The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt — and there is the story of mankind.
–John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 1952
I chose this Steinbeck quote because it typifies what I feel is the core message of Spank Out Day. My post is a bit different from the other eloquent words on the topic and I sincerely hope you will read the Spank Out Day posts for the real juice. This quote is also different to me today than it was four days ago when I first began writing about spanking. My post is my journey from West to East of Eden and perhaps out again, I suppose…
This is yet another topic that I’ve been struggling to write. I’ve started and stopped numerous times now and I just haven’t been able to get to what I want to say (I feel like I’ve written about having trouble writing a lot lately…) It’s funny because punitive parenting, corporal punishment, rewards, and praise are things that I see on the same continuum of extrinsic motivation. They’re parenting archetypes that I’m familiar with both firsthand and through the majority of what I read about parenting. They’re issues I’m deeply passionate about. They’re also the modes I want to get rid of when parenting my own children. (But, that’s for one of those other posts I’ve been writing…)
The problem I’m having writing about punitive-reward discipline is: how to eschew these parenting models without excluding my own parental figures as well as other parents who currently practice corporal punishment? Just as I’m avoiding extrinsic motivation in favor of intrinsic motivation, I’m trying to do the same with my writing: including rather than excluding. My core practices in life are Ahimsa, or non-harming, and Satya, or true speech. If I am critical of my upbringing, that brings potential harm to my parents. If I am critical of another parent’s practices, then I am judging them, excluding them, and potentially harming them. And while something may be my truth it may not be the truth.
I also don’t want to fall into the trap of misusing the Maya Angelou quote:
When you know better you do better.
I can just feel the eye rolling whenever someone types that quote. It is so often used to mean, “Once you read what I tell you, you’ll think like I think (you ignoramus you)” It’s a shame because Angelou’s quote really has nothing to do with that line of thought and I always want to toss it back up to the usually gentle discipline advocating person to actually think about what they wrote.
So, enough about what I don’t want to write about. Here’s what I do want to write about:
I much prefer this quote from Angelou:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
The truth is that parents are doing their best. We all intensely love our children. We parent with the tools we have and the tools we learn. Parenting tools are a choice and a choice must be made freely or it is punitive coercion. I want to provide a clear space for understanding and support. Within that space let me be perfectly clear that I believe spanking is not okay. I think spanking is wrong. I separate the behavior from the parents just as I treat my children separately from their behaviors. To do otherwise is to perpetuate the mindset that affirms spanking.
What was arising in me as I wrote was how before I had children, I knew I could be a pediatrician, but I could never be a veterinarian. Since I became a mom, I couldn’t become a pediatrician either. I kept telling myself to stop being distracted by this thought and get back to writing about spanking; Until the thought kept banging on my door and I let it in. Maybe I need more boundaries. Maybe my empathy crosses over to enmeshed sympathy. Maybe I don’t want to change this feeling anyway. If it causes me pain, it also keeps me tied to understanding another’s suffering and that’s something I would never want to ignore. It is my own pathway to compassion.
Some would argue that spanking is one of those issues that is so vitally important to stomp out that all bets are off for compassion. They argue that protecting the children from this type of treatment is all that matters. The parents’ feelings don’t matter because they need to be taught better. This seems to be to be the same line of thinking as those who misuse the first Angelou quote above.
If we’re going to effect change and protect children, it has got to come from compassion with the parents. It’s unrealistic and harmful to upset family life for every single family that spanks. Some children will be overlooked or have a worse situation, etc. If a hand is not used to spank because the parent has another way, then the parent can be healed. The cycle of spanking can be broken. It is a more difficult path than solely punishing or rewarding the parent. The gentler way is often more taxing than the dominating one. But, it is the only way that truly creates change. At least that is what all of us natural parenting advocates purport to want, isn’t it?
I want to be clear that I do not think spanking is ever okay. I’m deliberately shying away from the word abuse because, like the word ignorant, people see red when they read it and all hope of connection is lost.
I’ve had the benefit of reading the other Spank Out Day posts, in addition to the research I did while going through the many drafts of this piece. Each post has managed to walk the line between sharing the gentler alternatives without judging parents who spank.
If you’re looking for the truths about the ineffectiveness spanking as well as alternatives to spanking, you will find everything you need in the other Spank Out Day posts. I’m grateful that these talented writers wanted to give to this cause and pleased to act as a gateway to them. I hope you will read and share the ones that speak most deeply to you with those you know who spank their children. I also hope that this can be done in a place of compassionate curiosity, i.e.: “I read this and would enjoy hearing your thoughts, if you feel willing to share.” And then listen. Really listen. Without judging or offering any words of your own.
Compassion and empathy with children is the same compassion and empathy for the children grown. And there can be the story of mankind.
The updated list with links to all of the Spank Out Day posts can be found here:
- Spank Out Day (touchstonez.com)