Instructions on showing love to your children – really?

Because I’m a masochist, I listen to Christian radio from time to time.  A few days ago I heard the intro to a Focus on the Family episode discussing how to show your children you love them.

This is a question that has never occurred to me in nine years of parenting.  “How can I make sure my kids know I love them?” is a completely bizarre question to me.  I may be anxious and uncertain about a lot of things in life, but I have always had 100% confidence that my children know I love them, such that it’s been a background certainty like the sun coming up each morning.

Now that I stop and think about it, they know I love them because I have always taken care of their needs, had fun with them, read to them, cuddled them, and treated them as individual human beings deserving of respect. I tell my girls I love them at least once a day, without calculation of how much it will reinforce our bond or boost their self esteem, but because I love them so hard it just bubbles up out of me and must be expressed!

I suppose there are loving parents out there who would like some concrete guidance on communicating love.  Maybe some people are just more naturally reticent, or they didn’t have role models in their own parents for being affectionate.  I’m not saying this show was a bad thing.  It just surprised me at first!

But I couldn’t help thinking that Focus on the Family in particular has to puzzle over how to express love to children in part because it advocates beating them.  FotF’s website has an extremely detailed manual on spanking, which instructs parents to hit their children with a wooden spoon, while weirdly saying it’s not violent, but also that it must inflict pain.  Oh, and equating this process with showing love:

The Bible never implies that the rod of discipline should be violent.  . . . When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropri­ately sized paddle and flick your wrist.  . . . If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline, and ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child’s behavior.

This bizarre, contradictory approach is continued in their recommendations for the “discipline” surrounding the spanking, which calls for extreme authoritarian interrogation and demands for capitulation, but also holding and hugging the crying child and telling God how thankful you are for them, in an “intimate, touching moment.”  This is supposed to demonstrate that you deeply love your child while also being willing to discipline them, but to me it seems more likely to make a kid very wary and confused.  You can’t average out abuse and emotional manipulation and call it an expression of love. (Frankly, it reminds me of the cycle of domestic abuse, where violence is followed by extreme affection, and yet also blamed on the victim: “You made me hit you by doing X.”)

And yes, I have smacked my kids on the butt a few times, when I flew off the handle.  But you know what I did next?  I apologized and said it was wrong for me to do that, as you do when you mistreat a fellow human being.  I can’t help but think that’s a better approach to making sure your children feel loved.

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About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can reach me through my Facebook page.

Posted on December 4, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Well said! I am a Christian and even I want to vomit at the way many Christians believe the Bible says about children and discipline! I blame it on reading comprehension-or the lack thereof. And it’s not like we have to have an editorial degree of comprehension as shown in those memes that have jumbled letters inside each word, with the first and last letter remaining the same, and voila, you can read the entire sentence because our brains are just that awesome. I mean, not understanding that proverbs aren’t meant to be literal. The same verses from the Bible that people tout as literal reasoning to hit kids, aren’t literal at all. They’re as proverbs are meant to be…full of metaphors and hyperbole. There are many of us out there that *are* proficient in such comprehension 🙂 it’s a shame that so many are taught to forego their reading and writing education when reading their Bibles…

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