I’ve been trying to think of a succinct way to respond to the #IDontSpankMyChildBecause hashtag on Twitter. I wanted to add my own comment because a) I don’t spank my children and b) I really don’t want anyone else to spank theirs. It’s an issue that means a lot to me. Unfortunately, 140 characters did not seem enough for me to come up with anything that didn’t sound like one of the following:
- I’m damaged goods from a violent childhood
- I’m a smug liberal arse of a parent
- I’m a self-appointed expert on child psychology
None of these was, I felt, particularly convincing. So I felt the need to explain myself via something a bit longer. Hence this post.
I was spanked/smacked/beaten, both as a child and as an adult, all by the same person. I find this extremely difficult to write about because it’s someone with whom I still have a very close relationship. I’m aware that this sounds quite odd. But the practical and cultural legitimacy of physically chastising children means I don’t believe all the blame lies with this individual. The beating was at its worse, but also ended, when I was 19, i.e. when it was no longer legal. I suspect even when I was underage, it crossed the half-hearted line in the sand. But how are angry individuals meant to know when to stop? When it is, partly, allowed?
I don’t go for the argument that there is a clear division between carers who spank and carers who abuse. It is easy to slip from one to the other. Get the pressure slightly wrong, aim for the wrong body part, allow a piece of furniture to get in the way. It happens in the blink of an eye. And the next time, you will feel the fear long before anyone has touched you. The minute you see the pursed lip, or the hardening behind the eyes. When you have said the wrong thing, or done something stupid, or just been a child. And you will know that sometimes the law is against you, and sometimes it isn’t, but there’s no point asking for help because who can untangle all that?
I don’t think the fear I felt then has ever gone away, which of course sounds horrendously dramatic (just give me a place on the “Tragic Life Stories” shelf in WHSmiths). It’s not as though I sit cowering in a darkened room all day. But it is there in my response to conflict, particularly with people who have a degree of authority; I am always waiting for them to “turn”, for them to go beyond words alone. I’m especially like this in academic and professional situations. When I was studying for my PhD, I was terribly intimidated by my supervisor. I used to stand outside his door, repeating in my head “he won’t physically attack you, he won’t physically attack you”. I used to tell other people this as though it was a joke – “it’s not like he’s that scary, is it?” – but I think, to a certain extent, I really needed to convince myself of this.
I don’t want my children to ever feel this fear. I have never, ever seen the need to hit them. I shout at them and say things I regret. But for all those who say “well, that’s just as damaging”, no, it isn’t. And it’s not as though parents who hit exempt themselves from using words as weapons. They just use their fists as well.
Sometimes I physically grab my children, to pull them out of harm’s way or to stop them reaching for things they shouldn’t. This is not the same as smacking. If someone were to push me out of the way of an oncoming car, I wouldn’t want them charged with assault. But it terrifies me to think that I live in a country where it is illegal for my partner to hit me, but perfectly fine for him to hit my children (as long as it doesn’t leave a mark. What a glorious law we have here in the UK. Best aim for the back of the head).
I don’t know if there is anything I can say that would stop another parent from smacking their child. I read through all I’ve written and I can still boil it down to the same voice I heard in the tweets I never sent. People will hear what they want to hear. But if they are going to object, I know that they are capable of doing so with words alone.