lie to manipulate him into continuing, nor would I be plotting to use the video against him 14 years down the road.

Someone once told me, “There are three sides to every story – yours, theirs, and the truth.” I believe it was attributed to Dr. Phil, though I cannot verify that. While that struck me as fairly profound at the time, I now know it’s still not quite covering the whole spectrum of reality. You do have your side to any given situation, but as a thinking being, you are also able to expand your mind to imagine a variety of different ways you could perceive that situation. Looking back on the video of my son, I can choose to continue seeing this is a negative moment in my life as a mother – one where I disrespected my son’s autonomy, where I gleefully planned to shame and humiliate him, where I found humor in knowing he would dislike what I had captured – or, I can choose to say, “Wow, I have really come a long way! I am so grateful that I have continued learning more about being a gentle parent who truly operates from a place of love and grace.” My own perspective can go a hundred different ways, but the fact is that I am in total control of it, just as you are in control of your own. We can choose to believe the worst of any situation, or we can choose to find a silver lining. We can choose to beat ourselves up with words which reinforce that we are worthless or stupid or an idiot, or we can choose to be loving and gracious with ourselves by remembering we are just human, and everyone makes mistakes.

The power is yours. Use it well.

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Crime and Punishment

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“Love Perspective” is an original column appearing every other Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Serenity. Serenity is the mother of 4 boys and both a recovering mainstream parent and statist. She seeks to share what she has learned along her journey to voluntaryism, radical unschooling, and living a counter-culture lifestyle. Archived columns can be found here. LP-only RSS feed available here.

In mainstream society, we tend to see the actions of others as the result of their conscious choices and decisions. We seem to believe every action and behavior is the result of a well-conceived idea, a thoroughly rehearsed and planned course of action followed through to fruition. Thus, when someone acts in a way we perceive as wrong or bad, we quickly want to assign a punishment or consequence to “teach a lesson.”

Think about it – you read a story online about a man who has robbed a liquor store, and immediately you and the others commenting on the article are advocating punishments like, “Throw him in jail!” Or you hear about a woman who has badly abused her children, and suddenly “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” becomes the overriding mantra. I remember learning about Susan Smith murdering her two young sons and believing she should be forever locked in a prison cell with the cries of her children piped in to torment her for the rest of her life.

But when do we stop to ask ourselves, “What could have led to this?” Rarely do we try to understand the circumstances which were in place long before a crime happened. I could write a book on this as it applies to adults, but for now, I’d like to focus on how we tend to have this same knee-jerk condemnation in regard to the actions of children.

Let’s say your 2-year-old is caught red handed sneaking a cookie after you’ve clearly told him, “No, you may not have a cookie.” Mainstream thinking would tell you the 2 year old has blatantly defied your authority and chosen to do wrong. Therefore, the “correct” course of action is to enforce a consequence and punish him in order to “teach him a lesson.”  Let us examine that a bit more closely. Based on the assumption that a child is deliberately making a “wrong” choice, we make his life miserable as a consequence. When we really evaluate it, the logic sounds a bit like this:

If I punish my child for what he’s done, the goal is to ensure that the next time he’s “plotting to defy me,” he will pause to have an internal dialogue of something like, “Gosh, last time mom told me, ‘No,’ and I did it anyway, I was put on time out for 2 minutes [or put in the corner, spanked, yelled at, jerked by the arm and led away, held by the face as my parent yelled at me, lost my trip to the park, had my favorite toy taken away, etc, etc.]. Perhaps I should reflect on what I want to do and seriously reconsider my actions in order to avoid consequences. After all, I can trust when my mother says, ‘No,’ she means business.”

Writing that makes me feel silly! And if we substitute in 4-year-old or 8-year-old or even 12-year-old, I still struggle to accept that the predominant groupthink in our society actually believes this is what will happen when we have strongly enforced rules and issued consequences and punishments!

Children are 1) not actively plotting ways to defy you, 2) not thinking through their actions to any type of logical conclusion. The only way the above actions would deter them is by scaring the crap out of them until they are afraid to do anything. You have inhibited their natural curiosity, you have planted seeds of distrust, you have shown by your actions that you are not to be trusted because sometimes you’re all lovey-dovey and other times you are an angry person who is very scary.

