DD as a Reaction to "Me" Generation Parenting

I suspect the number of couples who engage in Domestic Discipline (DD) is higher than even the most generous estimates suppose. And I also suspect that the number of couples who would engage in DD if it were more socially acceptable is even higher.

Why?

For those who come to DD from a Biblical/right wing perspective, the answers are obvious -- they've grown up in a culture that puts women below men, and a culture that already relies heavily on traditional childrearing and discipline methods. Plus the Religious Right seems to be doing a pretty heavy push to encourage couples into the DD lifestyle.

It seems reasonable, however, that the appeal of DD for progressively-oriented couples is significantly different. I believe the upsurge in interest in Domestic Discipline in feminist circles is a reaction to the permissive parenting of the '60s and '70s.

Most of us who consider ourselves progressive/feminist, myself included, were raised by parents who were products of the "Me" Generation. Unlike their parents, whose childrearing methods came from the Victorian sensibilities of "spare the rod, spoil the child" and "children should be seen and not heard."

Me Generation parents formed their attitudes about child development, marriage and parenting during the ultra-liberal '60s and '70s. Most of our mothers were teenagers and young women when feminism hit its peak, and most of our fathers were teenagers and young men at a time when men were being encouraged to be more nurturing and explore their feminine side.

The social upheavals of the '60s and '70s were followed by the self-help movement of the '80s. As a result, our parents have been bombarded by a deluge of growth and child-rearing advice unlike that available to any generation prior. And most of this advice was written by parents who were products of the same ultra-permissive '60s and '70s.

The result? A strong emphasis on flexibility, negotiation, nurturing and freedom in child rearing. Parents were advised that setting limits on a child's behavior was damaging, that it would obstruct natural personality and social development, and so children were reasoned with instead of disciplined. Instead of being authority figures, Me Generation parents strove to bond with their children as buddies and "best friends." (For example, my parents actually told me, if you want to try pot, have some of ours. At least you'll know it's the good stuff...)

The trend away from Victorian-era parenting wasn't all bad, of course. After all, a strong case can be made that our grandparents' parenting style was overly harsh and did indeed stifle individuality and personal growth. Many parents of the '60s and '70s wanted something better for their children than they had and parented more liberally with a genuine desire to raise healthy children.

But let's be honest here. Not everyone was coming from such an altruistic parenting perspective.

There's a reason our parents' generation was called the Me Generation. Women were experiencing freedoms in the workplace and the world in general that were unheard of for prior generations. And everywhere, people were being told, "Do your own thing." Parenting, well, that's a drag, man.

And the reality is that "liberal" parenting IS easier, less time consuming and just plain less trouble than setting firm limits and enforcing them. Me Generation parents got lazy and used politics and popular psychology as an excuse to be absent, neglectful parents. ('Cuz hey, if you ground your errant teenager, you have to stay home with them while they're grounded, and that's too inconvenient.) "Liberal" parenting too often became a sugar-coated way of justifying lazy parenting.

And of course, this generation has taken many of these attitudes even further. Most of us who have spent any time around parents and their young children have seen the explosion of bad behavior, bratting and other destructive results of all this supposed enlightened and sensitive parenting. For example, I know of at least one parent who prides herself on being a progressive, caring parent, but whose five-year old daughter still isn't toilet trained because the effort required by her mother to help her daughter through this enormously challenging situation is, in her words, "too inconvenient."

To make matters more complicated, I suspect that many parents with out-of-control children feel hampered in their ability to impose limits by the social pressures around them that continue to suggest that any limits or discipline are abusive.

The big problem with all this is that children need limits. (So do adults, and we'll get there in a moment.) Childhood is where we're supposed to learn self-discipline, anger management, respect, a work ethic and other basic life skills required to become a healthy adult. Those limits are not learned through permissive parenting, but through the rules, discipline and examples set by our parents.

But most of us have been raised by parents who for various reasons, did not give us the limits we needed to become self-disciplined, productive adults. So now we have a generation of adults who don't understand the importance or meaning of boundaries and responsibility.

The lucky ones among us realize this deficiency and clutch at any tool we can find to give us the remedial lessons in being an adult that we didn't get as children -- self-help books, retreats, workshops, perpetual therapy, gurus, whatever.

