January 4th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

We spanked our kids. All three. That’s getting harder and harder to say. Recently, my wife and I sat in a workshop related to parenting in which the presenter did not use the word spank. Not discipline, not corporal punishment. “If you want to hit your kids,” she said, ” that’s up to you. It’s not illegal.” In a not so subtle way, she drove home the point: Spanking your child is tantamount to hitting your child, to abuse. No it isn’t.

I’m not on some crusade to re-establish spanking in the “tool box” of American parenting. Not going to say that spanking is essential to good parenting. If you don’t want to spank your kid, fine. Good. If you think it’s wrong, that’s your prerogative. If you struggle with self-control, then maybe you really ought to search for an alternative method of discipline. To spank our children was a decision we made, and not one we made lightly. This like all other decisions involving our kids we made trying our best to seek their good.

First, let’s get this out of the way. Is spanking abuse? defines abuse: 1. To use wrongly or improperly; to misuse. 2. To treat in a harmful, injurious, offensive way. A definition I’m comfortable with at the moment: Physical, emotional, and/or psychological harm/injury done to a child by the unbridled actions of a parent. I believe the parameters of child abuse extend far beyond what is considered criminal; I hope we’re concerned with things beyond that which is prosecutable. So, where then is the line? I would argue that the line is somewhere between instructing and venting, where there is a shift from the child’s need for discipline to the parents’ need to vent. Once the father’s shift turns to his satisfaction there will certainly be excess. Spanking will turn to hitting, kicking, and more. Not only will the child be in danger of bodily harm, he or she will experience what their father’s unbridled anger says about their worth. Spanking and abuse are two different things.

Do I think parents run the risk of abuse by spanking their child? Yes, I do. But if we’re serious about abuse, let’s call things evenly. Let’s not pick and choose, and so shroud ourselves in some selective illusion. Of course spanking your child can cross over to abuse. Do I think parents run the risk of abuse when talking to their children? Yes. As you live in relationship to one another, do you run the risk of abusing your child through the choices you make? Yes. It’s no secret that divorce has a negative affect on children, yet I hear no outcry against divorce as a form of child abuse. The point being when you became a parent, you got yourself into risky business. There are plenty of kids planted in front of a 56″ TVs with a Mountain Dew in one hand and a bag of chips in the other, hours at a time with little or no supervision, who I’d argue are getting their fair share of abuse – abuse of the numbing variety.

As we forge ahead with this risky business of fatherhood, the answer is not to avoid all risk. Too late for that. My take is, especially when handling things like discipline which carries with it a higher level of risk, you have to be very, very careful. And so when it came to spanking, we took pains with procedural integrity.

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