[Before you read any further, I want to clarify what my husband and I refer to as "spanking." We consider spanking to be a single swat on the bottom or leg. Multiple hits on the same locations, or any other part of the body - especially with something other than a parent's hand - are NOT what we are referring to, nor would we ever advocate such a "punishment."]
I've written before about spanking, and I made it clear that we are not a household that supports spanking.
But that hasn't stopped us from doing it. And let me tell you, once you start, it's hard to stop.
Children - specifically siblings - can have very different personalities, as I'm sure any parent of more than one child can tell you. And while we ultimately want our children to learn the same character traits and values, sometimes a child's personality demands a different way of disciplining and teaching them than might be required of their sibling.
For example, we have rarely had to threaten our older daughter, Thing 1, with a spanking. We can look at her the wrong way and she runs, sobbing, to her bedroom. Our second daughter, Thing 2, could not be more different. She stands her ground and just dares us to punish her (at least it feels that way!). So, even after that early post about other ways to discpline, we have fallen back on spanking Thing 2.
And I hate it.
You could read hundreds of articles, blog posts, and studies that support or oppose spanking. Your family and friends will have different opinions. And if I had a nickle for every time I heard, "I was spanked as a child and I turned out just fine..." I would be rich. But you don't need to rely on someone else to make your decision about spanking. You already know the answer. You know how you feel about it. And if you are like me, it just doesn't feel good.
Sure, when I spank my daughter, I'm at my wits end. I don't really know what else to do. And most of the time, I'm really, really frustrated with her. She's pushing my buttons. And yes, in that moment, I feel some small sense of satisfaction when I swat her leg. But immediately - and I mean IMMEDIATELY - afterwards, I regret doing it. And I often apologize.
I apologize because I want her to know that moms and dads make mistakes too. All those times that she's gotten in trouble for feeling angry and hitting someone... well, I feel that way too. I know it's a struggle for her to control herself because I'm 28 years old and can't control myself enough to keep from hitting her. And I want her to know that. But I also want her to know that I don't want to resign myself to that kind of behavior. I want to be better. And so I'll work on it. And she can too.
We would never tell a grown adult to let someone hit them, so why do we think it's okay to do this to our children? I want to teach my children how to handle their frustration and anger. I want them to be able to remain calm and to avoid harming others - with both words and actions. I am not teaching this with spanking.
But what if spanking is the only way a child can be disciplined? Well, to be honest, there is not an ounce of my being that believes that to be true.
Spanking teaches our children that they need to quit a particular behavior because if they don't, mom or dad will hit them. It teaches our children to be afraid of us (and I would challenge anyone who believes that fear = respect.) Thing 2 has started recoiling from me and her father when we get on to her for something. She knows that a spanking might be coming. And it makes me feel terrible to see my child lean away from me with a look of apprehension in her eyes. Spanking teaches her nothing about how her behavior makes her feel or how her behavior impacts others.
I don't want her to hit other kids because she knows it would hurt them, not because she knows mom or dad will spank her.
I don't want her to say mean things to others because she knows it would hurt them, not because she knows mom or dad will spank her.
I don't want her to talk disrespectfully to me because she knows it would hurt me, not because she knows mom or dad will spank her.
So instead of trying to change her behavior, I'm going to work on changing mine. How can she learn kindness, compassion, and calm if no one is modeling it to her? I am certainly not going to let bad behavior slide, but instead of deterring that behavior with fear, I want to deter it with natural consequences instead. If you are disrespectful all morning, then we won't be able to have a playdate this afternoon. If you can't use the toy the right way, we'll be putting it up for a while. If you want to scream and cry in protest, you can do it in your room.
I have no idea what the answers are for every situation and I don't want anyone thinking we've got it all figured out. Even though I have never considered myself a spanker, I have fallen into the trap of not knowing what else to do. But I will be damned if I'm just going to resign myself to it, while feeling a gnawing sense of guilt the moment my hand touches my child's body.
So I'm making a promise to my kids to figure out another way. I don't want them hitting. And it's not okay for Mommy to do it either.