When #1 Son was a little fellow, I read a book about discipline that promoted the use of "Time Out." We set up a chair in the corner of the dining room, and it became The Time Out Chair. Briefly, we succeeded in curbing some little infractions. Honestly, this many years later, I have no idea what my little boy was doing wrong. I imagine we were having a battle of the wills.
Soon, though, he began having nightmares about, you guessed it, The Time Out Chair. In these terrible night visions, The Time Out Chair chased him around the house. (You’ll have to ask him if it laughed maniacally, MWAHAHAHAHA!!!)
I grappled with how to discipline him after that. I grew up in the South at a time when spanking was not only permissible but encouraged. How else, parents wondered, shall we keep our children in line? Because in line was exactly the place children were supposed to be kept.
I have raised children in a much freer and therefore more challenging time. Always, always I wonder, what sort of discipline is truly necessary? I want them to find themselves, to flourish and bloom, to make their way in the world unhampered by conventions for their own sake.
Churches used to employ discipline, and maybe some still do, but in the free church tradition that is part of the mainline, we have come to a point of expecting to have no boundaries at all in terms of the behavior of church members. I think it is in part a healthy openness, but also in part an enormous fear of asking anyone to do anything that might cause them to leave.
Some years ago I belonged to a large church in conflict. A letter came to my house, many pages long, listing all the things for which a certain group of people blamed the pastor.
The letter was anonymous.
Somehow this collection of professional couples had organized a mailing, using all sorts of then-popular direct mail techniques, but not a one of them would put his or her name on the letter.
I once read a book on discipline that said, "Never spank in anger." I thought to myself, "When else would you want to?"
My eventual approach to discipline, cobbled together from books and experience and love, revolves around stating expectations and naming consequences. Rarely have we reached the second point. I am therefore baffled when I meet people who do not understand the principle that actions have consequences. I am baffled when I meet people who think that whatever they might like to do is okay simply because they feel like doing it. And yet I grapple with this in myself, the tendency to justify a choice or a desire, and I realize that my own decisions are not always ideal.
I grew up with discipline comprised of shaming and physical punishment. My own children found it just as painful to be sent to their rooms. I wonder what the future will hold for them? Will they be more open-minded and find some clever new means for raising civilized and compassionate children? Or will the pendulum swing back?
My own self-discipline tends to be like the discipline I received as a child, much as I would reject it for another. A childhood of getting the blame for everything makes me want to avoid taking responsibility unless I feel sure I can get it "right." This does not always work out, naturally.
Maybe I can learn to give myself a time out instead.