Friday, 14 October 2011

Guest Post: Spanking, Regret, and Parenting in Technicolor


This story has been sent to me by a U.S based signatory of my petition to Amazon. It is so powerful, moving and eloquent, I feel it needs barely any introduction, except to say that it is written by a mother who, like all of us, has made mistakes, mistakes which she cannot now contemplate without feeling a painful amount of shame and regret. She could have chosen never to speak of these feelings, or to tell this story, but instead she shares it with us in the hopes of helping to bring about positive change.  I find this choice immensely brave, and hope that you as readers can extend to her the warmth and support that she surely deserves. 


In January 2008 a friend of mine asked me a question about something she thought was not right which she figured I would know about. As I began to answer her, it led me to answers I had never considered before and ended up thrusting my family into a year of "transition" and really changing the future of my family tree. What did she ask me?

"What do you think about spanking?"

My friend had three small children who were entering toddlerhood and so she thought for sure that I was the one to ask. In January 2008 my oldest was 21, and my youngest of 8 children was yet to be born. With all that experience for sure I'd know the right answer.

And, I thought I did. I was confident I did!

I grew up in a family of two kids and although I was very angry, and depressed, I was well behaved. I knew that if I did something naughty I was getting "a lickin''" as it was called in our house. The wooden paddle hung on the wall and just passing it by made me afraid. I didn't get too many lickin's. I was a smart kid. Fast learner. I learned how to get away with things without getting caught and how to mind my own business at home.

I had my 1st baby at age 18 after a very depressed and love-seeking teenagehood (I just made that word up). I had held a baby maybe once that I could remember, and the day I brought home my baby thoughts of how to "raise" her hadn’t really entered my mind.

Once she was old enough to do irritating things I simply did to her what had been done with me and smacked her. I smacked her hands. I smacked her butt. And, then, once she got a will of her own, when she made me mad enough, I "spanked" her.

Her father had had a similar childhood experience with spanking and so it was nothing we ever thought to question or discuss. It's just "what you do with kids". It's how it was in our families and in all the families around us. If a kid is "acting up" anyone around you will say that that kid needs "takin' over a knee!" It's just how it's done.

After 8 years of a relationship that would have made a Reality TV producer drool…my boyfriend became my husband and by 1995 we had 3 children. And, we also had a new motivation in life: Jesus. We became Christians. The results in our life were very good because we began to respect one another and treat each other with more patience and kindness. Church life really did us good.

So, along comes a Sunday School class about child training in the same place where we were learning how to love and respect one another. The same place where we were learning that God is love and that He is not behind all the bad and painful stuff in the world. This should be the best place to learn about how to care for the world's most precious and innocent beings: our own children! Right?

In class we were taught the, “who, what, when, where, and why,” of spanking. We were taught that it was ordained by God as evidenced by a handful of Old Testament verses speaking of "the rod", and that if we didn't do it the Bible said we hated our children. We were taught that if we didn't to it our children could end up in rebellion and ultimately in hell.

The people teaching the class were actually our best friends who had entered our lives and had really brought out the best in us. They weren't freaks or religious nuts. They were teaching us to do the same thing that they did in their own homes with their own children out of the sincerity of their hearts to do what they felt was right, even though they felt it was hard to do. What was there to question?

In the classes we were taught that whenever the child did anything "naughty" we were to determine whether the child was behaving “irresponsibly” or “rebelliously” before deciding punishment. Everything was analyzed in this way.

But, then on February 5th, 1998, 12 ½ yrs after we’d met and 7 months after the birth of our 4th child…my husband was given an early retirement. I got the call around 10 that morning to come to the local trauma center because my husband was there. On his way to work a tractor-trailer jackknifed and struck his work truck. He had died instantly. I was now a widow with 4 children.

About 6 months after my husband…aka my kids' Daddy…just didn't come home…my 2 year old son started to "act up". Suddenly he couldn't walk up the stairs anymore. His "socks would slip" on the steps and he'd dramatically flop and flop on the steps and need me to "help him". Then, one night he was told to go brush his teeth. I could hear him in the bathroom, "Flop! Flop! Flop!" I went in and peeked at him and he was (I don't know how he did this physically!) lifting his feet up and just landing on his cloth-diapered butt repeatedly. "Flop! Flop! Flop!"

