Spanking is a hot topic in my field.
Typing that made me feel a little gross. So let me just say now, some of you may have been directed here by search terms, when you were in fact looking for something a bit different. It happens. The boyfriend and I debated this very topic at a restaurant once, and the waitress definitely did not believe we were talking about child welfare. Please be on your way if this is the case.
It can be a difficult topic to discuss. People have strong feelings about physical discipline. They love it or they hate it. It’s one of those times when we feel the need to defend our parents. “My father never laid a hand on his children!” “Well, my parents spanked me, and I turned out just fine.”
I know lots of people on both sides. Plenty of them didn’t turn out fine, despite their claims to the contrary. But that might just be misanthropic SocialJerk talking.
Just because something went all right in your life, it doesn’t mean that it’s OK. My parents thought bike helmets were silly and unnecessary when we were kids. My brother and I never had them, but we never got into a horrific accident that involved our brains being splattered across the Brooklyn sidewalk. So they’re stupid, right? I mean, I just proved it!
No. This doesn’t mean that if I ever have children, I won’t buy them helmets. It means that I acknowledge that my parents did the best they could, with the knowledge available at the time, and that we were lucky not to be hurt. It’s not going against Mr. and Ms. Jerk to buy my hypothetical kids bike helmets. It’s learning from additional experience and advancements.
So we’re leaving that behind. If you’re going to tell me, “My parents did it!” save yourself the time. I’m not interested.
We often get families referred to us by ACS due to “excessive corporal punishment.” ACS tells the family that they are not allowed to hit the children with an object, and they are not allowed to leave marks or bruises. I guess this is an OK guideline. It doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference, but we need some type of cut off.
Most of the parents I work with come to me seeing their options as corporal punishment, or letting the kids do as they damn please. Working with parents to develop other methods of discipline is a huge part of my job. Explaining that half-assedly trying something for a day does not mean that you’ve exhausted that strategies potential. Showing them that behavior charts are not bribery. Talking about how they felt when they got hit as children–angry, ashamed, aggressive.
One particularly honest parent got into detail with me about spanking her children. We talked about the feelings she experienced when she spanked her kids. She told me that she spanked her ten year old son (on the butt, with an open hand, therefore ACS approved) one day, because he wasn’t listening. The mom told me that she thought this would get his attention. And it did. He behaved for the rest of the day. He was scared, and embarrassed, and wouldn’t look at his mother, but he behaved.
Success story? Mom went on to explain why she really spanked her son, beyond thinking that she had tried everything else. “I was so frustrated. I was angry. I didn’t really do it because I thought it was what he needed. I thought it would make me feel better.”
This woman changed the way I talk about discipline. Discipline is about getting your child to listen, to do what they need to do, so that when they grow up they can make good decisions, be a productive citizen, and be able to take care of themselves.
It’s not to get your frustrations out. It’s not an outlet, no matter how much of a nightmare little pain in the ass your child is being.
I do, despite not having kids, get how an adult could get that frustrated. When I worked in a neighborhood youth center, there were days that those little jerks (not the good kind) brought me to tears. When they wouldn’t listen, when they were blatantly disrespectful, when they were thoroughly ungrateful, when they fought, cursed, broke rules, ran off, and laughed about how angry I got.
But it still wasn’t about me.
Because of that incredibly honest mother, I approach discipline with my families by telling them they have to be ready for it. They need to have those consequences in their back pocket. If the consequence is a spanking, then fine. That’s their right to run their home that way if they choose. Personally, I don’t agree with it, but that doesn’t matter. But it can’t be delivered in a fit of rage or frustration.
“Because my dad did it” or “because my mom said so” is a fine reason to do things until age twelve. As we get older, we think for ourselves. We learn from what our parents did well. We also learn from what they
royally fucked up could have done better.
“Because he pissed me off” is an acceptable reason to punch your third grade classmate, or flip off a cabbie. (Not that I have ever done either of those things.) But it’s not a very good reason to change your disciplinary strategy.
Parents all make mistakes, and that’s fine. Kids are resilient, they get over things. (Seriously.) But we do a great disservice to ourselves and our children if we aren’t honest with why we do the things we do, why we make the choices we make, and don’t acknowledge that we make mistakes.