to spank or not to spank – part 2

Since writing to spank or not to spank – part 1, I’ve had the chance to delve deeper, think harder, do some research, get some facts, and engage in thoughtful discussions with my husband and friends who are also mindful about such matters. The more I read and discuss, the clearer I see, the firmer I stand on this issue for our family. One realization after another, I’m connecting the dots, trusting the flow of thoughts to a clearer state of mind. I’m committed to this thing called mindfulness.

The last time I swatted Mina’s bottom, it was over her diaper but I also accidentally slapped a part of her bare leg. As soon as I swatted, I knew immediately it hurt a little more this time, and she cried. This was the first time she cried from my slap. The few other times, she’d either smile or stand still for a second, say “gomenasai,” and go back to playing. This time was different. I knew instinctively that she was crying out of shock; she was scared and couldn’t make sense of what had just happened.

Even hours later, out of the blue, she’d start crying; not her usual tantrum or pretend cry, but a visceral cry, with an expression on her face I had never seen before, that I didn’t recognize. Mina wasn’t herself that night and it really bothered me. I was shaken inside and intuitively knew right then that I had made a huge mistake, that something had to change. I talked to my husband that night, and went to bed with a heavy conscience.

The next thing I knew, I was writing, to examine the emotional distress and make sense of the intense regret. Ideas from How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen sparked insights into our family culture, questioning my instincts and assumptions. And here I am, still thinking deeply about this.

I was spanked as a child (though I don’t remember much of my childhood). I grew up in a house where domestic violence was a norm. As a child, I had hostile tendencies; when I didn’t get my way, I used to bite, scratch (with nails, deep into the flesh), or throw things (even hard, breakable things), but I had never made the connection between my aggressive behavior as a child and the aggression and violence that surrounded me.

Our family history is not new to me; I’ve thought about, struggled with, reflected on, and questioned it for most of my teenage and adult life, but what’s new today is Mina, and how she is affected by the surfacing of such subconscious habits that are rooted in my family history I carry with me, at times unbeknownst to me.  I’m realizing that to recognize and control them will require constant mindfulness.

I’ve spanked Mina out of impulse, instinct, and tradition. Not anymore. I’m not going to let history repeat itself. I’ve worked too hard, fought too long to arrive at this place of mindful existence just to let history barge in whenever it pleases.

Everything I do, I say, I choose has an impact on Mina.

Everything Mina does, Mina says, Mina chooses is part of her developmental process and growth.

Every action and reaction, in effect, shift her developmental trajectory in varying degrees, directions, and dimensions.

“What do I want Mina to learn, to develop?  Do I ever want to stunt, or even risk stunting her development in any way, big or small? Do I want her to endure any negative developmental issues because of my habits?,” because studies have found that “physical punishment increases the risk of broad and enduring negative developmental outcomes.”1

When I ask myself these questions, after learning the scientific findings, spanking in our family ceases to be a question or a debate. No exceptions, no fine print. It’s simply unacceptable to me to gamble on Mina’s well-being with greater risks for aggression, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse, even if it’s merely an association. Also, “no study has found physical punishment to enhance development.”2  In other words, when we spank, we expose our children only to risks of negative developmental issues (no positives for consolation).

And finally, regularly spanked kids “may be more likely to engage in domestic violence and child abuse as adults.”3 Wait. Stop! That statement is referring to me; I’m the case in point. I’m more likely to engage in aggression because I grew up around aggression. No. Definitely no. I choose to break this vicious cycle of violence, and start a tradition of non-violence with our family, because I never want Mina to think aggression and violence are answers to conflicts, or anything for that matter.

When researching online, I came across comments like “I was spanked and I turned out fine” or “It worked for me” in support of spanking as a form of discipline. Then I read an insightful counter to such arguments that made real sense to me. “We’re constantly discovering new risks associated with the act of spanking — like increased anxiety and a number of other mental-health problems — which makes the ‘It worked for me’ argument outdated,” says Catherine Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of global community health and behavioral sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in New Orleans. She points out that in the past kids breathed their parents’ secondary cigarette smoke, rode in cars without seat belts, and lived in homes with lead-based paint. “Research has since shown these things to be unhealthy for children, and spanking is no different,” she says.” Here is the link to this balanced article in its entirety: “The Great Spanking Debate”  When we choose to spank despite all the scientific findings, I think we’re just being stubborn, selfish, indifferent, or lazy; in essence, we’re choosing the easy way out, and neglecting to put our children’s best interests first.

