Sticks And Stones

June 23, 2009

I have spanked my daughter. There, I said it.

I have spanked my daughter – just once, and for as good a reason as I think is possible to imagine for spanking – and I hated myself for doing it. But even though I hated myself for doing it, and even though I hope that I never do it again, I can’t quite bring myself to be outraged at another parent – no, not even Kate Gosselin – for doing it. Not because I think that spanking’s right, or even okay, but because disciplining children is a hard and complicated thing and one that – I don’t think – we can presume to understand well enough to judge from across the garden fence or down the grocery aisle or through the TV screen. If it’s not your kid, not your situation, odds are that you can’t fully understand the reasoning that might have gone into the bum-paddle that you witnessed. And if you can’t know, you can’t really judge. At least, I think you can’t. I’m still working this out.*

My parents were spankers. They always insisted that they hated doing it, that it hurt them more than it hurt us, and I always fully believed them. I still do. I never felt abused or harmed. I never doubted that they loved me. I never doubted their gentleness. Spanking was a punishment that was delivered upon my sister and I when we breached certain familial rules, like not acting in any way that might bring harm to ourselves or to each other. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, we knew well in advance what was coming. It never came as a surprise, and it was never meted out in the heat of anger. I can barely remember the spankings, now, only that they happened. I can, however, remember with perfect, uncomfortable clarity how it felt – in the years after we were too old for spanking and so were disciplined formally with groundings and informally with guilt – to be made to feel guilty. Guilt carried a greater and more lasting sting than the spankings. I can still feel that guilt – the burning cheeks, the hot tears, the sinking feeling in my stomach as my mother or father told me that I had disappointed them, that they were disappointed in me – in an immediate, visceral way. I have forgotten the spankings. I have not forgotten the guilt.

So I worry more, as a parent, about whether the modes of discipline that I use with my daughter are stinging her soul than I do about whether they’re stinging her bottom. I worry about whether the words that I choose or the tone of my voice or the look on my face are impressing fear or shame upon her. I worry about whether I am making her feel too badly. I worry that I don’t know how badly is too badly. I don’t worry so much about spanking.

Which, yes: it is easy for me to not worry about spanking, because I do not, as a rule, spank. But I have thought about spanking. I have been tempted on well more than one occasion to spank. The one time that I did spank I was – my own parents’ good example notwithstanding – so appalled at myself that I cried and vowed never to do it again, and that has been an easy vow to keep. But I have cried harder on the few occasions that I have made Emilia cry because the words that I used or the tone of my voice made her feel more terribly than was – perhaps? I don’t know – warranted by her crimes. I have felt worse about certain other parenting decisions, certain discipline decisions especially, than I did about the spanking.

I don’t believe in – as if it were something that one could or could not ‘believe in’ – hitting. I don’t believe in doing things that cause children harm, that visit unnecessary hurt upon them, that create a climate of fear. But there are things, I believe, that can cause more harm, visit more hurt, create more fear than spanking. And I worry about these things. Avoiding spanking is – with the exception of that one incident where, my god, my god, she very nearly caused serious harm to herself and to her baby brother – easy: you just keep your hands to yourself. Choosing the right words, the right tone, the right facial expressions – containing your anger, your fear, your frustration and wrapping it, tightly, in a perfectly balanced, perfectly contained disciplinary package – is much, much harder. I do my best – I do my very, very best – but even in my measured moments, I worry: have I impressed too much guilt upon her? Have I hurt her feelings unnecessarily? Have I made her doubt my love for her?

That day outside the grocery store, a few months back, when I pulled her away from the stroller and her brother and brought my hand to her bottom, that was a bad parenting moment for me. If you had seen it, you might have thought so, too. But I do not think that it was my worst moment – not for now, not even for the future – and the complicatedness of that fact – and of the facts that I do not always discipline perfectly, that I was doing the best that I could under the circumstances, that even in doing my best, I failed, and knew it, but also knew that I could have failed worse – was not something that you could have seen.

