Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s just about everyone I knew got a smack on the bum if they misbehaved as children. Some kids were also unfortunate enough to get the much more painful (and potentially dangerous) clip around the ear. I have seen my sisters get smacked in public. And my cousins. The teachers were also quite free with their whacks, particularly the nuns (dare I say it). Sister Benedicta gave me the strap when I was about eight for saying I thought the Baby Jesus was much too important to sleep in a manger. I thought my statement served to highlight the significance of Jesus’ birth, that maybe he should sleep on a bed made of gold or something, but it was deemed obnoxious and irreverent. That strap burned for days. The welt was itchy and hot. I thought I was showing signs of some kind of stigmata so I bore it with pride.
I have smacked Nick probably about three or four times in his life. Just once each time. He would only have been about three years old. I don’t think it has scarred him for life. Actually, I don’t think he even remembers it. What he does remember is me saying NO to him in a calm, assertive voice, setting limits and boundaries and being consistent in my approach to discipline. He doesn’t remember the smacks, but I do. And I feel bad about them. Not because I think I hurt him but because it showed a lack of self-control on my part. I reacted to him having a tantrum, to getting out of bed 25 times in a row, to breaking a vase, to flushing my wallet down the toilet in a violent, negative way. I didn’t act like an adult, I acted like the child I was supposed to be disciplining.
That said, I am not necessarily an advocate for the anti-smacking lobby. I don’t think the Department of Community Services should be called if a gentle whack is administered on the butt in public. However, I also don’t condone smacking, so I find it hard to know where to put myself on this issue.
I suspect that smacking is more about the adult than the child. It is someone at the end of their tether. Tired, lacking in support, possibly depressed. It doesn’t excuse hitting a child, but it does go some way to explaining it. It can also just be a way of seeking a quick end to negative behaviour in public. As I witnessed today.
I was in line at the supermarket and there was this child on the line next to me. He was about three and was being a bit of a pain. Screaming at the top of his lungs, demanding chocolate and fizzy drinks. When he was refused a chocolate he started to throw things out of the trolley that he was standing in. His mother began to count backwards from ten. You better start behaving because if I get to one I’m gonna paddle your butt, she said.
Well, he didn’t start behaving and his butt got paddled. Gently, I might add.
The wailing that ensued would have shattered glass.
A woman at another checkout immediately dove in and began accusing the butt paddler of being the worst type of mother ever. It started to get ugly and I started shaking my head. The woman who dove in saw me shaking my head and said: So what are you going to do about it? Nothing, I bet.
This kind of thing drives me mad. Seems to me that these days we are all a little bit too much in one another’s business. I don’t know the mother of the child. I don’t know if she smacks her child regularly or not. Whether she does or not is actually none of my business. It is also nothing to do with anyone else in the supermarket. I wish she had refrained from the paddle your butt countdown, but there it was.
If I ever saw an adult laying into a child in public, I would certainly say something. But one gentle smack shouldn’t really raise an alarm. Perhaps it was the paddle your butt phraseology that alarmed the woman who dove in. Perhaps she expected something more violent and reacted to that. Either way, it was unfortunate that she had to drag me into it. Eventually, her groceries were rung up and packed and she left. I was relieved because I wasn’t really in the mood to take the moral high (or low) ground regarding butt paddling.
The entire incident bothered me. Where do you draw the line when it comes to the actions of others? Am I going to say something when I hear a boyfriend call a girlfriend a bitch in public? Am I going to chastise people for smoking in front of their kids? Am I going to tell someone off if they use a plastic bag for their shopping instead of a green bag?
No, I am not.
I think it’s important to accept that not everyone you meet or see or come across will do things you approve of. You can’t react to every single incident otherwise you’ll spend the whole day raving like a maniac. I don’t really want to carry a soapbox with me everywhere I go.
Battles must be chosen. Wisely, if possible. No one wants their visit to the supermarket ending in some kind of brawl. I just want to get my canned tomatoes and toilet paper and out of there with as little mention of butt paddling as possible.