Spare the Rod?

I am an imperfect mother.  In fact, there are times when I downright mess up.  Usually the moment I catch myself is the moment when my lungs produce a sound I never thought I was capable of producing, never mind in response to one of my children.  I’ve made mistakes that left me disappointed in myself, and I find nothing as humbling as apologizing to one of my children for my behavior.  The guilt happens because how I act in moments does not match up with the parent I aspire to be.  I can accept that I make mistakes, but I hope to never change my standards.  I want to forever believe that there’s a healthier alternative than the hair-raising screech that I now know I can produce.  Who I aspire to be is a mom who parents without shame, and without fear.

I am at times surprised by how many folks still believe in the using physical discipline, and it saddens me.  Folks who are friends, professional colleagues, allies in the fight against sexual and domestic violence will often share that they believe in the use of spanking, “just not abuse.”  It is the act of defending physical discipline that worries me.  The truth is that the effectiveness of “spanking” has been rather significantly researched.  Not only does it trigger our children’s fear of us, tend to escalate over time, and leave both us and our children ashamed; but it also just doesn’t work.  The debate truly isn’t whether there is any value we’re saving by continuing to spank our children, the debate is whether we’re willing to stand up against legalized (at times) violence against our children and stop.

All that being said, I think sometimes we want to defend physical violence against our children because we are so surprised how easy it is to go there.  Let’s be honest, our kids push our buttons something savage, and the impulse to smack them can be  fierce.  The feelings aren’t the problem.  It’s what we choose to do with it.  To act it out and then defend it also means to sell ourselves, our children, and our relationship with them short.  As hard as it is to apologize to our children and make amends, isn’t the alternative- a child afraid of us, with potentially escalating behaviors and a laundry list of other risks if it continues- far worse.

Many of us have a “Facebook life”, and I have commiserated with friends at times about how much we learn about others by what they post.  Recently, I’ve seen a flurry of pictures that look like this:



photo credit: 104.1 the hawk
photo credit: 104.1 the hawk


I’d beg us all to consider two things.  First, the research against physical discipline is so conclusive that:  “On the international front, physical discipline is increasingly being viewed as a violation of children’s human rights. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a directive in 2006 calling physical punishment “legalized violence against children” that should be eliminated in all settings….” The treaty that established the committee has been supported by 192 countries, with only the United States and Somalia failing to ratify it.”

Secondly, when your children think of you, what emotions do you hope rise in them?  Fear and shame?  Or perhaps admiration, humility, warmth, safety and security.  Let’s face it, parenting without physical discipline often feels like an empty toolbox, especially if we learned at our parents’ knees.   We will make so many mistakes.  But, if our world is already violent enough, and risky enough, let us at least commit to our homes being safe for our children.  One choice at a time.

cruel and heartless


4 thoughts on “Spare the Rod?

  1. This is such a great post Sharlene. I really love how you admit that yes, kids do know how to push our buttons. The defining moment is the choice you make next. I’ve had to walk away a few times when I was at the edge. I’m grateful for every time I had the sense to do that. I still feel guilty that I got so close, I can’t imagine what it would have done (to either of us) if I had crossed that line. Your words bring me comfort that I’m not alone. Thanks.

  2. This is such an important and very well-written post. Thank you for your perspective. It’s such a hard balance between wanting to keep our kids well-behaved and not spoiling them – parenting is definitely not easy.

  3. I completely agree with this Sharlene. My husband and I are on the same page that hitting is not OK in our house. We want to parent from a place of love, not a place of fear, even when our buttons get severely pushed. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

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