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Regrets, and Hopes

I just read on the CNN homepage that, according to human rights groups, more than 200,000 children were spanked or paddled in U.S. schools during the past school year.

I just read on the CNN homepage that, according to human rights groups, more than 200,000 children were spanked or paddled in U.S. schools during the past school year.

Apparently spanking, also known as corporal punishment, is illegal in most states but is allowed in 21 states and is used frequently in 13. It’s not allowed in Utah, however, the state where our children attend school. I was relieved to find that out, because I don’t like the idea of my children being hit by their teachers and I don’t particularly want them to see other kids spanked at school.

I was never spanked by a teacher myself, because I was, for better and sometimes for worse, a nose-to-the-grindstone rule-follower, at least at school. But I have vivid memories of watching other fifth-graders being made to bend over and grab their ankles, waiting in frightened humiliation and often tears for the teacher to whack them on the behind with the wooden paddle. I remember that certain kids really did cause trouble, and that some of them were truly destructive and brought actual harm to the rest of us, but the paddling punishment and the fact that we other students were made to watch it revolted me then, and I’m revolted as I think about it now.

But I suppose that makes me a hypocrite, because I spanked both of my children on occasion when they were little. I’m a parent who didn’t follow the “never punish in anger” rule, because it was almost always when I was angry that I smacked Belle and Joe’s bottoms. That’s why I spanked them; I was angry with them.

I feel badly about that, but in a way I’m still doing it. I don’t mean I’m still spanking them, because my husband and I stopped spanking them when they got to the point, which was at about four or five years old, where we could really get their attention with our words. What I’m still doing on occasion is getting mad. And what I do now when I’m mad at them is yell. I don’t like admitting this — I don’t especially like to think of myself as either a hitting parent or a yelling parent — but it’s true: I’ve done both. Not very often, but still, there it is.

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Although I’ve given myself many occasions to regret my actions as a parent, and have often regretted expressing my anger, I can’t say that I’ve always regretted it. Sometimes I think it’s been edifying for Belle and Joe to see first-hand how bad behavior, particularly when it goes on unabated, usually does make other people angry, including even the mother who loves them with her whole heart. They definitely don’t like it when I’m angry, and sometimes I think the knowledge that I have that capacity has actually modified their behavior. Sometimes when I’ve said, “I’m about to get really mad” I can tell they believe me, and they stop whatever it is they’re doing.

It seems like this most often happens when we’re in the car. Maybe because I feel trapped behind the wheel, and the stakes are high, and I can’t always pull over to the side of the road and explain to them that being super loud and unruly as we hurtle down the highway makes it hard for me to drive and puts all our lives in danger.

But I’m not trying to justify losing my temper with my children. Because I don’t think they’ve learned much in the way of life lessons from it — much beyond “we sure can make Mom mad” — by whatever spanking and yelling I’ve done the past ten years. I know one of my most important jobs as a parent is to set the right example, yet as a flawed human being I don’t always do it.

So as an imperfect mom I pin my hopes on Belle and Joe’s resilience — on their ability to weather my intermittent losses of temper along with all the other bumps in the road of childhood. So far they seem remarkably able to understand, to forgive, and to move on. Which is certainly fortunate for me.

As for the 200,000 kids who were spanked in U.S. schools last year, I feel sorry for them, and for the teachers who felt they were without other options. I hope it didn’t do anyone lasting harm, and that both sides can eventually understand, and forgive, and move on.


Santa, I Hope This Letter Won’t Come as a Shock

Dear Santa, I’ve really enjoyed the past ten years that we’ve been together. We’ve had some fun times. And I would never want to hurt your feelings, but I think the best way to deal with my own feelings is to be completely honest with you. So I’m sorry, Santa, but I’m breaking up with you.

Worry, Worry, Worry

I just finished reading the December 4 Time magazine cover story titled “Why We Worry About the Wrong Things.” “Nearly twice as many Americans commit suicide each year as are murdered. More than 10 times as many die falling out of bed as from lightning strikes,”

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Facing My Fears

We had parent-teacher conferences for both our kids a few weeks ago. I always get nervous about parent-teacher conferences when they come up, which at our school is twice during the school year. I just have this deep-seated fear

Retouching Childhood

I don’t think, looking back honestly, that I could be called “attractive” in any of my school pictures. Even my senior picture, the one I chose from among 20 proofs, makes me cringe when I peruse it with the benefit of 30 years’ perspective.

I Resolve to Be More Like a 6-Year Old

Joe and Belle had their first day of school yesterday after a nice, long holiday break, and Joe came home with a list of New Year’s Resolutions which his teacher had apparently asked the kids to formulate on their first day back.

In Case of Disaster

I’ll never forget reading five years ago about Aaron Ralston, the climber who amputated his own right hand in order to free himself from the boulder that had pinned him to the side of a canyon wall in Southern Utah.

You’ll Look and You’ll Enjoy It

Do you remember when you were a kid, driving down the highway with your parents and constantly being badgered to look out the window at mundane roadside features such as trees and lakes? My parents made me do that all the time.

A High Note for Belle

Our family just got back from watching a girls’ high school basketball game and I have to tell you my nerves are shot to smithereens. No, I wasn’t nervous about whether or not our school’s team would win the game; in fact we had to leave before the game was over so I don’t even know who won.