Which is why if I ever see you or Kate Gosselin or anyone spanking their child, I will not – unless it seems obviously abusive, and no, I’m not even one hundred percent what that means, which is why these things, these messy, messy things involving judgment are just so, you know, messy* – say a word. I can not say a word, because I am not without that kind of sin, and because I am not even certain that that sin is the worst of its kind.

*Beyond messy. I have judgmental thoughts, all the time. We all do. The question is knowing whether or when to say something. We shouldn’t turn away when someone is abusing a child, right? But what if one person’s ‘paddle on the bum’  is another person’s physical abuse? We should not pass judgment on other parents’ parenting – we haven’t walked in their shoes, we don’t know their story, it’s not our business – but does that mean anything goes? That we turn a blind eye in all cases? That we never speak of the questionable cases? But what is a questionable case, anyway?

This is – these questions are – about so much more than spanking. It requires far more words than I have here. Far more head and heart space than I have to devote here. So I have to – again – leave it for another time. But feel free to share your thoughts. Perhaps they’ll help me to clarify my own thinking.

Follow-up questions (because the discussion has gotten interesting):

A commenter below says that she would have called the police and pressed charges if she’d seen me swat my daughter’s bottom. Which I think is extreme, but it raises an interesting question: how do we balance fairness in judging other parents with protecting children and determining what is right and wrong in parenting? Should state tell us how to parent? Should other parents? Do some parents NEED to be told how to parent? Does the need to guide some parents trump freedom of other parents to parent how they choose? How do we decide whether, when or how to intervene?

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    Notaspanker June 25, 2009 at 11:09 am

    If I were to “bring my hand to a child’s bottom” (which is technically “hitting” no matter how nicely you put it), then I have assaulted that child and that is illegal (see
    Reasonable force in that situation would have been to pick your daughter up and move her from the situation not to smack her.
    I am sorry but if you write these things online and invite the whole world in, then the whole world it would seem has the right to comment, no?

    Her Bad Mother June 25, 2009 at 11:26 am

    I’m not rejecting your ‘right’ to comment (although this is not a democracy, and I reserve the right to close comments when I feel like it), not at all. I actually think your comments are kind of interesting.

    Not having witnessed the situation, you don’t know what reasonable force would be. I actually could not physically remove her. But even if you HAD witnessed the situation, why is that YOUR call to make? And again, why would you pursue my arrest if it was clearly not a violent hit and was clearly intended to stop a dangerous action?

    In any case, your interpretation of the proposed bill misses the spirit, and misunderstands the letter:

    “”It is to send a signal, so that people who use violence in a repeated way will no longer feel protected,” she (author of the bill) said, according to Canwest News Service. “It is not to arrest everyone who gives their child a tap on the arm.”

    The Senate mulled over the bill for more than three years, as the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers spoke out against it. In response to concerns, the bill was amended to allow parents and caregivers to use force in very specific situations — such as when a caregiver wants to immediately stop a child who is about to do something dangerous that could cause serious harm.”

    Annika June 25, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I have several police officers in my family (none in your area, but laws are similar all over). They take child abuse very seriously, and they would all be FURIOUS if someone reported what you did as such. It is a tremendous waste of their time and resources when they could be out catching ACTUAL CRIMINALS.

    SnoozanK June 25, 2009 at 11:55 am

    My parents “spanked” us too. Although in reality, what it really was was people twice our size hitting us, be it an open palm on the bottom, or a belt, or a wooden spoon, or anything that they could grab and wave in front of us menacingly if we didn’t obey a command.

    Did my parents love us? Sure. Absolutely. Did they mean to hurt us, or think they were hurting us with this “discipline?” No. I’m sure they didn’t. I know this because 30+ years later my mother insists “we never REALLY hurt you.” I always say, “how do you–how WOULD you–know that?”

