What I remember about my childhood is complicated: I lived a spoiled, suburban, sheltered life. Neither my siblings nor I wanted for anything at all. We took vacations as a family to Disney World, the beach, New York City. I remember these pleasant snippets of my formative years, but I also remember the unpleasantness of being spanked: the fear and anger and shame.
I couldn’t say anything then because I was a child, and when you’re a child, your parents know best. You believe them when they say that they know best, and you trust them. But because they are human, they sometimes make mistakes. Some of these mistakes are damaging.
I still often feel like I can’t really say anything about it. The debate on spanking by those who do it or had it done to them is ongoing, but those who study psychology and the long-term effects have found just how damaging it is.
Most people who spank see absolutely nothing wrong with it, rebuking those who tell them it is harmful. People tell me I don’t have kids, so I can’t possibly understand.
As someone who works in an elementary school and has worked in child care, I understand that being a parent (a full-time job!) must be exhausting. And frustrating. I don’t trust that people won’t sometimes blur the lines between “I am popping your thigh to get your attention” and “I am hitting you (repeatedly) because I am annoyed with you and what you are doing.”
As someone who was spanked, here’s what I wish I could have said all those years ago to my parents. To those who parent or who plan to parent, this is for you. This could help you know what a spanked child is thinking when you hit him or her.
1. I wish you would talk to me
Even as an elementary school-age child, I found myself wishing you would use age-appropriate reason and logic rather than spankings to communicate what I had done wrong. The pain from the beating did not make me remember and learn my lesson. I have long since forgotten nearly all the things I was spanked for. But I remember the pain I felt, the anger that seemed to radiate from you while giving the spanking and the shame that I could not be better.
2. I will probably not understand what’s going on
I may not have fully understood the consequences of my actions, especially since you did not communicate them to me in a way other than spanking. A big blowup let me know that you were angry, but I still found myself to be mostly confused about what exactly I had done wrong. Hurting me made me feel confused and scared.
3. Think about why you’re spanking me
Were y’all actually just frustrated/fed up/stressed out/overworked/at your wit’s end… and a sometimes naughty, exceedingly curious, incessantly adventurous and perhaps often precocious child’s behavior pushed you over the edge?
4. Really think about what you’re doing
In any other context, hitting someone out of anger or frustration or when they have done something wrong is assault or abuse. Additionally, it teaches us as children (who, remember, later become adults) that people who really and truly love us will hit or hurt us and that this is acceptable and OK. Nothing about that is acceptable and OK. It takes the rethinking of things you perhaps have believed since you were a child or accepting the wrong you have done your own children by hitting them. It takes education to learn to do better, but it can be done. Your children are worth that.