Why Spanking My Child is Not For Me

by Dagmar Bleasdale on March 11, 2011

{This post was originally written for the NYC Moms Blog and posted November 01, 2009. This is an updated version.}

My son is turning three in a couple of weeks, and the terrible threes have definitely descended upon us. I can’t complain, temper tantrums are rare, but lately he makes dressing him or getting him to sleep a race around and over all the furniture. I’m afraid his arm will come out of the socket when he strains to break my grip with such a might after I finally catch him.

When it was time for his nap today, I had to chase him through the whole house again. He wasn’t listening to me, and when I finally got him on his bed to change him, he kept thrashing around and then started kicking me.

That was it — I had had it. I can’t claim that I “lost it,” I knew what I was doing when I grabbed one of his flailing legs and gave him a slap on his butt cheek for the first time — one.

I wanted to get his attention. He stopped kicking immediately, looked at me with his large blue eyes, and started to cry.

“Mooommy!”

“Well, you just wouldn’t stop,” I said, justifying my action.

But not a second later I knew what I had done was wrong. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

I finally was able to change him and he started to nurse to go to sleep. What kind of a mother was I?

His eyes had expressed utter disbelief over what he had experienced: I had hurt, him for the first time, his mother who he loves no matter what.

Up to this point, I had done everything to avoid hurting L. I had been determined to give birth without the help of drugs because I didn’t want my son to come into this world drugged. After a lot of preparation (12-week Bradley course), I luckily was able to give birth to him naturally. We decided against circumcision after getting educated about the procedure — we couldn’t imagine putting our baby through that kind of pain and trauma. I believe in gentle attachment parenting, including baby wearing and co-sleeping. And even though nursing a toddler has its challenges, I still breastfeed him so he can get the health benefits of breast milk until he self-weans. Spanking him was a parenting low point for me.

I was spanked by my father as a child. A very soft-spoken man, there was one thing my father couldn’t stomach: noise in the house. My brother and I grew up with parents who never listened to music, in the house or in the car. When my brother and I fought, sometimes involving bruises and ripped-out hair, my father would track down the noise, pull down our pants, whack us a good one and sent us to our rooms with the red imprint of his hand burning our bottom for a while. The last time he hit me was when I was 16 years old and I hit him back.

I can’t claim that those spanking incidences — maybe 15 in total — scarred me for life, but I think spanking is terrible parenting.

My father’s behavior did nothing to foster closeness to him during my childhood (we have a wonderful relationship now and I feel sad that he didn’t know how else to cope with his frustration). Spanking also never stopped the behavior — it didn’t deter my brother or me from fighting.

I want to make better choices.

I strive to be a pretty strict but kind and loving parent, believing that children need boundaries and consistency to thrive. You could argue that I didn’t “spank” my child, that one slap doesn’t amount to that, but I feel like I failed my little boy today as a mother. In my opinion, and you can be of another opinion, using spanking for disciplining is the same as bullying — you are abusing your power over your child and are taking out your frustration on someone smaller.

As he was falling asleep, his tears still on his cheeks, I apologized to my son several times, “I’m sorry, Love. That wasn’t right — I shouldn’t have hit you. Mommies sometimes make mistakes, too, and have to say sorry.”

Then it was my turn to cry. Being the cause for his tears broke my heart. Right then and there, I made a decision: I don’t want to continue the history of spanking in my family. I hated how it made me feel, and it goes against everything I believe in about gentle parenting.

Yes, it can be really frustrating to deal with a little boy who can’t contain his energy and tests my limits, but answering that innocent exuberance with spanking is not the solution. His boundary testing is only a phase, just like when he put everything in his mouth as a baby.

If I want him to learn to treat people nicely, and want him to understand that hitting others is not acceptable to me, I need to model the behavior I expect from him. The next time my son pushes my buttons, I hope to remember how terrible spanking him made me feel and find other ways to deal with the situations.

Another parenting lesson learned: spanking is not for me.

{I haven’t spanked L since this incident, over a year ago, and don’t anticipate I will again.}

What are your ways of disciplining your child? What works for you? Please share your thoughts so we can all learn from each other.