    All I can really tell you is that my parents exerting physical dominance over us made us fear them, not “obey” them. It frightened us. It made us feel small, and trapped. And I am 43 years old and I remember being hit–and yes, spanking is hitting–from toddlerhood on.

    Don’t doubt for a second that your kids won’t remember it if you choose to hit them. If you think it’s the right thing to do, that’s your choice. But it may not be your child’s recollection someday. And they may wonder why hitting them was your first instinct in a difficult situation with a disobedient child.

    Last, I have never bought the “oh I only spank as a last resort” excuse because having seen plenty of parents spanking their kids, I have seen it is their automatic response, not something they contemplate for an hour after the child misbehaves. We as adults are expected to have the maturity and wisdom to control our actions. I see adults who spank as parents who lose their tempers and self control easily and take out their frustrations on their children. And I feel terribly sorry for both the kids and grownups.

    TheFeministBreeder June 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I am not a fan of spanking, but I am not ashamed to admit that I have resorted to it on a few occasions. I’ve seen parents who I admire greatly resort to it as well. Sometimes I have no idea how else to handle the behavior of the 3 yr old. He starts pushing his baby brother around, and I don’t know how make him see that what he’s doing to his brother really sucks, and he wouldn’t like it if somebody did it to him. I’m not saying it’s the best way, I certainly don’t believe it is, because I do truly believe that it’s kind of stupid to teach a kid NOT to hit by hitting them. duh? But until someone has been in my house living through those occasions with me, they have no idea how they’d handle that exact moment, so I just have to live with the way I handle things. Two nights ago my 3 yr old pushed his baby brother straight into the hot stove, all because I was trying to make dinner and not able to read him the book he wanted to be read. Daddy popped him on the rear for that, and then immediately launched into a big guilty diatribe about how he shouldn’t have done that, wishing he had handled it differently, but it was a knee jerk reaction to seeing your 13 month old flying toward a hot stove at the hand of your 3 year old who should know better. I can’t blame him. We’re all human.

    I, incidentally, was beaten (with objects, fists, etc) on a nightly basis for the simple sin of existing. I didn’t have to DO anything, I just had to be in the way, and I was used as a punching and kicking bag. I don’t like hitting. I certainly think that anyone who beats their child should be jailed – but I don’t think a swat on the butt is abuse. I just don’t. I’ve been abused. I know the difference.

    And BTW, that swat on the butt has put an immediate stop to whatever behavior it was that drove me to the point of feeling that the kid needed a swat. I doubt its effectiveness in the longterm, but in short term it can be highly effective. That still doesn’t mean I like doing it, but I’m just sayin’.

    Jen Ambrose June 25, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Yeah, I spank. And was spanked. Never out of anger, always out of love.

    Every time prior, there was always several warnings that behavior needed to change immediately.

    Before the spanking, severe discussion about 1)what they did that was wrong 2)why it was wrong 3)why they are being punished. There is always a clear message that we all have choices in life. You choose this behavior. And their are consequences for all our choices.

    Now that my children are getting older, it is rare that a spanking is necessary. More often than not, there are other punishments that fit as consequences of that behavior.

    We never spank in public. Mostly because we never discipline our children in public. We view discipline as a one-on-one opportunity to shape character and convey lessons that should occur just between parent and child. If our children disobey in public, we immediately convey that this behavior is unacceptable and if it continues, we find a private place to discuss as soon as possible.

    I know that others view me as a child abuser, but I also know that I’m not. There is a very big difference between hitting someone out of anger and spanking as done in our household.

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting June 25, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I don’t buy this one little bit:

    “Before the spanking, severe discussion about 1)what they did that was wrong 2)why it was wrong 3)why they are being punished. There is always a clear message that we all have choices in life. You choose this behavior. And their are consequences for all our choices.”

