But if the parents don’t model mature, loving ways of interacting, how is the child going to learn? I think some people see the word “love” and think “permissive, weak, mushy”. But honestly, it doesn’t break down that way, or shouldn’t. There is nothing permissive or weak or timid about allying with the child to help him to “become who he is”, who he is meant to be. There is nothing permissive or lax about letting go of the non-essentials and focusing on the essence. It is strength, not weakness, to focus on the good things and magnify those. Love is as Maritain said “wild and irrepressible”. It is deep and unique and springs out of who you are as a person, like any other creative art. It is generous and loves the truth, as he also says, but then you also have to remember that truth is not a sword to use to cut others down — it is a light that illumines and makes good things clear and transparent and sparkly. For some reason, it often involves laughter, at least in our household. Laughter (not the mocking kind) frees things up and dissolves barricades.
There’s much more, including a moving account of her husband’s tenderness toward their fragile infant in the NICU. The “my little werewolf” story reminded me so much of how Scott kept me laughing when Jane was in the hospital. As her golden curls started to fall out from the chemo, my brown-haired husband joked to his brown-haired wife that “we always knew she’d lose the blonde hair someday…just not this soon!” The nurses used to think we were crazy, but the laughter was what kept us sane and close.
Willa’s thoughts about laughter dissolving barricades and tension brought back another hospital memory. One of our favorite nurses, Theresa, was a young mother about our age (late 20s) with two little boys ages 3 and 5. She worked nights, and we often wound up chatting during the wee hours when all her patients, including my two-year-old, were asleep. Once she told me that she had almost administered her very first spanking the week before—almost. Her boys had done something (I don’t remember what) Very, Very Bad. Something Extremely Naughty and Highly Inappropriate. Surveying the scene of the crime, fury rose within their mother and she roared at them, “You deserve a—” She was going to say “spanking” but she saw the fear in two sets of big brown eyes and a pang of regret cut through the fury. Her sons had never been afraid of her before.
“—A—a SCHMANKING!” she finished the sentence.
Fear changed to bewilderment in the big brown eyes. “What’s a schmanking?” asked the five-year-old.
“It’s this,” said Theresa, and she scooped him up and tickled him all over. He shrieked with laughter and the three-year-old held up his arms, crying, “My turn! My turn for a schmanking!”
I loved that story then, and I love it more now, ten years and four children later. Don’t all our children deserve a schmanking now and then?
Here’s another nice post at In Need of Chocolate with a roundup of many of the books people recommended in my patience post comments, plus a link to an article urging parents to “take a week off from punishing” their kids and see what happens.