I’ve written a lot about spanking in the past, but one thing that is difficult is that, for my family, it’s not really the past. I am the oldest in a family of over a dozen; many of my siblings are still minors, living at home. My parents still spank. This can make visiting home painful. I keep trying to write about this but I’m having trouble doing it it in my normal fashion. So instead, I give you a series of vignettes—short scenes or conversations from recent visits home.
“Smile for the camera!” Mom is taking a picture.
My smallest siblings are giggling, making funny faces.
“Do you need a spanking?” Mom’s tone has changed, and her face.
My smallest siblings are smiling now, large, fake smiles.
Inside I feel empty, slapped.
At the table my parents swap spanking stories, stories from the present and the past. They laugh, but I do not find them funny. The youngest children laugh nervously. For them this is still life.
I tell a story too, but my story is not funny. My story is about pain. My story is about the messages spanking taught me—messages they never intended to send.
Silence. What I said was not expected. Not in the script.
After a moment of deadpan expressions, conversation moves on, nothing addressed. Nothing is ever addressed.
She’s almost yelling now, her voice full of emotion, my mom. Telling me that I am ruining my children by not hitting them as she hits hers. Telling me that they will end up selfish, miserable, and in jail, or worse.
She is so very sure of herself—it becomes hard to keep a level mind. But I do. And I hold in the tears, though that is harder. The tears will come later, when I am alone.
What she is saying is wrong. I know that. But it still hurts.
“Pick up the mess you made, now.”
I look across the room and see a sister, brandishing a wooden mixing spoon, standing over a still younger sister—the special needs child.
“Pick up your toys or you will get a spanking.”
The threat of sister on sister violence. The older one’s voice is harsh, angry. The room is tense. The younger one protests, and the older one’s face hardens. Does the age difference even matter? It’s not much.
I leave the room. I can’t take this. Inside, I am dying.
I take aside a middle sister, the one who seems to toe the party line slightly less—the one I hope may be yet receptive. I tell her that I did as she does—that I too wielded the rod against those not much younger than me, authorized by our parents as she is now. I tell her that I only learned later how much those siblings hated me for what I did to them. I tell her of broken relationships, things that need mending, work yet to be done—and regrets.
She says nothing.
Perhaps I planted a seed? I may never know.
After reading these vignettes, you may wonder why I don’t say more, do more. There are a myriad of reasons, but perhaps I am indeed at fault for not trying harder. This issue is painful, and for my parents, it is not ancillary. It is central to their ideas about child rearing—and life. I have tried—believe me I have tried—to convince my parents to give up their devotion to spanking, and particularly to the authoritarian form of spanking taught by Michael and Debi Pearl. But it hasn’t worked. If anything, they’ve become more steadfast in their convictions on the issue, defending the Pearls to my face. There is only so far I can push the issue, though, and still be allowed to be in my siblings’ lives. And so, perhaps too often, I bite my tongue—and taste blood.