I was talking to a friend – a childless friend – and she was saying that spanking kids was child abuse. My body bristled at her words. I had never had someone inadvertently imply that I was a child abuser before, so I sarcastically replied, “Oh, I don’t believe in spanking,” and I paused for effect, “except when you’re angry.”
My friend was aghast. She went on a long spiel: “No that is exactly when you shouldn’t because you will only hit harder and blah, blah, blah.” I rolled my eyes and wondered if my friend had no sense of humor, or was hitting children really not funny? [i]
I tried to explain why I said what I said. “I’ve only spanked two times and it was when I was extremely overtired, overwhelmed and out of my mind.”
“Well, that’s child abuse” my friend reiterated.
Then call DCF, because I’m guilty.
Like my friend, before I had kids, I said I would never spank. Not that there is anything wrong with it. I was spanked. I never felt abused[ii]. My parents thought they were being easy on me because they didn’t use a switch or a belt (just a wooden spoon). And their parents thought they were being easy on them because they never sold them to a child labor camp.[iii]
Punishment is a personal choice. It should be discussed before you have kids. Then re-evaluated when your sweet baby turns into a demonic 2-year-old, because seriously, some kids only listen to spankings. If you do choose to spank, the one thing that they always say is: Never Spank in Anger. Of course, I see the reason that they say this, but I could literally never conceive of hitting my child at any other time.
The first time I spanked my oldest son, he was 1½, and we were out of town. My youngest son was 2 months old and was freaked out about being away. He wouldn’t nap. He wouldn’t let anyone hold him. He stayed awake until 10 o’clock every night, and then he would wake up every hour to feed.
I w a s l o s i n g m y m i n d.
I was tired and hysterical and trapped. Finally, on the third day, I got my baby to nap. All three of us, my oldest, the baby and I, were in the bed, but my oldest was still crawling around. The baby was sleeping in my arms, so I was afraid if I moved I would wake him. Instead I whisper-screamed, “Get over here. Come lay down. Please lay down. I am so tired. I need you to nap. Please.” Then he found the TV remote. “No! Don’t touch that! Get back here.” Then he turned the TV on — full blast. And woke the baby.
My eyes turned red, my head spun around, and Beelzebub screamed, “You lay down right now!” I grabbed him and spanked him hard on the back of the thigh.
I’ll never forget the horrific look of surprise in his eyes. My son lay in my arms and cried. I held him and cried. The baby cried, too. And nobody slept, the darkness of my actions swirling over us, slick like a thunderstorm. Never hit in anger.
A few weeks later when we were at my pediatrician office, she asked how things were at home. “We are surviving,” I guiltily joked, “but there’s some screaming.”
She looked at me with no judgment and said, “It is OK to make mistakes with your children. One of the most important lessons we can teach them is that it’s OK to mess up and how to ask for forgiveness. Use your bad behavior as an opportunity to sit down with your child and explain to him that you did something wrong and ask him to forgive you.”
But I hate to admit I am wrong, I wanted to whine. I spend my free time inventing reasons why everything I do is right. Yet, if I took my doctor’s advice, I could take a wrong and make it a right. Right? And then I would keep my flawless reputation of perfection. “Well son, I only make mistakes to teach you humility.”
Since that day in the doctor’s office, I try to practice her advice. Each time I suck down my pride, admit to being wrong, and ask for forgiveness, I tell myself I’m demonstrating a valuable skill. And while I do hope that my children are able to easily forgive me of my mistakes, more importantly, I want them to be accepting of their own faults and that asking for forgiveness will become a lifelong habit.[iv]
[i] (My sense of humor lies pitch-perfectly between raunchy and lame, so it had to be the former.)
[iii] Admit it. There are some teenagers out there that you really want to slap. A literal reality slap.
[iv] Boys, if it’s 2032 and you are reading this after discovering an ancient portal to the fossilized Internet, please know this is all fiction. … (No. That is a lie. I’m sorry I lied. Please forgive me.)