    Let’s say your husband tells you he is upset that dinner wasn’t on the table by 6:00pm. He tells you it should have been, because he’s hungry damn it. The next day it isn’t on the table by 6:00pm again, so he calmly explains to you that this is why he needs to slap you.
    It was your choice not to have the dinner on the table by 6:00pm. So you deserved to be hit.

    Jen Ambrose June 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    1) My husband does not discipline me AND
    2) My husband is not responsible for shaping my character in life

    Also? HUGE difference between spanking and slapping.

    And do children deserve punishment when they choose to disobey their parents? Absolutely. Sometimes it is a time out, sometimes it is loss of a privilege or activity, and sometimes, in my house, it is a spanking.

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting June 25, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    We obviously have vastly different parenting philosophies and views on violence, so I don’t know that there is any point in me even trying to address your reply.

    Cadi's Mum July 9, 2009 at 2:13 am

    “Let’s say your husband tells you he is upset that dinner wasn’t on the table by 6:00pm. He tells you it should have been, because he’s hungry damn it. The next day it isn’t on the table by 6:00pm again, so he calmly explains to you that this is why he needs to slap you.
    It was your choice not to have the dinner on the table by 6:00pm. So you deserved to be hit.”

    And yet, if I was about to walk under a truck because I was yelling and screaming at him (not that I behave that way in public, but hypothetically), I would hope that he would hit, push or grab me out of the way. In that instance, his physical violence, if you want to call it that, would be preferred, and yes, even acceptable. If he hit me to bring to my attention that I was stepping under a truck, do I deserve that – probably, even as an adult, especially if it is done from love. Would there be another way of drawing it to my attention? Maybe, but maybe not if I was engrossed in my diatribe.

    Unfortunately, life is never as simple as we would like it to be.

    Will June 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Outside of self defense, there is no reason to ever get physical with anyone, especially your own child. I’ve always believed that if you get to a point where you feel it necessary or even acceptable to spank your child, then you have failed as a parent.

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting June 25, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    The more you talk about this here and on twitter, the more curious I am about what exactly the situation was that allowed you to be able to spank her but didn’t allow you to physically stop her from what she was doing.

    As I said earlier, I don’t judge individual acts of spanking even though I think spanking in general is undesirable. I can understand the knee jerk reaction to spank, because that is what a lot of people do and it is what a lot of people had done to them.

    But the more you mention that spanking was the only option (rather than a knee jerk reaction), the more curious I am about what the situation was. If you don’t want to share, I respect that. But I thought I’d at least put a plea out there to have my curiosity satisfied…FWIW…

    Her Bad Mother June 25, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    It’s not that spanking was the ONLY option (in hindsight there were probably other ways to handle it) and I certainly didn’t stop and put finger to chin and go ‘hmm, what’s the very best option here?’- there wasn’t time.

    I was alone at a grocery store with Emilia and Jasper in a double MacLaren, the husband was scheduled to pick us up at a certain time, and Emilia went batshit (it was early evening) and was grabbing and hitting Jasper so I took her out of stroller and left the store and went outside to the front, holding her arm. When we were out she wrenched away from me and shoved the stroller in front of her, towards the cars going by outside the front doors. I fumbled for her and the stroller to stop both and wrestled with her as she continued to push at stroller (we’re inches away from cars) and holding her with two hand and bracing the stroller with my foot said Emilia, no, stop it and brought my hand to her bottom, once. Not hard at all, but it startled her and she stopped.

    Were there other things that I could have done? Probably. Pinned her to the ground with my body? Just held on for dear life? I don’t know. I’ve played it over and over again. But whether I could have done something differently in these precise circumstances is beside the point – I regret that it came to a spanking. I HATE that it happened. But I was doing the best I could in trying circumstances, and need to forgive myself for less than ideal choices – just as I need to forgive other parents, and better, not to presume to be able to do it better or to know better for them.

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting June 25, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for satisfying my curiosity. I appreciate your willingness to share.

