Spanking can be a “beautiful thing!” according to the Pope. The trick is leaving a child’s dignity intact.
Many adults say they didn’t suffer long-term damage from being spanked. There are stories about being told to go “pick your switch” off a given tree, and a subsequent proclamation that it did no harm, that it built strength. I cannot say I am happy for these storytellers, because these stories are why spanking is still lauded, even romanticized.
The Pope, an individual millions of people look to for moral guidance, says it’s OK for a parent to strike a child’s backside as long as the “child’s dignity” is intact. Define child. I don’t recall touching my child’s bottom once they were past potty-training. It’s a private part. So does that mean it’s OK to hit babies and expect them to learn morality from the hit? Define dignity. Does being cowed by a ritual of a giant hand render pride or self-respect to either the child or the adult? No. It’s nothing more than reactive violence and intimidation that renders circular violence, shame, repression or defensiveness.
Sunday, when I was a girl, meant getting into a vehicle with three siblings and yelling parents to rush to St. B’s. It meant being asked to quiet my kinetic body. I did my best. But, I always had questions that distracted, my hymn book would clunk as it fell, or I’d stand on the chair to try to see the altar. Often, my father would pick me up, take me just outside the doors to the courtyard and spank me. Or, he would sit me on the concrete steps, making it known I would get was coming to me at home.
“I deserved it,” right?
No. I did not deserve to be hit. Why out of four kids, was I the one who was spanked? My mother says, with some regret, it was because I always spoke up.
I’ve always said “no.” I will continue to say NO.
The Pope’s message to my father, and millions of others, is that spanking can be a “beautiful” thing. What’s a beautiful scenario? Skirt yanked up, a man’s hand slapping frilled underwear? A 40 pound girl lying face down on a 240 pound man’s lap being repeatedly pounded with an open palm? A woman hitting a diapered girl? A woman hitting a crying boy with his pants around his knees? Man hitting boy? Does it provide more or less dignity if a reluctant parent is doing the hitting having been asked by a counterpart parent to do the spanking?
What does this teach any us about communication? Relationships? Power?
It taught me that I needed to continue to buck when being held down, to continue to say “no,” because I believed my will to control myself was stronger than my father’s will to control me. However, the intention of my father’s spankings was to elicit the opposite reaction–to create an individual who would say “yes, I’ll bend over;” I’ll shut up when threatened at home, at work, or just out in the world.
Is there an upside to have been spanked? Sure, I learned to work through pain which paid off in sports and work. I’ve run uphill with torn hamstrings. I’ve shown up for work with a surgical wound on my belly gushing blood.
Is there a down side to that? Yep. Being spanked by my father pounded other things into me; I am distrustful, angry, and fearful. At times I am intensely lonely and shrink physically and mentally into myself.
Spanking rituals sometimes stops once a child grows, but sometimes the violence morphs. I had a couple of romantic relationships based on control before I started to figure out that wasn’t “love.” One romantic relationship shifted when my boyfriend’s father broke bones in my hand when I intervened as he was swinging at his adult son. Why is that relevant? Because at first, I didn’t find this disturbing. It was what some fathers do when they can no longer spank.
The cycle needs to be broken.
Doing away with spanking requires an acceptance that some family traditions would be better left behind. For me, that means questioning not only my father, but the “Papa” of a church. I was close to returning to the religion in which I was raised when I read about the Pope’s overall sense of social justice. But, I will not be returning to that patriarchal place where a leader says it’s OK to strike my sons. I don’t believe I should turn the other cheek, because in this instance that means looking away. I think time that could be used to explore more positive approaches to parenting is being squandered trying to justify that which is not just.
Krista Genevieve Farris is raising three sons with her husband in Winchester, Virginia. Her essays, stories and poems have been published in Brain, Child, Literary Mama, The Rain, Party and Disaster Society, The Literary Bohemian, Right Hand Pointing, Cactus Heart, The Screech Owl, and elsewhere. Links to her work can be found at: https://kristagenevievefarris.wordpress.com/