Before you comment, please keep in mind that these are all just my opinions. I didn’t say people who spank are terrible parents — I said spanking in terrible parenting in my opinion. If you decided to circumcise your boy(s) and are happy with that decision, that’s your business. You get my gist.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie March 15, 2011 at 12:52 AM

I am going to play devils advocate and defend the practice of spanking. I was raised by my aunt and uncle in a strict Irish Catholic home in SC. My aunt being an old fashioned Southern woman believed in the saying “Spare the Rod Spoil the Child”.Rule number one is never spank out of anger or frustration as the author of this blog post did. My aunt never spanked me or my cousins out of anger. Before we were spanked, we were told why were were getting it, the spanking itself and afterward hugged and reassured that just because we got spanked doesnt mean that we are any less loved and the slate was wiped cleaned. I got a lot of spankings growing up and Im thankful for my aunt for caring enough to discipline me. I am not emotionally scarred nor do I feel the urge to become violent with people. My aunt passed away in 1999 and after that I came to live with my mom and at her hands I did experience physical abuse.. I spank my son when he needs it and Im not ashamed to say that I do. I also use other tools such as taking away things and grounding him. Time outs never did work for him. I think the problem with alot of kids today is that parents want to be their kids friends and not their parents. Kids today are more disrespectful than ever and many parents are too afraid of CPS to disicipline their kids in any manner. Not every child needs to be spanked.. Ive met some kids who have neve been spanked and are good kids. Ive met others that were complete spoiled brats. I have read about AP parenting since before my son was born. I respect a parents right to raise their child as they see fit, but in my personal real life experience children who are raised in this manner are often clingy because their parents are too overprotective, wanting to shelter their kids from the world and keep them in a bubble so they want be exposed to germs etc. Children grow up and keeping them in the bed with you and your spouse and breastfeeding them until elementary school seems a bit much for me, but Im not going to call someone who does that a terrible parent or say its terrible parenting.. I do wonder how this generation of children will turn out though as it seems to me to be nothing more than a passing fad in parenting. Time will tell. For me parenting isnt following a particular style or dogma, its about balance and common sense. Spanking for us is merely a tool in the toolbox of discipline options when our son acts out. Ive been criticized my some women in my community who practice AP for not conforming with what they thought was the right and only way to parent. From everything from bottle feeding to letting him CIO when it was the only way to keep my sanity, to letting him sleep in his own room and the epitome came when he was 7 or 8 months old and I was told that we were not welcome at a storytime playgroup at the local library because I FF and it was for “BF” moms and babies only. Never did the playgroup or mom groups after that. All I remember is packing him and the diaper back up and walking home pushing his stroller with my head hung down in shame. I dont think AP is terrible parenting it wasnt for me and its not for others. The author who said that spanking is terrible parenting is calling parents who spank terrible parents even though she claims that isnt the case. I see alot of kids who are unruly, disrespectful in public and their parents dont do a darn thing about it. They just sit there acting like nothing is going on.. this unnerves me especially in a resturaunt where I pay good money for my meal. For some of those kids a good spanking might not be a bad thing, or better yet just remove the child. I have on more than one occassion asked to be moved and one time demanded my money back for the meal because of an unruly child. When I was little this was uncommon as most kids knew they would get a spanking if they pulled such antics. Children were much better behaved when I was younger than they are today. We are raising a generation of spoiled, selfish, disrespectful kids who think the universe revolves around them and they are entitled to everything there hearts desire. We blame their behavior on ADHD and drug them like zombies when maybe all they really need is some type of old fashioned discipline, guidance and structure in their lives.

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stephanie March 15, 2011 at 1:54 AM

I just realized that Dagmar wrote this..sorry I dont mean anything personal..I thought it was taken from another site written by another author and was being shared with permission.

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Kathy Morelli March 14, 2011 at 2:12 AM

Hi – I loved this post and I salute your decision to not hit your child. Spanking is hitting. I don’t like it when parents sugar coat the work hit by referring to it as spanking, It is hitting. Mounds of peer-reviewed research shows that spanking does not work. There is valid & reliable information about which type of parenting produces certain types of people. Active parenting is a good simple on-line course about common sense parenting and also having
fun with your family & child. thanks, Dagmar!

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Debra March 13, 2011 at 6:10 AM

Dagmar, it sounds like you’ve learned something from this experience: not to spank. I was spanked as a child by both parents. As an adult I looked back with resentment, then later realized that they did what they thought was the moral thing to do, and I forgave them.

When I had children of my own, I spanked my first two at times. But when the third one came along (much later in life) I don’t recall spanking at all. To this day she (# 3) and I have bonded more tightly than the others, who are now grown and on their own.

Follow your own heart and keep doing what you know to be right for your precious child. It will pay off in the end.

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Annie @ Mama Dweeb March 13, 2011 at 2:26 AM

I grew up getting spanked a LOT and most of the time it was unwarranted. If my parents had just taken the time to talk to me that would have solved so much more than just expecting me to blindly obey “the first time, cause I am the mom and you are the kid. Period.”