    SnoozanK June 25, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I think you’re being too rough on yourself. it sounds like you were in a highly traumatic situation and your fear that your kids were going to get hurt propelled you into doing whatever you could think of at that moment to startle her into listening. And like you said, it worked. And I’m sure you didn’t hurt her. You were reacting, and now you’re questioning why you reacted that way—and that’s all good! Because it will help you next time.

    Although I am pretty firmly anti-spanking/hitting/striking/paddling, I have been in my share of “parking lot situations” with disobedient kids not holding my hand or standing still when I tell them to or not running out ahead of me . I’ve yanked a few arms towards me–and I’ve gotten “ow” and crying responses. So in those cases I KNOW I hurt my kids. I regret those things too but I explained to them AFTER I did it that at that moment, it was the only thing I could think of to do to stop them from getting hurt or run over, and I was sorry for hurting them and that I hope they will listen next time and the last thing I want to do is hurt them, ever. And the reason I apologize is because I want my kids to understand, I don’t EVER think it’s okay to physically punish a child and what I did wasn’t a punishment, it was a reaction.

    I even did this to my best friend’s 5 y/o daughter a few weeks ago. I grabbed her by the upper arm firmly when she was dancing and skittering around in the middle of a parking lot lane and I said “you are going to get hit by a car.”

    She promptly reported me to her mother (lol) and luckily my girlfriend understood and said “hey, what would have happened if susan didn’t do that?” 5 y/o said “I guess I coulda got hit by a car.” Exactly.


    Jozet at Halushki June 25, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve BTDT, too.

    Parking lots are tough to navigate with kids.

    If I see moms struggling with two or even one young one and packages, I always offer to help hold a hand, letting them know I’ve BTDT. They don’t always accept…there isn’t a good way to offer, really, without someone thinking your commenting on their ability to parent or control their kids.

    I just don’t think that kids have a “fear of parking lots” gene. Parking lots are relatively new in our 10,000 years of human-ness. I wouldn’t think less of anyone who said, “I need some help getting these small, fast-running people through this expanse of SUVs.” Nor would I think less of anyone who did what they needed to in the moment to get out of a near-disastrous situation.

    Jozet at Halushki June 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    “I don’t EVER think it’s okay to physically punish a child and what I did wasn’t a punishment, it was a reaction.”

    Yes, I see the distinction. And I think that kids get it, too. Well, kids of a certain age. I personally try not to count on their resilience and keep those situations to a minimum. Yes, they still love me and eventually forgive me, but really, do they have a choice?

    I’ve heard people argue that kids are hurt by getting shots at the doctor, for instance, and it’s for “their own good”, just like swatting, etc. The difference being, of course, that if there were another way to get the full, equal benefit of the medication without the “ouch”, why not do it? The other part being, we do let kids know that we are sorry that there wasn’t another way at the time. It’s also the reason why the nurses in our doctor office give the shots and are the “bad guys”. ;-)

    The Grown Up Teenager June 25, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    As someone who grew up with parents on both sides of the fence, neither method (spanking or “I’m disappointed in you” shame) left permanent scars on me. My mom spanked me. She either did so with her hand, or a wooden spoon. The wooden spoon was when I did something particularly bad. She never did it in public, in front of other kids or as a gesture to shame me. It was a whack on the ass to teach me that if I do *insert action here,* there will be consequences.

    My dad never spanked me. He did the “I’m disappointed in you” face or talk, and why shouldn’t he? I had obviously done something that he had taught me better than to do, but I did it anyway. That’s disappointing to a parent, and I see nothing wrong with voicing that sentiment to the child.

    If my kid, at any age, tried to push a stroller into traffic, he or she would get a good swat across the butt instantly, and you better believe there’d be punishment at home too (not another spanking, mind you, but no dessert, toy taken away, time out, whatever I chose for whatever age they are).

