I Understand Spanking More Than I Used To

I don’t necessarily encourage such parenting but it worked for my parents and I think my brother and I turned out okay. Spanking aside, my brother and I learned very early that there was an expectation of good behavior and our actions had consequences.

While I certainly do not condone child abuse, it’s a long way from a couple of swats on a well-padded rear end to abusive beatings.

I spank when they misbehave. It’s prevalent in our culture and I’m not ashamed to say that it’s effective and it works.

I know that now a lot of studies have shown spanking not to be effective and even damaging in some cases so that concerns me. But at the same time, I do not feel we were harmed by our spanking experiences as kids. I think maybe there are different kinds of spanking and different reasons and that is what makes the difference.


These are comments from a great discussion over at my personal blog, where the conversation veered into the touchy (ha?) area of corporal punishment. I know it can be enormously difficult to talk about spanking without getting emotional or pointing fingers, and so I was glad to have the opportunity to read through all sorts of calm, well-stated opinions on the subject.

I've been thinking a lot lately about discipline and what kind of approach I want to take to address the various behavior issues that have been cropping up now that my kids are getting older. In so many ways, things are much, MUCH easier than they used to be—and yet I think I'm just starting to understand how as the physical needs subside, the big-kid scenarios are even more intimidating.

At least when they were tiny, it was mostly all about dealing with bodily functions, you know? Now I've got to figure out how to instill respect, provide support, help when it's needed, and push when I have to. Sometimes it seems like these things are all at cross purposes, and there have been plenty of times when I've thought to myself after the fact, Well I fucked that one up good.

So: spanking. I used to say I was against it, that I thought it was wrong for all families, not just my own. I don't know if I still feel this way. It seems to me that there are very few things that are universal in the world of parenting, and that for the most part I can't really judge what goes on in other households.

Of course I also believe that abusing a child is reprehensible. I understand that for some people there is no philosophical difference between cruel mistreatment and a swat on a child's butt for bad behavior, but I don't think I agree with that stance.

For me, however, spanking is not the right option. Ever. I'll tell you why: because if I am in a frame of mind that believes my child deserves to be spanked, I am by definition disqualified from doling out that sort of punishment. If things have gone so badly that I think a spank on the rear end is the only way to get my point across, I am probably either incredibly pissed (child did something insanely obnoxious) or incredibly freaked out (child attempted to walk directly into traffic). A highly agitated person spanking a child? Not something I'm comfortable with. Especially in my own home.

In listening to different perspectives on discipline, I'm realizing more and more that my biggest failing is inconsistency. I am the parent that sometimes says the same thing over and over and over because I don't always apply consequences. It's not that I'm too tender-hearted to do so, or that I want to be my children's best friend—it's just ... I don't even know, really. I guess it's that sometimes I'm tired and sick of it and I don't always know what consequence to use and I essentially find myself begging my children to do what I say. Which, hello, surprise, doesn't always work.

A couple more eye-opening comments:

My sister and I were spanked and we behaved. I don’t think it left any lasting effects, but I also don’t think spanking is the way to go and it certainly doesn’t teach self-regulation. The fact is, real discipline isn’t about punishment, it’s about consistently applying the same message and expectation until the lesson is learned. (...) I don’t know that spanking is successful BECAUSE it’s spanking, so much as it's successful because of how consistently it’s applied.

There are PLENTY of parents who spank who have no authority whatsoever and whose kids run amok. Authoritative parents who spank could just as easily do time-outs, or push-ups, or writing lines, or corporal embroidery. It is their consistency in word and deed coupled with unflagging expectations that gets results.

I truly understand more than I used to why some households rely on spanking. It's not for me, but I think there's always something to be learned in parenthood from hearing a wide variety of stories and approaches. I have a little more clarity on what I need to work on as a result, and regardless of anyone's feelings about corporal punishment, I think that's a good thing.

What's your take on spanking?

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