Monday, February 25, 2013

Almost Spanking the Duchess

I passed another parental milestone a few days ago. I had the urge to spank my daughter. This isn't a proud moment for me. 

I didn't spank her. Instead, I got up, walked into the other room, clenched my jaw and made this guttural angry uurrrrggggggggg sound that started in my knees, crept its way up through my stomach and chest, then exploded out of my mouth in a collection of consonants and vowels that would probably not have been appropriate for network television. 

I looked just like this, only I had a shirt on.

What did Duchess do to cause this rage bubble in my chest? The whole lead up to it doesn't really matter. I said yes. She said no. Rinse. Repeat.

She's a kid. She is getting smarter. She is getting more manipulative, and she is getting really repetitive. She is testing boundaries. She's like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park poking the edges of her enclosure, testing for weaknesses. And she remembers.  

Clever girl. 

That doesn't concern me. Kids are jerky velociraptors sometimes. 

What concerns me is that after 60 minutes of trying to find a way to convey my seriousness about something, after following every super nanny/attachment parenting/patient parent technique of explaining "why a behavior is bad", I found these words crawling up and out of my mouth through my clenched teeth: "Do it again and you're going to get spanked." 

Then Duchess looked at me, laughed, and threw a book at my face. It hit me square on the bridge of the nose. It made my eyes water. I wanted spank her. 

Let's pause at this point in the story – since that is what I did in real life. 

My history with spanking (abridged):

When I was four I peed in our neighbor's basement window well. I had recently learned from some of my other friends that the world is a boy's toilet. I took this new found freedom and did what most kids do with any freedom they are given. I pissed it away. (HA! Piss. I make myself laugh sometimes.)

I promised myself I'd never use this picture...

While I was focusing on peeing in our neighbor's window well, my dad was focused on walking up behind me. What he managed to see before I did was that the neighbors, whose window I was currently peeing in, were in their basement looking directly at me with a mix of anger and what I like to imagine must have been admiration for my boldness. My dad was not amused. 

He scooped me up, still peeing, pulled my pants on and carried me back to the house under his arm – but not before giving the obligatory "sorry my kid pissed on your window" wave to the neighbors. They never invited us over for dinner after that. 

When we got home my dad put me down, crouched down to my level, looked me in the eyes and said in his very best Dirty Harry voice. "Go up to your room and wait for me. I'm coming up to spank you."

I ran up the stairs of our duplex and hid in my room sobbing for the next hour and dreading the worst. I vividly remember sobbing until I eventually started doing the stuttered gasp thing over and over. I remember burying my face under my pillow and peaking out the crack of light at the door every time I heard a sound, waiting for my dad to come through the door. 

Here's what is weird. I don't remember if he spanked me or not.  I slightly remember him coming up. And I know I ended up in his lap. And he may have lightly patted my bum. But mainly I remember burrowing my face into his neck, the rough feeling of his day old stubble and the smell of Old Spice aftershave. 

Old Old Spice
This Old Spice, not the kind with extra douche bag in it.

OK... and...UNPAUSE!

During my self-imposed time-out after I grrrd and urrggged my rage bubble into the ceiling, I was embarrassed. And I was guilt-ridden. And I was scared that I might have that type of violence in me. That's not who I want to be. I love my kids. I even love them when they're assholes. 

I don't want to teach them that violence is a proper reaction to anger or frustration. I don't want to teach them that violence is something they need to fear from their dad. And not only do I not want to hit my kids, I don't want to want to hit my kids. (I use hit, because who are we kidding. Spanking is just a nice word for hitting.)

I didn't hit her though. I walked away. I took a minute… well ten minutes. I gathered myself. And  sometime after my barbaric yawp, and after my guilt spiral, I realized that even though I may have wanted to smack her - I didn't. I left her in her room, just like my dad had left me.

I could picture my dad pacing the living room. I saw him clenching his fists, his jaw, his eyes and letting out his own tortured argggg. I was him. He was me. It was a Shyamalanian twist!

Up until this point I thought he'd just left me up there for an hour to torture me. Now I just think he needed that time to calm down. So there it is. I am my dad. Duchess is me. And she's just pissing in metaphoric windows. Mind. Blown.

Sixth Sense
Bruce Willis is dead the whole movie. SPOILED!

Anyway... when I went back into the room I had the energy needed to continue to be patient (much more energy that it would have taken for me to smack her bum.) We talked about not throwing. We talked about taking care of our things. We talked. And it worked.

I know there are tougher times ahead. My patience will be tested more than it is now. I'll need to be the adult. I can just see those of you with older kids snickering and saying "Oh just you wait..." I know. I know. I am a very young parent. I am work in progress. So are my kids. It's a strange journey, this dad thing. Sometimes it fills me with pride and self worth. Sometimes it scares the shit out of me. 

I still feel guilty for having the urge to smack her. I don't know where it came from, and perhaps that is something worth exploring. But I'll make you all the same promise that I made to Stevie that evening when I told her what happened.

