Sunday, December 02, 2007

Slap Un-Happy

The MA legislature heard testimony last week on a proposed law that would ban spanking in the Commonwealth. The proposal, which would make it illegal to spank a child, has been met with much derision from many quarters. Some mild derision came from me until I read some comments on the online articles, which I'll get to in a moment. My initial derision came from my distaste for the British-style nanny state where every aspect of your business is considered government business, where the difference between a pat on the tushie and a beatin' is of little concern to those who enforce "the law against spanking."

My opinion on this law is that it's unnecessary because child abuse laws already exist. Anyone seeking to change the definition of child abuse should start there rather than reverse engineer their way into it via a new law. In addition, the proposed law is unsupportable because it's so vague as to what qualifies as "spanking." The bill would allow "incidental or minor physical contact designed to maintain order or control" but would ban "the willful infliction of physical pain or injurious or humiliating treatment." But what does that mean? Isn't any kind of spank a "willful infliction of physical pain"? Why else are you doing it if it's not for that purpose? If you weren't trying to inflict pain, you'd give the kid a swift tickle or seven lashes of belly kisses.

And here is where I and the horde part ways: Notwithstanding what I've written above, I'm not against this law because I support spanking. I can't bear spanking. I will never, ever raise my hand to my kid. (And for those of you who say, "Just wait...") I haven't done it yet, won't ever. It's just not something I feel like I could do, and it's not something I believe to be effective discipline anyway. Yeah, it's quick and it gets the immediate result you're looking for. But, IMHO, it doesn't create the kind of relationship with my kid that I want to have. I don't want her to feel like if she does something naughty that the result will involve some kind of physical response from me. Do I want her to respect me? Absolutely. Do I want her to know that I'm in charge for no other reason than I'm The Mom? Most definitely. But do I want to enforce that by hitting her, however "softly"? I really really really just don't. Would I hit my Mom? No. Would I hit my sister? No. Would I hit her father? Or anyone else in the family? No. So why would I hit her just because she's my child and I can?

Yes, I was spanked (ie, pats on the butt) and yes, I turned out just fine. Fair enough for what we all knew back in the day. But it's just not right for me now that I'm the mom, in this day and age. I want my daughter to know that ANYONE who hits her--in whatever way and for whatever reason--is not someone who gets to say "I love you" to her. Anyone who can raise a hand to her is not someone she should be with. As a person who dated a guy in high school with a, shall we say, "expanded" view of the concept of "demanding respect" from your girlfriend, the notion that someone could hit me and still love me was, unfortunately, not as ludicrous as it ought to have been for an otherwise smart girl like myself. I never want Bambina to think anything but "if you touch me, you are out of my life." How could I ever give her that sense of self if I or her father hit her, softly on the butt or elsewhere? We don't hit anyone in this house, and no one hits us. Zero tolerance, end of story.

Now don't get me wrong when I say I've never wanted to hit Bambina, that somehow she's a perpetual cherub, unlike normal kids. Believe me, she has sent me to the outer limits of my sanity on several occasions that I can still recall vividly, so difficult was she in the moment. But rather than spanking her to make her stop goading me, I started talking myself down, out loud. I learned it from my amazing friend L who repeats over and over as she is physically removing herself from the situation--or physically removing the kid from the situation (which I've also done by picking her up fireman-carry style, mid-leg kicking, bench-clearing brawl, and depositing her in her room, the car, or an available metro station seat)--"Mommy loves you.Mommy loves you.Mommy loves you." And believe me, it's not a special message for my child. It's my special message to me, to remind myself that I am the grown-up, that the job of staying calm is mine, that a 3 year-old losing her sh*t in public is a normal 3 year-old doing what a 3 year-old does, so am I going to do what a grown-up does? Yes. And why? Because even though I feel like I could throttle her at this moment, I'm not going to touch her. Why? Because I love her. And because grown-ups do not resort to hitting to resolve their frustrations. We leave that to the 3 year-olds. Right?

I do recognize that people of good faith differ on this topic. Some of those good people are in my own family and would be appalled at this law trying to encroach upon their views of proper discipline. I get that, and I don't mean to disparage people who do spank. As long as my kid never sees them hit their kid, I'm all good. What freaked me out in the articles and comments--and what prompted this post--were statements like this: "Charles Enloe, 45, of Plymouth, knows a little something about that. In 2005, he was infamously arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon for taking a belt to his then 12-year-old son during an argument over homework. The charges were later dropped and Enloe told the Herald yesterday the experience “didn’t change my views at all. I believe discipline starts at home. Are they going to start legislating that you can’t raise your voice to your kids? That you can’t tell them when to go to bed? We’ll be communists then.”

Um, I wasn't aware that the definition of "spanking" included tools and implements to enhance the pain. The woman who proposed the law said that she was attempting to stop parents from using "belts or other objects" on children. Is that such a crazy notion? How is hitting your child with a belt considered anything but abuse? Where's that line? A belt is not abuse, but a belt buckle is? A shoe is not abuse, but a stiletto is? If you don't leave a bruise, it's not abuse, but if you do, it is?

I still think working from the original child abuse laws is the best way to expand the definition of unacceptable adult-to-child physical contact. But do I still think this lady is a cuckoo nutjob nannystater for trying to stop parents belting their kids? I don't. Why? Because if this opinion made you so exasperated with me that you decided to hit me with a belt, you WOULD be found guilty of assault...simply because I am not your child.


Anonymous said...

I like and agree with your article, Like yourself, I was spanked while growing up. I always received the belt at home, and a paddle at school. Quite frankly, I was spanked a lot. I believe I turned out fine, a responsible adult. I have a daughter now and couldn't imagine even thinking of spanking her. The problem is, I now have a spanking fetish in adulthood, I cant give or receive enough of it. So, with this proposed law, is it illegal for me now to spank a willing partner with a belt or paddle? Hmm, and if spanking adults should ever become a form of punishment in the grand ol U.S., I propose the G.W. Bush be the first one to receive, with the doubt.

Geoff said...

I was raised with perhaps a little more "spanking" than was proper. I agree with you E. Your point about love and spanking was especially poignant. It makes me wonder when my parents realized I was child capable of critical thinking and problem solving. All too often they'd resort to a swift ass-tanning, leaving me wondering why I never even got so much as a warning.

It really taught me not to do certain things, but never why. And you're also right. It's really tough to believe that someone who's raised a hand against you loves you.

E said...

Have at the consensual spanking, my friend.

I agree. I despise Dr. Phil but he once said something that resonated. It was, "striking your child changes who s/he was going to be." I really really think it does, in terms of trust issues, ability to avoid domestic violence, whatever. It breaks a trust between a parent and a kid.

I have to add that I say that with a lot of love for my own parents who stopped spanking us when we were quite young. Which I think is why there is this tremendous discomfort to discuss spanking, because few of us want to criticize our otherwise wonderful and loving parents. So I don't. I just say, "I turned out fine but it's not for me now that I'm the mom."