I used to think parents who spanked their children fell into two categories – atheist child abusers or religious child abusers. The atheist spankers argued that a good wallop was the correct method of discipline because that is what their parents did. This argument was inevitably followed by, “and look how well I turned out. I’m OK. My kids will be OK.”
I was too much of a chicken to say, “Yes, I see how you turned out. You turned out to be an asshole child abuser!” I just rolled my eyes and walked away, content to feel superior and know that I would be a better parent than that person. I would use logic and time-outs, and my children would never be confused about being struck by someone they loved.
I was equally offended by the holy rollers who twisted Bible verses into a spanking justification. No, justification isn’t a strong enough word. A mandate to spank. A divine command, if you will. God says we must use the rod of discipline. If we don’t, our children will be overtaken by their sinful natures when they grow up.
Again, I was too shy and introverted to comment out loud, but my inner brain was screaming in disbelief. You have GOT to be kidding me!! How could a loving God both save you and tell you to abuse your children? I see how well spanking beat the sin out of your nature!!
Then, I got pregnant.
Hormones turned me into a woman unable to suppress most of my thoughts. Anything was fair game. I thought a glass of wine would irrevocably damage a fetus, as would nitrates, raw fish, and unpasteurized cheese. I was vocal about these beliefs, and I was vocal about my beliefs concerning appropriate child rearing. Especially with my sister-in-law, whom I dubbed, “Mrs. Spanky McSpankerson.” I would engage her in argument after argument about how damaging spanking is to a developing child. I would send her articles, texts, whatever I found on the topic. Generally, I was a total dick.
Then, my son was born.
He was colicky from the beginning. As he grew, he went from a constant crier to a constant whiner. He was relentless. Peas were too green, cereal was too cold, his long-sleeved shirts were too long, and his yogurt tasted like … yogurt. How devastating.
After the era of whine, he became what some euphemistically call “strong-willed.” That is just a nice way to say he’s a dick. He comes by it naturally enough.
We tried stern talking-to’s when he pulled the cat’s tail and threw blocks at the wall.
We tried time-outs when he refused to get in the car and when he screamed “NOOOOOO” when told to take off his filthy long-sleeved shirt.
He laughed and stuck his tongue out.
We tried to praise his good choices, like when he chose to drink his milk instead of grinding it into the carpet.
He smiled, then maintained eye contact while pouring his milk directly into my shoe.
We tried natural consequences for bad choices – like if he refused to wear his coat, then he was going be be very cold during outside play.
Didn’t faze him AT ALL.
Then, one day, he slapped me in the face.
I discovered a third category of spankers. Parents who have no other choice but to use the discipline method that a million generations before them have used with kids who are dicks.
All my carefully crafted belief systems about raising children using love and logic and choices evaporated in a puff of smoke. I calmly turned that child over, slid his pants down, and gave him a solid whap right on his round little bum. I didn’t argue, or plead, or negotiate, or use complicated words. I spanked him and said, “You will not slap mommy. That is disrespectful. I am in charge, and you are not. This is not a choice.”
He cried. Big fat tears. He was SHOCKED and scared. I was too. We snuggled for a minute. I told him I loved him. He got over it in about two minutes. I didn’t break his spirit, and he continues to be a strong-willed child. But he is a respectful strong-willed child who thinks twice before he acts and makes better choices.
I no longer believe that parents who spank are child abusers. Now, I believe that those parents are simply strong-willed. And maybe a little desperate.