I am not saying there should never be accountability, but that’s very different than arbitrarily assigning punishments. There are many, many better ways to encourage positive behavior choices, but the best is by allowing children to seek to do good by intrinsic motivation.

First, a brain which is afraid is not a brain which is open to learning. A scared mind is a mind which has closed off cognitive function and is operating from a primal place of fight, flight, or freeze. Executive function ceases when fear is heightened.

Second, children learn by exploring. In exploring, sometimes they make choices which appear to defy us. However, when we’ve accepted that these things are natural and par for the course in their growth and development, we can view these choices as a learning moments rather than reacting as if we have been personally betrayed by their “defiance.” If you stop seeing it as defiance and start viewing it as raising a happy, healthy, normal human being driven by curiosity and a desire to explore, you can gain perspective without resorting to knee-jerk assumptions.

Third, focus on the positives! Your child managed to think through getting a chair from the dining room, sliding it to the kitchen counter, climbing up, and opening the cookie jar?! Wow! That’s awesome! In my house, that would be a well-earned cookie. But that’s not what you want to know, is it? No, you want to know how to make him stop doing it. To that, I suggest you realize he is going to want to do it and offer a variety of interesting alternatives. Can you replace crappy cookies with healthy treats? Can you help him learn how to safely climb if you’re worried about him falling? Can you put the treat jar down lower and put healthy treats in it so the temptation is gone? You’re smart – I bet you can come up with a dozen different ways you can curb the undesirable behavior!

Finally, anticipate that need. If you are tuned in to your kid, you will know when he is hungry, thirsty, tired, overwhelmed, etc. Children whose needs are met consistently do not need to act out in angry or defiant ways. It is your job to not just ensure the child stays alive, but to actually be a caretaker – provide what is needed, and do it with loving, compassionate, gracious kindness. Be caring.

The thing about parenting is that few parents actually spend time learning what is normal for children. Our society tends to think children should have a fully developed cognitive skill set far and above that of most adults. Be realistic about who they are and what they are capable of. Be compassionate about the struggles they are facing as small, powerless people in a big, scary world. Role model with your own behavior what you want them to do. Be amazed at the changes. There is no need to punish, especially when you realize the “crime” is often just part of how they are learning about their world and trying to get their needs met.

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Gentle Parenting

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“Love Perspective” is an original column appearing every other Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Serenity. Serenity is the mother of 4 boys and both a recovering mainstream parent and statist. She seeks to share what she has learned along her journey to voluntaryism, radical unschooling, and living a counter-culture lifestyle. Archived columns can be found here. LP-only RSS feed available here.

I read an article this morning by Dr. Laura Markham, and a quote near the beginning really struck a chord with me,

“Do you even have children?!!! Obviously not, or you would know this kind of parenting is impossible, and would raise criminals!”

I have been accused of not having children by faceless people on the internet who genuinely and truly disbelieve my assertion that children do not need to be hit or even punished in order to be loving, kind, empathetic, worthwhile people. And I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen meme pictures making the rounds which proclaim the problem with today’s spoiled rotten-ungrateful-worthless punk-lazy-video-game-addicted-children is that they have not been punished by a belt or wooden spoon or paddle or [insert weaponry of choice here]. For example:

Sadly, I once believed that, too. My first son was a super compliant child who was very fearful from an early age; it just seemed to be in his nature to be compliant. I still remember the first time I smacked his bare bottom, though. I was trying to get out the door for work and was, of course (due to my own poor time management), running late. I needed to change his diaper, and he was fighting me tooth and nail. By that stage, I’d worked out a way to sit spread-eagled on the floor and pin his hands down under my calves and his feet under my thighs to reduce the squirming and fighting which accompanied each diaper change. However, he managed to escape my restraints and stood to make a getaway. I pulled him back and without even thinking, raised my hand back and smacked his bare bottom. The shock on his face was a horrifying moment for me, and then he, of course, proceeded to cry from the stinging pain. I laid him back down and finished the diaper change with tears in my eyes as I noted the raised red whelp on his sweet little baby bottom. He was only 13 months old.

I wish I could say that was the last time I ever struck one of my children, but it wasn’t. It was the first time I ever understood, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” I really did believe physical punishment was the last resort when every other effort to control, manipulate, bribe, and coerce my children into compliance failed.

