I would like to preface this story with the statement that I love both my parents deeply.
In my home growing up, Mom was the disciplinarian. Dad worked graveyard shift at the post office until I was in high school, so he didn’t have a chance to interact with us that much. I mostly remember him yelling down the stairs that my sisters and I were being too loud, so it was up to Mom to modify behavior as she saw fit.
Mom came from a tough background; dirt poor Pennsylvania country folk, her father a WWII sailor soaking his traumatized memories in booze. Her mother able to express herself only through flung crockery, I’m sure Mom caught her share of beatings, but I don’t think you would know it from looking. She has always been a go-getter, often being featured in the local newspaper as “Mormon Girl” for high school baton twirling (is that still a thing?), graduated with a year and a half of advanced placement credit, packed her few belongings and hit the road for college in Utah.
But she brought some ghosts with her on her trip out from Pennsylvania. A fierce ambition, to be sure, and also a dark simmering rage. How could you not?
When Dad met and married Mom, I think he was not ready for how much anger she had to work through. You could tell whenever Mom was about to go bonkers, because she would start cleaning the house as loud as she could, then came the yelling, followed by spankings all around with a wooden spoon. Once the wave of rage subsided, we would have one of our rare Family Home Evenings, a tradition in Mormon culture where Monday nights are set aside for family stuff, though Mom’s dark times were rarely constrained by days of the week. Dad would lecture us for an hour about how we need to help more around the house or whatever, then we would go back to what we were doing before Mom St. Helens erupted. This is one reason why I never have Family Home Evenings with my family, the phrase puts my defensive countermeasures on red alert.
Up until I was about 12, that wooden spoon was the scariest disciplinary implement in Mom’s arsenal. She hated cooking, so I don’t know why we had so many heavy, like oak ladles around the house. I guess it’s a blessing she wasn’t into golf or cricket or something with weightier accoutrements.
During one particularly bad day, Mom hit me with the spoon and it broke. We both looked at the spoon, then at each other and started laughing. It was like the spoon realized that it wasn’t doing any good and sacrificed itself. That wasn’t the last rage, or the last physical punishment, but it seemed that Mom had retreated back behind the demilitarized zone. It’s not an “ABC After School Special” type deal, but these were formative years, you know? I’m sure the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that mental health professionals use has an entry for whatever is going on here, but I’m hesitant to put too much stock in that stuff. Psychologists have a hundred words for “That’s messed up.” I don’t consider myself to be abused, but I think Mom was. Is there a place between that and what unspanked people are? Scuffed? Refurbished?
Now I have two daughters of my own and, for the most part, my little girls are most excellent. Like all humans, however, behavior modification is sometimes called for. Much to my chagrin, I sometimes find a red haze descending over my vision as I clean the kitchen as loud as I can. Clearly the simmering rage has been passed down a generation, but I have chosen not to hit my kids.
First of all, I have a big heavy hand and they are little girls. Maybe the lessons from my childhood about not hitting girls was heavily ingrained, but I don’t think hitting my kids would really work, in their case. They are super sensitive people and in the younger daughter’s case, a disappointed look can reduce her to tears. Maybe I’m one of the lucky parents for whom time-outs still work (sometimes I put myself in time-out). Also, marrying a woman who is the mostly the opposite of Mom has been a recipe for happiness. Kate, my significant other, can remember being spanked once (ONCE) in her lifetime. There have been many times she’s intervened with me before an interaction with a daughter has achieved critical mass, sometimes with a comment, sometimes with just a look.
All the above may be true, but what I hope is happening is that the birthright of vision-clouding fury passed down from Mom is burning itself off, one generation at a time. Angry-cleaning is just something that happens at our house, and once the dishes are put away and the floor is mopped, I can usually wrap my mind around my life. We skip the Family Home Armistice portion of the conflict, and go back to what we were doing, all wooden spoons holstered and intact.
Is spanking becoming a less acceptable form of behavior modification? Are some kids just the kind that need a physical reminder, and others not?
PS. I totally love my Mom, and we are now pretty close. If a form requires an emergency contact other than my wife, it is still Mom. She is also the only person in my family I talk to on a regular basis, not because I am mad at the other ones, Mom is the only one who calls. I do think it helps that we live 40 or so miles away from each other.