Saturday, September 12, 2009

mommy gorilla

After reading some of the comments on my post from Thursday - and discussing the topic with my friends - it dawned on me that I should write a follow-up post clarifying a few things.

Most importantly, I don't condone hitting children.

Now, I'm not going to lie. I have doled out a spanking before - like the day that my children opened the door and let their naked baby brother out who ended up wandering far off down the street. But in my opinion, they were LUCKY that the worse thing to happen was a spanking to their bum and a bedtime at 5:00 PM.

My friend Debbie and I discussed the topic of discipline during our walk this morning. My friend's position is that a parent should never, ever strike their child. Sure, she has had many situations where she could wallop her boys, but she didn't. Because how can you teach respect to a child when you are hitting them? And once you start hitting - it becomes a very slippery slope of where the "spanking" might stop.

As much as I'd like to believe that I am a "controlled" spanker, I know that's not true. Whenever I have spanked our kids - I have done it because I was frustrated and lost control. There has only been one situation where our kids acted up and I told them that they were going to get a spanking and they needed to wait for it. And let me tell you, those 10 minutes leading up to a quick spanking were absolute TORTURE for our children. The wait was far worse than the actual spank.

When I was a child growing up, my mother had something that she called the "BLOOD SPATULA." I don't recall my mother ever hitting any of us with that spatula, but I do remember her yelling, "I'm going to get the BLOOD SPATULA!" and we would all run and hide. Whatever bad behavior we were doing - would cease as soon as mom would reach for her spatula that we envisioned would splatter our blood across the walls.

It was both the worst, and greatest, mind game of all time.

(I can just imagine my mother falling off her chair as she reads this, while thinking, "Oh No! She's telling the world about my Blooood Spatula!!!" How much do you want to bet she leaves a comment denying it's existence? And, I'll bet that my Aunt Grace leaves a comment denying the day that she broke a wooden spoon over my cousin Margaret's head. What made that situation particularly tough was that Auntie was actually aiming for Lisa.)

While I do believe that there are times when nothing gets a point across as efficiently or effectively as a swat on the behind, I'm never happy about it. Especially when I read parenting blogs that rave, "We don't hit people that we love and respect."

Oh. Well Then.

I must not love and respect my children.

In hindsight (no pun intended), with the one "controlled" exception noted above, the only time I've ever spanked our kids is when I have lost my patience. Likewise, the only time I've ever screamed at them is when I've lost my patience. When I reach a certain level of frustration, I resort to this crazy primitive beast, that pounds on their chest. But you know what? I think it's NORMAL that I act that way when I'm provoked.

Consider this: Humans are highly evolved animals. And when I think of animals in the wild, I think of lions and tigers and bears. Animals that have been known to not only bite their young, but eat them whole.

Why do you think that is?

When I wrote about losing my patience a few years ago, I was criticized harshly. "Shame on you for not having the same control you require of your children."

That's an excellent point.

Because in reality, when I am feeling calm - and controlled - I am much better able to handle children that act up. But I'm not always in control because I'm not perfect. I admit it. But I also try my best to improve it, every day.

Being a good parent is such tough work.

It takes patience - control - consistency and stamina.

Regarding Rebecca at the pool (and the boy at the beach), the parent should have removed the child at the EXACT moment they started acting up. I am convinced that if the parents had swung in to action fast to stem the outburst, the kids never would have been so out-of-control and violent.

Soo, the primary point I was trying to make in my post on Thursday is that a parent needs to establish themself as the alpha leader in a family. A parent, NOT a child, is the one who runs the show. That doesn't mean that you need to HIT them, or SCREAM at them.

It means that you need to be in control.


Every so often, I go a little overboard with the drama, in an effort to show the children that there is a very fine line between gentle mom and the CRAZY mom that emerges if they push me too far. If they are fighting over toys, I might pick up all the toys and put them in a trash bag and toss them in the garage for a week. I've been known to leave an event, immediately after we've arrived because children are misbehaving. I frequently do time outs until they calm down and apologize for their poor behavior. And for what it's worth, I do time outs for me, too.

