I get it. It takes a village to raise a child. But could the village keep its hands off my child during all the raising? I love the village, I really do. It’s a great idea – shared social responsibility, community kumbaya and all of that. I love the fact that in our culture, all adults accept joint responsibility to make sure ALL the kids are ok, all the time. But I need the village to understand and respect this one aspect of my parenting style: I don’t physically punish Ella. No belts, no slippers, no mwikos, nothing.
Disclaimer: I have nothing against those who believe in corporal punishment of children. But for me and for my child, I want no part of it. And when the village, in the form of a well-meaning cucu or impatient auntie raises a hand to hit Ella, I have to step in. And step in with an uppercut to the chin if I must.
I’ve received lots of “Oh, you’ve just become Westernized after being abroad for so long” comments about my approach to parenting. But let me assure you, I’ve been against physical punishment for as long as I can remember. When I was 9 years old, I begged my parents to transfer me to a different school for one reason alone: there was no corporal punishment at my dream school.
I hated the fact that my school at the time thrived on whippings and canings. We were beaten (with a fat wooden stick) for anything and everything! Got a question wrong on a test – you received one cane for each wrong answer. Forgot to carry P.E. clothes – random number of canes depending on the teacher’s mood. Girls were hit on the palms of our hands while boys were hit on their bottoms. We even had one teacher who would make us take off our shoes and socks to cane the soles of our bare feet! It was ridiculous. One day, I finally had enough and had a full on psych-ward-level meltdown in front of my parents. They transferred me to a different school the next year.
However culturally unpopular my “no beatings” parenting philosophy may be, it works for us. You see, I know my daughter pretty well. I know which methods of discipline work on her. I know that when she steps out of line, the following works remarkably well: First, a warning that if she does not immediately cease and desist from whatever ridiculousness she is currently engaging in, she will be punished. I usually emphasize the word PUH-NISHED(!) when I give the warning and then look away solemnly, leaving the exact punishment that she will receive a gloomy, ominous mystery.
Then, if she chooses to disregard my CIA-level warning, I stand up (for dramatic effect!) and point to where she is to report for time-out. As she inevitably bursts into tears and begins a dramatic trudge to her naughty corner, I deliver an overview of why she is being punished and for how long she is to remain in solitude. This punishment is either complimented or replaced altogether by a revoking of TV and tab privileges for the day, depending on where the misbehavior occurred (A time out in the middle of a crowded Nakumatt is hardly ideal).
I know what some of you are thinking, “This can’t possibly work!” You’re probably thinking that I either have a spoiled brat in need of a long-awaited thrashing or an angel who doesn’t need much disciplining. I have neither. You’d be surprised how this child implodes at the mere threat of punishment. Goodness gracious, it’s like a scene from the Titanic. The fear of impending doom! The wailing! The rolling on the floor! It’s pure drama! But it WORKS. And I much prefer that to grabbing a slipper or a mwiko or her ears.
But like I said, this is what works for us. So, my message to the wonderful village of caregivers that support my little family is this: I love you. I need you. I’m happy to have you. But I need for you to respect my parenting style and kindly keep your hands off my child.