Letters For My Sons

Month: January 2017

Smacking Kids: Province of the Unimaginative

I am far from a perfect father.  I have smacked my boys in the past.  I can probably count on two hands the amount of times it’s happened.

Once my eldest almost stepped in front of a car when he was about two.  Scared the shit out of me, and before I knew it I’d popped him on the ass and got in his face yelling.

Another time the other one screamed in my face during a tantrum. I had a startle response and slapped him.  Kinda funny in hindsight.  A five year old startling me so bad I saw him as a bad guy…

My boys have provoked each other so much over so long a period and after so many verbal interjections that I gave them both a pat on the bum.  That surprised them so much they stopped.

 

Why do we hit our kids?

Because they don’t do what we ask.

Because they are cheeky, rude, impertinent or insolent.

Because they do something that scares us or could get them hurt.

None of these are good reasons.  Maybe the last one could be justified from a conditioning point of view.  That is, a pain memory is a good thing to have when about to cross a road.  But other than that, all the other times have been happened from a lack of imagination and an inability to control and calm myself.

 

Many old-school men will say “I got hit and turned out okay!”

Well, did you turn out ok?

Do you have a healthy respect for authority, able to both follow it and question it when necessary?

Do you have an open and loving relationship with your parents?

Do you bottle up your emotions?  Are rage and anger the only emotions you feel?

Do you imagine or fantasise about inflicting or receiving violence?

If you are experiencing the negative in these questions… you didn’t turn out ok.

 

Why is it so important to not hit our kids?

Kids exposed to physical violence are more likely to either a) be a bully, or b) be bullied.  Bullies develop a physical armouring to pain that destroys empathy and allows them to inflict pain. The bullied develop a deep fear of and deference to authority no matter the consequences, from which they cannot stand up for themselves.  Oftentimes they also prey on the weak, as this gives them a sense of the power their discipliner feels. I was in this last category.

Kids rarely understand context.  One thing that was confusing to me as a child was that the rules often seemed to change.  I often didn’t know what I was getting belted for, despite the little “talks” before and after the punishment.  This confusion followed through into my idea of the world.  People’s motivations and actions became mystical, with no rhyme or reason apparent to me.

Violence destroys self-confidence and esteem.  If your body is someone else’s to control, manipulate and hurt, there is no possibility for confidence or self-esteem.  The humiliation and embarrassment that comes with being hit sits deep within the soul.

Violence destroys trust.  If you have hit your kids, you’ll understand the wariness that ensues.  You have essentially said “I am prepared to hurt you to get what I want.”  We frown upon this behaviour in the children themselves, but somehow allow it in adult-to-child relationships.

Violence creates shame.  Violence tells children that their bodies are ours to do with what we like.

And finally, violence is the fucking easy way out.  It is unimaginative.  It is what we use when we can’t think of anything else to do.  Violence is what we use when we’ve decided that we are not prepared to go the extra mile and find a verbal or physical solution that works.

And there is always a solution.

Always.

It may take time, and repeated attempts to communicate it, and it might take an elephant’s portion of resolve to stick with it, but there is an alternative to violence every single time.  It just takes imagination.

My parents believed “spare the rod and spoil the child”, so they were not shy about violence for small infractions.  Children of these parents can be picked by their high shoulders and rapid glances to their parents when out of their comfort zone.  The high shoulders come from the“turtle-shell” response to frequent threats or slaps, and the rapid glances are to see if mum and dad approve, or “am I gonna get hit for this?”

Are these the traits you want your child carrying with them into adulthood?  Do you think these traits lead to healthy communities and societies?

Let’s go back to the reasons we hit our kids from the top:

Because they don’t do what we ask.

How do you want your child to be when they are adults?  Do you want them to do everything that’s asked of them, without question?

Question your own assumptions about your child, and your role as a parent.  You are there to guide, not force, your child.  Your child is not yours to control for the length of his stay with you. He is there to learn and be guided by you.

Sure as hell it’s frustrating when little Johnny doesn’t eat his oats, but that’s his choice as a person.  He is a person, despite him being one, or five, or ten.  We encourage as much correct behaviour as much as we can, and we don’t tolerate intolerable behaviour, but we don’t need to hit.

Because they are cheeky, rude, impertinent or insolent.  

Again, how do you want your child to be when they are older?  Often curiosity, or plain simple wanting to know reasons for actions are mistaken for cheekiness or impertinence.  If we don’t provide good reasoning for our requirements, kids get frustrated.  And wouldn’t you?  For some reason we expect different behaviour from kids them we do from ourselves.

If they are really being cheeky, rude, impertinent or insolent, perhaps you haven’t earned their respect.  

And you need to earn it.

You don’t just get it because you’re their dad.  You need to walk the talk.

