I Thought Spanking Parents Were Monsters ... Then I Had Kids

naughty girlI used to think people who hit their children were either lazy adults who didn't want to take the time to learn how to discipline children correctly, or bad parents who didn't love their children. But once I had kids of my own I realized that hitting a child isn't something any parent wants to do, but sometimes it's the only way to make your child obey you. 

Growing up, I wasn't spanked in the sense that my parents ever took me over their knee and hit me repeatedly, but I certainly remember receiving the occasional swat on the behind or a back-hand across the face when I misbehaved. These incidents stayed with me, not so much because they were physically painful, but because I remembered them as moments that made me fearful of my parents and filled me with shame for acting in a way that made them so angry. Because those memories were so powerful I knew well before I ever got pregnant that I was 100 percent against hitting my own children. 
From my judgmental perch as a non-parent with zero clue as to what I was talking about, I looked at spanking as lazy and cruel. Surely no parent who truly loved their child could bear to cause them pain. And as an educated adult, I believed I would be able to calmly and rationally discipline my children using a combination of time-outs, things I saw Supernanny do on television, and glitter mediation bottles constructed from Pinterest tutorials.
So emphatic was I about my anti-spanking position that when a potential boyfriend casually mentioned he would spank his theoretical children I mentally crossed him off my list of potential life partners right there on the spot. When girl friends would admit to the occasional butt tap on their disobedient child, I'd hold my tongue, but inside my head the judgment flowed like lava.
Once I tried to get pregnant, I had difficulty before conceiving twins. Fighting so hard to have a family and seeing my perfect, precious babies once they were born just strengthened my resolve that there was no way I could ever lay a finger on my children in anger. I was a pacifist mommy, using gentle words like "Let's play something else" instead of "No," and redirecting bad behaviors with a new activity instead of raising my voice.
And then my sweet innocent baby boys did something I hadn't counted on. They turned 2.
I am still completely and unequivocally against what I think of as "true" spanking -- where you lay a child over your knee and strike them repeatedly. I refuse to think it's acceptable to hit a child once you get home for some transgression that occurred at the store an hour ago. To me, hitting a child long after they misbehave or hitting them after you've had time to calm down is wrong. For children who can understand consequences and have hobbies, toys, or electronics that can be taken away as punishment, I believe these are better discipline options and ones that I hope to employ as soon as my boys have a better understanding of language and can comprehend what it means to lose a privilege. 
But I'd be lying if I said that I've never struck my children. 
I had heard about the terrible-twos, the phenomena that is the three-nager and the particular torture of having a child that's four-going-on-fourteen. However I still wasn't prepared when my kids started having opinions, desires, and their own fierce wills while lacking the language and comprehension skills to understand when they're misbehaving. 
By and large, I manage to keep my hands to myself. Even though they laugh and climb out immediately after I place them in the corner we designated for time-out, I'll continue to stick them back in there for as long as it takes until they finally understand it's not a game. I'm not sure they remember why they're in trouble by that point, but in the interest of making myself feel like a good parent, I pretend they get it. 
Yelling less is something I'm really working on, though I can count on one hand the number of times my raising my voice has elicited any response other than the boys laughing hysterically and mimicking my bellows. 

But I'll admit I've lost my cool a small number of times, and in those moments when all I see is red, I've given the child who's acting up a single swat. When you're trying to get a diaper on a toddler who's repeatedly kicking you in the face and laughing about it, when he's actually causing you pain and continuing to kick you no matter what you say or do, when you try walking away for a minute or counting to three and he still won't stop, a swat on the leg gets their attention when nothing else will. The few times I have resorted to hitting have been a combination of my own frustration level being too high and one of the kids causing intentional and significant pain to someone or doing something that could cause grave bodily harm. I don't say this to try to make excuses for myself.

I'm not proud what I've done. Even though they've never reacted with tears or by saying "ouch", my guilt over losing my cool causes me to spend the entire rest of the day each time making up for it with treats and extra cuddles. I can no longer pass judgment on other parents for reaching the end of their ropes and swatting a child in a last-ditch effort to make them listen. I understand now that no one relishes the thought of having to smack your kid because you feel like you've run out of other options.

No loving parent wants to hit their kids. It's not something I plan on making a regular part of my parenting arsenal, because it's a slippery slope from a single swat to multiple ones. But when I hear a parent employ the threat of a smack in public, I no longer feel disgust, I feel sympathy. It doesn't make it right, but it does make us human.

How has your outlook on discipline changed since you had kids?


Image via © shazie28/iStock

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