Since writing to spank or not to spank – part 1, I’ve had the chance to delve deeper, think harder, do some research, get some facts, and engage in thoughtful discussions with my husband and friends who are also mindful about such matters. The more I read and discuss, the clearer I see, the firmer I stand on this issue for our family. One realization after another, I’m connecting the dots, trusting the flow of thoughts to a clearer state of mind. I’m committed to this thing called mindfulness.
The last time I swatted Mina’s bottom, it was over her diaper but I also accidentally slapped a part of her bare leg. As soon as I swatted, I knew immediately it hurt a little more this time, and she cried. This was the first time she cried from my slap. The few other times, she’d either smile or stand still for a second, say “gomenasai,” and go back to playing. This time was different. I knew instinctively that she was crying out of shock; she was scared and couldn’t make sense of what had just happened.
Even hours later, out of the blue, she’d start crying; not her usual tantrum or pretend cry, but a visceral cry, with an expression on her face I had never seen before, that I didn’t recognize. Mina wasn’t herself that night and it really bothered me. I was shaken inside and intuitively knew right then that I had made a huge mistake, that something had to change. I talked to my husband that night, and went to bed with a heavy conscience.
The next thing I knew, I was writing, to examine the emotional distress and make sense of the intense regret. Ideas from How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen sparked insights into our family culture, questioning my instincts and assumptions. And here I am, still thinking deeply about this.
I was spanked as a child (though I don’t remember much of my childhood). I grew up in a house where domestic violence was a norm. As a child, I had hostile tendencies; when I didn’t get my way, I used to bite, scratch (with nails, deep into the flesh), or throw things (even hard, breakable things), but I had never made the connection between my aggressive behavior as a child and the aggression and violence that surrounded me.
Our family history is not new to me; I’ve thought about, struggled with, reflected on, and questioned it for most of my teenage and adult life, but what’s new today is Mina, and how she is affected by the surfacing of such subconscious habits that are rooted in my family history I carry with me, at times unbeknownst to me. I’m realizing that to recognize and control them will require constant mindfulness.
I’ve spanked Mina out of impulse, instinct, and tradition. Not anymore. I’m not going to let history repeat itself. I’ve worked too hard, fought too long to arrive at this place of mindful existence just to let history barge in whenever it pleases.
Everything I do, I say, I choose has an impact on Mina.
Everything Mina does, Mina says, Mina chooses is part of her developmental process and growth.
Every action and reaction, in effect, shift her developmental trajectory in varying degrees, directions, and dimensions.
“What do I want Mina to learn, to develop? Do I ever want to stunt, or even risk stunting her development in any way, big or small? Do I want her to endure any negative developmental issues because of my habits?,” because studies have found that “physical punishment increases the risk of broad and enduring negative developmental outcomes.”1
When I ask myself these questions, after learning the scientific findings, spanking in our family ceases to be a question or a debate. No exceptions, no fine print. It’s simply unacceptable to me to gamble on Mina’s well-being with greater risks for aggression, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse, even if it’s merely an association. Also, “no study has found physical punishment to enhance development.”2 In other words, when we spank, we expose our children only to risks of negative developmental issues (no positives for consolation).
And finally, regularly spanked kids “may be more likely to engage in domestic violence and child abuse as adults.”3 Wait. Stop! That statement is referring to me; I’m the case in point. I’m more likely to engage in aggression because I grew up around aggression. No. Definitely no. I choose to break this vicious cycle of violence, and start a tradition of non-violence with our family, because I never want Mina to think aggression and violence are answers to conflicts, or anything for that matter.
When researching online, I came across comments like “I was spanked and I turned out fine” or “It worked for me” in support of spanking as a form of discipline. Then I read an insightful counter to such arguments that made real sense to me. “We’re constantly discovering new risks associated with the act of spanking — like increased anxiety and a number of other mental-health problems — which makes the ‘It worked for me’ argument outdated,” says Catherine Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of global community health and behavioral sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in New Orleans. She points out that in the past kids breathed their parents’ secondary cigarette smoke, rode in cars without seat belts, and lived in homes with lead-based paint. “Research has since shown these things to be unhealthy for children, and spanking is no different,” she says.” Here is the link to this balanced article in its entirety: “The Great Spanking Debate” When we choose to spank despite all the scientific findings, I think we’re just being stubborn, selfish, indifferent, or lazy; in essence, we’re choosing the easy way out, and neglecting to put our children’s best interests first.
Articulating it this way, these words and ideas resonate deeply and clearly. I can no longer ‘wing it’ by completely relying on instincts because there’s too much at stake here, namely Mina’s well-being. I’ve come to realize that my instincts are not only innate but also shaped by culture, tradition, media, and other external stimuli that I may not be aware of. No assumptions; everything, every little thing deserves close examination to make conscious choices for what’s best for our family.
Ironically though, those same instincts picked up on the visceral pitch in her cry, and I knew in my gut that what I had done was not only regrettable but more importantly, irrevocable. My husband was the one who reminded me to recognize that I was able to intuit Mina’s visceral cry and pursue, not disregard or ignore, the nagging gut feeling to arrive here: a deeper understanding of myself and our family. “You need to give yourself credit,” he said. I know he’s right. I need to give myself credit, but it’s not always easy. Yes, I’m proud; don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud that I’ve swatted Mina, and I wish I could take it all back but I can’t, and I need to live with that and move on. Today, I’m proud of this conscious choice I’ve made for us as a family; an important step in consciously building a family culture that’s right for us, that we can be proud of.
I’ve learned and I’m learning that above all, I just need to be present, because everything I need to learn is here in this moment. Not in the past nor the future, but here in this very present moment. Thank you, Pema Chödrön, for these wise words: “This very moment is the perfect teacher.”