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.