    That said, if someone doesn’t spank, who am I to judge their choices? I have friends who don’t spank and I would never say anything about it, or lay a hand on their kid (or anyone elses, for that matter. Even if the parents ARE spankers, it should be left to them). I hope I don’t have to with my future kids. I hope they’re angels that stop when Mommy gives them the evil eye. But if they’re not, I’ll spank. Period.

    Issa June 25, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Gah, I hate coming here and addressing the comments instead of the post. I’m going to try not too.

    I think as parents we have all done things we regret and all we can do it move on. In the same situation as you were in, might I have done the same thing? Most likely yes. I’ve never swatted any of my kids. But my husband has once, to each of the girls, because they put themselves or their sibling in immediate risk. In that situation, it was the thing he knew to do, to get their attention and they were each around E’s age. It wasn’t hard, it didn’t actually harm them, it just got their attention and stopped the behavior.

    I was swatted twice as a kid, I believe. My husband maybe a couple more times than that. It’s not something I really think is the way to go, it’s not a good parenting tool, but it does occasionally happen.

    Then again, I’ve regretted other things that I have said or done while angry. I am by no means a perfect parent. My kids test my patience on a day to day basis. All we can do as parents is try to do better the next time around. Shrug. These kids don’t come with an instruction manual.

    I don’t think it makes you a bad parent in any way.

    Rachel June 25, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    The thing that really gets me with spanking is…if you saw a parent slap a kid across the face, would you think that was abusive? Yes. So why is it okay to hit your kid as long as you hit their bottom? Is it because if you leave a mark it won’t show while out in public?

    That being said, I totally understand the desire to smack some sense into a kid, especially if they are putting themselves or another child in danger. But I was never spanked and I will never spank. I don’t want my kids to be afraid that I’m going to hit them.

    Jozet at Halushki June 25, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    In our store, we’d been instructed by one manager that any “swatting” of any human being of any size is to be reported. We just can’t make the determination whether it’s parent/child or some other situation, and that it’s Security’s call to make. It’s a liability issue.

    As far as not wanting to use spanking as a form of discipline, I think that a mind shift of thinking of “discipline” = “teaching” and not necessarily “punishment” helps to put me in a more proactive frame of mind. “What do I want the TO do” instead of “How can I stop them from doing x?” By the time a person gets to to question 2, they are basically being a reactive parent and no matter if you do spank, there’s no guarantee that anything has been learned other than “it was worth the pain so I’ll do it again” or “look at the power I have to get such a reaction”. Now, the decision is to hit harder next time. That’s a slippery slope I’d rather not visit.

    What keeps me looking for different ways is two thoughts:

    1) I wouldn’t hit my kids to teach them the alphabet nor would I approve of a preschool teacher who taught by fear, (I always thought the “No one else can hit my kid except me” line of thought to be a bit…tricky…) and

    2) It’s not the “pain” that is teaching; it’s the fear of the spanker. Kids will always judge whether or not the pleasure is worth the pain, and that goes for “exploring/discovering” that is their continuing to reach toward the hot radiator even after they’ve been burned, or falling off a skateboard for the 50th time. If your child is still trying to jump off the top step and you’re not around to spank them for not doing it, then you might need to figure out another way of stopping them, for example.

    I just think that the more forceful and physically intrusive the discipline, the more challenging it is to later get kids to switch from external to internal locus of control. The least amount of fear and force and emotional involvement that will get the job is, I think, preferable and easiest to move away from later when kids need – and want – to self-discipline themselves. That’s my pop psych for the day.

    Jozet at Halushki June 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Whoops…that should be “spank them for doing it” not “not doing it.” Tripped myself up with double negatives.

    SnoozanK June 25, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    “I don’t want my kids to be afraid that I’m going to hit them.”


    Maggie July 5, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    “The thing that really gets me with spanking is…if you saw a parent slap a kid across the face, would you think that was abusive? Yes. So why is it okay to hit your kid as long as you hit their bottom? Is it because if you leave a mark it won’t show while out in public?”

