I am an awful parent.  Yesterday, I spanked my son Jake. Now I know what my parents meant when they said, “This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.”

Usually, Jake is pretty mature for his age. But every once in awhile, Jake acts like he is 10 going on two. He sometimes has temper tantrums that can last for hours. The tantrums are usually over something stupid, like not being able to play video games for hours on end, or not being allowed a second Popsicle. Yesterday, the tantrum was because I wouldn’t make him pancakes for breakfast.

Normally, I ignore his tantrums, and most of the time that works to diffuse the situation. But yesterday was different. As Jake lay on the floor of the kitchen, screaming and yelling, he swore. Multiple times. Using the f-word.

The first time he dropped the f-bomb, I ignored it. The second time, I warned him. The third time, I reacted. Without anger, I gave him three firm, methodical swats aiming for the bum. On the third swat, he moved and I got his arm instead.

I should say that I am against spanking for a variety of reasons.  For one, I always thought my parents were a little heavy-handed growing up, and I vowed I would never spank my kids. Another reason is because I think most parents spank in anger. I don’t think that reacting to something when you are angry teaches kids a good lesson (not to mention that it’s too easy to loose control in those situations). And further, what lesson do we teach our kids when we spank them to punish them for being physical with each other?

My friend (I’ll call her Jane) spanks her kids unapologetically.  Perhaps the biggest reason I don’t like spanking is because of the way she spanks. Jane makes her kids pull down their pants and underwear before they get spanked. I think this ritual is humiliating. Jane also will spank her kids for hitting or biting each other. This seems like an oxymoron to me. I mean, what kind of message does hitting a kid for hitting send?

Still, there are plenty of people who believe that hitting is OK. Google spanking kids and you’ll find many, God-fearing people who seem to think that it is OK to spank. In fact, one blog I visited even suggested that you should use a spoon, spatula, or a cane (yes, a cane) to spank your kids so that they “won’t fear your hand.”  I’m not making this up.

Incidentally, in case you are wondering, in Massachusetts, it is legal to spank your child. However, according to the  state of Massachusetts Department of Social Services, abusing your child is not.

The line between spanking and abusing is pretty thin and vague.  The law in Massachusetts defines abuse broadly as any physical, emotional, or sexual act by a caretaker to a child under the age of 18 that creates substantial risk or injury.  “Physical abuse includes beating, shaking, kicking, burning or other types of bodily harm that can result in bruises, fractured or broken bones, internal injuries or death.”

I don’t like to spank. It’s not my first choice of punishment. Could I have done something else when Jake said the f-word? Maybe. Should I? Maybe. But I don’t think a time out, or trying to send a screaming 10-year- old to his room would have worked.

What do you think? Did I act too harshly? What would you have done?

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