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Restorative parenting. No spoon or beef tongue please.

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 Liesbet Bickett, Coach, Consultant   Restorative Parenting Training

Liesbet Bickett, Coach, Consultant

Restorative Parenting Training

The wooden spoon loomed ominously over the kitchen sink, a constant reminder of what would happen if I acted out of line.  To my 4 year old eyes it was as big as a banjo and as menacing as the monster who lived under my bed on dark nights.  I hadn't ever felt its blow personally but I was assured by my brother and sisters of my mother's willingness to use it and its ability to turn bottoms red and sore. Their story was it had been passed down through the generations to remind children of the difference between right and wrong, and the consequence of wrong.  The spoon represents the punitive style of social discipline and while it may have had the had the desired affect of discouraging my undesirable behavior by tapping into my fear of something unwanted being done TO me, it didn't teach me why we had rules, how the rules contributed to our family, or how I could use my actions to be a valuable member of our family. Frankly, it didn't empowered me in anyway.  When I became a parent, I knew there had to be a better way to influence the behavior of my children, something empowering, something which would encourage personal responsibility and autonomy, while simultaneously teaching my children to respect and care for others.  Hello restorative parenting practices!

The social discipline window is used in restorative practices to illustrate four different models of social and behavior maintenance.  As you can see in the figure below, the restorative domain is characterized by both high control and high support.  In this approach acts are done WITH people rather than TO them or FOR them.  This is not how I was parented. 

 IIRP. (2015-2017). Retrieved from http://www.iirp.edu/what-we-do/what-is-restorative-practices/defining-restorative/13-social-discipline-window

IIRP. (2015-2017). Retrieved from http://www.iirp.edu/what-we-do/what-is-restorative-practices/defining-restorative/13-social-discipline-window

Which of these models most represents how you were parented?  Was one parent punitive and the other permissive?  My mother often threatened me, "wait until your father comes home", But really, she was the one who dealt the harsh punishments in my family.  I distinctly remember my father taking me into an empty room with the task of dealing a bottom whipping.  After closing the door he told me to cry out in pain, while he slapped his own thigh with the belt.  In the end, my parents approach to my behavior fell mostly in the neglect window with occasional punitive actions.  Although I lived in fear of the spoon, my siblings said I "got away with murder". I distinctly remember staring stubbornly at my dinner of beef tongue for hours on end, including the next morning, locked in a power struggle with my mom over who would win the "eat the beef tongue or starve" battle.  As the youngest, my mother was more tolerant, and less attentive to my behavior.  I never actually felt the spoon on my tender behind.  My siblings had.

At 7, my parents divorced, our home was sold, my siblings left, I was shuffled between friends and family well into my teenage years and my behavior went mostly unnoticed, unjudged and with few and unpredictable consequences.  Funnily enough, a part of me longed for that wooden spoon.  I may have felt fear when I looked at it, but at least I knew I was visible and my actions mattered on some level.  It took half a life time to grapple with whether I mattered to other people and how to get my needs met, maintain my personal power and maintain connection.  In both the punitive and the neglect approach to parenting we teach our children their voice won't be heard.  As a parent myself, I think I erred on the permissive side of parenting, not wanting use my power over my children, wanting them to have a voice, but not knowing how to use control in a constructive way.  

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How we discipline our children sends a message to them about who they are in the world, and how power works in our society.  It teaches them how to relate to others and get their needs met.   The punitive model teaches our children to use power over others.  It creates a world of haves and have-nots.  The message is, you can't get your needs met unless you are physically stronger, control the resources and/or are willing to use your power to manipulate others.  Although the punitive approach can be empowering, it is empowering by promoting power OVER others.  Often it fosters complacency, "I give up.  I'll never have agency in my life" or bullying, "I have to control others to get what I want."  The neglect model sends a message of hopelessness.  You are alone, with no voice, and no value to others, no power.  It also can promote complacency, "I give up.  The world will never see or care about me," or bullying, "No one cares so I have to take what I want".  The permissive approach teaches children to be completely dependent on others for their needs.  Since they haven't had to solve their own problems, they have no personal power.  As with the other two models, this can foster both complacency, "I'll wait until someone does it for me" and bullying, "if you love me you'll do it for me."  

 The restorative approach empowers children, telling them they matter by giving them a voice, giving them personal responsibility and having them experience the natural consequences of their actions.  In the restorative model, a child is encouraged to express their needs, hear the needs of others and work with others to get their own needs met as well as to care for the needs of others.  When undesirable behavior happens, a child is asked "What were you thinking?", "Who did it affect and how?" and "What do you think needs to happen to make this right?".  The child listens to the victims of their behavior and has to work with them to "make things right again."  In so doing, the child experiences themselves as a valuable member in the family, the affect of their actions on others and their own power to repair and heal with others.  Restorative parenting raises children who are not afraid to speak their truth and to listen to the truth of others.    

My parents didn't do anything wrong or right when they were parenting me.  They likely did the best they knew, probably as they had learned from their parents.  Maybe they didn't question methods passed down through the generations. Though as I remember my dad's tears, the one time he did spank me, it's obvious to me he longed for another way.  And as I moved into parenting myself, I did wish I had experience with a different way of parenting.  I refused to use a wooden spoon, and I struggled to find ways to support my children's autonomy while also creating a safe, solid, dependable structure to raise a child who learned to be take accountability their actions effects, to be aware of and care for others needs, to work within social norms for behavior, while holding onto their unique way of being. I have always known there was a better way than the spoon, and battles over beef tongue.  It took me years to find it and fully understand it. 

Your parenting approach does affect your child's view of themselves, of others and of the world they are living in. It shapes their future relationships, It shapes their self identity and it teaches them about structures of power.  Being aware of how you parent, and how the different approaches to parenting affect your family and your children, you can parent with clarity and purpose.  I urge you, to consider, what is your parenting default?  How does your parenting approach vary as your mood, your day, and your life varies?  Do you use different approaches to parenting depending on your child's sex, birth order or age?  If so, what does this teach your children about gender roles and hierarchy? How do you want your parenting to shape your relationship with your children?  What do you want to teach your children about power and control?  About how to repair harm?  About mistakes?  About getting needs met?  How do you want your parenting to effect the future of our society?    

With clear intention and conscious application of your parenting practices you are empowered, to shape, not only the future of your child, but the future of our world.  I urge you, seize your power as a parent.  Don't loard it over them or use it to control them.  Bring it to your children and use it WITH them to create a bright future for them, and for the society they will build in their future.   

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