Spanking made me into a mean mommy

“What’s this?” asked Ms. Action. I turned away from the pot I was stirring on the stove and answered “That’s a potato masher, to mush up the potato’s“, “Ooohhhh” she replied looking at it, then placing it aside she continued her rummaging in the utensil drawer. “What’s this Mama?” holding up the rolling pin, after I explained its function she returned to her drawer.
After she was silent for a moment I turned to see what had captured her interest and saw her standing by the drawer holding a wooden spoon. She looked at me and said in a quiet serious voice “this is gonna hurt me!” and then screwing her eyebrows together she said in a growly voice “this is for spanks“.
My heart jumped and tears started to my eyes. We had stopped spanking 6 months ago, how could she still remember what that spoon had been used for? I replied, “Yeah, that was for spanking, but we don’t spank anymore.” She looked up at me “No spank en-a-more?” I gave her a hug, “No spanks anymore, you can throw that spoon in the garbage.” I watched as a huge smile spread over her face and she enthusiastically marched over to the garbage can and threw it in. She went back to the utensil drawer to continue her rummaging.
I kept thinking about it though. She obviously remembered the many spanks, although I doubt she has any memory of what they were for. How could I have been so fooled by the Christian authors that told me that spanking was completely harmless and very useful for child-training?
I grew up in a house that spanked. I was spanked. I was even given the authority to spank siblings if necessary.
I didn’t like it. But it was the way things were done. I wanted a different way for my children, so I read about child training while pregnant with my first child. Every christian parenting book I read cited the usual bible passages about spanking. In a nutshell, spanking was commanded by God. If you didn’t spank, your children would grow up to be fools. Unlovable and unteachable. I didn’t see any other way, if I really loved my children, I would have to spank.
Actually, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, I was used to thinking about discipline in that way. When my children got into things and deliberately disobeyed, I spanked. When they were very small they would get a pop on the hand, and as they got older a swat or 2 on the bottom.
As I wrote a few months back, it didn’t work. I was spanking over and over for the same infractions. I read some more, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. I tried to be more consistent, they needed to know that no matter what they did wrong they were going to get the consequences. I read that hands were ineffective, since the child would hardly feel a thing, and the whole point was that they would feel enough pain to make disobedience unappealing right? So I used what my family had used, a wooden spoon.
In all of this, I felt I wasn’t being abusive. My spanks never bruised my children, that meant I wasn’t really hurting them right? My children still loved me, they only seemed afraid of me if I was about to spank them, and that was normal right?
But the effects of spanking showed in other ways. It showed in the way my children treated each other, I was forever trying to train them not to hit or threaten each other. It showed in how I felt about my children. Why were they so disobedient? Where was the promised happy compliance? What was I doing wrong as a mother? It showed in my relationship with my husband. Maybe I felt I was able to spank my children, but it was hard to trust that my big strong husband was going to know how to be gentle enough with discipline. What if he spanked too hard on accident?
But spanking continued to be a normal part of life. It was almost a knee-jerk reaction to misbehavior.
After I got fed up with it last year, I decided to take a break from spanking. I needed to re-think how I was training my children. To my surprise, my husband fully endorsed the break, in fact he even upped to an outright ban of spanking!
I had to fight my reactive discipline mode for months. It was easy to put the spoon away, but there were still days that I got upset and swatted someone on the bottom with my hand. And even when I got better at avoiding that, I still had to break the habit of threatening to spank.
I noticed substantial change in my children and myself.
I had to become more patient. I had to try to communicate with my kids. I trusted my husband completely now. My kids stopped hitting each other and began to show sympathy for others. Looking for creative ways to discipline, completely changed how I thought of my children. And believe me, at first it was hard to come up with new methods of discipline, spanking had been instinctive for so long.

I’ll share some of them in the next post.

  • Michelle

    Very cool. I love reading stuff like this. Growing up we had "the Board of Education" a very big 2X4 board that my parents used on my older brother and we had a smaller board that whipped and stung pretty good, too. My mom could get pretty carried away with that. we decided not to use formal spanking as part of our discipline and I am glad. Now we are able to talk through a lot of things…….after some time out. :) My oldest is getting to a point where taking away priveleges is a good way to discipline, too…and it works wonders. Anyway, I enjoy reading your posts on discipline.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe its because our kids are all so similar in age (and somewhat in personality according to birth order I think!!) but this is one of several times now you have nailed the "topic of the week" in my own household. Weird. I just came to my husband this weekend about wanting to rethink our concept of spanking. Our philosophy was similar to what you described in your previous spanking post and now all the sudden I am listening to the voice within me that told me something wasn't quite right about it, even when I followed all the proper spanking techniques so to speak. I'm so torn, on one hand discipline is to be "painful" at the time but does that require physical pain at the hand of a parent?! Maybe discipline is the preventative parenting so to speak, or active as opposed to reactive like you mention. On the other hand I worry that I'm just shielding my kids from conflict with that tactic and then they'll never learn to see temptation and turn away…I am looking forward to your conclusion since I'm in the process of figuring mine out too. I do wonder if there is a general teaching or tradition of such a thing within the Catholic church, I mean they have just about everything else in that catechism, right? Not that I'm even Catholic I just value their opinion on so much and some guidance in this area could sway me to listen closer on my journey…great post!! -Traci

  • Maggie

    Thanks for sharing this. I grew up in a household where I was spanked, so I always thought I'd do that to my own children. My husband was never spanked, so even before we were married we discussed how we would discipline our children since we grew up differently. Now that I'm pregnant I need to approach this more seriously!

  • CM

    I'm so glad you shared this. I guess it doesn't really apply to me just now, but I still really appreciate learning about stuff like this from people that have been through it!