So I vowed to treat Lizzie with more respect than I was given, and i have. But I admit, I fall and have slapped her but and her little hands before. Each time I do her eyes get big and she wants me to kiss her owie. It breaks my heart. I am proud to say I am overcoming my upbringing though!

Thank you for this wonderful post Dagmar!

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Wolfmother March 12, 2011 at 2:33 PM

It is so difficult to change the way we are programmed during our childhood (like lack of emotional restraint like during spanking) but it is worth it for our children. I struggle with this myself as I was spanked as a child and I find myself lashing out to this day instead of expressing negative emotions more appropriately. I was taught how to deal with frustration and anger with violence, which is what spanking is: lashing out with violence in order to regain control. I absolutely loathe this about myself and have to consciously work at regulating myself differently so that I can be a better model for my son. What has helped me was were the exercises in the book Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year by Cassandra Vieten.

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Courtney K. March 11, 2011 at 5:57 PM

I grew up being spanked when I misbehaved. It worked for me, and didn’t work for my sister. I think it depends on the child. I have no scarring or feelings of being distant from my parents because I received spankings for bad behavior. I think it depends on the child and the childs temperament.

For my two year old son, spanking doesn’t really make any difference to him. I have spanked him before to get his attention and he just looks at me, not realizing WHY he’s being popped. When he misbehaves, I’ve found that getting down on his level and explaining–in his terms–what he’s doing is wrong gets to him. And timeout is very effective for him.

As he gets older, we’ll adjust according to what works. I personally don’t think that spanking or not spanking makes you a better or worse parent. But I DO believe that spanking is effective in certain kids. And when done the right way, there is no long term harm.

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Wolfmother March 12, 2011 at 2:42 PM

I disagree with the ‘no long term harm’ comment. I think that the harm it causes is difficult to pinpoint because it is all psychological. What I have noticed both in myself and in the children I have studied during my college program in Early Childhood Education that have been spanked is a lack of emotional control later and difficulty expressing negative feelings appropriately. A good example is how you yourself have used hitting as a way to control your child instead of focusing on the cause of the behavior and addressing it without coercion or violence. How do you deal with intense emotions yourself? Do you yell, hit a pillow, hit another person (like spanking a ‘disobedient’ child) when you are frustrated? It is subtle the effect spanking has on the psyche but it is definitely there. I think most people don;t realise the effect it has on them when they claim that they were spanked and they’re ‘fine’, because they really are not.

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21st Century Mummy March 11, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Ah the terrible 3s – that’s what my daughter is going through at the moment!

I am totally anti-smacking. I do not think there is any situation in which it is okay and I don’t think spanking a child is an effective form of punishment at all. All smacking teaches a child is that hitting someone is okay. Ultimately when you smack a child you are hurting them – surely that is wrong?

I think losing control so you lash out at your child because you want to teach them a lesson is the worst kind of smacking, because that is when people can really hurt their children.

We’ve all been there they push you to the limit. A friend of mine smacked her son once as she was really angry with him, she felt so guilty just like you did and has never done it again.

I got the occasional smack when I was younger from my mum, a single parent. I have never understood pulling a child’s underwear down to smack them – is it to cause maximum pain or humiliation? One time when I was young I was playing up on the street in our village My mother did just that.

Smacking is now illegal several European countries and I wish they would do the same in the UK. I now live in SIngapore and have seen Asian dads hit their children on several occasions on the street. It horrifies me.

In terms of discipline, I use time out, to give me the chance to calm down too! I’m not the perfect parent, I don’t always get it right and end up shouting which is also not the right thing to do!

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stephanie March 15, 2011 at 1:39 AM

Time out never did work for my son or maybe I just didnt have the patience to take 5 or 6 hours to get him to sit for 2 minutes. Spanking can be an effective tool when applied properly and spanking out of anger is not the way to do it. Not every child needs to be spanked and some do fine without it. Others it does work.

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dagmar March 11, 2011 at 1:10 PM

This is just a test comment.

Please let me know if you can’t post a comment!

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Jennifer March 11, 2011 at 10:49 AM

I don’t really have any suggestions for you, I only wanted to say I feel your pain! I am going through the exact same thing right now. My son turns three in a few months and he is acting out! I don’t believe in spanking either and I haven’t done it, but I have come close. I find that if I remove myself from the situation for about 10 seconds and breath that helps. I wholeheartedly agree that you can’t teach your child to not hit by hitting them. What is that teaching? I do get frustrated though, because timeouts don’t seem to help. When I put him in timeout, he laughs. But, at least he will sit there until I tell him it’s okay to get up. If it’s any consolation I did read that this type of behavior subsides around the age of 4. Hang in there and good luck to all of us!

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