And well - there are those times I pound on my chest and yell.

Because regardless of what any one might think, I think it's good that my kids are just a little bit afraid of me.


  1. I was spanked as a child. It was only a few times, but it was enough to make me think about things before I acted on them. I see other people my age and younger (I'm 23) that I think should have been spanked as a child -- and hugged more for that matter.

  2. My sister had a good way of gauging her spankings: you spank them once, it's for them. You spank them twice, it's for you.

    She never ever spanked her kids twice. I will tell you, they are both adults now and are wonderfully well adjusted, don't hit people, do well in school and are wonderfully functioning members of society.

    People will always be quick to tell you how to raise your kids. I think your children are great and that you're doing a good job and yes, it pays to have your children a little bit afraid of you.

    I also agree that REbecca and the other kids needed to be removed immediately - this "consequence" thing is clearly not working.

  3. I'd like to point out that it seems to me one of the biggest mistakes made by the psychiatrist- or was it psychologist- at the pool was using the notion of "one consequence, two consequences" what the heck was that all about? He really needs to find some new "consequences" as his daughter obviously doesn't care about them. I don't agree that the family should automatically have to pick up and leave because of one misbehaving child. I guarantee you that either one of mine would have shaped up if I had, for example, told them they'd be sitting out of the pool unless they stopped misbehaving.

    I don't believe in spanking either. I have spanked probably 3 times and my children are almost 4 and I will never do it again. The last time I did was so long ago (roughly age 2) that I don't think she'll have any memory of it). I totally agree w/ you re: the slippery slope-where does spanking end? How do you tell them not to hit if they are hit? Maybe I'm just lucky or my backround in child development has helped but my chidlren are very well behaved and the thought of spanking them crushes me, and I regret that I ever did. GOOD parenting is difficult (I have a friend who says being a SAHM is the easiest job in the world but also freely admits that she ignores her kids-how sad). I'm the first to admit my parenting mistakes (sometimes even to my kids when I feel it would be helpful or necessary to the situation and I think I see the result being that they already appreciate that I'm human and their self-esteem stays in tact because they're not the only ones that make mistakes-we talk about this a lot. They are quick to say sorry and quick to forgive.
    I read your blog quite a bit Jen. I think you must be a wonderful person and mother.So having said all that, I hope you will not feel too badly if I add my thoughts on spanking or punishing your older children for "letting Henry out the door and down the street." To me, this implies that you let your 4 year-old children be in charge of him. Right? If they were punished for said action then they must've been in charge when it happened. Maybe not outwardly but who was in charge of them? I'm sure your response to them was out of the fear of what might have happened to him...but it doesn't seem fair. You seem like such a bright person and I just hated to see you justify spanking in that one instance ("they're lucky all they got was a spanking and 5:00 bedtime." Really?) I do a fair amount of self-analysis as a parent and sometimes it's hard to admit our parenting mistakes to ourselves, let alone our children, but can you imagine what a relief it would be to them to be unburdened of the responsibilty/blame for something that happned while they were supposed to be looking after their baby brother?

    Now I realize that you did not explain the entire story..but based on the information you did give...I concluded the above. Please forgive me if somehow I have it all wrong, but to me it adds up to "they were in charge, therefore, they were punished."

    I totally understand if you choose not to publish this.

  4. Anon: I actually posted a link w/in this post to the story about Henry walking down the street naked.

    But in a nutshell, the kids lost their balloons over the fence. I told them that they could not go outside to get them. Seeing as the game that they were playing involved throwing balloons OVER the fence and well, I'd had enough.

    I was in another part of our tiny house (I mention 'tiny' because I don't want you to think I was upstairs, or downstairs or in another wing) throwing in a load of laundry and the kids OPENED THE DEADBOLT on our front door, and then, they pushed over a chair and opened the SAFETY latch that is six feet up. They got outside on their own volition. Once they fetched their balloons, they came back in to the house and closed the door. But what they didn't tell me was that their baby brother had gone outside and was walking down the street naked.

