Discipline 1.0: Surviving the Bad

Punishment is good and right and true – and that includes parenting.

If you’ve read my other posts, you will know that I am the child of parents who took discipline way too far. I won’t rehash some of those things – but I encourage you to “read” the other posts and “like” them to your heart’s content. But I have a few important things to say about it all.

The old adage goes: “That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” It’s true. I just look at my brothers, and I would have to say that I was much better armed for life’s obstacles than they were by virtue of the fact that I’d already been through what I consider to be significant battles of life. Quite frankly, divorcing my parents helped me divorce my wife. By needing to stay strong as my own person as a child (rather than succumb to my mother’s will), I formed my own opinions and steeled myself against the onslaught of those who would try to control me. I saw difficult situations as just another prison someone was putting me in, which I needed to survive until I could escape. It’s precisely how I viewed the last few years of my marriage – and that’s no exaggeration (as my friends will attest). It’s also how I reacted toward Air Force Basic Training, in which I excelled.

Side note on divorce: I want to spend one more moment talking about this parallel to prison and divorce. When I first asked my ex-wife for a divorce, I felt defeated when I couldn’t get out. She uncovered all of my sins, and proceeded to use them as leverage for why I was a horrible husband. She listed off a dozen things she’d always expected of me that I had never provided for her as a husband. Right or wrong, my perception of my prospects from that moment were, “Hide all my discomfort until I satisfy her list of wrongs, and then get out.” I knew I was right that I should be divorced, and I wanted to feel right in following through on that need.

Surviving this sort of childhood isn’t about fighting back every minute – no one can do that. It’s also not about learning to put up with it – I think that sort of thing will kill you in the long run. It’s about using every tool you have to make it better for yourself, convincing your captor that everything is just fine and dandy, and manipulating your way into better circumstances. I think that manipulation is an important muscle you must exercise in order to survive life, regardless of your circumstances. It doesn’t mean lying frequently – it means moving the chess pieces around you in a way that you can win. It means making alliances with those around you, and sidling up to those who oppose you so that you become indispensable until you indispose yourself, so to speak.

It’s not that I kick against every yoke. I understand that in the workplace, I work for somebody. I understand that there are hierarchies to life, and I encourage them. I just won’t be led by the nose into my own destruction. I had the thought throughout my childhood that my mother would be happy if I attempted suicide – after all, it runs in the family. But I created my own lofty sense of self-worth despite her deprecating treatment, so that was never going to happen.

it’s interesting, the parallels between how you feel as a child under unreasonable punishment and an adult under the yoke of a marriage that should be over. The other spouse often ends up striking the same chords that your parent(s) did. At least, my situations felt this way.

It’s also important to forgive, but never forget. You can’t walk around as an adult, despising your parent(s). You have to learn their lessons and then act accordingly. Herein is why I disagree with abstaining from corporal punishment altogether: should you be an anorexic (or manorexic!) because your parents ate too much? Should you refuse to get a job because your parents were workaholics? Should you eschew all religion because your parents were Scientologists, snake-biter Baptists or ascetics? Should you eat all junk food because your parents had a crazy diet? No: it’s about learning from your parents’ mistakes and living a life with reasonable limits.

My next post will discuss how to discipline your children properly.

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