There, I’ve said it. I used to hit my children. So read this with an open mind, assured that I am not judging you. My mission is and always will be, to equip adults with the tools to protect children and promote equality for them. I am sharing with you what I have learned. It has helped my family and me tremendously, and I share because I am confident that you can find it helpful as well. With that said, let’s get back to it.
I used to spank. I used to hit.
I don’t think I ever really liked it. In fact I know I never liked it. It was certainly a good way to shut my eldest up when I was busy, and it got her to obey me. Deep down though (and not even all that deep), I knew she feared me. And not that sort of reverent fear that we’re supposed to have of God. This was like, “Hey you’re a scary tall person who hits me” fear. When she was doing what I thought was acting out, but have now learned is how she communicated with me because I left her with few options, all I had to do was walk toward her and she’d cower. Because of the threat of being spanked. I hated that. I’ve even told her not to be afraid of me, and that if she’d do what she knew was right I wouldn’t have to spank her.
When I had my eldest daughter I was clueless. I knew it then but I didn’t realize to what extent. I was 19, single, working full time and afraid. Afraid because I was broke, afraid because I was alone, afraid to do wrong by my child. I hit so many bumps along the way. I gave up on nursing, which sent me into a deep depression. I was having troubles with her father. I was guilty all of the time about having her in a home daycare, away from me. I missed my own family. I was stressed, and tired, and frustrated. Even through all that, I could see that being Ryleigh’s mother was THE best thing I would EVER do. I reveled in watching her grow. Simply spending time with her, doing anything at all, would make me so emotional at times that I would tear up. I was amazed by her and by how she navigated life. She has always been a loving, inquisitive child. I was head over heels in love with her.
You wouldn’t know it by the way I yelled. And spanked. For me spanking and yelling usually went hand in hand, though I admittedly yelled a lot more than I spanked. I was encouraged to spank by everyone I knew. How else will she learn? You don’ want her to be spoiled! We were spanked, right? And look at us! Don’t worry, she’ll learn to do what’s right, because she knows what will happen otherwise. I agreed. I had been spanked as a child. And I remember that whenever I got a spanking, I knew I deserved it. My mom really only spanked us when we did something we knew we shouldn’t have done. And sometimes, after a spanking she’d actually come in and apologize to us, and plead with us to obey her so that she wouldn’t “have” to spank us.
My mom spanked us for being mischievous, but it never deterred us. So was spanking working? It made us cry, made us feel like crap, and then my mother’s apology and blame game made us feel crappier. THAT’S what we were thinking. The last thing on our minds, after a spanking, was the offense which had “earned” us the spanking. She never came back and talked to us about it, or asked why we’d done it, or given us alternatives. It was never discussed. And we certainly didn’t discuss it with each other. We’d just sit and cry and console each other, then go on about our day.
It was a pattern that carried over into adulthood.
Much like the mischief I’d make as a child, as I grew up I was very willing to take risks and accept punishment. For me, punishment was the inevitable outcome of a misstep, be it planned or involuntary. I could handle punishment. But did I have to? No. But, alas, I’d never learned the art of self-regulation. I hadn’t been taught to control myself just because I knew it was the right thing to do. I was a very well-behaved child, but when there was something I wanted to go after, I could set myself up to accept any punishment coming my way and go for it. I wasn’t thinkingabout why I was doing something, or what would happen after. I knew the order: BAD ACTION -> PUNISHMENT -> GET OVER IT -> MOVE ON. But before BAD ACTION there is another option that I’d never been presented with.
Handy dandy communication. Redirection. Guidance.
Then I found attachment. I’d already been praying about my yelling. I’d made a vow to my daughter to stop. When my second baby came, I went into Better Mommy overdrive. I was not going to rob my children of a safe, violence-free childhood. For a long time while I was practicing attachment parenting, I was still spanking. I had no idea that it was considered violence. Weird, huh? Because when you think about it, extending your arm in a person’s general direction with the aim to strike them enough to solicit a response, is pretty much violent. But I guess that’s why spanking is so widely promoted. Because children aren’t always considered to be people. My children are people. That is what attachment parenting helped me to realize. I was caught up in my mainstream values, and I didn’t realize how desensitized I was to the lack of respect our society seems to have for the rights of children.
But children ARE people. They are smaller, and their voices are a bit more high pitched, and they are cuter than the average, but they ARE people. They have their own feelings, their own ideas, their own needs, and their own agenda. Their OWN agenda – something else AP helped me to appreciate about my children. When they don’t obey me, it is not a personal attack against me. It doesn’t mean they are “bad,” it doesn’t mean they are purposely trying to irk me – they just have another plan forming in their head. That’s okay. Because they ARE people. Just like when my boss would call me and tell me to look something up and I’d open my web browser to Facebook. Just like when Bill Clinton was supposed to be partying and he was with Monica Lewinsky. Just like when police abuse their authority or soldiers kill unarmed civilians or a man lies on an application or a woman drives through a red light – we as adults have our own agendas, often contrary to what is expected of us, and is someone allowed to come and smack us for it? Absolutely not, at least not in the country I’m typing this post from. Why not?
Because if you smacked me, even if you’re bigger than me (which you likely are), I’m smacking you back. And then you’d smack me back and we’d just be smacking each other till I passed out. And what would that accomplish? Nothing. Just a tall skinny brown girl lying on the sidewalk.
It doesn’t go this way for children though. Because our children are taught not to smack back. Our children are taught that violence is a necessary part of growing up. They are taught that if a peer hits them, they must report it. If a stranger hits them, they must cry out for help. But if one of their parents or aunts or uncles hits them, well, then they must allow it. Awkwarrrrrd.
When I stopped hitting my children I freed my family from the shadow that violence had cast over us. I didn’t even know it had been there until it was gone. I LOVE the conversations that our spank-free life has encouraged. Of course it’s hard, especially because we don’t have a father figure in the household. It is evermore rewarding. My eldest has started to talk openly with me about her actions. When she’s done something wrong, we discuss it and even though it hurts her to admit to it, she does. Because she has no fear. She knows I support her no matter what, and that if I don’t understand what she’s saying, I’m going to just listen harder. I don’t worry about losing control, because I’ve learned to pause, to breathe, and to put myself in my children’s shoes.
Can you imagine having to look UP to everyone, all day? Constantly having your voice talked over, being told which way to go, when to eat, how to dress? Being a child is not always easy. Let’s empower our children. Let’s show them that we take everything they say and feel as seriously as we would if they were over 5 feet tall. If you spank, please honestly evaluate your motivation, and do some research – I bet there are peaceful ways to achieve whatever results you feel spanking achieves. And once you’re convinced, please spread the word. Love to you and to your children.