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After the Yelling, Before the Spanking

Photograph by Getty Images

For what feels like the 1,000th time this week my 4-year-old daughter crossed her arms over her chest, pushed out her lower lip and issued a defiant, "No!"

It might sound cute to someone not acquainted with the delicate negotiations required to get a kid fed, brushed, dressed and ready for preschool all before 8 a.m., but I can wholeheartedly assure you that, after weeks of dealing with Violet's newfound delight in seeing just how far she can push me until I break, it is anything but. Rage blooms throughout my body, razoring easily through patience long since worn thin and ultimately strangling the loftiest of motherly intentions.

Before we had children my husband and I agreed that ours would be a no-spanking home. We both grew up under the reign of single moms who didn’t hesitate to wield power or demand obedience by virtue of a raised hand or wooden spoon. With distinct memories of what it's like to be on the business end of an angry hand, both of us feel like spankings are not a weapon we'd like to store in our parenting arsenal.

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That doesn't mean the impulse doesn't thunderbolt through our systems every now and again. There are times, like this morning, when I'm left floundering for the appropriate response to my child and a swift smack on the ass almost feels justified. Particularly when my most menacing "angry mom voice" accompanied with "scary face" does nothing but inspire smirks. My brain spins out of control and the urge to grab my daughter and swat her adorable behind fills my entire being.

There are those who subscribe to the theory that kids need a good spanking every now and again, but I just don't see it. How I can teach my daughter that violence is never the answer if I use it as my own answer? The temptation to spank usually only strikes me when I've lost control of a situation and am not in full possession of my best parenting faculties, which I think we can all agree is pretty much the worst possible moment to issue a spanking.

When all parenting tools have failed me and my daughter is laughing at my efforts to bend her to my will; that is the second when the entirety of my parenting legacy hangs in the balance.

Those of us who were spanked have recalled those moments and the distinct emotions that color those memories of childhood. Mostly fear, right? And, if you were spanked at an older age, shame and then, eventually, anger eclipsed the fear.

Fear. Shame. Anger.

Three emotions I don't want my kids to feel and especially don't want to be the cause of within the little hearts and minds I'm working so hard to raise to be strong and happy.

It is in that moment after the yelling has done no good—before I lose control and deliver a swat to the backside—that I come to the decision that will define my motherhood, at least to me. Because, when all parenting tools have failed me and my daughter is laughing at my efforts to bend her to my will; that is the second when the entirety of my parenting legacy hangs in the balance.

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But, after years in the parenting trenches my response almost comes naturally now. Almost. Using hands or wooden spoons or belts or anything else to scare a child into behaving or as punishment for not behaving isn't worth the damage done to the heart and the mind. There is no lesson being taught there, no matter what you or I tell ourselves if we were to submit to the impulse. It is never OK to hit another human being. Isn't that what we spend half our time telling our children?

So the next time you find yourself in a rage—after the yelling but before the spanking—remind yourself of the things you likely remind you children of several times a week: Violence is never the answer, and you just need to walk away.

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