I was 18 years old when I first decided not to spank my kids. I did not yet have kids, and although many pre-kid promises were made and then fell to the wayside once I actually birthed my own heathens, the vow to never hit my kids pretty much has remained intact.
I remember the moment when I decided putting hands on children was absurd. There I was, my 18-year-old self, lithe and innocent in denim shorts, a too-tight Motley Crue top, and horribly highlighted bangs, standing in line in a grocery store behind a mother with two small children. They were fussy in the cart, one in the front, chubby legs banging gratingly against metal, one in the back, with a cute round face, who insisted on yanking at her sister’s gorgeous glossy ringlets. The mom, obviously exhausted and fed up, struck the hair puller in question quite sharply on her pudgy arm while yelling the explanation of “We don’t hurt! We use our nice hands!”
Yes, I was young, carefree, and yet to experience the stress of wrangling toddlers while trying to pay for apricots, but the phrase struck me as odd.
We use nice hands.
Why the hell doesn’t mom have to use nice hands? I thought.
That was the day I vowed to any future children I might have that I would do my best to use nice hands.
Two spirited boys, and many years later, I’ve held firm to my beliefs but have been met with much resistance, and received a ton of flack for my hands-off approach to parenting. With one son who can be described as a handful on a good day, I’ve heard my fair share of “That kid needs a good crack,” or “In my day, we would wipe up the floor with a kid like that.”
I’ll stick to my Swiffer, thank you.
Then there’s those oh-so-helpful Facebook memes. Perhaps you’ve seen them or even shared one yourself. One features a drawing of a thrashing, screaming kid sprawled across the lap of an adult who is spanking him. The caption reads: My parents spanked me as a child, as a result I now suffer from a psychological condition known as “respect for others.”
This meme really gets my large Hanes briefs in a bunch.
And then there’s this gem:
Who the hell is this guy anyway?
Here’s my deal: Children are the only group of humans on the planet that we are allowed to smack. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? (Pun intended.) We can’t hit our husbands; husbands are never supposed to hit their wives. That pesky co-worker who gets on our last nerve — guess what? Can’t touch them. Mad at your sister for borrowing your fave LuLaRoe leggings and not returning them, sorry but keep your paws to yourself. The lady in front of you at ShopRite on the 10 items or less line has 34 items and you feel like ramming the cart into her bum — yup, you guessed it, that’s a no-no.
You see, you may very much want to slap the shit out of someone who is vexing, rude, or doing something totally wrong, but there’s this annoying thing we adults call self-control, and if it’s not mastered by the time you turn 18, could land you in serious trouble. In real life, we have to play nice, use our grown-up words, and keep our hands to ourselves. Why doesn’t this logic apply to our children? It should.
If we want our children to behave justly, empathetically, and kind, we as parents must model that behavior ourselves. If Mommy can’t slap Daddy for leaving a pile of dirty dishes in the sink for the 80th time, then it makes sense that she shouldn’t hit Junior for leaving his Legos scattered on the living room for the 80th time — even if you happen to step on one.
And hitting doesn’t really work anyway. If you disagree, indulge me for a few moments using the following visualization exercise.
Imagine you are at work and make a mistake. Picture your boss calmly correcting you, explaining what you did wrong, then demonstrating a better way to do it. How do you feel? Are you receptive and open-minded? How do you feel about your boss? Most likely, you have a sense of respect toward them.
Are you still with me?
Now close your eyes and imagine instead that your boss hits you. Now how do you feel? Emotions such as anger, shame, resentment, and confusion come to mind. Suddenly, respect and trust flies out the window. You may even lash out, wanting to hit your boss back, which of course you are not allowed to do because they’re the boss. Pent up anger and embarrassment causes you to forget what you even did wrong in the first place.
Are you still with me?
Now replace you and your boss with you and your child.
See what I’m getting at?
In society, it is generally understood that hitting is wrong, yet we continue to debate whether or not it is appropriate to hit our children. I’ve heard older folks reminisce of times past when parents regularly spanked their children as if they were missing a dog that died. “I turned out fine,” they say, but I would disagree. Pull back the layers of that onion, and I bet you’ll find an insecure person, who felt hatred toward their parent for hitting them, and then guilt for having such strong ugly feelings as a child. Hate and anger are scary emotions for a kid.
I can remember one balmy June afternoon fighting with my sister while my parents were not home. There I was, standing on our linoleum kitchen floor in my purple Kangaroos, as we ping-ponged insults back and forth. My sister stormed outside, letting the screen door slam violently. Not wanting her to have the last word, I screamed an obscenity after her — just at the precise moment my father was walking up the stairs, home from work early.
He hit me so hard I wet myself. I vividly recall standing in that kitchen under the glow of the fluorescent lights with wet underwear and a searing pain on my cheek. The wave of rage, hate, and humiliation was suffocating. I also felt fear. Fear, not only over whether he would hit me again, but fear because in that moment I wished him dead, and the fact that I had such an awful thought about someone I loved scared me to the core. It was an emotion that was too much to handle for a young child.
I was far from being an abused kid, but having grown up in the late ’70s and ’80s, hitting was as commonplace as drinking Tang and wearing fluorescent clothing. It did impact my self-esteem in a negative way, and I knew even back then there had to be a better way to parent.
See, the thing is physical punishment takes very little effort on the part of the parent. It’s often a knee-jerk reaction that requires very little thought, and absolutely no creative chops in the fine art of discipline. Bottom line is anyone can slap, hit, wallop, or crack a kid on the behind. It’s a lazy way out of parenting with very little results.
But it works, some argue vehemently, stating that back in their day, kids listened because they knew what would happen if they stepped out of line. Perhaps that may be partially true, but let me probe this a bit further and ask a question.
Do you want your child to do the right thing because they are afraid they may get spanked, or do you want them to do the right thing because it is morally correct?
A child acting from a place of fear is at risk of not learning one of the most important things in life — empathy.
I personally want my children to learn right from wrong and choose right, not because they are fearful of being hurt by me, but because they have the ability to recognize what is good, just, and kind, and have the potential to make socially responsible decisions as they get older.
I want them to be good people — not out of fear, but out of the idea that being a decent human being is the right thing to do. And I do not want to perpetuate a cycle of violence. I want to discipline from a place of love, not anger. That’s not to say I’m going to be perfect — far from it — but I refuse to embrace the notion that spanking is an acceptable form of discipline.
That is why I will continue to use my nice hands, teach my children to use their nice hands, and ask that other parents consider using their nice hands.
Because the world is a better place if we are not hitting each other.