Friends of mine recently came together for a long-overdue evening of wine, cheese and, as it turned out, childhood recollection. It struck me (no pun intended) how every one of them concluded the spankings and threats of spankings they received from their parents had somehow made them better people – responsible, independent, and strong. My disagreement sent an invisible needle across the record.
I wasn’t saying they were irresponsible, dependent, or weak. I also didn’t get to say their parents had to have done something else in addition to not sparing the rod in order to have raised strong, independent children because physical punishment and emotional abuse, no matter how benign-seeming, does no such thing. Still they mused humorously and romanticized the tools, procedures, and accompanying lectures their parents had used, with nary a mention of a specific mischievous act or dastardly deed. They were united in their insistence that fear is the only route to respect and that “kids these days have a sense of entitlement” because they weren’t taught with fear.
At the risk of putting a damper on anyone’s stroll down this particular memory lane, I personally don’t have any fond or funny memories of being hit by a spatula, belt, shoe, switch, ruler, the diamond on my mother’s ring or two pieces of Hot Wheels track taped together. Maybe respect for my parents and my recollection of all those good times fell out of my brain as I rolled down the stairs or when I stepped between one of my parents and one of my younger brothers – the latter of which I did with a great deal of fear, which flies directly in the face of the idea that fear renders respect.
What I do have are three kids I raised to adulthood without the much-lauded one-size-fits-all “parenting technique” that is hitting a child; and not one of my kids harbors a sense of entitlement. I had to decide early on how I was going to raise my kids without using force because force was all I knew, which is to say force is all my parents taught. I spent a lot of time unlearning what I knew and learning that not only is there another way, there are many ways to raise responsible, respectful children.
While it was initially overwhelming, finding out there was more than one way to discipline a child gave me many tools, not just one. This included, but was not limited to, active listening, natural and logical consequences, empathetic listening, resisting the urge to judge or advise out of context, and assisting with what they needed rather than what I thought they should need. I also raised my kids with a lot of reading, age-appropriate chores, age-appropriate sex education and drug awareness – and the word “and” rather than “but” because the latter has a way of diluting the first part of the sentence by placing undue emphasis on the second half. (i.e.: “I do love you and get that bathroom cleaned up.” not “I do love you, but get that bathroom cleaned up.”)
All of these tools not only helped me raise respectful, responsible children, they set a much-needed foundation for the teenage years when many children springboard into rebellion. Waiting until a child is a teenager to set the bar is often too late and the result can be tragic for both parent and child. When at all possible, I recommend being a stay-at-home parent during their teen years because it is infinitely more useful than being a stay-at-home parent during their preschool years.
I am not the parent of three easy-going children. I am the parent of two easy-going children. I know how frustrating and maddening it can be to deal with a difficult baby and a difficult child. I’m not a 50-something using hindsight to inform 20-somethings. I’m a 50-something recalling what I did when I was a 20-something who was scared, uncertain, and bucked the standard anyway. That 20-something knew how it felt to be hit as a child, to watch as others were hit, and to not remember why a few minutes or a few years later. I remember fear, for sure, and resentment and bitterness, too, but not respect.
As is typical of modern times, the conversation my friends and I had was recorded on another friend’s smartphone. Something had happened, or rather had not happened, and it was poignant. It wasn’t until the next day and they’d all had a chance to see the video that they believed me: Not once did they utter the word “love” as they recalled their childhoods and toasted their parents.
It was further asserted during the evening that there is “a line between discipline and abuse” – whether the “discipline” is physical or verbal. I would point out that the human nervous system knows no such line nor has any such line been proven to exist, so I’m going to go ahead and side with neurology on this one and wave the bullshit-you-just-made-that-up flag.
There is only one reason to raise your hand to a child: not knowing another way. That’s not just a bad reason; it’s a fixable reason. If you don’t know another way, you learn another way. That’s what adults do. Adults don’t wallow in ignorance and excuse it with “tradition” or some such nonsense. The idea that fear is synonymous with respect is not an adult thing to think and acting on it is not an adult thing to do. Getting children to behave by hitting them is not a disciplinary technique. It’s an excuse – and if that doesn’t reek of “I’m entitled!” I don’t know what does.