A rod by any other name

Ed
Ed Smith
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It hurt like hell. And the fact that the belt was being wielded by the hand of my loving mother made it hurt even more.
More than injured, I was outraged. This couldn't happen to the angelic little nine-year-old that was me. This couldn't be my mother!
I don't remember my crime, but it had to be horrific. My mother had never beaten me before, and never did it after.
If I could remember what I did, I'd know whether or not the punishment was effective and whether or not I did it again.
But I sure do remember that day and that hour and that minute. Before I knew what was happening, my pants were down around my knees and I was doubled up and my bare backside was receiving the business end of a belt. I can still remember the awful stinging and my mother's voice merging with the rhythm of the smacks.
"Now … don't … you … do … that … again!"
I can't believe I would ever do whatever it was again, because it must have been Sin, brother, with a capital S.
A friend was telling me the other day about her sister-in-law and her little girl. Seems the five-year-old got off the school bus a stop or two before she should have and went off with another girl to play. Of course, she didn't ask her mother if she could do this. The mother was waiting at the bus stop for a child who didn't turn up. You know all the horrible things that went through her mind.
A search was begun immediately but it was some time before the child was found.
You can also imagine the mix of relief and anger that flooded through her. Knowing that her child was unharmed, the first thing she wanted to do was inflict some bodily harm herself.
But she's a good and sensible mother, and resisted the urge to pat the child on the back, hard enough and low enough to teach her a lesson. Instead, she sat the child down, explained without shouting or anger what she had done wrong, gave her some supper and then sent her to her room and told her to stay there for the rest of the night.
Now, that's a classic example of how one should handle a situation like that, right? Most of us would wish we had the presence of mind and patience to do exactly that with a child who really had no idea she was doing wrong at the time, but needed to have the point made not only verbally but in a way that would help her remember. Perfect, I calls it.
But not so!
The mother was telling this story, like you would, to a group of friends and acquaintances. One of them was a nurse who considered herself a bit of an expert on handling children. Now, I don't like experts. I don't have anything against nurses, but experts are something else, especially the self-appointed ones.
"You can't do that to a child!" this nurse exclaimed. "That's forcible confinement. You could be charged with child abuse!"
I know it's illegal in some jurisdictions to spank a child, or slap them on the hands or in any way lay a hand on them to punish or chastise.
In the United States many of these same areas allow teenagers to be executed by the state. Go figure.
I wasn't a perfect father, hard as that may be to believe. Three of my children remember being spanked once, and the other not at all. I am pleased about that because I don't believe in spanking or striking a child for any reason. In my first year as a school principal, I once strapped a young boy whom the teachers declared totally incorrigible. I've regretted it ever since.
But to be charged before the law with confinement of a child because that child is sent to her room, not so much even as a punishment, but as a means of imprinting on her little soul an extremely important lesson? Absolute BS! That's more than stupid. That's asinine. At least, I think asinine is more than stupid.
When my mother "educated" me with the belt, it was in an age when corporal punishment of that nature was not only allowed but encouraged. Spare the rod and spoil the child, and all that good stuff coming straight from the Bible's mouth.
I'm told by other social workers whom I trust that, despite popular belief, a parent is still allowed to spank a child, provided the spanking is reasonable and not physically harmful.
Therein, of course, lies the rub. What's reasonable to me may not be reasonable to you at all.
Many years ago, I bought a brand new, shiny black, four-wheel-drive pickup. I needed something to get me up out of the many beautiful little communities under my school district supervision that had steep roads coming out of them.
What a beautiful vehicle! Two or three days after I had it, a soft snow fell gently on my truck. I came home from school to find my six-year-old son flailing away at the snow on the hood of my truck with an iron garden rake. Deep scratches marked the shiny black paint.
Son took one look at my face and ran screaming into the house for his mother.
"Dad is going to kill me! Dad is going to kill me!"
Looking back on it now, I don't think I really intended to kill him, although there's some doubt in both his and his mother's mind.
Bottom line in all this? I think striking a child in any way teaches the child that physical violence is a means of handling certain situations. That talking and reasoning along with appropriate interventions don't work. In my view, that isn't what we should be teaching them in today's world.
But I've been wrong before.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca.

Geographic location: United States, Springdale

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  • Lord Smotherin
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Flash back Ed!! Flash back!!! You and me alike.........didn't EVER do it again.....whatever it was........Cheers

  • DeeBee
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    'Forcible confinement', indeed. Children have been punished by spanking since the dawn of time, but, somehow, the human race is still here. My father spanked me once when I was a child and I still remember it, but you know what? I don't hate him! He was tired and frustrated and I was being stubborn and wasn't listening to him. Looking back, maybe I just deserved a firm talking to, but, as an adult now, I understand he was a flawed human being like everyone else and he wasn't immune to emotion. I've heard many theories on child discipline over the years, but I think it should boil down to the discretion of the parent and the disposition of the child, provided there is no obvious physical abuse, of course (broken bones, putting cigarettes out on the skin, teeth missing, etc.). My sister is raising her kids with the 'time out' approach. It was an effort to teach them that hitting someone is not acceptible in our society. Guess what? They learned how to hit others anyway... and, on a few occasions when they can't get their own way, they have no problem hitting her, something I and my siblings never did to our mother. I don't know how she's going to deal with them when they're old enough to do some damage when they hit other people. Your family is your family. In all but the most extreme cases, no one else will care about you as much as they do. Even if the mother gives your behind a reddening from time to time if you do something bad, the benefits from the rest of the time with her will make you forget about it. The so-called 'experts' go on about the trauma associated with physical punishment, but they don't really get into the trauma a child experiences if it is separated from the family unit, do they? Like when Child Protection Services removes a child from the custody of a family member where there is no abuse, aside from an occasional slap on the hand or a smack on the bum, and puts him or her in a group home where they're sometimes exposed to worse treatment. Strange that. Anyway, great article, Ed.

  • Lord Smotherin
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Flash back Ed!! Flash back!!! You and me alike.........didn't EVER do it again.....whatever it was........Cheers

  • DeeBee
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    'Forcible confinement', indeed. Children have been punished by spanking since the dawn of time, but, somehow, the human race is still here. My father spanked me once when I was a child and I still remember it, but you know what? I don't hate him! He was tired and frustrated and I was being stubborn and wasn't listening to him. Looking back, maybe I just deserved a firm talking to, but, as an adult now, I understand he was a flawed human being like everyone else and he wasn't immune to emotion. I've heard many theories on child discipline over the years, but I think it should boil down to the discretion of the parent and the disposition of the child, provided there is no obvious physical abuse, of course (broken bones, putting cigarettes out on the skin, teeth missing, etc.). My sister is raising her kids with the 'time out' approach. It was an effort to teach them that hitting someone is not acceptible in our society. Guess what? They learned how to hit others anyway... and, on a few occasions when they can't get their own way, they have no problem hitting her, something I and my siblings never did to our mother. I don't know how she's going to deal with them when they're old enough to do some damage when they hit other people. Your family is your family. In all but the most extreme cases, no one else will care about you as much as they do. Even if the mother gives your behind a reddening from time to time if you do something bad, the benefits from the rest of the time with her will make you forget about it. The so-called 'experts' go on about the trauma associated with physical punishment, but they don't really get into the trauma a child experiences if it is separated from the family unit, do they? Like when Child Protection Services removes a child from the custody of a family member where there is no abuse, aside from an occasional slap on the hand or a smack on the bum, and puts him or her in a group home where they're sometimes exposed to worse treatment. Strange that. Anyway, great article, Ed.