    No, I’d say it’s because a) there’s a lot of padding on the bottom, so it’s less likely to actually cause damage (eyes are fragile, noses break, lips bruise, teeth can be knocked out) and b) because most people have a stronger sense of identity with their head/face than they do to their rumps.

    Getting hit in the face is much more of an insult than a smack on the backside – it carries a different connotation and a greater lack of respect. I’m not saying that any hitting doesn’t have some level of ‘violation’, but I think most would agree that there’s a distinction between stepping on someone’s foot and raping them – there are different levels of psychological harm involved.

    Jozet at Halushki June 25, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I’ve spanked. It was always when I was at the end of my rope, felt like I had no other choices, felt exhausted, felt fear for my child, thought I needed to pull out the “big guns”, thought it wouldn’t be a big deal just this once, was running late, was running out of patience…etc.

    But it’s not a choice in my “parenting toolbox”; for myself, I look at is as a cue that I need to dig into finding other choices for the new situations I find myself in. And I firmly believe that there are other choices, no matter the child, no matter the parent. If kids with ADHS and Down’s and physical situations which would make it dangerous or even deadly to spank can be disciplined without spanking, then yeah…I think there’s always another way.

    After having been in this debate for several years, and the final end note being “We are legally allowed to hit humans to control them” and that only other example being to control dangerous criminals, and having seen time and time again that parents of all sorts of children are able to have disciplined children without using fear of the parent as a discipline tool (which is really what the pain is all about), I have only the “I turned out okay” argument to debate.

    I’ll say this: I was spanked, and I turned out okay. However, I will never ever forget the day when my best friend told me that she had never been spanked. She was not an unordinary child, she came from a large family with lots of kids who were also never spanked, they were not perfect children, but they were disciplined and well-liked, and having “lived” in their house, I could see no other heavy-handed parental shenanigans…

    and the question I asked myself was “So then…what is wrong with ME that I need to be hit in order to learn?”

    And that’s a question that sticks both literally and physically.

    And so, while I try not to judge other parents for swatting or hitting or spanking other than judging that they’ve come to their personal “end of the rope” at that moment – somewhere we’ve all been – for myself I find myself thinking “What’s wrong with me that I haven’t figured another way to teach ________?” And there’s nothing wrong with me. And I do figure out another way for the next time. Because if my kid ran into the street again after I spanked her – and it’s happened – I’d come up with another solution to teaching her. And I have. And no, it didn’t involve duct tape and leg irons. :-)

    All that said, and to the other point of your post, yes…there are plenty of other parenting choices I could make that would have a negative lasting impact not worth the “learning moment”. I try not to quantify the “badness” of any choice against another. If there’s a better, more proactive, authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian) choice, I try to look for it, whether it’s instead of screaming or instead of being passive-aggressive or instead of flipping out and grounding for an entire month when a day would do…continuous process improvement across all levels, just like with a real job.

    Jozet at Halushki June 25, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Sorry for the epic comment.

    Chibi Jeebs June 25, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I’ve been spanked once in my life that I remember. After doing it, my mother sat beside me and sobbed as she apologized profusely. I probably didn’t “deserve” the spanking, as I wasn’t in immediate danger (nor was I putting anyone else in danger); however, I was 12 years old, pretty much the same size as her, and had done a completely assholeish thing.

    My grandmother beat my mother — yes, *beat* — hence my mother’s reaction to hitting me. And yes, there is a very distinct difference between a spanking and a beating: ask my mother who, to this day, cannot own a wooden spoon.

    As far as calling the police, good luck. I called the police as a 19-year old who witnessed a woman *beating* her child in the mall parking lot. However, because I didn’t use the correct (read: unknown to me) phraseology, no police attended the scene, and dispatcher basically blamed me for not using the right word when I called back to frantically report that mother and child were leaving.