The unlucky ones don't realize they're deficient in a basic life skill and make our lives a living hell by acting entitled, rude, codependent and any number of other unpleasant things as a result of believing the rules don't apply to them and they should get what they want when they want it. In short, like spoiled children who weren't taught boundaries. I know, because before DD, I was one of them.

Our society is reaping the consequences of three decades of lazy parenting.

The surge of interest in DD is a natural outgrowth of a generation searching for boundaries, discipline and security. Basic psychological theory tells us that what we didn't get as children, we continue to seek as adults.

It couldn't be more straightforward -- I want discipline because I had none growing up and without it, I'm quite frankly lost. Left to my own devices, my work habits suck, my self-discipline is next to zero. My abillity to act courteously when I'm upset is non-existent. Given a choice between doing something I don't want to do that has a long-term benefit and watching "Buffy" DVDs, I'm gonna hang with the Scoobies and worry about the future tomorrow. In other words, most of the time, I act like a child allowed to watch videos instead of doing my homework and chores.

These are lessons I was supposed to learn in childhood and didn't. But just because I didn't learn them then doesn't mean my developmental imperative is gone. I have a deep hunger inside for those lessons, even as I don't want to learn them. And as an adult, it's difficult to find ways to learn those kinds of lessons that satisfy that primal, desperate need unfulfilled in childhood.

But DD does satisfy that need and teach those critical lessons in a safe, private, loving way. Through DD, I'm able to go back and learn what I was supposed to learn as a child and a teenager. When I speak or act disprespectfully, I am spanked and put in the corner. When I blow off my responsibilities to go shopping with my friends, I might find myself grounded for two weeks. That is what should happen as a result of these childish and irresponsible behaviors and it's good and right to learn those lessons -- better late than never.

DD is no different in theory or process from the widely-accepted theory of the damaged Inner Child we all carry around within us. We've largely accepted the need to give that Inner Child the hugs, kisses, encouragement and love we missed in childhood. Yet for some reason, we still find it shocking or abhorrent to give that same child the discipline and boundaries he/she was also missing in childhood. But boundaries and discipline are as important as hugs and kisses, and a child can't grow up healthy without a balance of both.

Further, we've come to understand that to give our Inner Child the love and nurturance he/she needs, we have to speak to that child, ie, that part of us, in the language of the child. Simple declarations of love, stuffed animals, soothing baths and soft blankets are all tools for connecting to our Inner Child in a way that he/she can understand. Similarly, DD gives our Inner Child boundaries in a way he/she can understand.

For example, I know a writer who once attempted to discipline himself into writing by donating to the Republican Party every time he blew off a writing session. Putting aside that I'd rather take a spanking any day than donate a single penny to the Neo-Cons, this method ultimately failed because it failed to speak to his scared and undisciplined Inner Child in a way that the Inner Child could understand. Children don't understand political affiliations and campaign contributions. They understand spankings, corner time and loss of privileges/freedom. These resonate deeply for a child -- and for our Inner Child -- on a basic, primal level. (And yes, if you don't believe spanking is an appropriate punishment for misbehavior, it's possible to live a DD lifestyle without it -- although I can't say I recommend it.)

Of course, it's possible to go too far and discipline a child excessively. That's when discipline turns to abuse. And yes, it's possible for DD to go too far as well. But we're talking about when discipline of both varieties works. When it's from a loving, reasoned, balanced placed -- when a parent responsibly sets limits and disciplines from love and not anger.

And remember that a lack of discipline is as abusive as too much of it -- sending a child into the world without the tools to take care of him or herself is dangerous, cruel and negligent parenting.

I know that having the discipline in my life that I missed as a child satisfies a deep, intense hole in my soul. I finally feel as though I'm able to go back and make up for what I didn't have. The lack of discipline that's been ruining my life and keeping me from accomplishing what I need to accomplish is finally being corrected. For the first time, I feel like I have real hope of becoming the person I want to be. Of living up to my potential.

A woman posting on one of the DD forums recently wrote that she'd accomplished more in her professional life in four years living with DD than she had in the 30 years prior.

