I had a question the other day, about reconciling your past with how you discipline your kids. Specifically, the question came from a woman whose parents were angry people who severely punished for minor infractions and now with her own children she can feel that anger building up inside of her. She struggles with the spank or not to spank question.
This is a complicated, multiple issue question.
My own parents loved to spank. With belts, spoons, cutting boards, hands, tree branches, whatever they could find. The avoidance of pain is a great motivator. For them, it was a useful tool.
My father also had a terrible temper. He threw a slide projector across the room because it jammed. He broke a coffee table down the middle because of…hell, I can’t remember why. It was always touch and go to see what mood dad was in when he got home from work, particularly if you had been marked for corporal punishment.
Just you wait until your father gets home!
My mother yelled. A lot. Granted, she was a stay at home mom with a passel of kids. She had reason to yell, probably. But in response, we yelled. We yelled at her, we yelled at each other.
Our house was full of anger. To this day, none of us really like each other much.
My last spanking from my father was at age thirteen, with a belt, because I gave my mother a sour look when I was told I could only have one donut at church. I was never allowed donuts. I loved donuts, all of that greasy, glazed goodness. Just one more! There were dozens left that no one was going to eat!
After that, punishments were more creative. At the end of my junior in high school I had to write 1,000 times “I will listen to my mother.” This was because a good male friend of mine gave me a hug. He had graduated that night and was heading to the Naval Academy. We weren’t dating. We were just friends. But it incensed my mother. It took me a week because the sentences had to be legible to count. At least it wasn’t spanking. After a spanking, I seethed with anger and hate for days. This… I realized that I wasn’t angry so much about it, even if it was outrageous. And it was effective. You can bet I never hugged a guy in front of my mother again. I hugged. Just not in front of her.
Then I became a parent.
I decided that I would not spank my own kids. I wanted to try to teach them out of love, hoping to help them understand grace as they grew up. That was my plan.
Yet, one day my son pushed all of my buttons. He would not stay in time out. He was defying me at every turn. Yelling at him was not working. So I spanked him. I was so angry, I wanted it to hurt. It felt good for a second as he started to cry.
Then, I was horrified. I was a monster.
I had become my parents.
There are a lot of things to be said about spanking. Research shows a higher level of anxiety and a lower IQ in kids that are spanked. Many pro-spanking people want to dispute these things. Meh.
Bottom line, I found that spanking for me was not out of love. It was out of anger. It did not help my kids. They were not safer or happier or kinder as a result. It did not help me. It only made me more angry.
So I don’t spank.
We have behavior charts. They earn stars for tasks and behaviors and can cash those in for prizes. We use time outs for bad behaviors. I work hard to publicly praise them when they do something right or demonstrate a good trait like sharing or kindness. I don’t yell. I get down at their eye level and talk to them calmly when it is serious.
This is not because I am a fantastic parent who has read tons of literature on the subject. Oh, no. Everything I learned about parenting I learned from the TV show Super Nanny. Don’t laugh. It was a brilliant show.
So far, they are turning out well, these kids. They are respectful… most of the time. They behave and follow directions… most of the time. They are kind… most of the time.
Of course, they are not teenagers yet. It will be many years before I release my masterpieces on the world (hence the Sistine Chapel picture…I snuck it on my phone when the official shushers weren’t looking since they don’t allow photography and I never learned to follow rules despite the spankings…those paintings are rife with delicious irony!). I still may have screwed them up irreparably before it is all said and done. There is certain to be some delicious irony concealed in those little brains, just waiting to burst forth to pay me back. Only time will tell!