About a dozen or so times in my childhood, I was spanked. My parents were very much of the “spare the rod, spoil the child” generation, and I will say this – a little spanking didn’t hurt me. In fact I don’t really have any spanking memories, I don’t even recall the exact behavior that lead to the spanking.
Once in my childhood I was beaten. I was in fourth grade and having a difficult time in school and not wanting to do my homework. (I acknowledge that this was behavior that needed to be corrected, I’m not making excuses for that.) I came home with one day before Christmas break and told my Mom I had left my homework planner on the bus. When my Dad got home, he intended to give me a spanking, but my Dad has a terrible temper and he had a long bad day, and being greeted by my Mom and finding out that I had left my homework planner on the bus was the straw that broke the camel’s back – he “spanked” me and when I didn’t cry enough, he came back and “spanked” me some more. I had bruises from my lower back, almost down to my knees, they were bad enough that I did not go back to school the next day and participate in the Christmas program before the break. (My Dad also took everything but the clothes and furniture from my room and said he was going to give them to a child that deserved them.) It was the last time my Dad ever “spanked” me.
This came up today because my younger sister was texting myself and our parents about her daughter, who is fast approaching the terrible two’s and already displaying a talent for tantrums, and my Dad offered a story of one time he spanked my sister and included the phrase “gave you something to cry about.” The prospect of someone doing to my niece what that beating did to me almost gave me an anxiety attack and while I really try not to give advice on things like parenting, where I have no real experience to offer, I had to sit down and puzzle out why this felt so different.
That last “spanking” changed my life forever. My Dad had always been my hero, and while I knew sometimes I made him angry, I believed he loved me. I didn’t believe that anymore after that beating and I didn’t trust him either. It took years for us to repair our relationship, and I remember many dark times when I would be standing in front of my Dad, hurt and in need of comfort but unable to get it because I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing my tears.
Even worse, that “spanking” ignited my own terrible temper. I’m sure it was always there, but suddenly my anger was overwhelming and unable to handle it in any way that could be construed as healthy, I followed the example my Dad had given me and I hit things. On a good day I slammed my fist into a wall, but my younger sister and I had some epic knock down drag outs that probably had little to do with her and more to do with me. Learning how to express my anger in a healthy way has been one of the biggest challenges of my adult life.
I can’t really say what’s right for someone else when it comes to spanking their child. I still don’t think that the spankings I was given did me any permanent damage, but if there’s a chance, no matter how small that intending to give my child a spanking they would end up on the receiving end of a beating, then that’s a chance I’m unwilling to take.