My First Time

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I was 43. He was 7.

To paraphrase/elaborate upon St. Paul: When I was a child, I thought as a child. I spoke as a child. When I acted unacceptably, I was spanked as a child. To paraphrase every corporal punishment apologist, I turned out okay — psychologically undamaged from derriere-administered discipline.

Prior to parenthood, after discussion with my comparably corrected husband and pending parenting partner, we agreed. We’d likely employ the method as occasion(s) deemed fit.

However, following my son’s – and his twin sister’s – birth, the implementation of the swat/smack/spank simply felt wrong.

Perhaps pridefully, I became besotted with the efficacy of oral diatribes regarding behavioral expectations (frequently paired with the removal of privileges), and was repulsed by the prospect of engaging in the “do as I say and not as I do” inconsistency. Seven years and two months passed.

In the interest of word count, and a modicum of discretion for my son’s and my privacy, details of the catalyst infraction need not be revealed. Suffice it to say, on the day described, all other punitive means had been exhausted.

With a bare hand and a heavy heart, contact was made. Tears were shed. (I managed to hold off on mine until he had run up to his room.) The sister, well-aware of her brother’s lapse and the subsequent consequence, with respectful dignity uncharacteristic of one her age, went into the den.

So then what did I do? I called my mother – who with no subtlety in times past had implied my parenting arsenal was incomplete for the absence of the proverbial “rod.” Did I call to confess my matriculation into the Spanking Parents’ Society, or was I somehow unashamedly professing my actions — seeking parental validation and/or approval from my own mother?

As I write this now – outing myself as a deflowered spanker – am I seeking forgiveness or acceptance, understanding or empathy, from those with whom I am treading parenting’s path — or a virtual spanking via reprimanding comment?

My children, uterine co-habitants though they may have been, have already demonstrated they respond to varied modes of direction – and correction. Our daughter tends to seek our parental (and others’) approval more readily – sublimating her own child-like desires to meet that goal. Not so with our son.

So did the spanking work? As the Magic 8 Ball would say, “All signs point to ‘Yes’.” Am I still tormented by the incident? Affirmative. But what torments me more? The idea that I had to resort to something I initially did not want to do — perhaps admitting defeat — or the actual physicality/ perceived violence of a hit? Maybe a bit of both.

Humiliation (not unlike guilt or shame), in moderation, may be healthy. Pain (carefully administered), parceled in moderation, may be proactive.

Let me have it.
c. 2008, Cheryl Lage
Cross-posted from our family blog, Twinfatuation

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5 thoughts on “My First Time”

  1. Ah, sigh. I can feel your pain. Not because my two boys are here yet (still gestating, hopefully for 9 more weeks if bed rest pans out), but because I feel the same way about this issue. And I happen to have some very concrete idea about this because

    a) I was spanked – a few times only when very young, and I also turned out okay; and

    b) I work in the child mental health/behavioral health field (clinical social worker) and the conventional wisdom there is that spanking or physical punishment isn’t the way to go.

    That doesn’t mean spanking doesn’t work. It just means that spanking can back fire and you just don’t know what kind of kid you’ve got in that regard until you’ve already tried it.

    For some kids, physical punishment simply targets their rage toward the parent and doesn’t actually teach them anything about their own behavior. They simply learn to hit when angry. Especially true if spanking starts very early. Spanking done too often or too rigorously in the hands of someone whose own feelings are out of control is definitely be a dangerous thing (this doesn’t sound at all like you).

    For other kids, it teaches them “I do A, and B happens, and I don’t like B, so I won’t do A.” It works. But again, you just don’t know necessarily how your kid will respond to spanking until you do it.

    The real danger in spanking happens when parents repeatedly do it even though it obviously isn’t working to change their kid’s behavior. Then it’s just teaching the kid violence. This still happens a lot, unfortunately.

    We do know that positive reinforcement works much, much better than negative, but…but you obviously can’t raise a kid without any kind of negative reinforcement. That’s just impossible. And reinforcement of any kind is highly kid-dependent. Some things work for some kids and not others (the difference in motivating factors between your son and daughter, for example).

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this other than I thank you for talking about this issue. My mom jokes around about spanking my boys *already* and I have steam spewing from my ears. I have no idea how I’ll handle things when the time comes, despite what I know professionally. I am sure a lot of parenting is trial and error and I really appreciate you sharing some of yours.

  2. We spank at our house. Usually, no more than monthly. Sometimes, twice a week each. I don’t apologize for it. And we never, ever spank in anger. If I’m furious, hubby delivers the punishment, and vice versa.

    This morning, I spanked Melody in her classroom at drop-off time, at our “timeout-is-a-humiliating-punishment-so-we-don’t-use-it” daycare. I wonder if I need to find a new childcare situation.

  3. Thank you so much Myg and Sadia for your candor and willingness to share your thoughts.

    In our earliest days with our twosome, we felt is was very important to be vigilant in our correction (it still is), and to demonstrate a predictable “consequence” for behavioral lapses.

    Now that our twins are older, they KNOW what is expected, but each has a very different motivation for doing the right thing…whether the desire for positive reinforcement or the dodging of unpleasant punishment. What we’ve learned as late, some of our previously effective “punishments” are now not the deterrent that they once were…the thrill of the misbehavior is now “worth” the previous repercussions.

    Never a dull moment in twin parenting…and truly, worth it all 100%!

    Thank you both very much for your empathy and response.

    (Rooting for you Myg…will be checking in on your blog and am wishing you a happy, healthy meeting with your babies; and Sadia, I actually did have to giggle at the “timeout-is-a-humiliating-punishment” philosophy. My thinking is that “growing up with no sense of socially appropriate behavior” makes for some very humiliating adult experiences! 😉 )

  4. I am nowhere close to really having to think about spanking our triplets yet, BUT, I am already anxious. We are still figuring out our feelings and keeping an open mind. I come from an extremely violent home and had experienced what I would say is beyond spanking. That said, I don’t believe the ‘problem’ was the spanking but the WHY and HOW my parent(s) chose to do it. I think you made a good point in recognizing that different children respond to different things. Does anyone want to spank? Hopefully not. BUT, do parents have to sometimes make that tough choice because they believe they are doing what is best? YES. And I agree that humiliation/guilt/shame – in moderation – may be healthy. Its such a tricky area to share such a personal experience and I appreciate you being so honest. I know you will help may others – not just me!

  5. [Sadia, your story about the spanking at daycare made me laugh out loud!]

    I’ve wanted to comment since you put this post up, Cheryl, but it’s taken me a while to pull my thoughts together. Frankly, my thoughts still feel pretty unformed.

    I’m not a spanker. The idea of spanking scares me. But I do yell more than I should, and yell things that are not OK. I read in Haim Ginott’s classic “Between Parent and Child” something that really stuck with me: belittling language and sarcasm are more harmful to your child than a physical punishment. I know I’ve said things to my kids that I should not have said, and they are getting to an age where that stuff is really going to stick with them.

    See what I mean about my ideas being unformed? What I’m trying to say here is that while am against spanking as punishment, an occasional spanking is probably less harmful and potentially more effective than constant yelling.

    Discipline is so hard. It seems that everyone agrees that all kids are different, so it’s hard to have a consistent “one size fits all” discipline strategy when each kids needs something specific. My daughter is a real people-pleaser and responds beautifully to time-out. If she gets a time-out for something, she will NEVER do it again. Riley does not have that intrinsic motivation to please, and I often feel like I fall into a “rule by fear of punishment” trap with him, which feels icky. Ugh. Disciplining must be the most unpleasant part of parenting, no?

    Thanks for being brave enough to discuss a difficult and contentious topic.

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