    I didn't put the children in charge of the baby. They are only four years old and I would NEVER expect that they would watch Henry for me. But I do expect that when I tell them to STAY INSIDE THE HOUSE, and not go traipsing out in to the ROAD on our busy corner, they will listen.

    If they don't, there are SERIOUS consequences. So considering they put their own lives in danger - and the life of their baby brother - I'd say they got off pretty easily.

    Hope this clears things up and restores your faith that I'm not an absolute idiot.

  5. Jen, I just re-read your original post about the day Henry got out. I did not notice the link the first time around. I see what the situation was now. I still say that even though she misbehaved by opening the door and I'd probably have punished her too...the responsibility of the little one's safety-all of their safety, naturally-is the adult's, and that, as you know, is why it's such a hard job. Take it from me, I question myself all the time. I'm sure your heart was about busting out of your chest and I'm just glad he was safe.

  6. Goodness, I love your blog! I appreciate how real and honest you are. I think you are doing a great job with your kids, and I love the idea of time out for the parents. Thanks for all you do!

  7. I work at the mall. Everyday I see teenagers who were not taught how to behave. I am constantly amazed at how barbaric, immature, and out of control these kids are. But I can't blame them entirely. Sure, they should have some common sense, but their parents should have taught them how to behave properly in the first place.

    I was spanked as a child - but probably only a dozen times between the ages of 2 or 3 and 12 years old. Each time, I was slapped on the bare behind less than 5 times.

    Sometimes spanking is the only thing that works. Sometimes it never works. Every child is different. All I know is that parents need to learn to be parents and not friends or therapists.

  8. I wonder if the 'blood spatula' is related to "MR Spatula" and "Mr Spoon" who lived in my mom's kitchen. they chased us but never actually made contact when I was little.. very scary back then. and when they went after younger sib's - it was funny to watch as a teen. (they must have been blind!)
    Barb in phx

  9. Spot on Jen. I too am aiming for my child to be a little afraid of me too! I have a friend with a 16 year old son who has no fear of his mother and consequently - no respect. This boy now swears at and hits his mum and the relationship is at the point of completely breaking down. My friend (a single parent) is convinced this is because she tried to be his "friend" over the years, rather than in control. I really am trying to learn from this.

  10. I totally support spanking as a disipline option. It should only be used as a last resort to get the attention of the offender. I refuse to feel guilty about doing my job - if a kid deserves a spanking, then why should I feel guilty? I've seen many examples of the non-spank philosophy and it is just plain irresponsible- case in point: I watched a parent negotiate with their child, while the child was laying in the middle of the entrance lane to the grocery store parking lot. The 4 year old girl did not want to go into the store and just layed down in the street. The mommy and grandma was squatted over her and talked to her until she finally decided to get up and go in. Cars were lined up trying to get in and out of the parking lot, all because of this spoiled brat - not my kids, not ever. They know better because boundaries were set at an early age that they dared not cross. They are now staight "A" students in 5th and 9th grade, very social, play sports, community involved, and very caring. It all starts with teaching there is an ultimate authority at an early age. That girl at the pool, perhaps the parents need some discipline. I saw where a 7 year old was sued because he accidently knocked over an adult skiier - and the 7 year old was not at fault, but the adult won $65,000. Maybe you could have threatened to call the police for his child's criminal act of stealing your daughter's goggles. Then tell him that this is "One Consquence." Chances are he would have taken his little bundle of joy and left immediately - which would have been good for the entire pool.

  11. My mom was always a "creative" punisher, a "let the punishment fit the crime" sort of mom. I used to throw these tantrums as a child where I would stomp my feet and one day Mom just got tired of it and I wasn't allowed to walk for an entire day. Yes that's right. NO WALKING. I had to scoot around on my bottom for a whole day. I am still punished for those fits at every family dinner where my siblings and mom regale newcomers with that story. I also remember the first (and last) time my little sister ever bit me. I told Mom and Mom scooped her up and bit her back. NONE of us EVER bit anyone... EVER. Do I think I was abused. NO.

