I guess there is every chance that by the end of this post you’ll hate me. Or worse, be deeply disappointed in me. Or angry with me. But there is something I would like to say because I’m a little tired of sanctimonious parenting posts preaching perfection at me. I’ve been meaning to say it for a while, since my sister wrote a series of posts about something that happened to them last summer.
I’ll start off by saying I’m not a ‘smacker’. It’s not my habitual discipline stance or the way I control my children. Certainly not now, 14 years after I first had a child. I don’t pull my children up sharply by the arm and deliver a stinging slap to the legs. They don’t get beaten with a switch or sent to their room to await a calm physical punishment for a misdemeanour. I certainly don’t physically punish them in public to assuage the needs of old ladies who like to see a little tap on the legs to call a child to order. And honestly? I agree with every word that Jax said there. It’s a rubbish way to discipline. It isn’t likely to make everyone feel better, least of all an upset child. No one thinks you can hit an adult to make them behave and it be a reasonable workplace resolution. I agree.
I fully understand that there are laws now, admittedly rather mystifying ones, to avoid parents disciplining with physical force. And that’s a good thing, though I can’t help thinking that if you are a person who beats and wallops a child, you aren’t likely to take much notice of them.
But you know what? I’ve done it. I’ve smacked. There you go.
When I had Fran there was no internet and I had no parent peers to speak of. I was the first in my family, the first of my school friends, the first of my work friends to have children. And we had a rough start too, leading to me being very cut off and depressed and really failing to enjoy parenthood at all. And I came from a smacking household. I have clear and distinct memories of being smacked, perhaps not often, but I remember occasions of it happening. I remember at least one occasion where I got hit full across the face too, because I was upset about something and didn’t want to leave the house. I was 14 then. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that when I found myself with a highly confrontational toddler who pushed me to the limits and delighted in destructive habits like ripping books and tipping out jigsaws, I occasionally smacked her.
It didn’t do any good of course. She’s still messy. She doesn’t rip books, but I think that’s a growing up thing 😉
It’s not lost on me that when I was imagining writing this post I found myself thinking of collective words for parenting skills: arsenal, battery, weaponry. Hmmmm. All a bit violent. It’s not a war after all.
Luckily I learned pretty quickly that this was not a good thing to rely on. Maddy came along and if I ever smacked her, which happened perhaps twice, she was so distraught that I would have to cuddle her and apologize to her, which rather weakened my stance on wrongdoing. With 2 children I got the hang of parenting a good bit better, mainly because I came under the influence of better parents. I quickly learned not to smack. I can’t say I was perfect but I know that it was used pretty much for one thing only and that was if my children put themselves in danger. Both of them were pretty spirited at the time and Maddy was particularly unpredictable, her Aspergers making her likely to follow her instincts or interests at any second. We walked a lot back then and roads were a terror as she would often dive into them, or dash off, or refuse to cross, or stop in the middle and not continue. I was heavily pregnant, she was non-verbal and non-communicative and honestly it was the only way I could think of to put a really unpleasant physical distaste into her mind that related to a behaviour that could get her killed. Shoot me now.
Enter child three, Amelie, who would try the patience of a saint as a toddler. If she’d have been my first I dread to think what would have happened because I have a terrible temper, inherited from both my parents, and Amelie provoked it to the limits of my endurance. I’ve got two recollections of parenting little Amelie in such moments. Once in the middle of the night when I was so shattered and she was being so horrible (turned out the antihistamine she was on sent her wild) that I managed to walk away from her, knowing only too well that my pregnant half awake, sleep deprived self had come within an inch of beating her (I didn’t lay a finger on her, I hasten to add, but I so could have 🙁 ) and once in a field in a tent with my friends all sleeping in close proximity, when I had to thump the frost hardened ground under us to stop myself from hitting her.
Those two events really changed my mind about how okay it was. I can smack in a temper, which is bad, though perhaps scares me less than if I did it calmly. Josie has never really been smacked and when I asked the girls this week if they thought of themselves as children who are smacked, only Maddy could think of an instance of it happening (ironic, no?) and that was from a lot of years ago when they had left their room messy after I had asked for it to be tidied about a gazillion times. I horrified myself last year when, heavily pregnant and miserable (a theme perhaps?) I went to smack Fran on the thigh for picking holes in her face and arms yet again. Luckily I actually connected with her bag, but it made me sick to my stomach to have done that in an instant of crossness.
