Spanking Is Awful, But Parenting Is Complicated

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What works for one parent, may not work for all. But learning from your mistakes should be universal.

“In the ’70s, we played outside, ran around, rode our bikes without helmets, and if we talked back to our Dad we got our asses beat. Click like if you think spanking never hurt you.” (Paraphrased from a Facebook Post) 

I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with the light spanking of a toddler, perhaps between 3 and 5 years old, as long as it doesn’t cause any real pain. I’ve spanked very young children this way before, but I don’t do it much anymore. I’ve found a “time out” works just as well. There is another kind of spanking, however, that conjures up a bygone era (referenced in the Facebook Post above) when parents beat children with sticks, belts, or paddles that caused a great deal of pain and left welts. I believe this kind of “discipline” is nothing other than abuse, and I suspect some parents still do it. There’s no good reason to truly “beat” a child, and those who desire a return to this discipline or use it today should perhaps reevaluate their beliefs. 

As I sat down to write about spanking, I decided that there’s little reason for spanking of any kind. But just as my righteous indignation was flaring up about it, and I was getting ready to shame all parents who spank, I started thinking about all the things that I do that make other parents recoil in horror. The list is long and often bizarre.   

For example, I cuss indiscriminately. I lovingly call my youngest son “sack” (short for ball sack). In fact, several kids’ names have been contorted into variations on “douche-bag.” I walk the house in various states of undress, I holler a lot, and I mock Jesus Christ at just about every opportunity. I do all these things in front of my children. When my older sons, 16 and 18, give me a bunch of shit, I remind them that “I banged their moms” (plural because they have different mothers). In my defense, the older boys refer to me as “the fat man.” Other parents would be horrified at my daily parental ritual, but this litany of idiosyncratic parenting doesn’t express just how much I really love all my kids, ages, 3, 5, 12, 16, and 18.

I honestly think I’m a good, if nontraditional, father. I put kids ahead of my job and even my passions. I read to them, and we all eat dinner around the table every night. We travel, swim, hike, and play together. I keep up on all of their lives. In fact, most of the kids would prefer we spend less time as a family, but I insist that we put in the time to build meaningful relationships. 

A family friend pointed out my “potty mouth” just last week. My oldest, Eddie, and I were in the kitchen of my mom’s house having a “fuck them” and “that politician can blow me” conversation. My older boys cuss as much as me. Our very nice, middle-aged, family friend was horrified, and I was honestly shocked she would object. When she gave me a “tut tut” about it, I was very polite; however, all I could think was “screw off and raise your own kids.” 

I know lots of other children, friends of my kids and children from the school nearby. Nobody’s kids are any better than mine, and, in fact, they often behave much worse. Some people may not like the way I parent, but something is working. I have taken to heart two never-break lessons in being a parent: Learn from your mistakes and apologize to your children. 

I apologize to my kids when I’ve made a mistake. When I roughhouse too hard, get angry, or yell, I say “Sorry” because I really am. I never remember hearing adults apologize when I was a child, but I think apologies matter. 

As for learning from mistakes, I’ve made them all. When I was a new parent, I was much faster with a spank or smack. I reject spanking utterly now, but I didn’t always. I deeply regret my early lack of patience. I made the most mistakes with my oldest child. He was born a month before my 21st birthday, and I wasn’t ready to be father. As a consequence, Eddie bore the brunt of my immaturity. I always loved him, from first sight in fact, and I’ve spent the last 18 years of his life apologizing, because I’m often a fuck up.

I’m heartened by Maya Angelou’s great quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Despite all the things I didn’t know, Eddie grew up to be a fabulous person. I’m not bragging, but all my kids are awesome.

I can only guess that the “nostalgia” for spanking is a backlash against parents who can’t or won’t control their kids. Some would say it’s harder to raise kids today, to make them respect elders, and do what you say. I must admit it hasn’t always been easy for me. We’ve had setbacks, fights, and difficult moments, but I don’t think kids today are any worse than at other times. I just don’t buy it.

We like to say kids are worse and then we throw children in jail or drug them. When a kid goes off the rails, I’d say some adult down the line has blown it. Even if kids are worse, that’s no argument for bringing back belts and sticks and systematic beating. For those of us raised in a “nostalgic” bygone era in the ’70s or perhaps earlier, we have to admit that parents were sometimes wrong in dealing out corporal punishment, so let’s all just admit it and move on.

Because one of my favorite sayings is “raise your own kids,” it’s hard to offer blanket criticism of parents who spank. But I do think we can draw a firm line against vigorous beatings with objects. It seems like an easy call to make. And if after all this, you well-meaning Facebook posters still insist on “whupping” your children, I guess that’s your decision (assuming you don’t get arrested). Just do me a favor and stop taking to social media and telling me to beat mine.

Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.

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