    We're all human. We're all outstanding examples of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. And anyone who denies having an inner momma gorilla is in for a very rude awakening one of these days. *laughs*

  12. I never spanked my kids when they were little toddlers and didn't know any better. Now that they are big, sassy, belligerent children, who know better, they have had their fair share of swats.

    And I have never once spanked anyone when I was calm. That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. "Never spank in anger." If you weren't angry, why would you spank them? Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

    You wait until your daughter flips her hair, rolls her eyes, and says, "WHAT-EVER." to you when you tell her to do something. I guarantee you, Amanda will never do that to me again. WHACK.

    Where's your mother's blood spatula? I think I need that one. LMAO.

    We overthink all this stuff to death.

  13. I think spanking is good in moderation. When children have no fear they do as they will.

  14. At some point a child needs to learn "you mess with the bull you get the horns". How many adults do you know that never learned that lesson and whine, complain, and walk all over everyone they come across because all their whims and wants have always allowed.

    I'm not talking so much about corporal punishment here (as we've used that very infrequently... not really b/c of any philosophical aversion... just not our style) but I agree the "letting the CRAZY out a little". I'm not talking about yelling here b/c it doesn't always involve yelling but my son knows when I get "that" tone, I am really and truly on the verge of losing it and he gets in line. There's a little fear in the eye. Fear is a good thing sometimes.

    I have a very close friend who has never really asserted herself as the Alpha and I can tell you her 4 year old is turning into a mean tyrant. He does mean things and laughs about them. It's fine to be all peaches and cream 90% of the time but there has to be a point where they know if they cross another line, hell to pay. This child is not a child that has a naturally naughty personality or anything... he's just learned he can get away with murder.

    One method I love from supernanny is how she does time out. The little girl in the pool is the perfect example. Tell her "I will count to three and then time-out" she doesn't listen you pull her out of the pool and sit her in a chair and if she gets out you return her to the chair as many times as it takes. Even if its hundreds. They will give in eventually and then you have established a line that cannot be crossed. We've used this with our son and now we rarely even have to use timeout... I get to 2 and then the "crazy" mommy voice comes out "I better not get to 3 or you are going STRAIGHT to timeout mister and sitting there for a LONG time!" He runs to do as he's told.

  15. Long time reader, first time responder but I just have to comment! As parents, we ALL are doing what we think is best out of LOVE for our children. So who are we to criticize each other for our "methods?" I was a child who was extremely sensitive and could be controlled by "looks" and slight raising of the voice. I never needed spankings. But I have 3 children under 4 and I spank my older 2. I do not hit. And I do my utmost to NEVER spank in anger. If I am angry, I will not allow myself to spank. I have to be in control before I can attempt to bring my children under control. If I am angry with them, I place them in "time out" until I can pray and discipline them in love. And then I apologize to them prior to disciplining them and let them know it was wrong of me to get frustrated and angry. Spanking is not discipline if done in frustration or anger. I'm sure every one of us moms could admit to being frustrated or angry in our discipline at times (whether the raising of the voice or using harsh grasps or leaving in time out for too long, or spanking too many times, etc) but can any of us admit that it was effective when we did so? NO! Our children will not respond to spankings, time outs, or "reasoning" if WE are not calm and consistent with them. It saddens me that people assume that parents who spank are these physically-abusing, violent, hitting parents. It's not the truth. I do save spankings for direct defiance and try other means for less serious offenses (i.e. behavioral or not sharing, etc)but to say that spankings are ALWAYS wrong or to say that reasoning with your child is ALWAYS wrong is audacious. We have to cut each other some slack and encourage one another...spur each other on. I think you're right on, Jen. Really enjoy your blog. I can't even believe that people would write in telling you they think you handled things wrongly in certain prideful and arrogant! Not ONE of us is doing a perfect job! We ALL are going to raise children that are flawed and by God's grace alone, they will grow to love Him and be responsible, self-controlled adults FULL of grace- as it was shown to them, and full of love for mankind.

  16. Great Blogspot with lots of great family photos . They are really great kids and Henry is so sweeet :)
    Greetings from Turkey .

