I’ve seen this image floating around on Facebook lately. Whenever anyone shares this, it’s in the vein of, “Haha, isn’t this hilarious?” and “Yep, I survived, and look at how GREAT I am because of it!” As if they belong to some private and wonderful club.
I don’t find it funny at all.
I find it repugnant.
Many of my published essays center around the topic of my childhood, specifically my mother’s rage and how it manifested in abuse. My mother and I have shared a long and rocky road in our relationship, but I’m proud to say we’ve come to a good place, and I’ve forgiven her for my childhood (thanks in no small part to my own entree into motherhood. It’s a real humbling experience, folks). I understand now why she did what she did; she couldn’t help it, she didn’t know better, and she was a mere child when she got pregnant with me at seventeen. (Seventeen!) She knows all about my writing and was bighearted enough to tell me she understood that it was my story to tell. How lucky am I, that she has given me this gift?
Still, it should not be a surprise that I have very strong feelings about hitting children. No, it’s not “spanking” or “corporal punishment” or any other euphemism people want to label it with; it’s hitting. It is smacking and slapping and whipping. It is the strong and the powerful using their might over the powerless. Its purpose? To sate the anger of the one who has the capability of inflicting punishment. It teaches nothing–NOTHING–except fear. I first learned this lesson from my first dog, Stuart; hitting him only taught him to fear me. It didn’t teach him new behavior or fix problem behaviors, and it didn’t teach him to trust me. It taught him that I was UNtrustworthy and unpredictable. You know what teaches new behavior and respect? Kindness, consistency and gentle firmness. I was so very grateful that, for 11 years, I got to teach those values to dog owners, and now I get to share those values with my own children. I make plenty of mistakes every day, but my mistakes do not include the use of a wooden spoon or any other implement with which to hit my children.
In his book The Question, Henri Alleg describes his torture at the hands of the French military when he was captured as a journalist during the French-Algerian war. Torturers, according to Alleg, torture for one reason and one reason alone: because they can. Parents hit their children for the very same reason. And the most frightening part is that it schools the children in abuse for future generations; my mother hit me as her mother hit her. As Alleg says, “The victim and the executioner merge into the same figure: a figure in our own likeness.”
So, the shirt up there? It’s not funny. I’ve never hit my children and never will. I’ve walked right up to that moment of pure, white-hot fury, and I’m grateful I’ve done the inner work and gotten the skills that give me other options. When we know better, we do better. Here’s to knowing better, and here’s to choosing love–and kindness, consistency and gentle firmness–instead.