The Lecture

The Lecture
by Ron Huxley
I know that in today's society, spanking your child is no longer in vogue. As a parent educator and family therapist, I accept this decision as rational. But as a child, when my parents would lecture me for my moral wrongdoings, I would have gladly let them exercise their societal right to spank. I would have volunteered to run and get the official, wooden spoon used for such purposes, if that would have stopped the speeches. Today, as a parent, I find myself giving similar, if not the exact lectures, to my children. And I still hate it. One night, exhausted from preaching to one of my children on the need for taking responsibility and doing one's homework, I told my wife how I hated the image of myself, one hand on my hip, the other outstretched with finger pointing, and fiery breath spewing from my mouth. It was an ugly image. I felt ugly.

The child’s age doesn’t even matter. I used to laugh at parents who lectured to tiny children, necks ready to snap from the backward arc as they stared up at their parent trying to morally guide them. Don’t get me wrong. Morals are good. Guidance is great. But one look into the eyes of the child would quickly tell you that no one was home. The child was thinking about the candy they saw on the last aisle of the supermarket or why their parent had such long nose hair. How do I know? Hey, that’s what I used to do.

So if I am so smart, why am I doing the same thing, to my children, knowing that it doesn’t work either? In family therapy, we call it “doing more of the same.” We learn how to parent, right or wrong, from our own parents. We do the same thing they did to us, because we don’t know what else to do. Helplessness drives us.

But there is one difference. When I was a child, I didn’t believe anything my parents told me. At least, the part I heard. Now, I find myself thinking that maybe my parents were right about one or two things. Could it have been that some of the incessant lecturing held a gem of wisdom or two? Is it possible that my parents had something important to say and I missed most of it?

Perhaps the problem was the delivery and not the message. Maybe that moral posturing (one hand on my hip, the other outstretched with finger pointing, and fiery breath spewing from my mouth), not to mention the whole lording attitude, was what turns the mind of a child off. What if sitting down, hands at my side or around my child’s shoulder could change the interaction? I could take a walk and talk. I could go out for a soda and chat. Would my child listen then and would I alter how I communicated to him or her?

The real question here is who owns the problem! I assumed as did my parents and their parents before them, that the child owned the problem. After all, he was acting irresponsibly. Right? My child’s actions do not take away my responsibility for how I communicate. When I lecture my son, his face transforms into a mask of confusion and innocence. This makes me angry. I lecture louder or longer or with more passion. He acts defensive or tunes me out. In the end, we are both hurting and sulking. No one wins.

When I embrace him, even as I discipline him, I get much better results. He responds to correction, not lecturing. So try an experiment with me. Forget about dusting off the wooden spoon and try changing your posture, position, tone of voice, vocabulary, tense, timing, location, activity, method, or anything else that you usually do. It doesn’t work anyway, so what do you have to lose? Don’t do more of the same. Do something different. Anything but lecturing!

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