Now’s when I open the can of worms labelled "spanking"

Aunt B, has opened a can of worms. Since I became involved in this whole parenting thing I’ve seen arguments about: circumcision, breast vs bottle, cloth vs disposable, whether or not to let your child cry it out etc. Of all the arguments, I think The Great Spanking* Debate has probably sparked the most controversy.

A friend of mine sent me this article The Parent Trap. This sums up the current problem, for me:

Add to this the increasing amount of parental responsibility for things their children do wrong, coupled with steady legal diminution of parental authority (Flanagan mentions an incident in which Caroline Kennedy was spanked for running off and notes that today it might result in jail time — an exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much.) You’re responsible for your kids in ways previous generations weren’t, but your ability to discipline them is much reduced, and as my wife (a forensic psychologist) notes, the bad kids know that they can cow most adults by threatening to call 911 and make a bogus abuse charge. And forget disciplining your child, even with a harsh word, in a public place: At the very least, if you do you’ll be looked on not as a virtuous parent helping to preserve the social fabric, but as that worst of all sinners in contemporary American culture: a meanie. And schools, anxious for parental “involvement,” place far more demands on parents than they did when I was a kid.

I absolutely think The Pearls go beyond what most of society would deem healthy. I am in no way defending their parental guidelines.

What I do believe is exclusively following any one parenting technique may be a lesson in failure. Each child is unique and will have unique phases in their maturation process. What worked last week may not be in any way effective, today. My older son has taught me a lot about myself. I have learned that I can be more stubborn than I previously thought. I also have learned that I will spank a child. I do my best to provide the safest environment possible, I do my best to maintain my composure as long as possible, but there are times when I am fallible and I am human. A quick example: I tried redirection a hundred times before he was spanked for climbing the outside of the stair railing. That quickly and effectively improved the learning curve.

My favorite professor has said, “Pain is Mother Nature’s way of saying, ‘You screwed up.'” Now, whether it was because you were an idiot and stuck your hand on the stove or because your mother caught you hanging from the bookshelf playing Tarzan is probably irrelevant in most cases.

Do I think that spanking is the only effective disciplinary tactic? Absolutely not. Am I so confident in my own parental abilities to think I haven’t and won’t make mistakes? No, but believe that good and effective parenting takes elements from many sources and weaves them together, teaching based on respect: for one’s self, for others, and for property. I also believe that unless harm is being done, more people need to mind their own business .

I hope my children turn out fine, so I don’t have to eat my words.

*When I use the word spank I am only referring to an open-handed smack on the bottom of a child. This discussion does not include any other form of corporal punishment.


#1 JanetLee on 05.26.06 at 7:46 pm

First off, let me say that I think all those “parenting” magazines are doing nothing more than making money exploiting peoples anxieties about raising children, much the same way “womens” magazine exploit our anxieties about how we look. All anyone needs is a solid working understanding of childhood developmental stages, the energy and will to work with your child through those stages and a firm understanding of your end goal: a happy, responsible, functional adult. Don’t buy in to their scare tatics. My son threatened to call DSS once and I handed him the phone. Bluff called. He knew who was in charge and it wasn’t him.

#2 Heather on 05.28.06 at 3:01 pm

I like the way you worded that. So many people lose sight of the fact that we are raising adults as we bring up our children.

I don’t see much of the mainstream media as we don’t watch television and I’m too cheap to pay for more than a couple magazine subscriptions. In my experience, most of the anxiety has been caused by pressure from other parents. Before we moved to South Carolina I didn’t really know any parents, in real life. I knew lots of parents online and the cattiness and finger pointing was unbelievable.

I joined a mothers’ group once we got settled and my perspective changed almost immediately. These women are from many walks of life and are real parents. Unlike the online community, I could witness their real interactions and frustrations. My what a different picture is painted on the Web.

Now that I’ve spent a lot of time with other parents, I am becoming grounded and have developed more trust in my own parenting skills. I’ve seen moms who firmly believe in positive disclipine lose their temper and it made me feel better about my own parenting foibles. Not that I was gleeful over a perceived failure, but rather it became oh so clear that I’d been reading a lot of stories based on how women thought it should be rather than how the situation actually presented itself.

#3 Lynn on 05.30.06 at 2:02 pm

amen sistah! while many of us try our asses off to be the perfect mom, it’s largely a struggle since 1. no one child is alike 2. no one mother is alike and 3. no one seems to be able to define exactly what is perfect!! I’ve seen more than one online flaming AP mother pass a salt laden greasy french fry to their child. And even, yes :gasp: swat thier kid on the butt. welcome to parenting reality…

#4 Heather on 06.01.06 at 1:14 am

I’ve seen more than one online flaming AP mother pass a salt laden greasy french fry to their child. And even, yes :gasp: swat thier kid on the butt. welcome to parenting reality…

And therein lies the crux of the problem. I fell for the pretty picture; I know my mom had a hard time with us and like every new mom wanted to do it ‘right.’ Well the picture that some of these women paint is absolutely absurd compared to reality. I like to think of myself as a rational, even logical adult, but I honestly thought I was doing something wrong with Aidan. There were a lot of nights I thought there was something wrong with him.

Everywhere I turned for advice it was the same, just breastfeed on demand and wear the baby. Well, I can tell you how well that worked out. Of course if I asked about other alternatives I was told how cruel it would be to EVER let the child cry without being held, how he would be emotionally damaged. Nevermind for centuries women have HAD to put the baby down for much longer periods of time than it now takes us to cook dinner, but I was being brainwashed. I was miserable and the baby was miserable.

It was at that point that the whole online AP ideal lost a lot of credibility in my eyes. I want people to know that yes, breastfeeding on demand and wearing your baby MAY help, but it might also be just as useless as everything else you tried, too. It’s OK to put the baby down and go outside for a few minutes, the world won’t come down and even if your kid turns out to be a weirdo, it won’t be because of that.

Once I realized that the AP thing was wrong for us in one area, it made sense that while I might agree with a lot of the ideals they are just that. We will survive each other and I’ll do my best to not be a banshee or a pushover. We’ll find our way.

#5 Sonia on 06.01.06 at 12:40 pm

I’m a firm believer in bf on demand, and “wearing” the baby. The whole discipline (a.k.a. spanking) thing though…has me in a quandry. I just don’t think spanking works..but you’re not going to scar your kid for life if you smack him across the butt a few times.

#6 Heather on 06.01.06 at 1:02 pm

Sonia, that is different from what many AP proponents spout on the message boards and e-mail loops. There are rants that spanking is child abuse and that a swat on the butt is equivalent to a closed fist punch to the face. Time and again I have seen the flame wars and it is so frustrating.

I do not believe that spanking is the first choice in discipline. I do believe that it may be an option in some situations. Personally, I start with positive discipline tactics and then work my way down a list of options.

I do babywear and breastfeed on demand, my point was that it is not the panacea that some would have you believe.

I’m just a little jaded with the whole “my way is better than yours” epidemic.

I absolutely would report abuse if I saw it. I ask for advice when I need it, but I also feel free to ignore it when I feel it is coming from a hypocrite.

Does that make sense?

E-mailed because the post is scooching down the list. =)

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