Recently, I attended a work training about how to be a mandatory reporter of child/elder abuse. I’m a registered nurse and an employee of the county health department, so I must report any instance of child or elder abuse that I see or have reasonable suspicion of. It’s a duty I don’t take lightly and one I hope I never have to perform.
Inevitably, the topic of spanking comes up. Is it child abuse? Oregon law says no, unless it leaves marks and bruises on a child. Legal or not – my husband and I don’t spank our children. It was a conscious decision, as we don’t believe it’s an effective form of discipline. I was spanked a few times as a child. I don’t remember the circumstances or the lesson I was supposed to learn. All I remember is it hurting, and being afraid.
There’s another reason I don’t spank my children. It’s because one of my character defects is being reactive. I’m afraid that if I let myself spank them, I’d take it too far in anger. Possibly cross the line into child abuse. And THAT terrifies me beyond measure.
My children inspire the most intense emotions in me. It’s like everything is amplified – love, fear, joy, and yes – anger. Nobody can make me see red faster than my sweet darlings. I’d wager most mothers would say something similar!
I think the similarities end in the reaction. Sometimes when my children upset me, my first instinct is to hurt them back. That’s my anger problem jumping in. It’s such a primal, toddler-like response: You hurt me, so I should hurt you back.
Except the problem (one of many) with that way of thinking is their perception. My boys wouldn’t be able to make the connection of, “Oh, I did that thing that made mommy mad, so she spanked me and I shouldn’t do it again.” They’d think, “Mommy just hit me and it really hurt.” They wouldn’t learn any lesson or change the behavior; all they’d know is mama got mad and hit.
It’s taken me awhile to recognize why I wanted to “hurt” my children in retaliation. First I had to get past the insane amount of guilt and shame (WTF is wrong with me for even thinking about hurting him???). And truthfully, I’m not completely past that. Especially because there have been times when I haven’t hurt my children, but I know I haven’t been as gentle as I should – grabbed an arm, picked them up roughly, etc. I still beat myself up about those times (which still happen – I’m definitely not perfect).
I’ve done enough work on myself that I can now notice the urge as it’s happening. Like today in Target, when Jack was throwing a fit and elbowed me in the throat four times (I now understand why people talk about throat-punching people/things they don’t like. That shit hurts). With every blow to the throat, I thought my heart was going to explode in anger. I could feel the urge to give an “eye for an eye” rising. I had to say the words, “Stop. Breathe.” in my head. I had to walk around, wailing toddler in my arms. I had to speak to him in a flat, calm voice (I’ve read that is a technique for helping children calm down, but forcing myself to speak in measured tones helps me calm down too). I told him he needed to calm down – the message was for me, too. And then when he smacked me again, I had to give him to his father and spend a few minutes alone. I was too far gone in the stress response (plus I legit felt like I was going to throw up because of the throat punches).
My “techniques” aren’t anything special. But, I’m proud of them. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I used to either lash out in anger or hold it in, stewing about it until I eventually exploded. Sometimes I still hold things in for a little bit, but I’m pretty good about talking about them before it blows up into a bigger issue. I’m very much a work in progress.
Mamas, what do you do when your babes test your patience?