“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.