Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the third installment. It was not controversial.
(originally published August 30, 2002)
I spank my kids.
There. I admit it, you can hate me for it, and that’s fine. I’m convinced that my kids don’t, and that’s all that matters.
So I have to take issue with the detractors of spanking. That includes one former Reporter-News parenting columnist who recommended that when a child misbehaves to the point of driving you crazy, you should take a hot bath, light some candles, and play soft music.
While the child — in this case it was a two-year-old — parents himself … possibly by giving himself permission to tear the house apart or otherwise endanger himself.
To clear up any misconceptions, I don’t beat my children. I don’t abuse them. I spank their bottoms. I use my hand.
In my book, to hit anywhere else would be insulting, disrespectful, abusive. In my book, to hit with anything other than the hand would be the same, at least in this time and culture. My hand is a good gauge of how much pain I’m inflicting and gives me pretty good indication of when to quit.
And I think my hand should hurt when the punishment is applied, because my child’s failure to obey almost always means that I’ve failed — at least in part — to communicate to them that the punished behavior is unacceptable, and why.
I can still remember the last time my mother spanked her disobedient, only son — even though I’ve long since forgotten why. She turned me across her knee and administered the spanking with such frenzy that she hurt her hand badly, popping a small blood vessel.
I was too old to be physically hurt, but it broke my heart to see my mom crying because she was hurting so much. I remember promising her I would never make her want to punish me like that again. Then I hugged her and went to get her an ice pack.
I usually warn before I spank, unless the behavior is so heinous or so defiant that the shock of immediate punishment would make the warning less effective, rather than more. Two misbehaviors invariably warrant a spanking from me: Insolence, and hurting someone else. Hypocritical? I usually follow it with the explanation: “You seem to have forgotten that when you hit, it hurts the other person.”
I don’t have to spank often. Just often enough to convince my children that I will, in fact, do it when I’ve warned them.
One good swat will usually do the job. No use overdoing it. I’ve made my point.
Those of you who are rolling your eyes and trying to think of a way to file suit against me are probably thinking, “Now he’s probably going to say that his children respect him for it.”
Well, yeah. In part. I think the other part is far more important: that I let them know that I unquestionably, undeniably, unchangingly love them no matter how they behave.
I want my kids to fear me in the same way that I think the biblical writers enjoin their audience to fear a loving God. I want them to know right from wrong while they’re young.
Because if they misbehave when they’re older, law enforcement officials will not go sit in a bath surrounded by candles while listening to soft music.
Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.