Monday, August 3rd, 2009
To spank or not to spank – for me, there’s no question. I’ve always known it just wasn’t right for me. D wasn’t entirely on board with my discipline plans at first, but by now I’ve managed to persuade him. My arguments usually go like this: 1. How can we teach a child not to resort to violence when we punish him with violence? 2. The only time I’m tempted to smack someone is when I’m angry, and everyone says not to spank when angry – so when would I even do it? 3. I’ve seen disobedient kids who are spanked and disobedient kids who aren’t – spanking is no fool-proof solution.
As a disclaimer, let me say I don’t think people are necessarily wrong or bad who spank. I myself was spanked occasionally and, more often, threatened with spanking or “whipping” or “switching” by various members of my family. I don’t feel I was scarred for life by spanking, and neither were the many other people I know who were spanked (within reason).
Still, my personal belief as a future parent is that spanking as a disciplinary tool doesn’t make the most logical sense, and – for me and D – it just doesn’t fit with who we are.
But around here spanking is a pretty volatile subject. Almost everyone we know believes in at least some degree of “spare the rod, spoil the child,” including most friends our age. When I tell people we won’t be spanking, the usual reaction I get is derisive laughter and then, “Oh, just wait till you have kids! You’ll see!” Which just makes me all the more determined (same as the people who constantly told me and D while we were dating that we’d stop holding hands when we got married – ha, in your face, naysayers!).
One of the chief advocates of spanking in town is my mother-in-law. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since my beliefs and my mother-in-law’s are pretty near opposite ends of the spectrum on every subject. She is fond of what I call the “drill sergeant” method of parenting, which requires complete, unquestioning obedience, even from her grown children.
Usually, in the interest of keeping the peace, I don’t bring up subjects in which we have a difference of opinion. For example, I don’t mention that we have a drink on occasion, we let slip swear words now and again, and we think it’s just fine for women to wear pants to church.
But when we were having lunch at D’s parents’ house yesterday, the subject of discipline came up. My sisters-in-law and I were in the living room, and D’s mom was in the adjacent kitchen, loudly educating us on discipline. First, she bragged about a conversation she’d had with her visiting 2-year-old grandson, in which she’d corrected her discipline woes by telling him, “Grandmother loves you with all her heart, but if you’re going to stay with me, you have to mind me, or I’m going to tear your little tail up!” Then she told of a recent conversation she’d had with friends who were surprised that she spanked her grandkids.
In response to their surprise, she said, “I’d rather spank the kids when they’re little than have them grow up disrespectful. They’re gonna mind me!”
The parents of these particular grandkids are not opposed to spanking, but I started thinking about my own future kids, and I began to feel a little hot around the ears. First, the comment about loving her grandson “with all her heart.” That rankled because it reminded me of her famous statement that if we adopted a black child, she couldn’t love it the same as the others, and of her general unexcited attitude toward adoption. I thought, “I wonder if my child will ever hear her say those words?”
Then, I thought, “She will never babysit my kids, if threatening them with violence is the only way she will handle them.”
And before I quite knew what I was doing, I calmly announced into the silent room, “We won’t be spanking our kids.”
A general gasp went up from my sisters-in-law (all the menfolk were outside puttering with the cars, as usual), and D’s mom bellowed angrily from the kitchen, “WELL, WHY NOT?”
I was a little stunned. No one I’d talked about this with had ever responded quite so strongly. I said simply, “Because we’re not.” Which I followed with my usual statement about how I don’t think it’s wrong, it’s just not for me.
After a long, tense pause (during which my sister-in-law was grinning and gesturing toward our mother-in-law’s back with her eyebrows), D’s mom said in a challenging tone, “Well, I expect them to MIND ME!”
Still quietly, I said, “So do I,” though I was actually thinking that at this point I didn’t care if they kicked her in the shins and ran away laughing.
Then she asked, now sounding deeply sarcastic, “What on earth are you planning to do to make them mind?!”
“Time out,” I said, beginning to feel pretty riled up that D’s mom was once again trying to smack down any idea different from hers, “and all the many other things you can do besides spanking.” Then I threw in my usual argument: “I don’t think it makes sense to teach a kid not to hit by hitting him.”
In the kitchen, D’s mom slammed a cabinet door and spat out, sounding angrier than I’ve ever heard her, “There’s different kinds of hitting!”
I wanted to say, “Oh, you mean like the time you whipped D till he bled for making bad grades on his report card, instead of giving him the actual help he needed?”
But before I could get out my verbal switchblade, my sister-in-law joined the conversation, diffusing the situation somewhat. She reasonably advised me I should never say never about spanking because some kids will cooperate with time out, and some won’t. With her three, they were all different.
I agreed that it’s true every kid will react in different ways, but I said I’ve been reading parenting books, and I’ll figure out something. I’ll just have to wait and see what works when we have our actual children, but the bottom line is, we will NOT be spanking. Then I said I think the key to whatever method you use is consistency, and finally that was something everyone could agree on.
Shortly thereafter, all the kids came swarming in and headed for the front door, and the youngest – the 2-year-old that sparked the original discussion – followed right along with them. His mother called his name twice, which he ignored and pelted ever closer to the door, and then as he squeezed into the doorway behind his cousins, she said, “If-you-go-out-that-door, you’re-getting-a-spanking!” The rebellious tot continued on and ran down the front steps without a backward glance.
His mom jumped up from the couch, ran out the door after him, and – according to D, who was outside – gave him the threatened spanking.
I twitched uncomfortably in the living room, because of our recent discussion. The other women were probably thinking, “See, this proves it! Some kids just won’t behave without a spanking!” But I was thinking, “See, this kid is going to do the same thing again an hour from now.” And he did, too. For me this proved my point – spanking is not the magic bullet D’s mom seems to think it is. It’s not the only way to have a well-behaved child.
But in D’s family there is only one way – his mom’s way. And in this case – as in so many others when it comes to his family – I just don’t get what the big deal is, and why it matters so much to her if we do our own thing.
Later, when the men finally came back in the house, D and I sat together on the couch, our elbows linked and knees turned in to each other. I realized it then – we are just different from them. Separate. D’s brother and sister both follow the family doctrine with their kids, their religion, their lives. We don’t and never will.
I thought one of the perks of having kids was that it would make me feel more a part of things with his family. I thought being the only childless chick at family gatherings was the main thing keeping me separate. But now I realize I’m just fundamentally different, and they’re the Can’t-Accept-Differences poster family, thanks to the matriarch’s strict policies.
And I guess I’m okay with that. We’ve got plenty of other family, plenty of people who will accept our kids – and us – for who we are. It’s their loss.