I will never hit our children. Ever. Even if they are being complete jerks or throw books at my face.

I will utilize every tool I have at my disposal to make this happen. I will separate myself from the situation. I will ask for help from Stevie if I am overly frustrated. I will be honest about my feelings and try to explore where they come from - because we can't always control our feelings, but we can control how we react to them.

Thanks for reading. Be excellent to each other - and party on dudes! 

Love, Dad (John) 

Bill and Ted
Sorry, I felt like I needed one more oddly placed movie reference for my spanking post. 

P.S. We're still having a blast over at the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page. I post funny micro content like conversations I have with Duchess that don't involve her throwing things at my face. If you haven't liked the page, I highly encourage it. I give it 9/10 Stars. I even put a widget in the right column for you to click. It's that easy!

P.S.S. We're getting close to our fundraising goal for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. If you have a couple extra dollars, please consider clicking here to donate. Thanks!!!


  1. 1. Thank you. I think our raptors are the same age and so much of what you write is so dead-on with my place in this Land of Parenting.
    2. Pop culture paired with a difficult topic=genius. Loved this.
    3. Anyone who references Whitman earns me as a lifelong reader. "For every part of me as good belongs to you."
    Sharing this one, sir.

  2. I love you, John! I'll have your Grandma read this as soon as she is up to it.

  3. My parents didn't believe in spanking either, so growing up it always shocked me when people I know got spanked, especially when I heard it was "normal". I was raised to believe that spanking was, like you said, just a euphemism for hitting.
    My mom spanked me once when I was younger and regrets it to this day, even though I barely remember it.
    I commend your restraint - not because the Duchess deserved to be hit (of course not) but because, even not having kids, I know that walking away from a situation can sometimes be one of the hardest things in the world.

  4. Thanks for posting this. With our child -3 months, I think about this regularly. Violence was a regular part of my childhood and I am dead set on making sure it is apart from my daughter's. I know I'm going to have to be vigilant to make sure that pattern never repeats, but I also know it will involve a lot of introspection and self-awareness to catch it early and respond appropriately.

  5. John,
    Someone has to put an oar in from the other side, so I guess that would be me. Our children did get spanked, on the bottom, with a bare hand only. As a child, I was spanked with a belt, or with a blow up the side of the head, so I knew how NOT to do it. Both my wife & I did the spanking (whoever was there, not tag teaming), and we both agreed beforehand as to the extent of the punishment. The other thing is to strive to avoid spanking when you are angry, if possible, have the other parent do the spanking if you are angry, or, do as you have John, and wait until the rage subsides. Above all, be consistent.

    1. I agree with The Liberal Republican. I was spanked as a kid (on the bum, barehanded). It was the ONLY thing that would set me straight. Though the fear of knowing (as you expressed in your childhood memory) is usually the worst part of it.

    2. Liberal Republican is a good guy. Well, half of him ;) No, I kid. I love all of him. There are plenty of ways to raise kids, and I fully admit to not being an expert. The spanking thing for us is an absolute. That doesn't make people who disagree with us bad parents. We just do our best to do our best.

    3. John, I agree on the disagree, Each of us should raise our children the best we know how, the doggone things don't come with an owner's manual, after all!

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    1. You're so welcome Sylvia. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your comment! Please keep reading!

  7. I haven't spanked my three year old yet. And maybe I never will, though you articulate quite nicely the angry feelings that can burst out of your brain as a parent of a willful kid. I get the shame part...but wanting to spank seems also to be a pretty ubiquitous response, and worth deconstructing and normalizing.

    I think it has something to do with us coming to the limits of our ability to control things, and grasping at something/ANYTHING to try to get the response that our psyche so desperately demands. A powerful urge to shake or spank my kid (yeah, this has definitely happened more than once) isn't just about being weak; it's about not being mentally prepared for "a failure to communicate," about not being prepared with a next step of escalating consequences.

    Not that I really know what the escalated consequence should be. Ever since mine turned about two, I've been at a loss to know what to do when our go-to methods completely fail.

    So, I don't know. I was spanked as a kid, by parents who were always in control, who never let their anger get the better of them. It was a method that worked for their purposes, and I've never felt bad about it. But with my own kid, I just didn't want to have to go down that road if I could think of anything else.

    Ultimately, I think I'd be equally as embarrassed about shouting at my kid as by giving a knee-jerk swat. That's just my personal feeling ( I'm not a shouter). But I think it has to do with being embarrassed about being out of control, at being at a loss for pre-determined and deliberate consequences.

    But like you say, the ability to "pause" and remove oneself from a situation, and then to be able to return to it thoughtfully and carefully, is one of the most important things I can imagine teaching my kid; it's something I use with my wife on a weekly basis, and we even mostly like each other.

  8. Great post. I was never spanked as a kid and will never do it to mine. But I know what you mean about wanting to. Sometimes your kids just push you past the limit and out of stress and the feeling that things are out of control, you just feel violent. But whether it's your kids or your boss at work, when you get so incredibly steamed, the best thing to do is take a break. I usually try to take a walk to clear my head.

