Raising my son in a time when corporal punishment is viewed unfavorably

"The U.K. Government has ruled out a complete ban on smacking after conducting a review into the practice which found that most parents would oppose such a move." The Telegraph 10.25.07

As a child, my mother was disciplined strictly. In her growing up years, as one of five children, there was little time for play, less time for indulgences and punishment for bad behavior was swift and harsh. Of the little that I know about how she used to be corporally punished, I can still manage to wince in sympathy for the child she was.

It was inevitable then, that my sister and I would grow up exposed to her inherited methods of discipline. By this generation's standards, they might be considered at best archaic and at worst, barbaric. In my time, my mother was viewed by her peers as a strict disciplinarian who allowed her two daughters very little slack and expected much more from them than other parents with children of comparable age did of theirs. I distinctly remember one of her lady friends telling her that we would end up hating her if she continued in her established course.

This was my mother's course: She was a firm believer in warnings. We would be warned repeatedly. A time-line to stop or start a behavior was clearly outlined by her and only when faced with our non-compliance, would she follow through unwavering in her determination to punish us. Afterwards, there was resentment on our part but never a feeling that she was gratuitously punishing us. My mother did not get a kick from exacting corporal punishment and, even as a child, I could sense that how she acted, was based on her belief that it was for our own best interests. Her policy was to preempt further punishment by making a first one so scathing, that we would never wish to incur it again. For my sister and I, this approach worked.

We were always so aware of our mother's inhuman ability to catch us when we were misbehaving that fear of her reaction, kept us on the straight and narrow path when otherwise we might have strayed more. This in no way cowed our childhood spirits, we were just more cognizant of the possible consequences of our actions, naughty or otherwise.

I hope you haven't gotten a wrong impression of my mother. Her stern side was balanced by the kind of unfathomable love that I still think myself incapable of replicating with my son and you can have no idea of how I love my child. She was both loving and strict and these two facets had qualities of extremeness in them. That is how it was.

In the years since my childhood, she has mellowed considerably. The doting grandmother she is today has little in common with the mother of my childhood. My son can get away with almost anything when he is with her and in her indulgence and love she will shield him even from me. She has happily relinquished her role as task-master and disciplinarian now that she is one generation removed.

For my part, I hardly ever punish my son corporally. How I discipline him so far, is based completely on his youth, his ability to understand why he is being punished and, my own personal preference to substitute his quiet chair for a spank if possible. That is not to say that I do not believe in spanking when, to my view, it is truly warranted. I will not go into the details of what I consider "spank worth" behavior. Like my mother, I neither enjoy disciplining my son nor the sense of guilt that follows. Nevertheless, from my own punishments growing up I have taken away the following: Being strict and following through on the promise of punishment, though unpopular by today's measure is not always a sign of "child mistreatment". That particular label should only be assigned on a case by case basis. In parenting, I suscribe to the thought that a strict parent can be a loving parent. That direct eye contact with my child coupled with words that are commandingly spoken work more often than one can imagine. That a spank as a last resort can sometimes be enough of a deterrent that my son will think twice about doing something he knows he should not. I am a parent. Parenting is what I am trying to do. I wouldn't want anyone to take that away from me.

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