I’m fully aware that if I lash out, regardless of whether its hard or not (which it never was), regardless of whether it leaves a red mark or not (stupid law, can’t really help), that it’s all about me. All about my failure to parent better in that moment, or come up with another method of dealing with an issue. But I’ve never felt that smacking Maddy’s hand so she associated lurching out in front of a car with getting smacked was a bad thing (better that than squashed) and both Fran and Amelie have often come back to earth in the middle of a tantrum if I smacked the back of their toddler hand, just hard enough to get their attention – so I could cuddle and comfort them instead of fighting them.
Yep. Its a bit of a rubbish parenting technique but there have been times when a smack on the hand just happens. And this is where my sister comes in. Last year she smacked her 5 year old on the back of the hand. Ella was having a screaming tantrum, my heavily pregnant sister (!) was in a rush, had 3 children to get out of the house in 10 minutes and didn’t need a hysterical child to cope with. So she took her hand, smacked it, focused her and explained why they needed to pull together and get sorted and got ready to leave. A few minutes later Ella complained her finger was hurting and although my sister was sure it was unrelated, she took her to A&E, owned up and was told that ‘it happens’ and no harm was done and sent on her way. Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there, thanks to some sanctimonious teachers and people who tick boxes instead of looking at the true picture. You need to read her story and see what happens when we get all judgmental about imperfect parenting. There are worse things you can do and it sickens me to my stomach that my sister went through a child protection investigation when people beat and burn their children and get away with it. (She was utterly exonerated by the way and a full apology issued, but that will never take away what all of them went through).
We had the same childhood which involved the odd smack. I think we both remember lots of shouting more than that though. I’m far more damaged by the confrontation that involved shouting than I am by the smacks. I hated the shouting. I was miserable in the car for endless mornings as I was taken apart for leaving late or not being good enough. I remember being stood endlessly while I was shrieked at for my failures and shortcomings. I’m more worried about my children thinking of me like that, being damaged by that sort of onslaught, than I am about the odd smack. It’s one thing to look back now and accept they were probably isolated incidents, that my mum probably was under pressure, hormonal, tired, stressed or knowing she wasn’t doing a good enough job at parenting. But it’s the shouting I remember.
My sister and I are decent parents, loving parents, child centred parents. We make the odd mistake and we don’t get it right every time. But we’ve got good kids. They are feisty and funny and confident and cheeky and able and talented and you can look at all of them and know that imperfect parenting or not, they feel loved and cared for. They are nice to others, thoughtful of each other, open about expressing themselves, purposeful and happy. My sisters kids exude an energy and sparkle that is like my Amelie and I’m sure as hell they don’t act like kids who are afraid of their parents. I’ve watched my sister grow into parenting a hell of a lot quicker than I did and I’d trust her with my kids lives and souls. She’s all about them. She’s not perfect, like I’m not perfect but she’s a good parent and like me she has children who are not cowed and have not been beaten into submission but do know how to behave for the most part. They don’t scream at us or try to control us. They don’t try to stamp all over other people (*Amelie excepted 😉 )They like us and they like people. People like them. They aren’t like that because they were smacked into it. They aren’t like that because they weren’t smacked. They are just a product of imperfect parenting and parents who occasionally have to say “I’m sorry, I got that wrong”. Which we do. I think the ability to learn and grow and apologize means more than having a sanctimonious stance on any parenting or discipline issue. I’m prepared to bet the people who have never smacked have children no more or less perfect than my own. Probably messy. Occasionally naughty. Often annoying 😉
To write this I asked the girls how they feel they are disciplined and what is the scariest way we do it. I said it was an open forum and for interest and they didn’t have to worry about upsetting me. Maddy said I used to shout but I don’t any more. Fran said she knows she got smacked occasionally when she was little but that it was usually because she hadn’t tidied her room when I had asked her to lots of times. She minds more if I am angry and I shout. Amelie said the only really scary thing I do when I’m cross is ‘look’ at her. When she said that they all looked pensive and nodded.
So there you go. My children are mostly traumatised by me looking at them. I can’t win. Parenting article that.
(Disclaimer: If you turn up here to write vitriolic comments about how terrible I am, or my sister is, I will delete them. I’m happy to discuss the issue but take note that the tone of my post is that I don’t remotely advocate smacking or think it works. I’m just saying I’ve grown through it as a discipline technique and my conclusion is that while ineffectual for the most part, I’ve not damaged them.)