Pinky and Her Daughter, Larissa on SBS’s Insight
“The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt – and there is the story of mankind.” — John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 1952
“If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” — Dr. Benjamin Spock
I was just a little girl, a pre-schooler and my mum would make me bend over, take my pants down and then I would wait for the sting on my bum. Sometimes it would come and then it would be over. Other times, she would tell me to pull my pants up without smacking. I never knew what to expect. I spent a lot of time hiding in a paddock behind our house. There was long grass there – and daffodils. I could sit in the long grass and not be seen. I couldn’t get smacked if I couldn’t be seen. The smell of daffodils was strong there and now I hate that smell-the smell of hiding in fear. The thing is, I really can’t remember at all what I was being punished for. Not one single time. All I remember is the sting, the humiliation and the smell of the daffodils.
Years later, on a visit back home my sister produced a range of leather straps she had found while cleaning the bungalow at my mother’s house ready for my girls to sleep there. My kids looked at my tiny white haired mother in disbelief – “Granny did you really hit mum?” “I had to, she was a very naughty girl.” said my mother.
It was the culture then – I suspect many people growing up in the 50 and 60s grew up with ‘good hidings’. But did it make us good? Not in my case – I got better and better at not being caught, I hid straps and I got into trouble at school: my baby sister was working at a local bank long after I had left school when a customer checked her name plate and asked, “are you related to Pinky?” Then he told her, “I was her biology teacher – I still have nightmares about that girl!”
When my own kids were small, I got a lot of pressure to ‘smack him!” I was ‘famous’ within my family because I wouldn’t smack my kids. I feel physically ill when I hear parents equate ‘discipline’ with smacking (discipline is derived from the latin meaning ‘to teach’); when they say, “I smack with love;” or, “my hands are for loving, so I use a wooden spoon/strap/ whatever.” And I just don’t ‘get it’ when they say, “you can’t reason with a toddler,” as justification for physically abusing a small child. We wouldn’t punish a child for falling off their bike because we understand that’s an accident due to a lack of skill. It’s the same with small children’s behaviour – they lack skills, impulse control and understanding so they make mistakes and we can teach them without hurting them.
We can’t hit our partners, we can’t hit our neighbours. That’s assault and a chargeable offence: to me, assault is assault, whatever the relationship or the age of the person who is being hit. I know that may sound like Mrs Judgey Pants but before you start thinking I am a total saint, I have to say I did slip up and hit on a few occasions (but never with a toddler). One of these instances was when my (then) 12 year old was watching an Olympic Games boxing match on TV. He was getting quite carried away shouting at the screen so I walked over and switched it off. He leant forward and switched the TV on again. I slapped him across the arm as I told him, “leave that bloody thing off – I hate violence!”
Silly mummy! My quick witted kid laughed his head off before I even realised what I had said. He wasn’t hurt (it was really just a flick), nor was our relationship irrevocably damaged. And neither would I suggest that other parents might ruin their kids for life because of an occasional ‘slip up’. But, don’t we feel bad when we fall short of the standards we set ourselves as parents? The first time we feel angry towards our child, the first time we yell and if we ever raise a hand when we never wanted to can be devastating to us as well as our child.
Gathering new tools for our parenting toolbox is a lot like learning a second language if these tools are different to what we experienced as children. For me, the journey from being a smacked child to becoming a non-smacking parent has been like learning new language. I believe that just as we sometimes revert to our ‘mother tongue’ when we are learning a new language and we are ‘lost for words’, so too we may do this when it comes to parenting. However, when we know better, we do better and with practise, we can develop our skills so that this ‘new language’ becomes naturally fluent.
It has been rewarding to see that by striving to change my own culture of parenting and filling my toolbox as my children grew, their ‘native language’ can be one of peaceful parenting with their children. My daughter, a psychologist and the mother of a six year old, has never hit her child and I doubt she will be tempted. You see I have never hit her, so it’s not imprinted to begin with. And, although it’s taken a generation, even my mother has come around. After one of my sons had cooked a delicious dinner for a family gathering and cleaned up Granny’s kitchen to her high standards, she said, “I can’t believe how considerate Jonathan is. You wouldn’t even smack him!” I just smiled at her and said, “Mum, it takes a long time to grow a man.”
Plain Talk About Spanking, a Booklet from the No Spank Project
What to do instead of punishment:
- The Nurturing Parent by Ross Ellis
- Discipline 101: Strategies That Work by Dr. Marilyn Heins
- 22 Alternatives to Losing It by Jan Hunt
- Instead of Hitting by Peggy O’Mara
- Twenty Alternatives to Punishment by Aletha Solter, Ph.D.
- The parenting style of President and First Lady Lincoln, as described by Mariah Vance, their housekeeper