I’ve never hit my children, not even spanked them. Now that both my girls are on the brink of escaping childhood, it seems I’ve missed my chance and, at the same time, failed to prepare them for today’s world.
My kids look with horror and a lack of comprehension when a postal worker is hauled off by four plain-clothed police officers, as protesters are sucker punched at political rallies, at children shooting children over playing with a puppy, among many, many recent incidents. Clearly, I didn’t teach them enough about violence.
I thought I was doing the right thing. When they were tiny, the nearly monarchical power of parenthood felt like a dangerous intoxicant best left untouched. I knew the temptation in anger and frustration of grabbing an arm or smacking a tush. Oh, the time and words I could have saved if I’d just picked them up and carried them off under my arm, enforcing my will without all those parenting-book phrases about warnings, consequences, and time-outs.
A few well-timed slaps, a little confinement now and then, perhaps even a belt hanging prominently somewhere would have taught my daughters that the easiest way to solve a frustrating situation is with a promise of violence; that discussion and negotiation are not the tools of today when threats and the raw exercise of power will do.
Violence, or even the suggestion of force, seemed a sign of weakness, an inability to work a problem out or handle the many emotions that flood each day raising children, whether toddlers or teens. Even now, when I’m angry, my first impulse might be to punish and exact retribution from my kids — through the power of the purse, grounding them, or denying an opportunity or experience — I try to take a deep breath and think through the situation, cornering the offending daughter for an uncomfortable and tense powwow to work out the issue.
To be clear, I’ve never been a perfect parent, occasionally succumbing to the easy satisfaction of giving in to my darker emotions. I guiltily remember, for example, an intense frustration with my younger daughter in the claustrophobic confines of the car, when I turned around and screamed at her, in a voice and volume that demanded her attention, bringing tears to her eyes and a look of panic to her sister’s face.
I’ve managed, in these unfortunate situations, within minutes or hours to collect myself and apologize, saying what I did was bad, inappropriate, and crossed a line. Clearly, the wrong message to give my girls, since I never hear an apology from a politician, a police officer, or a gun owner over the violence they have called for, perpetrated, or justified regardless of the consequences.
I thought the right thing to do was teach my children about fairness and justice, solving problems without brute force and to condemn the violent exercise of power. I was wrong, leaving my girls to face a world without the necessary skills.
Oh, if only I’d smacked them, just once.