Closing out this section on “Good Ideas and Bad Ones” is a topic I’m definitely not proud of, and yet I’m not sure I can say I’m ashamed of.
I have, indeed, spanked my kids.
One of the most—maybe the most—inviolable rules of the fost-adopt training, was: As a foster parent, no corporal punishment. Period. This was “We’re not joking, we’ll have Child Protective Services come and take them away” serious. Not that I minded. Being a hippie/pacifist at heart, I always figured that logical and compassionate reward/consequence systems would take care of most behavioral problems. (Also, my father was a belt man. And you know what? Neither my sisters nor I put that on the list of “things we recall fondly about dad.”)
So for our first year together—when my kids were still legally foster kids—we made use of a variety of non-physical behavior strategies, many of them described elsewhere on this blog. Like most things, these strategies worked pretty well most of the time, except when they didn’t. And by the time we finalized the adoption in court that November—at which point all foster-related restrictions were off—I had gotten so used to “no spank” parenting that it didn’t enter the picture for a very long time.
Until it did. You would think I would have a clear memory of the monstrous crime, the tremendous calamity, that cause me to put my son over my knee and connect palm to rear.
You would be wrong. I have no idea which action, or which kid, caused the first move into physical territory. I do remember they must have been at least 8 and 10, maybe even 9 and 11, which means we had been together at least three years by that time. As I pointed out to them, these were ridiculous ages for them to start getting spankings, since that was around the time most kids were stopping getting them.
Never let it be said that my kids aren’t sometimes a step or two behind their peers.
In any case, here’s what I do remember about spankings. One, they lasted for a period or two or three years—maybe a bit longer for Mark—and the total number for both kids combined can’t be more than a dozen. So, for what it’s worth, the house didn’t turn into a regular smack factory.
Two, spanking was always a second-line response. It usually looked like this: Kid does something. Dad responds with consequence/lecture/etc. Kid gets mouthy and belligerent. Dad tells kid to simmer down. Kid does not respond in kind. Dad warns kid that the options now are a) go along with the original consequence/lecture, quietly, or b) if the belligerence/mouthiness continues, get a spanking. And on those dozen or so occasions over those few years, option b) occasionally won out. And Dad and his hand responded in kind. (And in case you’re wondering: No, in practice, this didn’t play out anywhere near as calm as it sounds on the page.)
Three: The majority of spankings went to Mark. This is where Daveon’s headiness came to his assistance: When he started spiraling, he (usually) was still able to process the a/b options and come up with the solution that worked to his advantage. Mark, who is much more a gut-level player, generally has no such filter. When the spiral starts, it just keeps on keeping on. I often felt like spanking Mark was equivalent to those scenes in the movies where person A starts to get hysterical, person B gives person A a sharp slap across the cheek, and person B, now fully calm, says, “Thanks, I needed that.”
Believe it or not, Mark has never thanked me for spanking him. On the other hand, it certainly did calm him down. One therapist, while not condoning the practice, did say that for some kids, that kind of physical response can cut through and break things down in a way that words or other behaviors don’t. So there’s that.
I am not trying to justify the spanking years, which—to the great relief of my hand, my kids, and their butts—ended quite a while ago. But it would feel like “keeping secrets” if I didn’t come clean about piece of our family puzzle.
And now that I’ve gotten that off my chest … on to something more fun!
Next: Straight People