A guest post by Vicki Hoefl
A parent shared this personal and emotionally charged story with great courage, honesty and insight.
My parents wanted to be good parents. They wanted to raise good children who were honorable, reasonable, self-sufficient. It was also very important to them to raise children whose behavior wouldn’t reflect badly on them. Where I was raised, everyone knew everyone else’s business. A child’s misstep or error in judgment became known to everyone. Quickly. And often ended up in the county paper!
Mom and Dad had only two weapons in their discipline arsenal: shouting and spanking. Everybody spanked their kids. Mom kept a belt in the closet and we knew we were in for it when she went and opened the closet door. Of course, the problem that occurs when you have so few strategies in your discipline bag is that the solution to pretty much every problem becomes spanking, no matter how minor the infraction.
- Late for the bus? Go get the belt.
- Won’t stop roughhousing? Go get the belt.
- Insisted a little too strongly on getting some candy in the store? Probably a couple of slaps on the leg in the parking lot.
- Talked back? Go get the belt (you might just get a slap in the face for that one, actually).
- Walked up the road to the neighbor’s house and didn’t tell mom? Definitely get the belt.
Oddly enough, sometimes spanking was more socially acceptable than shouting. Like the time at church when my sister, who was probably two or three at the time, didn’t respond when someone said hello to her. In that moment, my dad reached down and swatted her behind with his hand and reminded her that when people say hi, we say hi back.
It surprises me now, to think about it, because I can’t imagine someone spanking their kids in public anymore. But there, in the church, in front of people we had known for years, my two or three year old sister was spanked by my father for not speaking when spoken to. That’s a very minor infraction, if I ever saw one.
I knew back then, at least intellectually, that they spanked us because they loved us and they wanted the best for us. That’s what they said, anyway. But, when I think back to my childhood, what I remember most clearly is feeling things like indignation. Embarrassment. Unfairness. Being disapproved of. Hatred. I hated my parents in those moments after spankings.
The most surprising thing about all of this spanking business is that, despite my very negative experience with spankings, I have actually spanked my own daughter. More than once; not frequently, but enough so that I couldn’t honestly say that I don’t spank. I didn’t use a belt, just my hand (as if that somehow makes it less demeaning).
I didn’t spank her because I liked it. In fact, I felt horrible every time I spanked her. Why?
Why did I do it?
- I did it because she wouldn’t do what I needed her to do.
- I did it because she shouted at me when she was angry.
- I did it because I was desperate and couldn’t figure out what the hell else to do.
- I did it because she threw an epic fit in the parking lot of McDonald’s when I told her she couldn’t take her blanket inside.
- Mostly, though, I did it because I lost my temper and I didn’t have any other strategies in my deal-with-my-daughter playbook. I wasn’t prepared. I was tired. I was caught off guard.
I haven’t spanked my daughter in almost a year (that McDonald’s parking lot episode was truly shameful and became a turning point for me). Since then, I have actively sought out strategies for discipline that work for us and that I can feel good about. We were on our way to our summer vacation last year when that McDonald’s spanking occurred and it was on that trip that I stumbled across Duct Tape Parenting and started to change my entire parenting philosophy.
And now, I think back to my parents and their efforts to raise us “right” and I remember my mom telling us that it hurt her more than it hurt us when she spanked us. That’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re standing there with your hands on your knees waiting for the belt that she’s swinging to hit, but I see her point now. My mom who was so young: 18 when she had my brother and only 20 when I came along. My dad who only saw us late at night and on Sundays because he was working from sun up to sun down trying to provide for us . Both of them stretched to the limit of their maturity and resources and doing the best they knew to do.
They may have raised us right, but for much of my youth, time spent with my parents felt more like going into combat than being part of a loving family. I didn’t enjoy it and I feel certain they didn’t either. Now I wonder, what would they have given for a better way?
This poignant and honest accounting of growing up in a home where spanking was considered a reasonable and just punishment for any and all misbehavior is a reminder.
1. Spanking fractures the relationship between parent and child. Sometimes to such an extent that it is never healed. Remember this may be just the thing parents need to exercise self control and either walk away from the situation or to use another parenting strategy that won’t fracture the relationship they are building with their child.
2. Children rarely understand that they are being spanked for their own good or accept that this kind of treatment is fair and just. If we want our children to grow up to be calm, rational, respectful human beings, that think before they act, then they must be raised in an environment where spanking is not only NOT an option, but an environment where their rights to be treated with dignity and respect are the guiding values used to raise them.
3. Whatever lesson the parent is trying to teach is lost in the pain and humiliation the child feels during the spanking. It takes time, lots of time, and practice, loads of practice for children to mature and to use their reasoning skills when making choices. Allowing children to learn over the course of months and years, without fear of punishment when they make a mistake, ensures that they will grow into adults who embody courage, empathy, understanding, patience and kindness and will undoubtedly leave the world a better place than they found it.
4. For most parents raising children in the 21st century, spanking is a last resort option, and yet, it remains an option. At some point, as adults, we must find the courage to take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions and stop making excuses for behavior that is not tolerated in any other relationship. At some point, it has to stop being acceptable to blame our lack of self control on a small child by saying “If she had done what I said the first time, I wouldn’t have been forced to hit her” and step up and hold ourselves accountable.
If you find that you are a parent who even contemplates hitting, in any form, as an option – even a distant one, reread this story and ask yourself, Is this how I want my children to describe me when they are adults? And if the answer is no, then do whatever it takes to expunge hitting from your parenting repertoire.
Vicki Hoefle is a professional parent educator with over 20 years experience teaching parents, educators and caregivers how to raise respectful, responsible and resilient children. Hoefle combines her expertise in Adlerian Psychology and as an International Coaching Federation certified coach to bring parents Duct Tape Parenting, a sustainable and proactive parenting strategy that provides time-tested tools for harvesting a happy and peaceful family life. Her informative and highly engaging presentation style keeps her in demand as a speaker, facilitator and educator. Hoefle is a mother of six and lives in Middlebury, Vermont. For more information, visit www.vickihoefle.com.