Even the headline “Extra! Extra! Read All About It– Spanking” makes me a bit queasy in the stomach. Alas, spanking is a very relevant topic to the issue of mental illness, so I want to put some words to it, even if only briefly.
I was actually going to chat this week about what to say when families are having “breakdowns” or “tantrums” in public. It’s such a difficult position and I promise to come back to that very soon because that is something we can all use help with–the one experiencing the public difficulty and, of course, the bystander, who has a role to play as well.
But I read this article tonight titled Here’s What Getting Spanked as a Kid Did to Your Personality, According to Science that my husband shared with me. I highly recommend you take a moment to read the short article before reading on.
One theory I think about more than I’d like to
So first let me start with one of my main theories about Michael specifically. You’ll need to understand that I used to cry each and every time I thought about Michael being raised by someone else.
I have done this for so many years and worked with therapists around the subject of others raising Michael that I don’t cry as much anymore.
I know, I know–why is thinking about other parents raising my son such a thing for me? Well, no matter, we all have things that seem irrational that bother us; this just happened to be mine. But even as I type this experience, I find myself shaking my head furiously at the other imaginary parents I’m creating in my mind for how they might treat Michael if he were their kid. Thank goodness for therapists and chocolate, right?
If you’ve been reading a while, you will understand that Michael was an exceedingly difficult baby to raise and hang out with, but he was MY baby and I was going to do everything in my power to be the mother I had always longed to be. I was going to break abusive chains, I was going to model behavior that I wanted my children to become (we can dream!!!), and I was going to actually learn how to do this whole parenting thing to the best of my ability.
I’ve even taken parenting classes. I highly recommend the nonviolent-focused parenting style, which you can find more information about in this article: The Heart of Parenting: Nonviolent Communication in Action.
Anyway, I can’t stand the thought of someone else raising Michael and mostly it’s because I feel like they wouldn’t understand him like I do or treat him like I do (kindly, respectfully, lovingly–to the best of my ability and certainly with mistakes). They would not be as good as me, dammit! They would not be able to raise Michael as well as I could or love him as much as I do. This is the recurring thought that has dwindled greatly, but still creeps in every now and again.
So with this continuous thought sauntering around in my mind as if it were three dancing gorillas wreaking havoc in my brain about my imaginary anger about how other people would raise my son (whew!), the theory becomes that if he were in a difficult family that he would have ended up on anti-psychotic meds.
Then I read this article on how spanking and abuse create mental illness, which I’ve always suspected.
“Gershoff and her co-author, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, discovered that the more adults were spanked as children, the more likely they were to develop a range of negative outcomes later in life—including mental health issues.”
With that now confirmed, I will continue to believe that a nurturing environment has so much to do with how children are able to cope with life in general, and continue to cope into adulthood without parents there to guide them.
For example, when Michael had a major breakdown which looked like loud screaming, threatening, and crying (please note: we don’t have almost any breakdowns anymore because his meds are at the perfect level, he’s naturally maturing, and he’s had a mostly stable life filled with love, safety, fun, etc.), I would not yell at him, force him into his room, take away things that would be painful for him, or other such punitive measures. In those moments, I would actually go toward him with open arms, patience, and as much love and acceptance as I could muster.
What?!?! WHY would you do that, Mica? You are cray-cray for being nice when your kid is being such a jerk!
Why we need to approach trauma with love
Well, because in those moments I believe he is beyond his maximum threshold with hurt and pain and needs help. He’s screaming, literally, for help.
When our children are having breakdowns, I believe they are screaming and crying for help.
So back to the topic at hand . . .
IF a child is having a tantrum or breakdown, and you believe what I’m saying about the fact that they need help as opposed to thinking that they are manipulating the situation to get what they want, then in those moments we don’t spank, hit, threaten, yell, or otherwise diminish their experience.
In those moments we move to a safe distance and say loving things to them.
“I’m sorry this is so big for you.”
“I hear you screaming and you want it to stop.”
“It was so difficult when my foot hit the pavement first. I’m sorry that happened and you are so upset by it.”
All the while, I am also helping Mason because he’s probably scared out of his younger-brother gourd. So I’m probably telling Mason to get behind me or go into the kitchen and get a popsicle (that is totally Mason currency), and saying to Mason:
“Sweetie, I imagine this is very scary for you. I’m so sorry for that and I promise I’m doing the best I can.”
“Mason, this will be over soon. But right now I need to help your brother, so I’ll be with you soon.”
“Mason, please do something that is helpful for you in this moment. There are markers and paper in the office if you want to draw.”
During the trauma, which is usually sudden onset, I am just able to be really present and focused on the job at hand–which I believe is to accept, love, be kind and patient while the feelings work their way through. I always believe that validating the feelings is one of the most solid and fastest ways of calming anyone down.
You matter too!
And then I need recovery time. You will need to scream in the bathroom. You might need to eat a half-gallon of Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream (I personally know nothing about this) (I know this method intimately) (Don’t listen to me).
But when we approach our hurting children with this presence and love and kindness and intentionality, the small price we pay to be with our child and their pain creates a strong and solid lifeline for their entire future.
Interestingly, as I’ve been thinking about this and figuring out why I’ve never thought it OK to hit my children, I realize that my mother said more than once, “I have no right to hit another human being.” At least that’s what I remember of it anyway, but that really stuck for me and I’ve lived with that thought ever since. Thanks, Mom!
And that is one reason among thousands for why I don’t spank.
That is why I think spanking needs to stop in every household on the planet. This article was hugely helpful and validating for me and I’m so glad they’ve done this intensive research to find answers we need.
If you still spank and think it’s OK, you’re perfect right where you are. Remember that now! I do hope this information impacts you in some small way to think about the effect on your child or whoever else you may think it is appropriate to hit, and think what it does to them and what it’s doing to you.
Introspection is one key to a beautiful new way of being. One that can help to end mental illness, which we’re working so hard to understand, help, accept, and champion.
So much love,
Got questions about parenting without spanking? I’d love to help how I can. Meet you over at Facebook for a chat.
And don’t forget how amazing you are. I’m trying to remember for my own self right now. Some days it’s more difficult than others, but together we can all recognize our greatness and transfer that by helping others around us recognize their own greatness as well.