Friday, April 22, 2005

James Dobson and zen parenting

In my 5 questions to Razorskiss, answered here, I asked about question:

One of the big divides between moderates and progressives and those who send money to Focus on the Family involves spanking children. What’s your thoughts on spanking, and if you never had to spank your kids, would you still do so (assuming the answer is that you follow biblical advice on spanking)?

Here is his response:

I think that children, when they willfully disobey (ie: defiantly flout what I tell them to do) deserve, and should receive, a spanking. Spanking should never be done in anger, should match the level of the offense, and should be done in a manner which corrects, and turns toward right behavior - not just as a punishment.

If a child never merited a spanking - they would most likely be the second child in the history of the world to ever accomplish such a feat.

I have two children, and I am the oldest of 6. I have been around, and in the midst of children my entire life. I have never, not even once, seen a child who did not merit a spanking at least once in my interaction with them, for willfully disobeying what someone told them to do, and was in their own best interest.

What Focus on the Family has to do with it, I don’t know. I do know Dr. Dobson has been teaching about parenting since before I was born. I was raised with a lot of help from him, so my parents say. I don’t think I turned out too bad.

You just like picking on ‘ol James, don’t you?

I noted in my comment on his blog that

I have never had to spank my kid. Never. And he’s strong willed as they come. But I do have to get him to a calm place now and again, and once there, his strong will can be directed toward something better.
And I have a problem with Dobson because I think that teaching kids to value physical force over wisdom (the subtext of a spanking) increases ignorance."

I also mentioned that this deserved a post in itself. It does and hopefully this will help... Read more!

To expand a bit further, (and why I have a problem with Dobson) this bit from the Berkeley Zen center's a good starting point:

n Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Suzuki Roshi says you should give your cow a wide open field to roam in. If you want to control your cow or horse, you should give him or her a wide field, and not try to control, but just watch. If you ignore your horse or your cow, that's not right. You should watch and observe when the right time is to help or to do something. But if you try to control, or always try to manipulate, then that won't work. So give your cow a wide field. That's true. But if you stick to that, it's not true. The other side is that sometimes you have to put your cow in the corral. Sometimes you have to put your cow in the barn. If you want to get milk from the cow you have to put it in the barn. If you want to train the horse, you have to put him in the corral. So there are different ways. Sometimes you have to put your student in the barn or the corral, sometimes you give a wide field and just watch. Both are necessary. So our practice is sometimes very tight, in a corral-sometimes very loose, out in the field, just wandering looking for grass to chew. Under restriction our activity is very concentrated and we have the opportunity to see our self completely in the mirror of no place else to go. Due to our restricted activity we can find our true freedom. Then we can express it in the field. Knowing how to commune with the pillar-that's our practice either way. Whether we're in a tight situation or in a big field, how the old Buddha communes with the pillar is our practice.

I am convinced that any parent who does not realize that his child teaches him , and not just the other way around is not a very mindful parent. Your child teaches you many things, among them, that you're being a jerk sometimes.

James Dobson says:

Healthy parenting can be boiled down to those two essential ingredients: love and control. They must operate in a system of checks and balances. Any concentration on love to the exclusion of control usually breeds disrespect and contempt. Conversely, an authoritarian and oppressive home atmosphere is deeply resented by the child who feels unloved or even hated. The objective for the toddler years is to strike a balance between mercy and justice, affection and authority, love and control.

Now theres several problems with this that immediately jump out:

  • It's a false dichotomy; love is itself a disciplined practice. James Dobson, in describing "healthy parenting" this way is actually not teaching what love and child rearing actually is. Think about it: this "love" of Dobson's is conditional love. Want screwed up kids? Teach 'em they're not inherently lovable. Thanks Dobson.

  • The toddler doesn't know squat about abstract things like mercy, justice, authority and control. And why should he? The "objective" in the toddler years is rather to make sure the kid learns, is healthy, is loved, and that some behaviors are harmful and unskillful, and some behaviors are skillful. And the best way we teach that is by being healthy and skillful ourselves.

The Montessori folks do it, and I've done it before I knew they did it: the way to deal with a strong-willed, forceful child is to channel that force away from harm and to accelerate it towards the healthy and skillful. It's the same principle as ju jistsu or aikido.

And you know what? It friggin' works!

There are times when I'm not as skillful as at other times; and sometimes I have to give my son a time-out to calm down. But he's never merrited a spanking- and I don't think even James Dobson did as a kid.

And look how he turned out...

No comments: