Monday, December 6, 2010

Child Discipline or Abuse

This was my picture on Facebook to support child abuse.
Before I even begin I want to give a shout out to Brooke, who started this thought process for me on this topic. She wrote a very good blog post earlier today that made me think about a few things.

I really didn't talk much about Thanksgiving this year. I did not talk about that week at all outside of Sarah Lawrence. I was in my own world doing my own thing and I know that it appears to some that I may have blown people off, but it is simply not that simple. But, if I can cut a small piece of that week out for all to view, it will be spending the holiday with my mother and that side of the family.

It is always interesting times to go over there. My aunt lives in Riverdale, which is a very upscale part of the Bronx. This was one of the few places in the Bronx where I spent some time living because Riverdale was spot number 2 that we moved to once my mom left my dad. It is really not a bad area, however, this was the first place I was called a nigger by a white kid and I have been thinking about my identity ever since (a story for another time).

The issue for that day was who was I going to go with. Was I going to go with mom or my brother? I ended up driving myself because at the end of the day, I would rather have the option of leaving when I wanted. Plus, I had another stop to make (benefits of having a big family...options and other places for food!). There is always a bit of trepidation when I am going to family gatherings because you never know. My history with that side of the family is an extension of my relationship with my mother. So, I had to be cautiously optimistic.

Dinner started as soon as I got there because I was the last one. It was not my fault it took me almost an hour to find parking in Riverdale. The food was good. We laughed and ate, things were merry. In fact, I ate so much that I was about to pass out. I wanted to sleep so bad! I decided to walk around and play with my smaller cousins and nephew.

Then desert came and we started this discussion. The kids were a little rowdy, but I know I have seen worse. One of older my cousins, who has no children, starts talking about how people need to discipline their children more otherwise these kids will run rampant. I knew what she was saying. The adults want to be adults and the kids need to be curbed. Somehow we got on this conversation about some kids need to get a beat down but the laws are so strict that kids these days like to threaten their own parents with calling child services. The running joke was of course, the kid would be like "I am going to call the police" and the parent would respond something like "Go Ahead...they can keep you" or "You wont make it to the phone" (all of this was me)

Let me just say that I know I wasn't the best kid in the world. I used to get hit to and for the most part I deserved it. My grades sucked, I broke stuff, I would not listen, and I just could not get my shit together. So there was no surprise to me that my mother chimes in at some point and talks about how she used to beat me. We laughed as she told the story about how she chased me around the house and finally caught me in my bedroom. I started screaming for my dog, Bosco (which was this big wolf like dog). He comes running in and jumps on my mother! Then he realizes who it was he just tackles and runs out the room in a hurry. I remember this and it was very hysterical.

Then there were more stories and I started thinking... I can remember getting hit more by her than her hugging me. Now, I am not saying I was abused. I would argue that I was not. But, it forces me to think about all my relationships with women. One of my aunts told me that my mother had no patience with me many times and her anger would come out easily. I realize that I strive so hard for the approval of women and I take a lot of "abuse" when I don't have to.

I bring this up because over the past week there have been many people changing their Facebook profile pictures to cartoon characters of their youth to promote child abuse awareness. The premise is to relive happy memories of our younger days. While some people have said that this is silly because it wont stop the abuse of children, I am for it because child abuse is wrong. Giving money wont stop child abuse either, but at least more people will be aware that some kids are born to some really bad parents.

Back to me. I am not saying that my mother was this abusive woman, but I was once for hitting kids when they were unruly. I am not so sure anymore. People do not seem to realize how fragile a relationship with a child is. The foundation of all relationships are laid when are children. If there are issues with this foundation, it will be something that kids will be dealing with for the rest of their lives.


kberry said...

What a thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing that. I'll keep this brief.

I have two basic issues with physically disciplining children in addition to what you shared.

1) For physical discipline to remain effective, it must escalate. The slap on a hand that stops a 3 year old means nothing to a 10 year old; and the spanking you gave the 10 year old will never work on the 17 year old.

2) Physical discipline teaches children that yes, sometimes it's ok to hit. So don't be surprised when you get a call from your daughter's teacher because she hit the little boy that took her paint. She thought she was telling him he was naughty.

I suggest you do what my parents did: psychological torture.

Kismet said...

Thanks for this. I was thinking about this when, in casual conversation at a holiday party (funny what these weeks bring out), I found myself advocating spanking...then feeling very wrong about it. Part of it was context--I won't lie, it was an office party of hyper-liberal, hyper-educated, academic elites not in the piece (Chicago) with either my black or Puerto Rican grandmother--but I also felt myself torn on the issue. How would spanking, especially in that context, without the cultural or community mechanisms to put it in perspective, do any good for a headstrong child? In that context, where headstrong equals not playing quietly enough (as opposed to another context where headstrong may mean anything from cutting school to gang-banging) how do we discipline appropriately? And vice versa--is there a way that other communities, epistemologically resolve the issue of spanking vs. discipline?

True Life Notes: I was a really good kid and I was only really spanked once. Not in anger. But I remember two things about that: First--I still friggin remember it. It sucked. And it forever changed my relationship to my parents, my father especially and perhaps not in good ways. Second--it didn't stop my behavior per se. It just made me better at not getting caught (picking and choosing when and where I would do X).

So...hmm. Still a tough convo to have. But necessary. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that people who don't have kids always have an opinion or stupid comment to say and if you don't have kids a person really doesn't know how hard it is. I think discipline has a lot to do with culture and how you were raised and are these beat downs or being berated in english/spanish effective, I don't think they are. It shows the lack of control and patience and yes education some ppl have. It leaves the child with emotional issues that sometimes last into adulthood I'm a parent of a toddler and he drives me nuts and yes I've given him a spank on the butt but I would never give beatdowns or berate my child. Just b/c something is culturally acceptable doesn't make it correct behavior. I think you still have a lot of pain from your childhood and I hope one day you will be free from it. As they say you can have get a license or degree to do everything except be a good parent our parents are also human and went through their own things but in my opinion it's up to YOU to want to change and be a better person and parent can't use the past as an excuse forever. I think that joking about beatdowns you used to get is insensitive and wrong but just attribute to their lack of understanding.


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