  17. I think there is no harm in having your children slightly fear you. My father rarely slapped us, all he had to do was call our names a certain way and it would stop us in our tracks. He was firm but fair. We all grew up to have a huge amount of respect for him. Kids need to learn from an early age who is in charge. My kids know their boundaries, well, my 23mth old is just learning at the moment. Personally I think there is no need to slap a child as there is other forms of punishment. Thats not saying I have never done it but I don't think its neccessary. Thanks for your honesty Jen, great post.

  18. I had to laugh at the "Blood Spoon" because my ex-mother-in-law raised her 3 kids with the "Spanking Spoon!" It was a wonderful wooden spoon that I'm sure served its purpose and still "strikes" fear in all of her adult children at the mere mention of it. I have 3 well-adjusted, successful and loving kids, ages 23, 20 and 12. All have had their bums swatted by me at one time or another until they were old enough to know better -about 6 yrs old. Sadly, I've witnessed that it seems it's the over-stressed, H.A.T. (hungry, angry, tired) folks that smack kids WRONGLY in the face, pull their pants down in public etc. humiliating and hurting the poor child. I agree with Patti's opening comment as well.

  19. I'm quite certain I'd be spanking a whole lot more than you if I had 4 children 4 and under. You're doing the best you can...and you're doing great!

  20. Although, I, too, have spanked my child out of anger, I have also spanked him many times while I was in control. I always make sure my toddler knows exactly what he needs to (or not to) do, and then I tell him how many swats he will get if he disobeys, or does not obey right away. This is a good way to make sure I'm in control - if I tell him 3 swats, and angrily give him 4, that is obviously wrong, as is yelling at my child. But I have calmly given many a spanking, and though his tears break my heart, he is slowly but surely learning his lesson about obedience. That being said, in my comment on the last post I failed to mention that in this day and age I would NEVER EVER spank my child in public (possibly in an individual public restroom, but not in a setting where anyone else could see) - I am too afraid that even a swat on the hand or bottom could be misconstrued as abuse. And I see what you were originally meaning about removing the child from the situation immediately.

  21. Now let me see....I was the originator of the STEEL SPATULAR with the holes for the blood to come out, not your Mother,she was always taking stuff from me. I told my cute little red head that if I had to use it I would really get mad because it would ruin his clothes when all that blood spattered. I strongly believe in "a little fear" my adult children are still just a wee bit afraid of me, and really I did not hit at all. Now my Mother, your Nana used to flip a cup of warm tea at the offender, usually your Mother, that really did the trick. When we were children, we NEVER EVER FOUGHT, and look at us today. I bet you don't even remember thoes little wacks I used to give you. Remember Uncle Bill called them my Love taps. But YOU should NEVER EVER hit thoes adorable children,

  22. haha, all these people saying not to spank their kids...psh.

    I spank mine. Well, I spank the youngest, worst behaved one anyway. The others were just ANGELS compared to her. Ah well.

    I got to choose what I was spanked with, and really, the wait was MUCH worse than the actual spanking. I too, like to assert a little fear in my kids. I recently told my 12 year old, 5 foot 6 kid that even IF he EVER is taller than me, I'm still crazy and I can still beat him up if I had to. He said to me, "you're crazy mom." I said to him..."But are you ever going to do anything that you know isn't right?!" He replied, "nope!"

    And you know what?! I believe him. Why? Cause that was ME growing up. My dad said, "I know everything...and everything I DON'T know, I can GET IT OUT OF someone and you'll NEVER know when I'm watching, or having someone watch you..." F*&^# getting into trouble, I wanted to live to see 18.

    We live in a town inaccessible by anything but air, or boat. The entire village is 1 mile by 2 miles long...on a tiny peninsula surrounded by water. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone knows everyone's kids business. And I love it! (It makes for some good blogs too!)

    So, what I got spanked. And I spank my kids. Today...I'm a happy healthy adult. Who has happy, healthy, smart, respectful kids...who rarely do anything wrong.

    My name is Maija...and I spanked my kids. Amen.

    PS I still love you Aunt Grace, whoever you are!