Son #2 is a strong-willed child with strong negotiation skills. I daresay his verbal maneuvers would give F. Lee Bailey a run for his money in any courtroom. He is not compliant – ever – unless he can see how it benefits him. My stepson, who is only 7 months younger, never learned his lesson on anything – what he did yesterday, he would repeat again tomorrow and beyond. Around age 2, the boys started getting routine time outs, nose in the corner, loss of toys, etc. When those didn’t work, we upped the ante to spankings. When one spanking didn’t work, we went to two. When two didn’t work, we went to three. When three didn’t work, we dropped his drawers and went bare bottom. When that didn’t work, we created a paddle very reminiscent of the ones my parents and teachers had had when I was a child.

Unfortunately, no amount of physical pain could deter my boys from “misbehaving.” No loss of field trips or visits to Grammy’s house or loss of toys changed their behavior. And that is what finally made me realize the futility. I had completely run out of ways to effectively parent them, primarily because the only way I knew to parent them was the way I had been parented; the way my teachers and elders had treated children, and the way mainstream society encouraged. All I knew was making them suffer for every mistake, for making them hurt for every wrong choice with the hope that they would somehow stop and think the next time they were making a “bad” decision.

I’m now working double overtime trying to correct those years. As the expression goes, “When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” I’ve finally added more tools to my parenting toolbox, and I can now view “problems” in a different light. I am also reaping the fruit of those years as I have an appointment next week to discuss son #2’s probation on two different episodes where he acted violently toward others.

I was fortunate enough to get another chance to parent in a different way with the birth of son #4. This child has never been spanked. He is the most considerate, loving, gracious child I have ever known – and I know it has to do with those traits being what we have shown him. He is unconditionally loved and respected. He is full of compassion and has amazing humor and confidence.

So before you say, “I was whipped as a kid, and I made sure I never did that again!” think long and hard about it. You were hit and put into a state of terror and fear by those you loved and trusted most in this world. You were only behaving out of fear of repercussions, not because you knew a bad choice could cause someone pain or suffering. Imagine if you had been treated with real respect – respect earned by being shown respect. Imagine if you knew your parents would never strike you or allow anyone else to because they would talk with you like an intelligent being and help you work through your challenges and strong emotions.

I’m living proof that change is possible. It is not easy, and it does not happen overnight. But it is possible, and it is one of the most worthwhile causes I have ever undertaken. You can leave a better legacy for future generations by doing better today.

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Let’s Talk Bullying

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“Love Perspective” is an original column appearing every other Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Serenity. Serenity is the mother of 4 boys and both a recovering mainstream parent and statist. She seeks to share what she has learned along her journey to voluntaryism, radical unschooling, and living a counter-culture lifestyle. Archived columns can be found here. LP-only RSS feed available here.

For most children across the United States, school recently started back up, and with it come the slogans and campaigns to “stomp out bullying,” and a dozen different ways to say, “Bullying is NEVER okay!” Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? If we put up posters and repeat slogans and create songs and chants, children will surely learn that hurting other people by hitting or name calling or teasing or ignoring is not acceptable behavior in our society. Or will it?

Children will act out what they see those around them doing. Their behaviors in our culture are learned. They learn by watching and then implementing what they’ve seen. So what are we showing our children? I spent a bit of time in a local middle school a year or so ago, and I will tell you what I saw. I saw a 13 year old girl pushed up against the wall by an irate administrator. I saw that adult stand over that child, wave her finger in the girl’s face while lecturing her on how wrong her behavior had been, and when the child attempted to speak in her own defense, I heard the adult woman raise her voice to shut it down by saying, “I am not through speaking!” A week later, as I walked toward the nurse’s office, I saw a teacher standing beside a young man between the ages of 11 and 13. The child’s shoulders were slumped, his head was hanging down, and the teacher was standing over him as she lectured him. He didn’t even try to speak on his own behalf, so downtrodden was that poor boy.

Do you think these are isolated, random cases? My life experience tells me they are not. As a culture (remember, I used to treat children that way, too, since I was treated like that when I was growing up), we are taught that adults are the authority and adults hold the power to which children must comply – or else. Adults are not to be questioned or challenged. Adults are only to be deferred to and “respected” (meaning children should fear adults – and authority – solely based upon the adult person’s age and status as an adult).

