Walking the line.

The other morning in church, I was in the restroom “fixing” my son his early lunch. I came out of the restroom with him under a blanket, and met a woman with a young girl in tow. She had that “look” on her face, the one that says she’s headed to the parking lot, and someone isn’t going to be happy when they get back. The girl was trying not to cry; as Daddy called it, “sub-subbing” through the end of a fit. As they crossed the foyer and passed me, the woman stared me down as if daring me to say something. I smiled a little, and headed for the water fountain before I went back in the sanctuary. About the time they made it past my shoulder, the little girl said fearfully, “But I don’t want to go see Daddy.” I turned to go back into the service, just in time to see the mother, jaw clenched, grab the girl with one hand around her jaw and the other on the back of her neck, and jerk her into the ladies’ restroom. The girl immediately began to cry again, nearly screaming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Mama!” I heard the skin-to-skin contact even after the restroom door swung closed. My stomach knotted up. I was torn between going in there and saying something, or minding my own business. In the end, I walked into the sanctuary and took care of my son, feeling like a coward.

I am all for corporal punishment. I was spanked and thumped and snatched as a child, and I turned out fine. I think the reports of increased mental instability due to spankings are a load of shit, and the folks doing the studies are largely tweaking their findings to support the anti-spanking “movement.” As cliche as it will sound, my parents were spanked, their parents were spanked, and so on. I don’t have any axe murderers in my family, just a few crazies. And we all know how to use our heads and our manners, even the lead-than-stable members of the family. I think a lot of parents in my generation, and the previous one, are using corporal punishment as an excuse to get out of the scary parts of parenting – the discipline – and they are doing their kids a huge disservice.

That said, there is a distinct difference between corporal punishment and outright abuse. My husband saw abuse everyday at his old department. Domestic situations turned violent over something small, like a dirty sock or a book out of place, often fueled by alcohol or drugs. A child routinely coming to school with new bruises every time his mom broke up with another boyfriend. Teenagers out sleeping in vehicles, at friends’ houses, in the garage, or at the park – anywhere but at home in their own beds. Abuse goes beyond discipline. Abuse is violence done for violence’s sake, done wholly out of rage on a weaker individual because of their inability to retaliate. It appears in all walks of life, from the worst-kept projects to the highest-bid mansion. It doesn’t matter where it happens or who is doing it. Abuse is unacceptable, no matter what reason you can come up with to try and justify it.

Discipline is unpleasant, but it is not ugly. It is necessary, however unpleasant. Everyone disciplines differently, and that’s fine. I believe corporal punishment works, for one, because my father implemented it (Momma tried). I knew my limitations, and I knew where the lines were drawn that would get me a serious talking to, and the one that would get me a spanking. My father never beat me, or yelled at me just for the sake of it, or told me that I was worthless or stupid or a waste of space. He spanked me when I did something I deserved it, raised his voice when I raised mine, and told me that I wasn’t using my head, that I could do better, that I was wasting my talents. To this day, I respect my father for doing his best to raise a daughter as a single father. His methods may have not been the greatest or the most appropriate by current psychological standards, but he was effective. I learned manners, I learned right from wrong, I learned limits. I was not a kid that could be talked to, or reasoned with, for a long time. I required corporal punishment because I was hardheaded, and that was what got through to me. Not every kid works that way.

But that isn’t an excuse to take it too far.

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