  9. I never expected to love this blog, but I do. And as we're going through the adoption process right now, we are learning every day through posts like this.
    Thanks so much for continuing to be an awesome dad voice in the blogosphere.

  10. What I always find interesting is this notion that there’s some one-size fits all approach to parenting. That somehow a discipline used in the past is somehow outdated because someone said “I do it differently” or that the new way is somehow better. As though every child were the same. As though every situation were the same. As though every person has or SHOULD have the same mental space in terms of managing both. What makes my heart sink is the lack of compassion for a parent as a parent. My wife used to show me the posts of these internet moms on some of the blogs she used to read and the lack of compassion they had for one another – like parenting was some type of contest that needed to be “won” by the most virtuous parent.

    Parenting is hard, so but is disciplining. I think we can all agree that beating a child to the level of abuse is a non-starter, however there is nothing wrong with setting a child back on a path when words aren’t tilting the pendulum in the needed way. Now, the idea that the FIRST response has to be one of spanking, I do have a problem with as well, but at the end of the day I’m trying to raise kids to survive a world that doesn’t care about “being patient” with them. You need to learn, understand and enforce the rules – and if you become an asshole about it, well… you were going to be one regardless of the type of discipline you received.

    My daughters and I always talk first, but there are occassions - rare as they are - when when a *tap tap* gets the message across and no more has to be said. If they act like the ladies I require them to be because in part they remember the sting of disobedience... I can live with that. However, they act the way they need to because it's required of them, and that training came LONG before I ever had to give a corrective measure.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I don't know why it posted as unknown... I signed into my account. I have nothing to hide. Oh well.

  11. I was lightly spanked as a child by my mother and i remember finding her rage rather than the spank terrifying.
    Spanking children is against the law here in new zealand. I agree with it, its helping us evolve, its helping me evolve, its always at the back of my mind that assault is assault when my buttons are pushed and there is so much more dialogue everywhere about gentler discipline methods

  12. So where's the "Dead Poet Society" picture to represent the barbaric yawp???

    In all seriousness, I was spanked up and down the house. While I do believe there are alternative parenting techniques we can use, there are some kids who only seem to learn from a quick spanking. Let me explain:

    my kid isn't a perfect angel either, but her behavior is mostly limited to refusal to listen, stomping her feet, and throwing stuff if you start walking to her because she knows she's in trouble. With my daughter, it is simple (for now): bad behavior means sit on the red square (we have a large rubber mat with interlocking red, yellow, blue, & green squares) and don't move. She knows it means she's in trouble, she HATES staying in one place, and so it deters her from acting out again. As such, it's an effective deterrent to bad behavior.

    My friend has a son, about 6 months older than my daughter (he's about 2 1/2). It took six incidents of biting other kids in daycare (typical behavior for kids his age) and leaving some pretty serious teeth marks, short of breaking skin, before his parents had enough. Making him apologize wasn't working (some kids react to being shamed). Showing him how his behavior was bad didn't work. Time-out wasn't working. Removal of privileges wasn't working. Negotiation wasn't working (offering an incentive for good behavior). The kid just didn't care what they did. So he finally got his first spanking, just two quick swats across the butt. It's now been about two weeks since he bit anyone. My friend HATED doing it. He hated seeing his son cry and knowing he made it happen. However, it's worked.

    I was a stubborn kid myself. I didn't care what my parents said, but I was deathly terrified of two things: 1) a yardstick, flip-flip, or wooden spoon in my mother's hand and 2) my father's voice when he got angry (think James Earl Jones' voice of God in furious wrath and you have an idea of what my father sounds like when he's pissed). I'm 29 years old now, my father is 60, and I would still take the yardstick over my father's voice to this day. Both were equally effective deterrents for me and kept me out of trouble. I have, fortunately, inherited my father's voice and it's been effective against my daughter, but my wife was raised old-school Italian (we have a variety of wooden spoons & spatulas although we haven't had to use them), so we're already aware that we're the next generation of these parenting techniques.

    TL;DR - Certain kids require certain types of disclipine. If your kid doesn't require spanking, that's great! But from personal experience, it was one of only two things that worked with me as a kid and also with my friend's son.

  13. I just stumbled upon your blog and liked you on facebook. Anyway, I have to say you and Stevie are amazing parents and if I wasn't older than you I would beg you to adopt me! I may end up begging anyway
    What makes you good parents is that you are good people. I can't even imagine how differently my life would have been if I would have had a stable home life growing up. As an adult I realized that I couldn't let the experience of my childhood hold me back and I needed to move on. As a result I have a daughter who's 9 and is the very best person in my life! I strive to be a better human being because of her. Keep up the great parenting you guys and thank you so much for sharing!

  14. If anything is going to give you that urge, it's a hard bonk on the nose. The urge is a natural response, it's what you do with that urge that counts. So proud of you. Mom