I put on my "stern mom face" and told him to stop it and brush his teeth. I went back out of the room. And, I could hear him in there doing it again, "Flop! Flop!"

The teaching I'd learned about rebellion vs. childish irresponsibility came into my mind and I knew what I had to do. This was clearly a rebellion issue. So…I put on my "stern mom face" again, marched into the bathroom, and told him to get his tiny 2-yr old hiney into the office (where all the spankings happened).

I looked at his tiny little face and asked him, "Why were you doing that? I told you to brush your teeth!"

He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, "My socks were slipping."

I had to turn my face and stifle a giggle. His socks were slipping?! I composed myself to deal with the serious issue at hand. My 2-year old was rebelling against my command to brush his teeth and to stop flopping on the floor and now he'd just lied! No matter how cute he was I had to do what I had to do!

And, so…he was paddled.

Eventually, I got his flopping, and sock slipping behaviors to stop. I had squelched that rebellion before it got ugly and he took over the household. I had done my job.

You know, I tell that story now and it makes me wanna scream and cry.

In 1999 I ended up at a new church and made lots of new friends. And, all these friends too were quite normal average Christian people. And, they all spanked more than I did and also pinched their kids when in public (because you could do it subtly and quietly). I learned from my friends to keep an "extra" paddle (wooden spoon or spatula) in the car for when we were not home. And, sometimes when I was out with my friends, I had to wait outside their cars while their toddler got a spanking for not listening in the store we were shopping in.

For two and a half years "disciplining" was my lone responsibility because my husband was gone. In late 2000 I married a good and decent man who was raised on the mission field and served as the emergency medical pilot for his parents' medical clinic in the jungle in Guatemala. He'd been raised by an ex-Amish father. He never disobeyed his parents! He told me that in church just "a look" from his parents told him he'd crossed the line and there was no mercy; when he got home he always got a spanking. He often commented that we were too lenient with the kids because when he was little he was not even allowed to argue with his mom or even say that he didn't like a meal that was served or he'd get "the belt". But, because he loved his parents who were truly awesome people and felt they loved him, why would he have questioned spanking?

So, in 2008 when my friend asked me about "spanking" I went right to it. I tried to look up the Sunday School materials I'd gone through so many years ago. I did searches on the internet as I prepared to tell her who, what, when, where, and why to spank as I had been taught it.

That is when it happened.

I happened upon a website that shattered the illusion I'd been living in for over 20 years. It was a simple website talking about ancient shepherding practices and it explained that the "rod" that the ancient shepherds had used was actually…a weapon. It was a club with spikes on the end used for killing predators. It was the equivalent of a modern gun. The rod…was not…for…the…sheep! That is why David could say that God’s rod and staff comforted him…not scared him…

If you coulda' heard the brakes screeching inside my head…I was horrified. How could this HUGE HUGE important detail have slipped our notice? "The Rod" of the ancient shepherds was what all the teaching I'd received on spanking was based on! But, it wasn't a wooden spoon or a spatula used for whacking wayward sheep! NO! The rod was a "gun" used to protect the sheep...and I had been using that on my children?

I sat back in my chair and my whole head was spinning. I ran to my husband and told him. Now what?

I started to become aware of the biggest problem with spanking that first year that we stopped. That first year was not fun. It left me sitting holding my head with screaming kids in the background often. I realized once that "parenting tool" was taken from me that I had no idea how to handle any stress between my children without being able to either hit them (spank them) or threaten them with doing it. It hadn't been a tool to "guide" them and "discipline" them and lead their hearts toward God. In reality, it had been a weapon to control my kids' behavior and nothing more.

So, there I was at age 39 with seven children of all ages and a newborn completely at a loss how to relate to my children. I had to learn a whole new way of thinking about my children and their behavior. And, this new way of seeing the children was as dramatic as Dorothy coming out of the plain black and white farmhouse into the full Technicolor of Oz. Now, instead of looking at all of the children's behaviors and analyzing it to look for hidden rebellion to punish I saw behavior as attempts at communication. I began to realize that their behavior’s cause was what I needed to look at. What are they trying to say? What is their motivation? What is bugging them? What’s wrong? And, fixing what is wrong is what will make the behavior go away. Making the behavior go away leaves what’s wrong still wrong.

