Leslie and I were attending a Schenectady County foster care class this past week and the topic of conversation for this particular class was discipline, what’s allowed and what is not. Most of the stuff was about what you would expect from a state institution and items like “you may not deprive a child of any meals,” or “you may not place a child in solitary confinement (i.e. a closet)” make perfect sense, especially when one takes into account the homes most of these children are coming out of. We were not surprised to hear that corporal punishment was forbidden but the last item on this list of fifteen types of discipline that are not allowed caused us pause. Our instructor was reading through this list and as she came to the last one she quickly read “you may not force a child to crawl across the room on their hands and knees on grains of uncooked rice.” Wait… what? I did not even know this was a thing. Apparently it is a big enough thing that it made it onto a list of 15 expressly forbidden types of discipline as it was published in 1974. This is a form of discipline that has clearly been missing from my parenting repertoire. It was all I could not to respond, “So as long as the rice is cooked, we’re good, right?”
I’m pretty certain that my instructors were not very pleased with me by the end of class; it’s likely that they may have even begun having second thoughts about entrusting a foster child into my care. A number of these forbidden disciplines were worded like “you shall not enforce silence upon a child for extended periods of time” and I would ask questions like “what is an extended period of time?” or “who’s silence, mine or the child’s?” During the break one of the instructors came over and patted me on shoulder and said, “You’re an engineer, aren’t you?” I replied, “Yes, why?” She just said, “Of course you are.”
The most interesting and sad part of the evening was the beginning of the conversation where we talked about physical discipline. I expected our instructors (who work for the social services department) to have a certain perspective on physical discipline; with all of the cases of abuse they see it is no wonder that they would shy away from the physical aspect of discipline; not to mention the fact that the Social Sciences tends to attract the type of person who thinks that physical discipline is uncouth or barbaric. I understand I have made a generalization, and while not everyone who works in social services believes this, I would wager that a large percentage of them do so the expectations I had towards my instructors were reasonable. What I did not expect was that so many of the people in our class held similar views, including a number of them who were 60+.
The conversation was begun by talking about the difference between discipline and punishment; the purpose of punishment being to inflict pain and inspire fear, while the purpose of discipline is for correction. What a novel… dare I even say, biblical, concept. The question was asked, “Who has an instance of physical punishment from their childhood they are willing to share?” A couple of women shared memories from their childhood and everyone around the room began nodding their heads and offering the appropriate sympathies. What was so sad about this was that they consensus was that all physical forms of chastisement are, in fact, punishment by nature rather than discipline. It is clear that generations have grown up without ever understanding the value of physical discipline; without ever seen love modeled during correction.
When I posted a comment on Facebook about the foster care classes, a number of you were surprised about our decision to begin this process, and admittedly it is not something we have widely broadcasted except to our immediate family. The why of it is relatively simple, we are being obedient to His designs. I could give you any number of Scripture references about how we are to care for the widows and orphans, but that would be somewhat disingenuous as our calling was much more specific than that. I am not saying that we need a more specific calling than what is written in God’s Word, merely that with regards to this particular issue Leslie and I had a very distinct calling that came during prayer with Him one evening and was then confirmed [with great specificity] through an answered prayer.
We both have a number of concerns about how this is going to work and how it is going to impact our family (positively and potentially negatively) but it is very clear what we have been called to do and I am more certain of this than I have been of most other decisions in my life and I know that that peace and certainty comes from Him. If He is calling us to do this, how can I possibly stand in opposition to it? Any concerns I may have simply pale in comparison. In the meantime, after the successful completion of 4 home studies, 33 hours of classwork, and far too many hours of homework we should be certified foster parents… assuming I am not automatically disqualified for being an engineer.