Articulating it this way, these words and ideas resonate deeply and clearly. I can no longer ‘wing it’ by completely relying on instincts because there’s too much at stake here, namely Mina’s well-being. I’ve come to realize that my instincts are not only innate but also shaped by culture, tradition, media, and other external stimuli that I may not be aware of. No assumptions; everything, every little thing deserves close examination to make conscious choices for what’s best for our family.

Ironically though, those same instincts picked up on the visceral pitch in her cry, and I knew in my gut that what I had done was not only regrettable but more importantly, irrevocable. My husband was the one who reminded me to recognize that I was able to intuit Mina’s visceral cry and pursue, not disregard or ignore, the nagging gut feeling to arrive here: a deeper understanding of myself and our family. “You need to give yourself credit,” he said. I know he’s right. I need to give myself credit, but it’s not always easy. Yes, I’m proud; don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud that I’ve swatted Mina, and I wish I could take it all back but I can’t, and I need to live with that and move on. Today, I’m proud of this conscious choice I’ve made for us as a family; an important step in consciously building a family culture that’s right for us, that we can be proud of.

I’ve learned and I’m learning that above all, I just need to be present, because everything I need to learn is here in this moment. Not in the past nor the future, but here in this very present moment. Thank you, Pema Chödrön, for these wise words: “This very moment is the perfect teacher.”

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summer garden, sweet harvest 2012

We love our garden (thanks to my husband who has a greener thumb than me but I’m learning!). We love most to share this beautiful garden and all its fruits with Mina. She’s our garden girl 🙂

to spank or not to spank – part 1

To be honest, I’ve spanked Mina on her hand or bottom on a few occasions (3 or 4 times to be exact), but after each slap, my conscience feels heavy with shame, for days. In those moments, I’m completely convinced that I’m a bad mother and I can do nothing to stop the tears of a failure. I feel guilt and disgust dig at the core of me. This needs to stop.

When I was back home in Tokyo a few months ago, my Mom lectured me on spanking as a necessary form of discipline to teach Mina what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not. That piece of advice lingers in the back of my mind. She’s raised 3 kids; maybe I need to respect that and listen to her. Her advice translates to a voice in me that questions my ability to discipline her otherwise: “If I don’t spank her, Mina will end up a spoiled brat.” I don’t really believe this; it’s just my insecurity feeding justifications. I can’t buy into them.

Impulse is another factor and I’m wondering if that impulse is rooted back to my own childhood, making spanking all the more familiar to me.

I’m realizing that spanking weighs too heavy on my conscience. It doesn’t sit well with me, at all. I don’t want to punish her anymore. There is a difference between punishment and discipline, and I don’t believe punishment to be a valid form of discipline.  If I’m against punishing a teenager, why would I even think to punish a toddler? It makes no sense!

I don’t want my style of discipline to evolve inadvertently simply out of fear, familiarity, impulse, or history repeating itself. I want to be conscious and consciously choose my way to be, in this case as a parent. I need to find another way to discipline, to communicate with Mina in a way that I can teach her to learn, not fear, and in a way that I can be proud of.

I want to consciously build a family culture and language that nurtures love, peace, respect, curiosity, responsibility, integrity, equality, mindfulness, because these are the virtues we value most. Writing this, having arrived at this intention has given me clarity. I have no space, no tolerance for punishment or violence in our family. Not even a slight slap on the hand. No exceptions, no fine print. This cycle of punishment stops now. I make this pledge to Mina, to my family.

I need to be realistic, though, and be kind to myself. Just like any change, especially behavioral, it won’t happen overnight; it will take time, patience, practice and perseverance. I’m pretty confident I’ll never spank Mina again, but I still need to unlearn my impulse to use a certain tone, raise my voice, or react a particular way, especially to superficial matters like messes and crumbs; and learn a constructive and compassionate way to teach and communicate with Mina that I can be proud of. I’m prepared to learn, to practice, to grow and change for the better. And even if I were to mess up with a slap or regress to old habits, I need to quiet the urge to judge or criticize, and be kind, forgive, and love myself. I’m only human and I’m learning to become a better one. I keep coming back to this quote by Pema Chödrön, “This very moment is the perfect teacher.” Indeed. All I can do is stay focused and pay attention to this very moment, my perfect teacher.

