Old School – New School Rules

Discipline is a tricky thing. It is as much an expression of culture as it is a necessary tool for child rearing. The way we discipline our children is, usually, the way that we ourselves were raised. It is religious; who among us has not been warned about the consequences of “sparing the rod”? Most importantly, it is personal. An unruly, disrespectful child is a direct reflection of our parenting skills. Bad kid = Bad parent. We simply cannot have people thinking we are bad parents, now can we? So we go about discipling our children, using most of the tools that our parents gave us, hoping that we get it right.

But every now and then, old school bumps into the new school. Is the switch the bet way to get through to a kid? Can time outs really result in a well behaved kid? Is having an obedient child worth seeing my baby flinch every time I lift my hand? If you are like me, you have begun to wonder if old school is always right. People of color have long prided themselves on the use of strict discipline. But at the same time, I have listened to many stories of punishment gone too far and the physical – and emotional – scars it left behind. Additionally, I married a man who doesn’t believe in ever spanking his baby, no matter what. While I think I can count the number of spankings I received on two fingers, to not spank at all, I have to admit, was a foreign concept. So what to do? Hold fast to the old school rules? Abandon them all together in favor of the new? Or was there a second choice?

Like I said, discipline is many things. It is cultural, religous, and personal. For our family, what I realized is that we are carving out our own path in some uncharted territory. We are of different cultures and different faiths. We bring to each other different perspectives and those perspectives add to the fabric of who we are. One thread does not take precedent over the other. Much like our child is a mixture of the best parts of us, so too must our philosophy of discipline be. So we throw a little bit of old school in the pot, a little new school, and a little bit of what works for us.  Because in the end, the the only rules that matter are the ones that help us raise a healthy, respectful child who makes us proud.  And hopefully, should I get to watch my daughter raising her kids, I can look on her techniques with pride and think to myself, “maybe I had something to do with that”.  Because I am realizing that I am not just trying to raise a respectful child; I am also trying to raise an (eventually) loving parent, which in and of itself, probably requires discipline.  Hmm.  Discipline.  It is truly a tricky thing.


Splitting Hairs

Every little girl of color suffers a rite of passage in her childhood; getting her hair combed.  From about the age of 1 to 8 years old, every little girl of color will have to sit still for 20 minutes to and hour while their mother parts their hair, greases their scalps and secures those unruly curls into neat little sections held in place with twisties knotted in a manner that would confuse an elite boy scout.  Around 3 years old, her mother will whip out the comb and barrettes, the little girl will take her place on a pillow between her mothers legs, and – whether it hurts or not – she will begin to cry.  No little girl likes to get their hair done.  First of all, it requires that you sit still, hold your head at awkward angles, and resist against your mother’s pulling.  Second of all, it might really hurt.  But third, and most important, regardless of all of that, it has to be done.  That is why it is a right of passage for every little girl of color.  Regardless of how much we don’t like it, or how “tenderheaded” we are, our mothers are going to comb our hair, and all the hollering and caterwauling in the world is not going to help; it’s only going to get us popped upside the head with the comb.  Because at the end of the day, your mother is not going to let you go outside looking crazy. This is one of the first lessons that we learn as children; life requires an arduous preparation, but you suffer it and do not step out the door without it.  #Riteofpassage.

At any rate, all of this makes sense to mothers of color, and fathers of color instinctively turn a blind eye.  After all, most of them have borne witness to these hair rituals of their sisters/cousins/nieces and understand that it is just one of those things.  But when you are married to a man whose only experience with naps are the ones he takes when he has been tired, who only knows a kitchen to be a place where meals are prepared, and who has never witnessed a tangled hair in his life, the conversation changes.  You see, my husband is concerned that I am hurting our child.  He thinks that there is a way to comb her hair – ALL of her massive tendrils –  without her whining, crying, or complaining.  He thinks that – GASP! – I am doing something wrong. What he doesn’t know is that her crying and complaining and me combing, parting, rebuking and apologizing, it is all a part of the dance.  She will wiggle and complain and cry.  I will yank, tell her to sit still, apologize with “imsorryimsorryimsorry!” when I actually pull a real tangle, and I will finish her hair.  And when it is over, I will give her a big hug, take her to a mirror, tell her how pretty she looks, and watch her smile at her reflection.  She will give me a big hug, prance off, we will go through all of this tomorrow and the day after, and each day it will get a little bit easier.  She will get used to getting her hair done and she will also learn some important lessons.  She will learn that yes, we suffer for beauty.  She will learn that, over time, all difficult things get easier.  And she will learn that when I am stern, demanding, and even seemingly unsympathetic, in the end, it’s all for her benefit and she will love the results.  This is her rite of passage.  Trying to figure out a way to get around it is only splitting hairs.