Spanking was taught to me as a way to make sure the child's heart was right with God, yet when I spanked them, I never addressed their motivations and touched their hearts, I only addressed behavior and touched their behinds…with pain.

I look back now and it is as clear as day. My little boy…had lost his Daddy. Daddy used to lie in his bedroom every night and sing to him as he fell asleep while I read with the other 3 in the oldest child's bedroom. Nighttime was an awesome fun precious time. And, his Daddy disappeared. His Daddy was just gone and Mommy was acting funny and often distracted and unavailable and he didn't understand why. Why didn’t I think about it then? Why didn’t I ask him then? Why wasn’t it the first thing I thought of when his socks were slipping? Why didn’t I see it from his perspective when he “couldn’t walk up the stairs” and wanted me to help him? Why…did I not consider the troubled thoughts that could be in that sweet tiny person’s mind as he toddled toward the office to get whacked by Mommy? What was in his tiny little heart that night and what did I do to him when I punished him for trying to express it?

It makes me sick to think of it and I can’t tell ya how many times I look at him now and feel sorry for having done it. I’ve asked his forgiveness and he’s given it to me, but, the damage was done.

Do you know…that little boy is now 16 and…given a little stress he clams up and withdraws. Sometimes I can see that he is upset and I can see that he pushes it away and just moves on and tries to ignore it. And, I’ve often thought over the years that he has “sad eyes”.

<sigh>

Now that the world is in full color I could tell you story after story of why this is wrong. Stories from within my own family which when I think of them I post them on my blog. I at times feel like a fanatic about this subject, but, this practice is so damaging to people and I can now see its effects on not just my own kids, but, on others. This is such an unpopular topic because everyone is doing it or has had it done to them and feels the need to either defend themselves or their parents because admitting a mistake like this is a difficult thing to do. But, I wish I could stand on top of a building and shout it out to everyone.

The petition that has been started to get Amazon to stop selling books that promote violence against children, in my opinion, is a great step toward getting this practice stopped. It is not just the act of getting those books removed from easy sale; it is the “why”. It is the fact that everyone who looks for those books will have to ask “why” are they not available on Amazon, and then, they will be made aware that spanking is not the universal only and best way to raise kids. Their searches on this topic will lead them to blog sites like this one, and they will see that there is a problem with spanking and it may open that door into the Technicolor world of parenting for many.

For me all it took was one friend to challenge me on it and for one piece of truth to be shown to me. What I wouldn't give to go back in time and find just one friend who would have stood up and told me it was wrong. Thanks to Facebook and the world-wide-web now, we can be that friend to people we've never even met before. I encourage all of you to share and repost things you find about this subject whenever it comes along your path. Sign and post the petition on your own walls and blogs. You never know what friend-of-a-friend is going to see your post and realize that there is another way to raise kids…before they march their tiny son into the office to punish him for missing his dead Daddy…



If you have been moved by this post, I urge you to take a few moments of your time to sign the petition asking Amazon not to stock books that advocate the physical abuse of children by clicking here. Please also share the link. Thank you. 
To read more about the campaign click here.
Follow on Facebook here.
Or on Twitter @amazonpetition

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14 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    We have all, one way or another, done things that we look back on with some regret or knowledge that it would have been better another way...

    The most important thing to remember is that you have taught your children another way by being the way you are with them now... When they have children they will know the best way to raise them and that will be without anything but love and understanding and as you say, by listening.

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  2. You are so brave and beautiful for sharing this story.

    I spent so many hours rocking, crying, running away, hiding in closets, hampers, under blankets, under beds, and staying outside all day eating weeds so that I would not risk another whipping in--yes, "God's will".

    I wish I'd had someone like you to talk to my mother. It might have done no good, but at least someone would have tried. Someone would have seen the marks on me. Someone would have cared that running away from home again and again at age 5 with my little red suitcase was a very bad sign.

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  3. Very moving. So honest and heartfelt. And courageous, because it's easier to keep doing what has always been done.

