Why Is Spanking Legal?

I don’t make it a practice to write about controversial parenting techniques not because I don’t like controversy (I do) but because one of the most important things I’ve discovered as a parent is this: Most of the things I once judged other parents doing I have now done—and still do.

Before I became a parent I swore my children would never watch TV before the age of 2; would only wear cloth diapers; would only eat organic, homemade baby food and drink only breast milk for at least a year; would never fall victim to gender stereotypes; would never watch DVDs in the car; would play outside every day no matter the weather; would never be allowed to throw a tantrum in public; would never be a picky eater; would be given a bath every night; and would never witness me lose my patience.

Sophie loves Dora and Wubbzy and Ming Ming and Little Bear. I do cloth diaper, but not exclusively (and hardly ever when we leave the house). The boys refuse to eat our homemade sweet potatoes but love the store-bought ones even though the ingredients are the same—sweet potatoes. I’m still pumping breast milk for the boys but we’ve gone through at least three tubs of formula as a supplement. Sophie plays dress-up every day and, without any prompting from us, really wants a pink, sparkly tiara for her birthday. We bought a portable DVD player for our last drive to Baltimore. Many days I just don’t have the energy to bundle everyone up for playtime outside. I now assume if we’re in public, they’ll be a tantrum from at least one of my children. We bribe Sophie with dessert in order to get her to eat her dinner. The boys get bathed twice a week. I lose my patience in front of my children at least 12 times a day. I yell.

But I never hit.

I will never hit.

And I honestly don’t understand why hitting your children (including spanking) is legal.

Sophie hit Owen today—in the face. He was screaming. She was trying to watch “Finding Nemo.” I saw it, used my most-mean-mom-ever voice and told her to go to time-out while I finished changing James. I know she knew she did something very, very wrong because she immediately said she was sorry and ran to time-out and stayed there without complaint (a rarity). When her time-out was over I asked what she had done and made her apologize to Owen. I then made her tell Andy what she had done at dinner, and we spent a long time talking about hitting and why it’s bad, how it hurts other people and makes them sad.

If you spank your child, and your child hits another child (or you), how do you punish them? By spanking them? That makes zero sense to me. By telling them that it’s wrong even though you do it, too? But I only spank my child if they break specific rules, you might say. Well, in Sophie’s world, Owen broke one of her rules. And that is, to talk at a reasonable volume while she is trying to watch a show. (And Owen’s volume was far from reasonable.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend spanking. I have yet to meet a pediatrician who advocates it. Spanking in Sweden has been outlawed for more than 30 years. Frankly, I don’t know why it’s legal here.

I do many things that irritate my husband. In fact, I just asked him for an example and he rattled off the following: When emptying the dishwasher I don’t put the inserts to Sophie’s sippy cups with the sippy cups. I talk too loudly on the phone. I’m always losing my keys and credit cards. I hang up his coat in the coat closet (?!). I constantly put his pajama pants in the laundry where he can’t find them. I put the van’s parking brake on when parked on our non-hilly driveway. I don’t cook enough meals with meat in them. To him, these are “rules” that shouldn’t be broken. Just like we have rules for Sophie that shouldn’t be broken. But he would never hit me for breaking these rules. Because that would be battery. And last I checked, battery, whether it’s a slapped hand, punch to the face or a spanked bottom, is illegal.

But those are minor annoyances, you might say. I’m trying to teach my son or daughter right from wrong, you might add. OK, say I cheated on Andy. That’s a huge transgression, no? But legal, yes? If he found out, and in a moment of passionate rage, he hit me, I could have him arrested.

And yet.

A child can ignore a parent’s request to pick up toys and be spanked for it. A child, someone younger, weaker, more vulnerable and still learning right from wrong can be physically hurt for minor transgressions and, in some circles, many parents accept that. Advocate that. Think less of your parenting skills if you don’t do that. This, literally, blows my mind.

There have been times when I’ve lost my patience with Sophie. I have picked her up and, very aggressively, put her in time-out. But that was me reacting to the situation. Revenge and rage were at work in that moment—not a desire to teach. And when a young child does something wrong, I strongly believe that it’s a parent’s job to teach. Hitting is punishing. Time-out and talking are teaching.

But we’re human, you say. Sometimes I just get so angry I can’t help myself, you add. Yes, you can. When Andy changes out of his work clothes and leaves them sprawled out all over our bedroom even though I’ve told him 12,000 times to please hang them up or put them in the laundry, do I hit him? No. Do I want to? Yes. But do I? No.

Finally, I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine physically harming my children in order to teach them right from wrong. It seems so very cruel. I know some of you might think I sound over the top with that sentiment but I’m being 100 percent sincere—it’s seems so very, very cruel.

So how is this OK? Why is this legal? Please, share your opinion. For this, I welcome the controversy—I think it’s that important.

“I think that spanking and discipline are an oxymoron, because the word ‘discipline’ comes from the Latin term which means to lead.” —Martin Sauer