Friday, September 19, 2014

A new day

In the late 1980s and early 90s I clocked a lot of hours volunteering at the animal shelter. One of my duties was watching how prospective pet parents interacted with the adoptable cats. I was asked to do a little prescreening and raise a red flag if someone expressed outmoded animal care ideas.

"Naturally I'll let him out at night. Cats need to roam."
"I don't want to get her fixed until she has at least one litter. It's not fair to her to not let her be a mother."
"I'm going to keep him in the basement because we have mice."

Of course that was 20 years ago. We have evolved as a society and generally people recognize how dangerous it is to let our pets just "roam," and that it's safe and preferable to spay/neuter a puppy or kitten before they are old enough to mate, and that domestic cats should be companions, not "mousers."

I'm hoping that, as a society, we evolve the same way about childcare. And that whole idea that no one can tell parents how to raise their kids? It's not true. We have laws that protect children from bad parenting, as we should.

For example, in this state, you can't leave a kid of 13 or under unsupervised for any length of time. Doesn't matter that "back in the day," 13 year olds were considered old enough to baby sit. We know better now. You can't let a kid under 16 behind the wheel of your car. Doesn't matter that "back in the day," rural kids were driving trucks and tractors. We know better now. You are responsible if minors drink in your home. Doesn't matter that "back in the day," parents thought that, since kids are going to drink anyway, you think it's "safer" for them to do it at home. We know better now. You have to secure your little one in a carseat. Doesn't matter that "back in the day," you were allowed to bounce around and patrol the backseat unfettered. We know better now. If a child misses more than 18 days of class per school year, the parents can be fined or jailed. Doesn't matter that "back in the day," your parents didn't think it was "a big deal" when you skipped school. We know better now.

And it's illegal to hit a child so hard, or so often, that the kid requires medical attention. It just is. Even if you are the parent. It doesn't matter if your parents disciplined you that way "back in the day." We know better now.

We don't want a child to stop doing something because they fear corporal punishment, we want them to stop it because they know it's wrong. It's not about obedience, it's about values.There are many long-term studies -- conducted long before the current NFL scandals -- that bear this out. Children who were spanked often can grow up to be more aggressive and have an extrinsic morality.

I hope all these people who still insist that it's okay to "belt," "whup," "beat" or (a new one I just learned yesterday from my friend Tom) "chancleta" kids because their parents did it to them will open their eyes and their hearts. Saying that the way you were raised wasn't perfect doesn't mean you don't love and don't honor your parents. It means you recognize that they were human. Second guessing some of your own parenting decisions doesn't mean you don't love your children. It means you can forgive yourself for being human and that you're willing to change.

It's a new day.

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