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  4. At the late age of 48 I began to get help for a form of mental illness created from child spanking, it's so very common and trivialized but it ruined my sense of sexuality. It's called a sexual compulsive disorder. I recall the the very day at age 9 it once took over my body and mind for a few minutes. I've lived in shame and fear of anyone finding out most of my life. Therapy has helped but it was not without pain. Many times I'd wake up in the middle of the night with post tramatic stress flashbacks of a sense of trauma and sexual abuse. I learned some parents have the very same disorder from their own childhood spankings and are repeating it with their children. I shared my story at a child abuse web site where a few other brave victims shared similar problems. Please stop spanking children for some it's a life long mental illness lived in fear and shame! Here is the link: http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/sexual-abuse-under-the-guise-of-spanking-for-discipline.html

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  5. I come from a background of not being spoiled (because the "rod" was not spared) and have worked hard to learn how to discipline my children without spanking. This was a very powerful post. As you described your sad-eyed, withdrawing-from-stress son, I kept picturing my youngest brother (and the spankings that went on and on).

    Could you perhaps provide a citation for the description of the rod? I would like to use this information in future discussions.

    I had an additional thought. Not only would the rod be meant for the wolf, not the sheep, but one can still apply The Verse to our children given this new information.

    In this new context, the verse comes to mean: Fail to Protect and Defend (spare the rod), Damage (spoil) the Child.

    Now that's the kind of parent I want to be.

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  6. (Lora) Here's a link to a page with a pic of an ancient shepherd's rod: http://wonghannah.blogspot.com/2010/04/rod-and-staff.html

    And, I totally agree with your conclusion. I think the verse is totally way more powerful when you make it that the rod is for protection for your child and I agree with ya that's the kind of parent I want to be! And, I think that's the kind of parent God is!

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  7. Just curious what exactly DO you do now when your kids are acting up? Can you elaborate, please? :o)

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  8. WELL...that was the part that was so hard over that 1st year...BEFORE my focus was on the BEHAVIOR...the WHAT they were doing and I just did what I did to control the WHAT and make that go away. What I had to learn how to do was investigate, ask questions, and figure out WHY they were doing what they were doing...and talk to them on their level to the best of their ability about it.

    LIKE...say one kid hits another and then lies about it. Before that woulda' just been an automatic spanking for hitting (how ironic!) and lying. Now, I have to stop and look at the whole situation...and gather the information from everyone about what just happened. I have to take the one who did the hitting off maybe alone and find out why they hit...what was making them mad...and to the best of their ability get to the heart of how they felt that made them react that way. THEN to the best of their ability get them to try to think about how their action felt on the other end...how the one getting hit felt. Also, how maybe the one they hit did wrong by making them angry enough to hit and what would have been better for both parties to do. Again...all according to their own level of understanding.

    And, then the lying is a harder issue but approached the same way...to get them to figure out "why" they lied...and to talk about that.

    And, what I find now that's SO COOL is that at the end of any "disciplinary" situation...at the end...it's kinda' like in the Bible in James where it talks about "if we confess our sins He's faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us" right? (If you're a Christian) And, being forgiven and getting a bath (most of the time) makes you feel invigorated, refreshed, and happy. And, so...what I find is approaching the kids this way gets the same result...like...once they "get it" that they did wrong...and they know they were bad and yet you are helping them and forgiving them...they just "glow". My kids will say sorry (on their own) and then jump up and give me a hug and a kiss and say "Thank you" and "I love you" and usually go apologize on their own to the person they offended. It sometimes will bring tears to my eyes.

    There's like freedom and hope in NOT spanking.

    And, I have a 3 1/2 yr old who has never been spanked and she's amazing and the most compassionate in the family...she will melt if she accidentally hurts someone and SHE will cry and just go to the person and maintain eye contact and try to comfort them till the situation's all better...it's so sweet...

    Anyway...that was kinda' a long and maybe scattered response. I just got done schooling my kids and my eyes are half crossed right now.

    Do I always do it right now? NOOOO!

    Do I sometimes wish I could just spank 'em to get 'em "under control"? Yep. And, that's when I'm reminded of really why spanking's so bad 'cause I know how I feel at those times...I'm not "in the mood" for the whole patient process to bring the situation out to the end I just want the irritation to stop and then go play on facebook...

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  9. Thank you for sharing your story! I am in tears....there are so many parents who hit for so many different reasons. All result in confused and hurt children.

