I want to tell you about something I saw on the television a few years ago. It’s a story I frequently tell parents in the parenting groups that I facilitate to demonstrate the difference between parenting through connection and using punitive discipline.
It was a reality show made in America. I have wracked my brain for ages and I cannot recall the name of the show.
It was a series where an American family would leave their modern, fast-paced, disconnected, frozen dinner every night style of life, and go for a week to live in a remote village overseas.
On one of these shows, a family of Mum, Dad, and three children, went to a small and remote village in one of the African nations. The villagers lived a traditional life in every way and lived in the desert with their cattle. There was one well in the village to provide drinking water for everyone.
Somehow, one of the American boys, perhaps about 8 years old, did something to contaminate the drinking water in the well. I don’t recall what he did, but there it was. Thus, the women of the village had to walk with their children and babies many hours to retrieve drinking water in pots on their heads.
At this point in the story, I usually ask how the villagers might have responded? Or sometimes if I’m being cheeky I might ask “Did this boy deserve a whooping?”
After the incident, the American parents were very angry and embarassed at their son’s actions. The village chief was a very kind and gentle man. The villagers were very kind and gentle.
The chief asked the boy to walk with him. They walked into the desert together.
When the chief and the boy returned maybe an hour later, the American parents asked their son what the chief had said to him. The boy said that the chief said nothing and he himself had said nothing but they just walked together. Then the boy broke down and sobbed his heart out. The chief gave everyone in the family a hug and said “he’ll be alright, he’s a good boy”. The family asked the chief if that’s how he sorts out problems in the village, and he replied that he takes people for a walk in the desert, saying something like “we go out and come back”.
The American family helped the villagers to retrieve water from the other site and to clean the water in the well.
This story always leaves an impression on parents. When we saw it on the telly my husband and I cried. It was beautiful, the sense of no matter what you have done we will be with you, walk with you, and we will work it out together. Belonging.
After ensuring their survival needs are met, humans have a fundamental need to belong. In this village, survival and belonging were regarded as the same.
The villagers had every right to be angry. Their life was hard and the incident made it even harder, threatened their survival. But they weren’t angry, they were kind. They had adopted the American family for the week they were there, they were their own, and there is no reason to be angry with one of your own.
I heard someone who was running a parent group recently say “when I discipline my children I make sure that I take something from them that is going to really hurt them”. That’s the parenting by pay-back and vengeance mode, and I was disappointed to hear it being advocated to parents who were supposed to be learning about positive parenting. What a shame and a wasted opportunity.
Go gently and kindly.
Image source: http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/proposal.html