So let’s examine “bullying”. The dictionary defines bullying as, “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” (Emphasis added.) Based on that definition, I’d like you to contemplate where young children could have possibly learned such behavior. Do you think they got it from their friends, saw it on TV, or heard it in their favorite music? Or could it possibly be something they have been witnessing since birth inside their culture? I believe it’s the latter. Any given day, you can see bullying happening around you. Don’t believe me? Go to the store and watch an angry mother grab her toddler by the arm as she fiercely says, “I told you to stop running!” and then forces the screaming child into the shopping cart to be buckled against her will. Go to the park and see a dad yelling at his children, “I said we are leaving now, so get in the car, or so help me, you will be sorry!” Go to church and watch a parent slap a child on the back of the head while sternly shushing and admonishing them to pay attention. The scenario plays out endlessly, and it always has the same message: I am bigger and stronger than you, and you will comply with my demands or suffer a consequence of my own making.

When this is an everyday occurrence in our society, why do people act so shocked and disgusted when one child says to another, “Do what I want or else?” They learned it from us.

Most people agree to this statement, “Children need discipline.” And I agree, too! But discipline does not mean using your will to coerce and force another being against their will, because that is bullying! Discipline means to disciple, to lead, to guide by example, to gently instruct, to help.

If you are against bullying and want to see it stop, I recommend you start by carefully examining your own interactions with the children in your life. If you are against children bullying each other, then please help stop it by role modeling that bullying truly is never okay. Disciple them and lead by example. If you would be respected, respect them first.

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To Embrace the Positive, it’s Helpful to Know the Negative

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“Love Perspective” is an original column appearing every other Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Serenity. Serenity is the mother of 4 boys and both a recovering mainstream parent and statist. She seeks to share what she has learned along her journey to voluntaryism, radical unschooling, and living a counter-culture lifestyle. Archived columns can be found here. LP-only RSS feed available here.

Hello! My name is Serenity, and I am a recovering mainstreamer in every sense of the word. My journey into a counter-culture belief system led me to realize and embrace many things which, only a few years ago, I would have completely scoffed at and ridiculed. I hope you are here to learn, and to genuinely question concepts you may find ridiculous or unlikely on the surface but which I promise are worth exploring further.

The two most important truths I’ve found on my journey are that every single action (and reaction) you and I make is rooted in either love or fear. Think on that for a moment. Every single feeling you have is coming from either a place of fear or a place of love. Whether you are feeling jealous (fear of losing someone/something about which you care), content (love), sad (fear of change, fear of loss), angry (fear of not being in control), it can all be traced back to either love or fear. This enlightenment was gleaned from a book written by Bryan Post, an amazing man who is doing a lot to help families raising children with attachment issues. While there are many other books I love and which helped my journey, Bryan’s insight was a game changer for me. Once I understood that love and fear were at the root of everything we think, feel, say, and do, I realized the overwhelming majority of our society (myself included) truly believes they are doing good even though they are functioning from a place of overwhelming fear.

One of the ways we see fear-thinking is in our political climate – left vs. right, us vs. them, right vs. wrong. This is not a problem isolated to the United States, either. When a person votes based on the hope of their shared beliefs with a politician prevailing in the political arena, they are saying A) I fear others will not make good choices unless they are controlled with “righteous” laws with which I agree, and B) it is okay to violate another’s freedom as long as they are compelled to do what I firmly “know” (believe) is right.

In parenting, fear-based thinking is also very clear. Without knowing it, many parents are relying on fear-based techniques while firmly believing they are acting out of love. What do I mean? I mean having rules for your children which are “for their own good” and can following that sentiment with, “If I don’t have this rule, they will grow up to be {insert fear here: delinquent, drug addicted, unhappy, overweight, a criminal, thoughtless, unable to work with others, unable to read/write/spell/think, dead, etc.}.” If that is how you are parenting, you are engaging in fear-based parenting rather than coming from a place of love.

So, now that I’ve introduced you to fear-based perspective, I hope you’ll realize I have not only been there, but I fight against it every day, as it was deeply ingrained in my psyche. I will write about topics when seen from the love perspective. I will write about changing paradigms and shifting focus from fear-based thinking to love-based thinking. I will write about seeing things in a way which you may never have considered or even realized might exist. I hope to bend your mind a bit, I hope to push you (lovingly) from your comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory where you will find great happiness and joy.

Love,
Serenity

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