I don’t talk about the pains of my childhood very often and I most especially don’t talk about anything negative related to the way I grew up, publicly, but this rash of news regarding children getting ‘switched’ has actually triggered quite a few traumatizing memories for me and I have decided that I’m going to talk about it.
First off, my grandmother is my greatest hero… in spite of the stories I’m going to share. I love her to death and I think that she was an amazing woman. And it is not my wish to share this story so that anyone will think any less of her. Rather, I want to illustrate that times have changed and science has changed and we have learned so much more about children and discipline and we need to stop it with the corporal punishment.
Anyway, the switch. In the recent years, I remember having ‘fond’ conversations with a few of my cousins. “Hey! You remember when granny used to make us go and pick our switches?” “Yeah. HAHA. I always picked the bigger ones because the smaller ones would tear the shit out of your legs.” “Me too! I think you’re the one that taught me that actually!” We were so smart. Unfortunately, it took us learning the hard way many many times before we learned exactly how to pick our switches. You get a switch that’s too small and it hurts for a long time. You get a switch that’s too large, and it hurts for a long time. So you really have to know the size of switch to pick to minimize the pain to just the rest of the day and not full into the week.
Picking the switch is part of the whole psychology of this form of discipline– unless the parent is extra cray and just runs outside and grabs a branch from a tree. Usually, the child gets to pick his/her switch. And we almost always did. I would also sometimes take EXTRA LONG to pick my switch to put off the inevitable whoopin’ that would come afterward.
The minute I heard “Go Pick Your Switch NOW” I would immediately go into this terrified space. My stomach would get sick and I would get sweaty. Knowing I’m going to have lots and lots of pain coming very shortly is such an awful and belittling feeling. So the whole time I was out searching for the perfect switch, as a child, I was shaking and weak. I was weak in the knees. I was wondering if there’s any sort of lie that I can tell that would get me out of the whoopin’. Spoiler alert: there never was a good lie I could tell, and I would usually get switched more for attempting it. But a little child with no sense of logic and only an understanding of body, I really didn’t know any better… I just want the pain to stop.
I’d promise anything for the pain to stop. I’d promise to never misbehave again. I’d promise always to listen. I’d promise never to steal. I’d promise to always go to bed on time. I’d promise to always come inside from playing on time. I’d promise never to push my brother again. I’d promise never tell on anyone again because tattle tales are not cool. I’d promise to always do my chores.
And of course, these promises lasted for as long as the pain did, because I was a child and my long-term memory didn’t work the way adults like to think it work. Because the next day, I’d be playing outside and having so much fun that when the sun went down… well, I didn’t WANT to come inside. I wanted to keep playing. And the cycle continued.
The switch would mostly go on my butt. Usually I was clothed. But the worst part about switches is that it would wrap around my butt and lash my thighs, or my belly, or the front of my legs. That’s why we started getting switches that weren’t like little cattail whips in the front. We’d have welts bigger than quarters on our bodies that stung for hours and hours.
And we’re always not supposed to cry. We’d get whipped more for crying. Even as an adult who understands how people get into the cycle of abuse, I do not understand why a small child whose nerves are getting triggered beyond the pleasure threshold should not cry if it hurts. It DOES hurt – and crying is an important defense mechanism to allow the stress built up (emotional) to dissipate (http://scienceline.org/2006/10/ask-driscoll-tears/). This, in turn, allows us to relieve ourselves, somewhat, of the pain that’s occurring. I mean, I suppose, then, if the person who is administering the punishment didn’t want the child to relieve himself of the pain in any way then they would require the child continue to bottle it up, but, I suspect that’s not why parents tell the kids to stop crying. I suspect, in many cases, the tears trigger the natural loving instinct of the parent and it makes it hard to administer the spanking if they are being triggered in that way.
Regardless, as an adult, I’ve really thought long and hard about this. I still stay out too late. I still don’t go to bed on time. I don’t talk to my brother at all (the one that I was supposed to get along with when I was getting switched as a child) and I eat what I want when I want. I do chores when I want. My point is, the switches didn’t seem to have any effect on making me an adult who would follow all of the rules and make sure that I am some sort of perfect human being. I am an effective and successful adult in spite of my switches. I have chosen to succeed, all on my own.
What DID happen, though, is that I became 100% intolerant to abuse in any form. And that’s why I am an advocate FOR children and always will be. It hurts me to hear parents verbally abuse their children or to hear or see spankings or to listen to parents manipulate their children with things like “If you don’t do what i say, then you can’t have your friend over tonight” or “you will not get dinner if you don’t do what I say.” It’s frightening that we, as parents, still resort to this type of manipulation and control for our children.
Listen, I know that we’re doing the best we can as humans. I know in most cases, we are reenacting what we’ve been taught – and we’re tired and lonely and life never seems to give us what we want when we want it. And you know what, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be all right. If your child is making too much noise and it’s bothering your head, you’ll be okay. If your child is not listening and you feel like people will judge you and think your kid is out of control and you’re not being a parent, screw those people! Parents who discipline their children with force: You can do differently. You can do better. You’re allowed to and it’s completely okay. It doesn’t matter if people judge you for having unruly children, because you will feel better about yourself that they are no longer being hit or hurt. You’ll feel better about yourself because you are starting to learn to trust your children more and they, in turn, will return that trust and your relationship together will begin to thrive as they will start to see that you’re not going to hurt them anymore.
You can do it. I know you can. Just put the switch down, say you’re sorry, ask for a few minutes alone, and grab a cup of decaf tea and relax. Show your child you love them through gentle action and they will show you they love you through gentle action. Build the trust together now. It will save your relationship.
Image of the Giving Tree illustrated by Schel Silverstein, found here: http://katie-randomnest.blogspot.com/2012/11/stump.html