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Spanking and the Potential Leader Applicant

Anna Utter
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 26 No. 3, May-June 1990, p. 43

You have your eye on a mother in your Group. She seems to be a good candidate for leadership, but you have doubts, especially when she says that she feels spanking or hitting is an appropriate means of disciplining her child.

When considering such a mother for leadership, it may be helpful to examine some of the reasons why the issue of spanking arises so often.

  • Lack of exposure to alternatives--Many mothers were spanked as children and are following their parents' model. They may spank because they don't know what else to do. Also, many women attending La Leche League meetings have young babies and may not have encountered many disciplinary challenges and, therefore, may have seen little need to seek alternatives to spanking.
  • Dangerous situations--Fear for her child's well-being may prompt a mother to spank her child. She may feel that spanking is the only way she can impress upon her child the danger of his actions.
  • Religious convictions--Some mothers hold religious convictions about discipline that include a belief in spanking as an effective and appropriate disciplinary method for certain misbehaviors.

Regardless of a mother's reasons for spanking, when we consider her for leadership, we need to look at her entire relationship with her child, rather than isolated incidents. LLL's concept on loving guidance reads: From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.

If you feel she has the potential for leadership, instead of crossing her off your list of possibilities, talk to her. Give her the chance to decide for herself if she would be comfortable representing La Leche League philosophy.

Discuss the concepts. As with any mother you think might be a good Leader, before she applies, sit down with her and discuss the responsibilities of a La Leche League Leader and LLL's philosophy. Be sure she understands it and would be comfortable presenting it to mothers. When discussing the concepts, be sure the potential Leader Applicant knows LLL's viewpoint on discipline. Refer her to the loving guidance section of THE WOMANLY ART and to the policy statement on loving guidance (January-February 1987 LEAVEN, p. 6).

Clear up any misconceptions she may have by quoting or paraphrasing LLL philosophy as found in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. Throughout chapter fifteen, alternatives to spanking are suggested and numerous references from other authors are quoted. Does she understand that as a Leader she would be expected to refrain from offering spanking as a suggestion to mothers? How does she feel about La Leche League's views and expectations?

Ask her how she might answer other mothers' questions. If the mother is seriously considering applying for leadership, ask her how she would respond to a mother of two-year-old who bites or the mother of an adventurous toddler who climbs and investigates every nook and cranny of the house. Thinking about how she would help another mother will help clarify and solidify her own beliefs.

Suggest reading books from LLLI's Bibliography. If the mother would like to think more about this issue, suggest she look into some of the books in the Group Library, such as those that explain the developmental stages of children and books that offer alternatives to spanking--How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Don't Shoot the Dog, How to Really Love Your Child, and Loving Your Child Is Not Enough.

Listen and give support. If the mother has doubts, give her a chance to express her fears and let her know that all mothers worry about these things. Give her and other Group mothers the chance to talk about the ways they handle these kinds of situations by making discipline the topic of an Evaluation Meeting.

For mothers who lack exposure to alternatives to spanking, clarifying LLL's viewpoint, offering suggestions for ways to learn alternatives, and supporting them in their mothering may be all they need to feel comfortable with LLL's philosophy of loving guidance.

If the mother's view on spanking stems from religious convictions, she may still have the potential to make a fine Leader. As with any other mother, her compatibility with LLL's loving guidance philosophy is considered on the basis of her overall relationship with her child. For example, a mother who reserves the right to spank may routinely use the approaches outlined in THE WOMANLY ART and find that rarely, if ever, does she actually exercise her right to spank. This mother may actually spank her child less often than one who does not believe in spanking but occasionally hits her child out of anger.

When discussing leadership with this mother, keep the focus on LLL's philosophy of loving guidance and La Leche League's expectations of its Leaders. The mother's religious beliefs do not need to be discussed. In fact, it is best to avoid discussing religion, because any disagreements will only cause antagonism. La Leche League does not ask a mother to abandon her religious convictions when she becomes a Leader. We do, however, ask her to represent LLL's philosophy at League meetings and when helping mothers individually. Consider the mother's feelings about spanking as an opportunity to present LLL's view, our policy of not mixing causes, and our attitude of acceptance of all mothers.

Occasionally mothers who believe in spanking due to their religious convictions quote books other than the Bible in defense of their viewpoint. This is a good time to explain the purpose of our Group Bibliography (No. 460) of recommended books. Point out that the books on this list which most fully reflect our philosophy are those published by LLLI. THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDlNG, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, LEARNING> A LOVING WAY OF LIFE, THE FUSSY BABY, and the information sheet, "Loving Guidance" (No. 127), are among those that give a mother the clearest picture of LLL's philosophy of loving guidance.

Discussing these kinds of concerns before a mother applies for leadership can prevent disappointment and hurt feelings. If the mother decides she cannot in good conscience represent LLL's views, she will reach this decision before she has made an investment of time and money and before her hopes have been raised. We as Leaders can let her know that LLL members are not required to accept its philosophy and can encourage her to become involved in the Group in other ways. Help her feel welcome as the valued member she is. If after discussing LLL philosophy, the mother decides she wants to pursue leadership, then she can go ahead, and both of you can feel confident that she will feel at ease presenting La Leche League's philosophy and there will be no surprises during her application time.

If you have any questions or concerns--either before or after a mother applies for leadership--please get in touch with your Coordinator of Leader Applicants or her assistant.

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