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  10. Here's my pov. I totally am I against VIOLENCE and BEATING your child, but a spanking isn't beating. My parents would pop my butt once or twice if I did something wrong. A child has to learn that there are repercussions when they do something wrong. I don't believe in hitting them so that it leaves a mark but making a noise to shock them can help. It makes them stop and think. Yes for some children it is a bad idea because they are fragile and it can just end up in a child who is even more fragile, but for some children it helps. I think people need to stop and look at the type of spankings. If a parent is spanking to inflict pain (flat palm, belt, switch) there is an issue and need to stop, if they are beating their child they need to have the police and child services called on them, but if they are using it as a method to teach a lesson without pain (cupped hand so it only makes a loud noise) then it's really not so bad. It can be a tool parents use as long as they don't harm their child.
    As a child of parents who used spanking as a tool I don't see anything wrong in it as long as they aren't hurting the child. I'm a well adjusted young woman. I just ended a long term relationship on a friendly note because we were headed in two different directions in life. I'm doing well in school, and am well on my way to getting my phd in history. I think people need to look at more than just the negative cases in spanking. It doesn't always end badly. Sometimes just "talking" to your children ends up with a child who is bad because the parent is too permissive.

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  11. thanks for your view raven.
    i think it becomes complicated when we start to try and make judgements about the when's, if's, how's and how hards of smacking or spanking. people's definitions vary so widely, for example, under what circumstances it is acceptable, with a hand or a rod (interestingly, the authors of To Train up a Child say never hit a child with your hand as you might accidentally hurt them!) how often, at what age to start and stop spanking, etc, etc.
    'just talking' to your children doesn't have to end in being permissive either. with some work, you can intervene often to prevent situations escalating to the point at which a smack might be thought a good idea, and you can set clear boundaries too.
    i'm also wary of the argument of 'i was smacked and i turned out alright', - i appreciate that this may well be true for you but in lots of cases (and I have seen many in my work as a therapist) people only define 'not alright' as the extremes such as addiction etc, whereas in fact there are many people who are functioning well in life with good educations and good jobs who are also carrying around a tremendous amount of pain from negative childhoods and who are 'not alright' in quite complicated ways.

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  12. Raven...I totally see your points. I do tho' think that we turn out ok "despite" but not "because of" being spanked. Being spanked is an artificial consequence...that causes the child to focus on the punishment rather than on the NATURAL consequence of the bad behavior. It sorta' messes up how kids learn "cause" and "effect". If the "effect" they learn to focus on about their bad "causes" is that their parents hurt them (in whatever way the parent deems to be non-abusive) then the kid can miss the REAL consequene of their actions.

    And, I think like The Mule was pointing out too...it becomes too complicated when we try drawing the line between "spanking" and "abuse". Because in order to spank one must "hit" the child. People don't like using that word, but, that is what spanking is it is hitting a child...and there are simply too many variables to consider to truthfully determine when it crosses the line into abuse.

    The best way to draw the line is to not hit the kids at all...no matter what we call it or why we do it. I know if one of my friends would "hit" me...even ever so gently or slightly...even if I deserved it...it would effect my feelings/relationship with that person probably permanently. And, if we were to move this discussion to husbands and wives...if my husband were to strike me when I'm being a big "b" word to settle me down and to show me that that behavior is unacceptable...no matter how gently he did it...simply THAT he crossed that line would change somehting in our relationship forever...

    We just have to remember that our children are people who feel the same way we do when it comes to stuff like this...and kids can learn consequences for wrong choices very well without being hit by their parents...and we don't have to fear moving into the "permissive" territory. I know we all worry that that's where we're headed if we give up on spanking...but permissiveness is when the parent just doesn't care what the kid does. As long as we still care and still work with the child to learn...we're not anywhere close to permissive...

    I want my kids to learn to use their brains...to reason...and not to handle things because of fear of pain...fear of consequences...or fear or punishment...but because they've learned to reason...and that is what talking to them will do...though it is hard sometimes and rerequires mucho' patience!!!!! But, in the end...the light that goes on in their eyes and their reactions and the relief...their freedom at the end of the bad event is...just so powerful...and sometimes brings tears to my eyes...

    Sorry I'm so wordy!

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  13. It starts with a decision, a choice ... and a question ... "Why am I so angry that I have to lash out at my child?".

    What a heartfelt confession and so informative from the viewpoint of a child. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Angela Smith
    Author of I Love Myself
    www.truepotential.co.nz

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