  • Rae

    Thank you for sharing this! I have thought for a few years that I really don't want to spank, but I would never say it as a firm plan because there is always this nagging fear that maybe spanking really is necessary. I know that it is not from watching families around me (including my parents who spanked a lot and never really saw it work, even though they were consistent) but it still seems like I may just be an idealistic non-mother. :-) So I loved reading your story.

  • Young Mom

    Traci- I haven't found specific teaching on discipline in the catechism, and I know that spanking has been used by catholic families as well. I do think that the perspective on sin does effect it some and I will try to touch on that in a later post.

    Rae- I know what you mean, even though I don't really believe it, I still have fears that maybe I am wrong and I really am supposed to spank. That maybe my children will turn out terrible because I didn't spank.

  • ‘Becca

    Traci wrote: I'm so torn, on one hand discipline is to be "painful" at the time but does that require physical pain at the hand of a parent?!

    I was raised with gentle, positive discipline nearly all the time; my parents spanked me (one slap) only a few times when I was really crazy out-of-control. I can tell you that physical pain is not nearly so effective as the pain of knowing you have wronged someone who trusted you. When someone I love and respect says, "I'm very disappointed in you!", it's like the sky turns black and my heart cracks open. It's a very powerful feeling, and it won't go away until I feel sure I've done everything I can to make the situation right again.

    I worry that I'm just shielding my kids from conflict with that tactic and then they'll never learn to see temptation and turn away.

    Positive discipline is built on a foundation of trust: "I am your mother who loves you and will guide you toward what is right. We're all people together, but since I'm a more experienced person you can learn from my example what we do and what we don't do." Redirecting a child to positive behavior is not SHIELDING her from conflict; it's preventing that conflict in the first place. You are helping her learn HOW to turn away from temptation by guiding her to see the other options and to recognize the moment when she needs to look for them.

    One of the best things you can do, in my experience as both a child and a parent, is to think out loud when YOU are turning away from temptation–you'd really rather watch TV instead of doing dishes, or whatever, so talk about your feelings, responsibility, and awareness of consequences.

    I grew up in an area where most parents spanked their kids a lot. I noticed that those kids were eager to do "bad" things whenever they could get away with it, whereas I couldn't do those things without feeling tremendously guilty even if my parents never knew. Building moral reasoning into your child's mind is more effective than teaching her to dodge pain that is externally imposed.

    At the long-term research study where I work, we see over and over again that boys who were spanked frequently as children are more likely to become criminals and more likely to repeat their crimes.

  • Young Mom

    Thanks Becca, It's great to hear from an adult who was raised without spanking! I don't there are very many people that have been.

  • Madame Rubies

    We have moved spanking to an absolute last resort discipline. Like you said, it just didn't work.

  • Jenny

    What a great post! Discipline issues are hard to pin down at times and your clear words of wisdom will encourage many other young mothers.

  • Quivering Daughters

    Oh my goodness, what a lovely display of grace that she will remember for the rest of her life. Blessings to you.

  • Jessica

    I'm so glad I read this! My husband & I decided we wouldn't spank before we had kids. Now we have a 17-month-old and I have definitely been tempted to spank him, and when I correct him without spanking, sometimes I can feel the glares of people who are dying to say, "That child just needs a spanking."

    But then I remember…what good is it going to do me to spank (hit) him if he hits someone else. How does that teach him that hitting is not okay?

  • rachel

    I just want to hug you. What a wonderful thing you are doing for your children. :)

  • imperfecthappiness

    I just read this post because you linked it on your SpankOut Day post. I wanted to say how much I admire you for you honesty about your journey. In my social circle, spanking is so taboo that even admitting that the thought of spanking has entered my mind feels off-limits for discussion. It feels like taking a deep breath to read another mom's journey from spanking to not-spanking. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Bec Touzel

    Hi, just wanted to sa thanks for sharing this. My husband and I were both spanked as kids (his parents are Christian and mine are non-Christian). We both decided we would spank, and we did at first. But our daughter proved resilient beyond belief to the hand swat and so we moved to bottom smacks. But the problem was that when we were disciplining, it would be when we were angry and frustrated, and (to my utter shame) all I did was try to make her cry and hurt! Our daughter is confident, independent and very determined but soon she would cower and go quiet when I got mad.
    It absolutely broke my heart to see her scared f her own mother! I swore that day that we'd find another way to discipline (time out in a naughty corner works well, as does time 'in' with me n the couch). We haven't smacked since then and I am so so glad. She still doesn't listen well and I swear I say the same things a million times a week, but we're so much happier. Have tears in my eyes writing this. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Natalia

    I never wanted to spank my kids. When we first started spanking, it was like a dirty secret. Neither my husband nor I would do it in front of the other, but I new it was happening. Not a lot. I would get upset when he started making it more common. Then I started spanking, but it was almost like it was for others at first. Like the discipline had to be visible for others to see, then I felt like I was doing "something" about the behavior. My husband and I split. I found myself spanking more. Then out of frustration. It never worked. I put fear in my son for the moment, but the behavior didn't change. It may have even gotten worse. It felt more like a reliever for me. But that's not the way I want to relieve my stress, on my 4 year old. A couple weeks ago, I went ballistic. I spanked him hard, several times. I felt like garbage. How could I let it get so out of hand? I gave it up cold turkey. Thanks to your blog I found some hope. You mentioned you found yourself still threatening to spank, I did that tonight. I felt like I didn't have control, and it seemed so natural to turn to that point out of frustration. I don't want to do that to myself of my kids. It's such an ugly feeling. I can honestly say I do not know anyone who "effectively" spanks.