If that's not feminism, I don't know what is.

PS -- Some of you may be asking why, if all this is true, are women far more likely to want to be disciplined than men? After all, men have the same permissive parenting backgrounds and women, and little boys need boundaries as much as girls do. There are some interesting answers to this -- stay tuned for an article on this subject!

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous07:59

    What an amazingly perceptive piece! I have met many women, of varying ages, who - deep down - would agree with every word you've written. One thing you might note is the lack of fathers in many families. When the father is absent, the need for the sort of firm authority you describe grows greater.

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  2. Yes, you're quite right. The lack of fathers is a big part of all this as well -- both in terms of fathers who are physically absent from the home and, perhaps more importantly, fathers who are physically present, but lack the strength or moral authority to enforce boundaries (again, in the name of being more nurturing and finding their feminine side, a good thing in moderation that's been taken too often as an excuse to avoid fatherly responsibility).

    Thanks for posting!

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  3. Anonymous08:28

    I think that you're right about the "liberal" parenting - which often becomes an excuse for less and less involvement. The more spoiled and bratty their children are, the less the parents want to spend time with them. It's rarely said, but spoiling children is a form a child abuse. Just because the damage isn't immediately obvious in the same way, it's still there nonetheless.

    A 24 year old woman I knew once read a story in which a father had cause to discipline his teen daughter over some undone homework. When I asked her if she felt he had been too harsh, she firmly rejected that suggestion.

    "He loves her and he's doing it because he cares," she insisted. She seemed to identify with the concerns and values that motivated the parent - even more than the child. Even though I think most people would see the parent in the story as too strict, she saw him as a “good father”!

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  4. Anonymous02:46

    Dear Vivian,

    What you say has chimed with my own perception of the failure of partenting in recent decades. You expressed it admirably. What a joy to know that there are others who also think the liberal emperor has no clothes.

    As a father I feel the pressure to not be Mr Discipline to my children, and to be more liberal as is the modern zeitgeist but I think this is a trick. They DO appreciate one's efforts at discipline, don't like it, but love us anyway.

    One thought which comes to mind is where does this leave the one providing the DD in the relationship? You say in another post that they are expected to behave like an adult all the time - a difficult task if one has the same damaged upbringing wouldn't you say?

    Thanks for more food for thought.


    opb

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  5. Dear opb,

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Of course, as we all know, no one can or should be asked to act like an adult all the time. Even if a person's not into DD, they still need things like hobbies, laughter, silly fun and healthy sex play to exercise our inner child and stay in touch with our joy of life.

    And I believe even a healthy, integrated, genuine adult can benefit from DD--not only in terms of the benefits to the relationship in terms of male/female energies, but also in terms of being able to reconnect and reinforcement boundaries in a clear, direct way.

    Unfortunately, as you've commented on as well, we have a generation of "adults" who seem incapable of acting like an adult in any context -- and worse, don't even realize, or at least acknowledge, this deficiency.

    And that's one of the reasons we care more about Paris Hilton's handbag than we do about global warming, or why more people voted for American Idol than in the last presidential election. We're acting like children who aren't required to pay attention to substantative things and can just play around all day.

    Thanks again for posting,
    -Viv

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  6. I'm sorry Vivian but I cannot accept your premise that children were raised "permissively" in the 1960's without spankings. I was born in 1956 and nearly all my spankings which I can remember happened in the 60's. I only knew one child who wasn't spanked back then, and her mother slapped her hands instead. Spanking was very widespread and accepted by adults in the urban, white, college educated milieu in which I was raised.

    According to the 1975 National Family Violence Survey done by the University of New Hampshire, parents spank less now and approve of spanking less now than parents did back in the mid 70's.

    So I do not believe parents not spanking in the 60's and 70's can explain present day DD among most adults raised back then.

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  7. "According to the 1975 National Family Violence Survey done by the University of New Hampshire, parents spank less now and approve of spanking less now than parents did back in the mid 70's."

    Most social anthropologists would agree that the era of permissive parenting coincided with the "Me" Generation -- which began in the mid 70s and is, arguably, still going on.

    Not that spanking should be the sole litmus test for permissive parenting, but there it is.

    -Viv

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