Wednesday, May 7, 2014
I Learned The Hard Way - Spanking Is Wrong
I'm fifty-one years old and still remember the spankings I received as a child. Back then it was normal for parents to reach out and touch their children when they misbehaved. Now it's a big debate, hopefully one that will end soon and with us coming away with a better understanding of how to be more humane towards our children.
Yesterday I had a lengthy email exchange with a friend who advocates for spanking. My impression (after many conversations about her world-view) is that her religion teaches her it's in the best interest of the child, so naturally it's something to support and also, not something to question. Because if god says it, then it must be true. Knowing me, that alone is worth challenging, but it went deeper than that this time. Spanking affected not only me growing up, but in turn, my children as well. It was a hard parenting lesson, but certainly one worth learning how to do different.
What sparked this whole conversation, and also what prompted my responses during this email exchange, was her insistence that spanking was the right thing to do when it was necessary. She believed that the writer of the piece didn't have the correct take-away from her endured spankings. In other words, the spankers in the writer's case weren't spanking in the right fashion for her to receive the valuable and appropriate message. Obviously! And since that was the case, it invalidated the writer's thoughts that spanking was wrong. Having had a similar experience growing up and being a parent who passed on what I had been taught (although not to the degree I experienced at the hands of my mother), this piece struck a similar chord in me. The writer was entitled to her opinion (how gracious of you email exchange person), but like what was being assigned to the writer, I was feeling the burn of "Opinions are like assholes, everyone's got them" slap across my face with her comments. Only she had all the answers, and apparently hers are the only right ones. I guess she doesn't understand that the word opinion would also apply to her.
I'm not proud to admit I spanked my kids on more than just a few occasions. Even having been 'educated' that way myself, thinking this is what I was supposed to do to my own children, it never felt good to do this to them. I cringe and I cry when I look back on the moments in their childhood when they were on the receiving end of spankings for something I felt warranted that type of punishment. It didn't happen very often, but when it did I felt like I had died just a little. Still to this day I wrestle with the guilt of inflicting pain on my children. They have since told me that they don't remember much or have any hard feelings knowing that it happened, but my shame lingers still, even with their reassurances.
Writing this now, I'm still struggling with my emotions and my own memories of those moments. It kills me that I could ever have hurt my children when they were misbehaving. In those moments I felt justified somehow that I should spank them as they were the ones who created the situations that were getting out of control; my job was to halt their inappropriate behavior by any means necessary. Spanking was swift, usually worked immediately with them and allowed me to vent my anger in the heat of the moment. Many parents won't admit their anger is usually in charge, but it's true. Even when they say 'last resort measure', it's because the child has pushed the parent to a certain threshold that's not to be crossed. Controlled anger and controlled punishment still means emotions have been tested and pushed to the limit. The response is still the same, too - violence inflicted against your child.
Spanking is the intentional infliction of pain, emotional and/or physical. Whether it be a swat on a clothed bottom or the extreme of whipping with a belt or any other object that leaves red welts, bruises or deep cuts. It is an assault on the body of a being who is smaller, more vulnerable and in no position to fight back. And it undermines the supposed connection and relationship you have with the little person who is entrusted to your care, the one you chose to love.
We are sending the message that sometimes love hurts and it's the child's fault. Really? That's what love is supposed to mean to them? We may think they understand this punishment is to convey a consequence of inappropriate behavior, but the take-away is really that the person who loves them is also the one hurting them. How do we ever square that in our heads as it's happening? I know I couldn't and it's ultimately what made me rethink the whole issue of spanking. I figured out that it was never in the best interest of my child to harm them physically, make them fearful of me or feel humiliated in any way. I just wish that I would have thoughtfully decided that before I ever laid a hand on them in the first place.
Some would say that if it's done out of love and to teach actions have consequences; they will learn and won't do that bad behavior again. That's the gist of many conversations I've endured about spanking with religious types. But that's my point, the motivation and the lies they are taught that it's done out of love aren't true! The good book is allegedly divinely inspired by a supernatural being who wants to be the one in charge and in control of his followers using fear, intimidation and force. It's just teaching followers that same set-up in their own homes is appropriate, so now they become just like the one they worship... a control freak who has to have it his way or there will be insufferable consequences. The message being - IT really loves you when IT must use these techniques to keep you in line - so it is with believers when they use these tactics in their 'loving' family environment. They are perpetuating a model of submission through fear and control, and calling it love. How screwed up is that? Very screwed up in my book, and I'm incredibly sad for my kids and myself that I ever considered this part of my job called parenting.
I'm human and, still to this day, don't always end up doing the right things all the time. It is a struggle to choose carefully and thoughtfully how I navigate through this life and in the lives of others. The one thing I've learned in this short life is that whether it be towards people (little and big) or animals, loving means one needs to act loving. Always ask yourself "What Would A Loving Person Do?" I'm pretty sure a thoughtfully reasoned answer wouldn't be - "let me strike my child/another adult/this animal." At least I hope it won't be.
Imagine a world where the consequences aren't pain, but rather understanding that problems created by our actions should and can be resolved without violence, control or fear. Love means choosing to be kind. Spanking is not kind, it's a tactic that is the opposite of being loving. It hurts, it wounds and it teaches our children how to feel scared of their parents, to be isolated in their pain and it damages their personhood.
And it needs to stop. Now.