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Mom confession: Why I stopped spanking my kid and never looked back

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

The terrifying moment that made me stop spanking for good

I still remember the look of betrayal in my toddler's eyes the first time I spanked him. I felt like I had completely failed as a parent. The old adage that "this hurts me more than it hurts you" was painfully true. It hurt me not only because I had caused my child pain, but because I knew I had opened a floodgate I should have left shut. I wish I could say that the first time I spanked my child was also the last time, but it wasn't.

Once I had used corporal punishment, it seemed like there was no going back. Whenever his behavior got too out of control, I would resort to spanking. I felt like anything less would have no effect now. Even though I hated it, even though I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do for me or for him, it kept on happening. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t.

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I had read the cases against spanking. I knew the science. I knew better. So why was I unable to do better?

I would tell myself this would be the last time, but it never was. It was a lack of control on my part, and each time I spanked him that feeling of failure buried me all over again. I cried over it. I apologized for it, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t good enough. If I was, I would know how to discipline better than this.

Then one day I lost it. My son had been playing in the backyard, and suddenly he was gone. I called for him, and there was no answer. I screamed for him, and there was still no answer. It took no time at all for a million horrific thoughts to flood my mind. I was panicked and crying when he finally came out from behind the shed where he wasn’t allowed to play. I was coursing with adrenaline, and I spanked him without warning and without restraint... as if my anxiety was his fault, as if my fear, my unpredictable emotional state was supposed to weigh on his shoulders.

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When I calmed and started to see straight again, all I wanted to do was hold him. It should have been my first instinct, not my last. He looked at me and cried, but he wouldn’t come to me. I was devastated, but I couldn’t blame him. I had broken his trust, and it could not be repaired yet. That was the last time I used spanking as a parenting “tool.”

I had known for a while that the spanking had to stop, but this time it was different. I had seen the animalistic part of me that this violence stemmed from, and I never wanted to see it again. I didn’t want to lose control like that again, at least not that way. To this day I wonder how deep the damage is from those few volatile months. If there is one thing I could do over again as a mother it would be this: I would never spank my child.

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There are some parents who claim to spank responsibly, and I hope for their sake it is true, but that will never be my story. There is no way I could have ever used spanking responsibly. It comes from a place too primal to control. I will spend the rest of my life trying to heal the emotional wounds of an errant hand, wondering if the damage is irrevocable. I will always regret spanking, and I will never spank again.

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