Monday, January 10, 2011

Mean Mommy

When Superman and I talked about having children, and what kind of parenting theories we ascribed to, we were on the exact same page.  Neither of us believed in corporal punishment, aka spanking.  We both preferred to use alternative discipline measures, such as positive reinforcement (praise, rewards, etc. for good behavior), redirection, and consequences (time-outs, losing privileges).

Superman was never really spanked himself.  He said he recalls being spanked once in his life.  He says his mom was a yeller, but never really at him.  He was a good kid.  Quiet.  Polite.  Respectful.

I, on the other hand, am surprised I don't have a permanent tattoo of my dad's hand on my ass.  I don't know if my parents "believed" in spanking, but I sure know they used it.  A lot.  And when I was too old to be spanked, I got smacked across the face.  Now, I'll admit my parents never hit me for no good reason.  I had a smart mouth on me.  Not insolent, but sarcastic.  But I can't say that that is why I got spanked so much, because my brother was more like Superman, very quiet and never talked back, yet he got hit just as much as I did.

I don't have a particular aversion towards spanking.  I don't think it made me a bad person or ruined my life.  A lot of my friends openly spank their children, and I never try to dissuade them from their parental choices.  I just personally do not like the concept and prefer not to do it with my children.  For starters, I feel like spanking sends a negative message: if you don't like something someone does, use a violent response to solve the issue.  I find it especially contradictory if you spank your child for say hitting their sibling.  "Don't hit your brother.  Now bend over so I can show you hitting is wrong."

But like many things about parenthood, what you say B.C. in theory might not always line up with the action.  (One of my favorite quotes about motherhood is: "I was a much better mother before I had kids.")

Now that I am a parent of three year olds, I can say that I understand why many people spank.  Sometimes you are as mad as hell because your kids have dumped what seems like the entire contents of your fridge on your dining room floor.  You send them to their time out chairs and they sit there laughing and giggling.  Laughing and giggling!  You scream at them to be quiet.  They still laugh and giggle.  You are cleaning up the mess (because while you believe in making the kids pick up their messes, that doesn't apply when there is butter and mayonnaise involved, because that would lead to an even bigger mess!).  And they are laughing and giggling.  So you send them to their room.  In the dark.  And they are still laughing and giggling.  Whispering to each other.  You yell for them to be quiet.  You are seeing red!  You can't remember the last time you've been this angry.  You want to literally smack the smiles off their faces.  You want them to be as upset about it as you are.  To transfer your feelings onto them.  To give them something to cry about.  So you spank them.

And for a moment, you do feel better.  They have quit laughing.  Now they know that you are mad.  Now they know that they should feel bad.  They are crying.  Hard.

But are you happy?  I wasn't.  I just felt worse.  I had to resist every urge to pick them up and apologize. To hold them and cry with them and say I'm sorry and promise to never hit them again.  I didn't do that, because at that point I figured, what is done is done.  I won't confuse them now by following their first spanking with tender loving care.  I'll make the best of the bad situation and let the spanking stand, as a punishment.

The problem.  It was a fairly effective punishment.  So effective that for weeks later, I could still get them to modify a behavior by just the threat of a spanking.  Because even though I wouldn't ever threaten spanking when I'm calm and rational, when I'm mad and frustrated I feel my resolve completely disappear and those words "Do you want a spanking" find themselves tumbling out of my mouth.  Although now, enough time has passed that the threat is wearing off.  The boys are calling my bluff.  And I have to decide what to do.

I don't want to spank.  I don't want to yell.  I want to get my temper under control so that I can learn to deal with my frustrations in a more constructive manner.  I've watched Super Nanny.  I know what you are supposed to do.  But it's easier said than done.

I bought a book recently that was recommended to me by another parent, Setting Limits.  It talks about the three parent types: the authoritarian (yelling, hitting, spanking), the permissive (giving lots of warnings with delayed or non-existent consequences), and the combined.  I'm only a few chapters in, but so far I've surmised that the combined is the worst because it is inconsistent (and if there is one thing I know about kids, it's that they thrive on routine and consistency).  So, guess which one I am?

I really need to find the time to finish reading this book, because I want help.  I want to be the better, more consistent, non-spanking parent that I know I can be.

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