This insightful article triggered many thoughtful reflections on family, happiness, and life; a MUST-READ!! How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

A quote from page 3, Create a Culture: “Ultimately, people don’t even think about whether their way of doing things yields success. They embrace priorities and follow procedures by instinct and assumption rather than by explicit decision—which means that they’ve created a culture. Culture, in compelling and unspoken ways, dictates the proven, acceptable methods by which members of the group address recurrent problems. And culture defines the priority given to different types of problems. …In using this model to address the question, How can I be sure that my family becomes an enduring source of happiness?, my students quickly see that the simplest tools that parents can wield to elicit cooperation from children are power tools. But there comes a point during the teen years when power tools no longer work. At that point parents start wishing that they had begun working with their children at a very young age to build a culture at home in which children instinctively behave respectfully toward one another, obey their parents, and choose the right thing to do. Families have cultures, just as companies do. Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.  If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.”

manja manja, Mina

Gallery: Mina meals. I’ve provided links to online recipes when available; just click on the photo for details.

Mina is an amazing eater; she loves food, just like her Mama and Papa! After a delicious bite, she comments, “un, oishii!” (yes, tasty!) with an approving nod and a seriousness that tickles us silly! Cooking is all the more fun and fulfilling with my Mina!

If you missed these, please check out the art of loving: food and meals, desserts, and snacks for Mina.

♪ here comes the sun, little darling ♪

Little darling, I love the way you see the world.

Little darling, I love the way you touch the world.

Monterey Getaway

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Our first weekend getaway since Mina’s birth in Monterey, CA was AMAZING (thanks to Mina’s Gaga & Pa)! Under sunny blue skies (unbelievably without a cloud or fog in sight!), our stroll on the Asilomar Beach was playful and poetic: watching the otters swim on their backs and crack their catch; picking some pretty shells, a silly ritual of ours; talking about our next trip here with Mina, Gaga & Pa; all the while, holding hands, smiling I love you’s, still very much in love…actually, deeper in love today more than ever!

Over 15 years since our first kiss, our journey has been beyond anything I could have ever imagined. It was a long , winding journey, with unexpected, and at times very painful, detours; but I know for certain that those detours were necessary (yes, necessary meaning we needed to experience and process the pain, anger, resentment, sadness, even depression, and of course, love in solitude) to arrive here, to this us. I’ve written this before and I’ll write this again: Feeling the completeness of a full circle. We are one, we are whole; and now, we have Mina to share our aliveness and celebrate our oneness!

This weekend, I felt like we were living our wedding vows…actually, I know we live our wedding vows every day. How beautiful is that. How lucky am I. I’m just so grateful and proud of us, as husband and wife, and now as Mama and Papa to our Mina! I love that I get to share this us I so love with Mina! We are a gift; we are a wonder to me. Now, sharing our wedding vows; happy reading, happy loving! ♥

My husband:
As I make my solemn vows to Naoko, I want to thank my family and friends for preparing me for this day.

Naoko,
no one else can hold the light as you do,
boldly cupped like nectar in your slender
hands. no one else bears so well the weight of

my dreams. when i perceive the place where true
growth begins, there is only you, Love, at
its core. here, all light wears your silver scent.

“When I think of you,
I feel eternity most intimately.” (from Takamura Kotaro)

I promise to honor the daily rituals that have become our ceremonies,
and to continue to celebrate the beauty we find in these mindful gestures of love.

I promise to always communicate with you from the center of my existence.

I promise to make our love “a moving, growing, working together, whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness.” (from Erich Fromm)

I promise to always and forever be grateful for the gift that you are in my life.

Eien no ai wo koko ni chikaimasu.

Me:
As I make my solemn vows to Tim, I want to thank my family and friends for preparing me for this day.  Though she’s not here today, I’d especially like to thank my Obachan for her constant presence and love; Arigato.

if you were my poem
I would savor you
allmorningeverymorning
like our sweet morning coffee
and dance along to the
rhythmic clickings
of your spoon against my cup

if you were my poem
I would find
a coffee cup
still atatakai from
the warmth of your lips

thank you,
for leaving behind
a kiss
on my morning sip

“When I think of you,
I feel eternity most intimately.” (from Takamura Kotaro)

I promise to honor the daily rituals that have become our ceremonies,
and to continue to celebrate the beauty we find in these mindful gestures of love.

I promise to always communicate with you from the center of my existence.

I promise to make our love “a moving, growing, working together, whether there is  harmony or conflict, joy or sadness.” (from Erich Fromm)

I promise to always and forever be grateful for the gift that you are in my life.

永遠の愛をここに誓います。

happy belated halloween

Last year, Mina was a ladybug; this year, she chose an elephant! Next year, wonder what she’ll want to be 😉 She loved her first neighborhood trick-or-treat stroll, waving “Hi~!” to the skeletons hanging around gravestones (no hint of fear whatsoever!), and devouring her one and only goodie of the night: gold fishies, her favorite! I can’t believe it’s now November, where Thanksgiving and Christmas comes and goes in a whirlwind! As Mina would say, “Buckle up!” (from Cat in the Hat)