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The Sudden, Dubious Support for Spanking Kids

Don’t worry, moms! If you are overwhelmed with all the parenting decisions that need making, rest assured there are people out there to help you make them, happy to share their pearls of parenting wisdom. People like Pope Francis or NRA board member Charles Cotton. They're at your disposal, ready with parental advice.

Wait, whoa, what?

In last week’s general audience at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis used an anecdote about a loving and caring father who spanked his children to encourage their proper behavior. The Pope found this practice “beautiful” and deemed it acceptable as long as the parent did not demean or humiliate the child, e.g., not hitting a child in the face. The Pope, you see, authorizes the practice of spanking, a loving gesture, really, as discipline, but not punishment. I’m still confused about the difference between those two things. But I’m a lapsed Catholic, so what do I know?

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NRA Board Member Charles Cotton weighed in on hitting children, too. He’s all for it, you see, at home and at school. He is a bit up in arms (pun absolutely intended) because a Texas State Representative has sponsored legislation that would ban the practice of using corporal punishment in Texas public schools. From Mr. Cotton’s perspective, if school teachers take it upon themselves to provide the discipline (or is it punishment?) a child sorely needs, then he won’t have to “put a bullet” in them later, when the undisciplined child surely will grow up into a criminal requiring the threat of guns to keep them in line. Sigh.

Legally referred to as “corporal punishment,” spanking falls into the category of any form of physical punishment used in response to an unwanted behavior with the intention of causing pain or discomfort so as to eliminate the unwanted behavior. Corporal punishment is most often carried out in the home or school (though most U.S. schools have banned it), but some countries still condone the practice in the form of caning or flogging or other physical means within their criminal justice systems.

But do we really want to take parenting advice from these men of advanced age who represent two of the most restrictive and powerful cultural institutions of our time? I know I don’t.

I understand that physical punishment or discipline has a long history of being culturally normative. H-E- double hockey sticks, I grew up hearing stories about nuns who rapped my impudent father’s knuckles with yard sticks, not because he was disruptive or broke the rules, but because they found him to be too self-satisfied when he got the answers right in class.

As a white middle class woman, I embrace the reality that I know little to nothing about how other parenting cultures work. I won’t stand in judgment and dismiss proud historical cultural practices of others that I honestly do not comprehend.

That said, I have enough faith and confidence in myself and my parenting choices to neither care nor need the approval of cultural behemoths like the Catholic Church or the National Rifle Association to give me the seal of their approval when it comes to me and my child.

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I don’t give a flying fig what either the Pope or an NRA board member thinks about what children need to shape their behavior. If it feels right and just in the moment, if the discipline and punishment provided my children is not meted out in a fit of anger, if my husband and I are square with one another and consistent in our approach, I am good with our choices. But thanks anyway, guys!

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