If you are not present, if you are at the pub 5 nights a week instead of at home for dinner, if you spend no time with your kids except for disciplinary actions, you are going to have respect issues.  Your child is probably in pain because you are not displaying your love for them.  And buying toys is NOT displaying love.  Kids see through these transparent fakes.  They know what you are doing, and they hate it.

“But I respected my father, and he was the same!”

You feared your father.  That’s not the same as respect.  Respect is the feeling you get when someone behaves in the appropriate manner towards you, whether it’s tough, loving or anything else.  Violence is almost always inappropriate.

Because they do something that scares us or could get them hurt.  

To be honest, this is a tough one.

A short, sharp smack is much better than a car accident.  The heat of the moment can do crazy things to us parents.

However, the best actions are always those that come from a place of calm, clear thought.  Take a deep breath, and take the next step.

 

What sort of adult do you want your child to be?

I’ve written in the past about looking forward to what sort of children you want to create.  Because despite genetics and personality, a HUGE portion of character comes from those first ten years in your house.  You are creating a person with your actions.  How do want that person to be?

Confident? Or wary?

Proud?  Or shameful?

Strong? Or weak?

Intelligent?  Or stupid?

Able to think and ask questions and wonder about the world?  Or only able to take what other people have said as gospel?

These are the traits that YOU are building through your actions with your child.

Beatings from my Dad; or The Difference Between Middle and Lower Class Violence

Only a few moments before the four of us had been cheerily chatting.  Now, the room was heavy with unsaid words, with the weight of a dam about to burst upon us.

“Dad.”

The word hung in the air, waiting.  I knew what was to come.  I, too, had suffered as they were suffering.  My brother and sisters had thirty years of pain upon their shoulders, with no apparent way out.

The sadness in the room was palpable.  They felt betrayed and angry.

We all felt the years of beatings and hypocritical Christian belief that had been physically and mentally torturous.  We all had the memory of listening to the screams of one of us getting struck by the plastic pipe.

My sister always got the worst.  She would struggle with Dad holding one of her skinny arms, wriggling her tiny little body away from the strikes, which only made him angrier and hit harder.

And yet this pain was melded with a twisted version of love.  We had always to embrace him after, while he reminded us that the beatings hurt him more than it hurt us.  We started to side with him in a twisted Stockholm Syndrome spiral.  We would apologise for his behaviour in our own heads and to other people.  We loved him fiercely, and would defend him to our friends.

And these apologies still remained.  Even after all these years, we were still apologising for him, to ourselves.  We still kept the pain to ourselves, without telling him how much it had damaged us, how horrifying it had been.  To not have any escape, no control, no recourse.

I remember as a child watching a current affairs episode about abused kids being reunited with their families after some sort of counselling or mediation.  There were tears and apologies and it was beautiful.  I had commented on how nice it would be to be one of those kids, and experience that unification, with the (now obvious) subconscious need to have that for myself.

“You don’t want to be one of them mate,” said Dad.  “As soon as the cameras go, it all starts again.”  He had no idea of the need behind my comment, nor the irony of his dismissal.

Both Mum and Dad both saw what they did as normal.  We were living a normal life.  Not only that, we actively looked down on other families that were more traditionally abusive.  That is, they got beaten just cos their Dad or Mum was angry.  Lower class beatings were just that, lower class.

My best friend at the time lived in a Housing Commission home.  His mum was poorer than us, and had a string of boyfriends, most of whom were fuckwits, and had no problem belting my friend.  Of course, my parents made it clear that we were above them.  Thinking about it now it’s hard for me to see the distinction between middle class and lower class violence.  I guess the thinking was that violence of the Christian god was reasonable and goal-oriented, and used a plastic pipe.  The violence of the alcoholic gutter-rat was anger-driven and spontaneous, and fists were used instead.  One came from “love” the other from rage.

I had spent five years unable to speak to my dad, and he had no idea why.  I had spent years more in surface conversation, with my resentment bubbling close to the top.  The time since then had softened me somewhat, and we were then able to connect, but there was still a wall of hate between myself and that man.

Unbeknownst to my siblings in that painful room, I had found a way out.   A year before I had written to my Dad, expressing the pain I felt, the pain he had caused me.  I ripped the scab off the wound, the wound that had left me with countless sleepless nights dreaming of pain and tears, and vengeance.

I again laid awake for many nights, wondering if I had done the right thing.  I remembered back to a therapy session where the therapist had mentioned writing to my Dad to express my pain.  I had replied that it would be impossible, and no good would come of it.  My father wouldn’t care.

And yet here I was, years later.  I had done it.  The time had been ripe.

I opened his reply a week later.  The first two words made me stop in my tracks.

“I’m sorry.”

My world stopped.

I couldn’t believe it.

The rest of the letter didn’t matter.  With those two words all that pain ceased to exist.  All that resentment that hindered our chats ceased to exist.  My sleepless nights ceased to exist.

And when I sat in that room with my brother and sisters, I found my ability to share their hate…

…had ceased to exist.

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