21 April 2010

Corporal Punishment. It's Not Actually a B-Movie.

Spanking. To some parents, it’s a word synonymous with abuse. To others, it’s not really a big deal and it is, indeed, incorporated as a tool for use in their individual discipline structures for their kids. But no matter what side of the fence you live on, it’s a hot button issue sure to spark debate (if you’re lucky) and flame wars (if you’re not).

With that in mind, it was with a little bit of dread that I clicked on the Circle of Moms featured discussion the other day – “How Do You Feel About Spanking/Swats/Butt Busting”. My first thought was, “Butt Busting”? WTF is…who the $%^# calls it that unless you’re using a belt on a bare bottom?! (M tells me that it's actually a porn thang that has nothing to do with children or discipline. I suspected as much. Ew.)
I am not a spanker. I am not against those who are and I do believe in the freedom of families to choose discipline or punishment that is within the confines of the law – and that works for them. In fact, I was spanked. A lot. I also had my ass busted a few times. It left a very definitive mark on my personality, never really curbed the transgressions it was meant to (just made me a little more clever at hiding my tracks) but I would hardly say that I was abused…and I love and respect the parent that meted out the punishment.

Yet…we don’t do it. Odd that, given that both of us knew corporal punishment as kids and, let’s face it,
the military doesn’t exactly dissuade violent tendencies. I’ll tell the truth here – I’ve been in a brawl or two in my day and I’ve never pulled a punch. Even though those days are well behind me, I still have no problem defending myself – and I know from experience that sometimes, diplomacy fails. If someone swings at me, well, come on if you think you’re hard enough.

It's safe to say then that we, as parents, that’s M and I, have the history and the legacy. But we’re not in the, “I was Spanked as a Child and I Turned Out Fine” school of discipline although I came close not too long ago…

One night a few weeks ago, A was in a Mood. She was physically fighting my attempts to get her dried off, diapered and in PJ’s after her bath. Yes, for some reason, even though we’ve never hit her, she has no compunction about smacking me and sometimes, M. And there we were, me holding her little fist and saying, loudly, “We don’t HIT! NO!!!” and her struggling harder to hit me again and again. I started to see red. Here was a kid, just coming out of babyhood in the truest sense of the word, smacking and kicking me. I knew a crack on the rear would end it. She was screaming, I wanted to scream, I thought about raising my hand…

And walked away. I left her there, in the buff, dripping from her bath, suddenly bewildered. M had heard the commotion and was coming in to help anyway. So, I left. I came back a minute later. She was calm now…puzzled. She let me dress and diaper her. We snuggled on the couch and watched “Kipper”. The world was a normal place again.

Her pediatrician and her teachers have categorized her as, in turns, “very intelligent”, “an excellent listener” (she does what’s asked of her in Play Skool) and, “A handful. A really, really big handful”. She is fiercely independent, verbose, active and all of those other things you hope for in your child – and then occasionally curse when you realize that you got exactly what you hoped for, like a Genie’s wish.

Naturally that leads to power struggles as she learns her world and her place therein. I know well enough that tantrums and protests are borne of frustration. I also know that they can take on a life of their own, even scaring the toddler in question. I’ve seen it happen to A and have found that it’s best to let her scream it out until she comes back to herself, and then be there to offer a hug when she’s done. She has, by the way, yet to turn that offer down. And do you know something? When I started doing THAT, the tantrums started growing less frequent.

She listens. She learns. Sometimes, she covers her ears as her way of telling us that she doesn’t like what she hears, but we’ve found that counting to 3 works to motivate her. The couple of times we’ve gotten to 3, we took away what we said we would take away. Immediately. And she learned. She knows we’ll do it. Now, I usually get to 2 before she’s off and picking up toys or preparing for PJs or doing whatever it is she was asked to do.

In the end, I don’t think spanking is a good answer to correcting behavior. It teaches kids to “do as I say, not as I do” which automatically loses you respect points. Trust me. I remember that well. And respect, as I so often say when I salute the rank but not the man or woman it’s pinned on, is earned, not granted. Lord knows, there have been enough occasions in my career where I only respected the rank, the overarching authority…but wouldn’t piss on the bearer if he or she were on fire. That same tenet applies to parenting. Children don’t have to respect you just because you’re their parent. You still need to earn that respect. Parents who choose physical discipline as the main tool in their behavior modification arsenal and soppy parents who are all talk and no action don’t earn much respect in the end. Both classes teach kids how to work around the parent and how to hide things – and that it’s OK to fight back or to just give ‘em the bird and press on.

There are loads of people who will disagree with me. I’ve seen it here, where one woman cites the bible as her guiding light to disciplining a 1-year old. And the discussion linked to at the beginning of this ramble is split about 50/50. If it works, fine. But I wonder…just because it was done unto you…does that really mean you should pass the torch?

It’s a hard one to extinguish, especially for someone like me who is not afraid of violence in the least and who is trained to mete out violence in defense and if necessary. Nevertheless, I snuffed the torch that night when I walked away and in doing so, I feel somehow that maybe, just maybe, if I were ever to receive a salute from my daughter, it would be for the whole person, not just the title of authority – “Mom”.

How about you? Spank or no?


Julie said...

I am no Dr. Spock, but IMO - Once a child has the ability to reason and to communicate, spanking should cease.

I prefer instead to foster cognitive abilities & the ability to discern right from wrong by using other methods like removal of priviledges or talking things through....

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