I grew up in the Southwest with parents who loved me. But, when I was in trouble, my mother would often tell me that when my dad got home, he was going to use his belt on me. And there were a couple of times that I remember where this actually happened. I would have to lean over the side of the bed and my dad would take off his belt and hit me.
My dad would sincerely say, “This is hurting me more than it is hurting you.” I never quite got that part, but I truly believed that my parents were responding out of love for me. Their parenting responses were simply patterned after how they were parented.
Then, when I was a teenager, I met a mother of some friends who had an entirely different approach to discipline. She was a Christian Scientist. She explained to me that when her children did something inappropriate, her first response was prayer. She pointed me to the teachings of the Bible and to a book that helps explain those teachings, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy. What I learned was that God, ever-present Love, is a strong, protecting Father and gentle comforting Mother. God, divine Principle, establishes His laws of order, and since He is filling all space and governs all action, there is a complete enforcement of His laws. I began to understand man as spiritual, not having a rebellious mind or defiant will of his own, but actually as the perfect image of God – reflecting the will of God, who is the one divine Mind (see Genesis, chap. 1). Mrs. Eddy writes that man is “obedient to the Mind that makes [him]” (Science and Health, p. 295).
In the Bible, Moses was given the task of leading the children of Israel out of generations of slavery into the Promised Land of milk and honey, or, in other words, into happiness and harmony. In order for them to move out of a slave mentality into freedom, they needed to be self-governed. Self-discipline required them to learn the value of the word “no” given in the Ten Commandments, seven of them starting with “Thou shalt not.” “No” is a beautiful word. How is a child ever going to tell himself “no” when he is older if he never hears it when he is younger? Individually and collectively learning to love the “no” of Principle brings us freedom and order, and keeps us safe.
But Christ Jesus elevated the Mosaic, Jewish laws of enforcing “no” by bringing an inspired, prayerful approach to punishment. When the adulterous woman was caught “in the very act” and the people were outraged and wanted to stone her to death, Jesus handled the situation in an incredibly strong, yet tender way. First, he saw her, as he saw everyone, as the innocent likeness of God. Secondly, he addressed the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of others who wanted to deeply punish her instead of addressing their own shortcomings. Third, he addressed her own guilt and enabled her to see herself as God saw her, completely pure, entirely separate from any sensuality, and uncondemned. He then instructed her to “sin no more” (see John 8:3-11).
It’s not the punishment or the threat of it that heals children from wrongdoing. It is our clear understanding of who they are as God’s spiritual, honest, noble idea and then teaching them this true spiritual identity that liberates their behavior for a lifetime. It brings clarity to their motives and desires. It protects their purity. It helps them resist unsafe and immoral activities.
To know your child as God knows him requires a constant mental watch and helps parents to refrain from anger, impatience, and emotional reactions. To pray together as a family and practice helping the child to know who he or she is as Mind’s own individual reflection is where loving constructive parental energies can be directed. Obedience to moral and spiritual law and true spiritual self-knowledge does not emasculate children. It gives them confidence to be true to themselves and inner security to make positive choices.
In a series of questions and answers Mrs. Eddy once responded, “The use of the rod is virtually a declaration to the child’s mind that sensation belongs to matter. Motives govern acts, and Mind governs man. If you make clear to the child’s thought the right motives for action, and cause him to love them, they will lead him aright: if you educate him to love God, good, and obey the Golden Rule, he will love and obey you without your having to resort to corporeal punishment” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 51).
So before our daughter was born, my husband and I decided that we would commit to this spiritual strategy for discipline. There were plenty of “timeouts,” but we never pulled out a belt or any object to hit her. What a relief! As a global family, we can stand on our parents’ shoulders and break out of culturally based, unenlightened, unnecessary behaviors. It’s empowering to outgrow old family thought patterns. We can feel our Mother Father God’s loving, correcting guidance for each of us. All children, young and old, and everywhere will be the better for it.