I’ve had a glass of vino so I’m just going to come right out and tell you something.
I have smacked my kid.
Let’s go back to a happier time: a time when ideals were vigorously upheld, when parenting was considered the privilege and honour it truly is, a time when level heads prevailed.
A time before I had children. Long, long before.
B and I had agreed that we did not believe in hitting children as a form of discipline. We felt it was important to find a non-violent approach. We would talk to our children, reason with them, guide them.
And it was a lofty ideal: one that was worth striving for. But it had absolutely nothing to do with the reality of dealing with a small child.
For the first couple of years, I stuck to that ideal. While other rules slipped by the wayside (Strictly no junk food! No television before the age of five!), I stayed true to this one. Of course I did. I had a baby. Who the hell smacks a baby?
And then LD was two. It wasn’t an immediate, devil-possessed kind of transformation but just a general willfulness that developed over time. And this willfulness coincided with my second pregnancy. I was bone-shatteringly exhausted and LD was the button-pusher from hell: a potent combination.
I recall the first time I smacked LD. I remember he was on the change table. Nappy change had gone from a quick and painless non-event to a kicking, screaming trauma. And on this occasion, LD kicked me. Right in the belly.
I remember my hand connecting with his little thigh. The ‘crack!’ it made as my palm connected with his bare skin.
I remember how satisfying it felt.
And I remember how that satisfaction was immediately wiped out by extraordinary guilt and shame. LD’s little face was painted with shock. He began to cry in earnest.
I took him up in my arms and held him as tight as I could, whispering I was sorry over and over in his little ear.
Did LD kick me in the belly ever again? Of course he did. He had no real concept of the baby in my belly. All he knew was that he disliked nappy changes and he was going to make it known. His behaviour was not borne of malice. He didn’t want to hurt me. He simply wanted his own way. As a two-year-old with a very skewed view of the size of the world (didn’t it revolve around him?) and no real capacity for empathy, he did not know any better.
But I did.
It was obvious to me that smacking my misbehaving child had very little to do with discipline and everything to do with me venting my frustrations.
I would like to tell you that I learnt my lesson that day. I would like to tell you that I have never smacked LD again. But that would not be true.
LD continues to misbehave – and with increasingly more intent as he gets older. And I continue to be pushed to my wit’s end and make the wrong choice. It’s rare but it happens.
Ironically, the times I am most tempted to smack LD are when he has hit or hurt his little brother in some way.
But it has never once worked. Smacking as a form of discipline has never stopped LD from behaving in a certain way. It has served neither as a deterrent or a meaningful lesson.
Smacking doesn’t work. Not in this house.
Parents commonly use the term smack or spank. It’s more palatable and distinguishes us from those parents who abuse their children by beating them.
And while I acknowledge that there is a significant difference between smacking and beating a child, I also have to acknowledge that when I smack my kid, it is a sign that I have lost control. It is not a method of discipline so much as a form of punishment. And that for a split second, I feel gratified.
Admitting those things makes me deeply uncomfortable: sharing them with you is excruciating.
But this acknowledgement serves to remind me that I want to do better as a parent. That smacking, whether I believe it is detrimental to my child or not, doesn’t fucking work. That the split second of release I feel is not worth the guilt that plagues me thereafter.
Meanwhile, I am still up shit creek and all paddleless when it comes to discipline. Some things work, then they stop working and in general, I find it tough. LD is three-and-a-half and all hands on hips outrage and indignation. And then there’s Zee who has, from very early on, displayed a willful streak. For the record, I have never smacked Zee. I couldn’t. He is still a baby. But how best to teach a sixteen-month-old who finds the most dangerous way possible to go about everything?
I need some creative ideas.
Or robot children.
Or a time out.
Yes, that’s it. Mumma needs a time out. Preferably in Hawaii.