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Sheryl Savill

Standing up for what we Believe

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I am not normally one to get involved in politics or public demonstrations. But when I realised how the anti-smacking bill would directly affect the way I was raising my children, I just knew that I had to do something. And I discovered very early on that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way – many of the parents I talked to thought the bill was ludicrous. So ludicrous, they felt that there wasn’t even a need for a petition… surely our politicians weren’t that blind. The ironic thing about it was that many children also thought it was illogical!

The government was intruding yet again into the lives of parents, and as a mum, I was really concerned about the impact that this type of bill would have on my family.

Through my role at Focus on the Family, I deal with parent education and run the How To Drug Proof Your Kids programme. I know how incredibly important the values instilled by parents are in a child’s life. To remove and undermine a parent’s authority in their own home is a treacherous area for the State to wade into.

I’m not speaking blindly here as the Founder of Focus on the Family, Dr James Dobson, has dedicated his life to helping parents nurture and protect their children. Work that started while he was working in pediatrics over 30 years ago. He found that children were falling through the cracks because parents weren’t given the tools to be able to raise their children. So he began to provide practical ideas and techniques to mums and dads, helping them to be the best parents that they can be.

It’s an ethos that I completely agree with and live by – I just couldn’t sit by and watch the State force-feed my kids values that were in total contrast to my own – that prostitution is ok, that teenage sex is normal, or that abortion is acceptable. And now they want to tell me (who loves my children better than anyone else) how best to raise them too. No way! This is the task of parents … we need to be supported and encouraged to raise our children to be loving, useful, productive members of society.

I’m not talking about turning a blind eye to real abuse! That must be stopped!

Despite being brought up in a loving family, abuse is something that I am well aware of. With an interesting blend of Indian, English and Scottish roots, my home was a mix of very different cultural backgrounds. We were taught the value of love, commitment, honesty, compassion, laughter and joy, respect, neighbours helping neighbours, and family helping family. We were not however, sheltered from the darker aspects of these cultures. My parents shared stories of families they know that have been affected by abuse – a drunken father beating his wife; marriage breakdowns; teenage pregnancy through incest; children with no food to eat or clothes to wear; political violence and tough financial times. These things happen all over the world.

And more recently, through my husband’s work as a police officer, we are hearing firsthand about domestic abuse. He deals with families where scared little toddlers and young children are left sitting huddled on the front lawn in the middle of the night. You see, for them it’s the safest place to be, away from flying bottles and broken glass; away from their mum and dad, who are normally too drunk to care. My husband tells horrific stories where drunk parents are too busy punching, hitting, yelling abuse and threatening each other, to notice or care where their kids are. So as I’ve already stated, I’m definitely not talking about accepting abuse in the home. But what I am saying is that we need to encourage loving, caring parents to do the very best for their children. If we feel that smacking is appropriate, then make sure that it is done in a home that is filled with love, not anger or frustration. It is the anger and frustration, combined with a lack of real support, which ultimately leads to abuse.

If we want to grow a nation of great kids into world-impacting adults, we must start by dealing with the real causes of child abuse.

At the end of the day, I still stand by what I said in the first place – I am a mum who is concerned about families in New Zealand. I can see how much damage is done to children through drugs, alcohol, poverty, stress and family breakdown.

It’s important to acknowledge that even though my name is on this petition not to criminalise good parents for smacking, the work of collecting the 380,000 signatures is not the work of one individual. A team of people and organisations who were just as passionate as me, made this happen.

On the 29th of February 2008, I was fortunate enough to stand on the steps of parliament with Larry Baldock and a group of people to hand in the boxes of signed petitions. I cannot put into words how proud I was to be a kiwi that day. We represented a nation of mums, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, grandfathers and grandmothers, who have stood on the streets in our local towns, outside schools, field days, at sports games and at work to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures. New Zealanders, standing up for what we believe!