This is part of a series in which I am re-posting a number of posts I’ve written in the past on issues involving parenting and Michael and Debi Pearl. I think these posts may be of interest to new readers, and if you’re a reader who has been around with me since the beginning, they may be worth a re-read. This post was originally published here.
As I remember it, my parents didn’t spank me all that often. When I was spanked it was usually just three licks with a wooden paddle. My mom only rarely bruised us, and my dad actually went easier on us than she did. Why is it, then, that when I look back at being spanked all I remember was the inner rage I felt? No one is listening to me, I thought. No one cares about how I see things. I felt completely stifled. I felt misunderstood and ignored. What spanking communicated to me was that my parents were in charge, and I had better obey. If I didn’t stay in line and follow the rules, I would be spanked.
But it was more than that. Even back talking merited a spanking. I think this is why I felt so stifled. If I was going to be spanked and tried to explain, or to offer additional information, I would be awarded more licks. Every “but” resulted in the spanking total being raised. Instead of three licks, I was going to have six. Or, if I protested again, eight. The message was that I had better shut up and just go along with whatever my parents said. The message was that my thoughts and feelings didn’t matter, only my parents’ rules. And hence the inner rage.
And then there was my last spanking. I don’t know how old I was exactly, but I think I was around eleven. I hadn’t been spanked in over a year, and felt that I was too old to be spanked. I don’t even remember what I did wrong. I do remember that it happened in public, and that I was not allowed to explain or question. This time my inner rage was matched by my sense of complete shame. I had never felt this humiliated in my entire life, and haven’t since. I wanted to sink through the floor and disappear. By refusing me the right to even discuss what had happened, I felt like I was being robbed of my personhood, smothered and stifled. I wanted to run and make it all go away. But of course, I couldn’t. And so I was taken away from the others to a private place (thank goodness) and unceremoniously spanked. I still feel that rage and shame today, as I write about it. It was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life.
My parents probably consider me an example of how spanking works. They weren’t excessive, they always hugged me afterward, they never used any object other than a paddle, and I became a model child. By all outward appearances, it worked. But I think my example goes to show that even when spanking appears to work, that doesn’t mean it really does. They simply couldn’t see the inner rage, and they had no idea how completely stifled and ignored and misunderstood they made me feel. They also either did not see the intense shame I felt the last time I was spanked, or if they did they didn’t care.
And now I have a little girl. She is only a toddler, but I decided long ago that I will try my hardest to listen to her and hear her side. I will not punish her for talking back, for if children are not to “talk back” how are they to communicate? It’s not that I will never punish her (though I definitely won’t spank); rather, I won’t punish her without hearing her out and discussing what happened, why, and how things can be improved in the future. I may even let her help decide which punishments are appropriate for which transgressions.
Above all, I will listen to her, to her feelings and her heart, and do my darnedest to make sure that I never make her feel the rage or shame I felt.