    Knowing the difference between a spanking and a beating is half the battle, and as long as you know the difference, you’re far less likely to commit the latter.

    roztime June 25, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    As a foster parent, i’m not allowed to spank. As a parent, i might have – but I can’t say my parenting toolbox is suddenly empty b/c it’s now no longer an option. In fact, it kind of makes it easier in a way.

    As a child protection worker, i saw some truly nasty abuse cases. I also saw some where the parent used what they thought was appropriate discipline, but the Society (isn’t it interesting that, in Canada at least, it’s called that?) thought it was. The one parent, i remember vividly, was devastated we took their kids away for hitting so hard there were multiple bruises. They thought they needed to discipline their child that way – that’s how they were raised (this is why I also disagree that the ‘they did it and i’m fine’ argument is not true). But I can tell you, I will always remember that parent’s face when we apprehended – they really, really cared for their kids. Were/are they a bad parent? That’s where it gets tricky. That’s also why I have a hard time calling anyone a (truly, not tongue-in-cheek) ‘bad’ parent. It’s so much more messy than that.

    Also? In my agencies (I worked in more than one in Canada), if you got a call about a child who was spanked, you would go out to see the parents & child, sure – but if it was really just a spank? (over the clothes, once, irregularly used, using an open palm of the hand) You would close that case faster than you could say ‘try alternative methods’. Seriously, there were (is) bigger fish to fry.

    Amber June 25, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I always thought that spanking was wrong, but sure enough, 1 whopping migraine+child who gets out of bed to jump from couch to floor repeatedly and loudly. I came into his room the 10th time (I am not exagerating) and smacked his bum. He laid down and went to sleep. “There.” I thought and feeling guilty, but more relieved that I could shut my bedroom door and vomit in silence and darkness. My husband was working nights and the next night same thing, migraine no support and loud kid not going to sleep. This time I waited until the 6th time I went in. The next night the 3rd time. I had gone from an anti spank mom to an everyday spank mom in three nights. It’s so easy. I realized what was happening and realized I needed to ask for support, not to spank my little boy. So I had my mother in law come over at night to help put him to sleep when I felt sick. Now I still feel the urge to spank sometimes but I remind myself how easy it is to keep spanking. That said, if we were to repeatedly hit our child in the face as hard as we spank, why would that revolt us more? It’s still a body part being hit repeatedly, why is it “o.k” or not abuse if it’s a bum and not a face?

    roztime June 25, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for your honesty; I think I learnt more from it than most (general – not necessarily here) commentson this subject.

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting June 25, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you. Well said.

    LD June 25, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Spanking is such a difficult issue, and the thing I think that makes it so difficult is that not everyone is as thoughtful as you and many of your readers are. I was raised being spanked, being threatened with spankings (with a large spatula no less), and with the threat that my parents would allow someone else (like the principal or my teacher) to spank me if I wasn’t good. My husband was not raised to spank or to think it was normal. I knew–we knew–that we were against spanking, but nothing was harder there for a while than resisting the urge that felt so natural. And then dealing with the guilt of feeling absolutely sick at the thought that I felt like it was natural to hit something that was less than 1/3 my size. My brother and sil, however, spank indiscriminately. They use it as a warning. They use it after many warnings. They use it because they can and watching it makes me sick– because their kids never know when it’s coming or if it’s coming. There’s no rhyme or reason to when they decide to follow through– it’s all dependent upon their own anger, their own frayed patience.
    That, I think, is a problem. Not spanking is WAY harder than swatting a kid and letting go of your anger, releasing your tension in that smack. Because that’s mostly what spanking is, right? It’s a reaction to something. And if it’s not a reaction– if it’s something that was pre-planned, decided upon, and then carried through in a calm and orderly way, I can’t help but thinking that parent is one sick puppy to think it’s ok to plan to physically harm a kid.

    Troutie June 26, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Jesus! My son is 8 months old and I’m dreading the day…to spank or not spank…that is the question. My head says “it’s not necessary” but children provoke emotions in you that you never knew you had. May I be blessed with a cool head and a slow hand.

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