For now, let's focus on those 123,599 cases. Without taking you through the math, I'll simply say that each hour, fourteen children in this country are abused physically. Fourteen kids in the time it takes you to surf Facebook and check your email. One kid every time you go pee. Two or three kids in the time it takes you to wait in line at Starbuck's for your latte. One hundred and twelve kids - that's 112 - every time you go to sleep. And again, those are just the cases that have been reported.
Physical abuse can take many forms, of course. Some kids are punched, some are kicked, some are burned with cigarettes or stabbed. I think that most rational parents - emphasizing the words most and rational - would agree that doing these types of things to kids is flat out wrong and abusive, with significant negative long and short term impacts on the abused child. That's easy for most of us to wrap our heads around, I suppose.
And yet so many parents, seemingly thoughtful and rational, continue to spank their children.
Those who do spank often rationalize their choice in one of two ways: they either cite the Bible's "spare the rod and spoil the child" clause (which really isn't IN the Bible, btw), or they speak of spanking as a behavior modification tool, designed to help children learn to obey and exhibit "positive" behaviors that the parent gets to define. Parents who rationalize their choice to spank this way are drawing a distinct line between a "simple tap" on the butt and a smack across the face or punch in the mouth.
But what a razor thin line on which to hang the well being of your child, who relies on you for comfort, love, respect, and dignity. What a razor thin line on which to hang the future of your child, their relationships and hopes and dreams.
The parents who rely on Biblical or behavior modification reasons for spanking are, in my mind, still abusing their children regardless of the relative "good intentions" behind their choice. But the parents who really scare me are the ones who abuse their kids for other, perhaps subconscious reasons. Some of them get angry at their children, perceiving normal patterns of behavior - or abnormal patterns, for that matter - as a personal affront to their sense of right and wrong, and which must therefore be severely punished. They lose control of the situation quickly, and respond to their anger by using violence directed at the child as a release. Other parents abuse in order to establish their power over the child, while still others feel a pathological need or desire to hit and belittle people. Some of these are reasons, some are raitonalizations. But all of them are abusive.
It may seem harsh to compare spanking a child to punching a child, and to lump them both in the same category. Perhaps the physical results of these two choices is different, as the spank might cause low pain and "only" temporary marks and redness, while the punch could result in extreme pain and broken bones. If you feel the need to make that distinction, I have to wonder if you ever been spanked or hit by someone that you trusted. The physical pain, no matter how severe, usually fades. But the emotional pain of being physically assaulted - for any reason - never leaves you. It molds how you feel about yourself, your confidence, your ability to trust, and so many other parts of your basic personality. As such, I believe that abuse is abuse - you either put your hand to your child, or you didn't. If you did, don't try to convince me that there is no negative lasting impact. Don't hide behind that rationalization to excuse the fact that you hit your child.
It is the sad paradox of abuse that the majority of abused people truly struggle to confront their attacker. As the abuse continues and the self-worth and confidence of the abused person whittles away, it becomes harder and harder for the abused person to stick up for themselves and extricate themselves from the situation. As sad as this is when the abused person is an adult, at least an adult ostensibly has some degree of life perspective to be able to recognize that there is a better way to live. At least an adult might have a network of people willing to help, or at least know that there are resources available to help get them to a better place physically and emotionally. At least an adult may have a job or access to money, making their ability to leave that much more realistic. At least an adult, in many circumstances, has at least a few other options.
Kids have none of these. No life perspective, so no understanding that life doesn't have to be abusive. No network or comprehension of resources, so no way out. Very little legal standing without advocacy, so no voice. In short, no options other than to stay where they are and accept it, or try to run away with whatever little resources they have.
But what if they did have a voice? What if we were able to help our kids express the way they feel when they are spanked or abused? Maybe it would sound like this:
Dear Mom and Dad -
Well, you just spanked me again. I am in pain because you did this; you hit me, and you hurt me. And I thought you should know that. You are bigger than I am, stronger than I am, and can control me physically in many ways whenever you choose. And you have chosen to do it many times. I wish I understood why, and I wish you would stop.
Whenever it happens, you always talk to me afterward and try to explain why you did it. When you explain, I am usually sobbing and crying and in pain, so you probably think that your words are not even getting through to me, that I will somehow just accept them at face value and feel better because I am too distraught to be able to pick your words apart for the meaning behind them. You are wrong. I hear and see everything. Especially the words you speak when you hit me.
You say you love me, but I do not see how that is possible. I thought that people who loved each other tried not to hurt each other? But you hurt me, so I am confused. Maybe I should hurt you to show you how much I love you.
You say that you do it to help me, but I feel unhelped and helpless. What were you trying to help me with when you hit me? Were you trying to "help" me see your point of view, come around to your way of thinking, or perform to your standards regardless of my own choices, preferences, and spirit? If so, you have failed. You have, however, helped me learn to avoid you and to do anything possible to avoid ever having you put your hands on me again. You have helped me learn not to trust you or believe you. You have helped me learn that there is fear and danger in the world, even in the souls of your own parents. Thanks for that.
You say it's for my own good, but I only feel bad. I feel bad physically because I am in pain, bad emotionally because I am hurt and angry and confused, and bad spiritually because I feel worthless. In fact, there is not a single part of me that feels good right now. But I do see how saying these words can make you feel better about your choice to hit me.
You say that it's the only way I will learn to do the right thing. I say that "right" has many different possibilities and definitions, and that mine may not correspond well with yours. I think your view of "right" and "wrong" are old world and limited, and I want to be new and expansive. Your world is black and white, so mine is black and blue . . . even though I see it as shades of gray. You want me to do things your way? Fine; pull down your pants, hand me that belt, and bend over. I'll do it just the way you did, with no thought to my actions beyond the immediate satisfaction they give me and little thought to finding a different way to parent.
You say that I will thank you for it later. No, no I will not. I will not thank you for abusing me. I will not thank you for attempting to modify my behavior to such a degree that I risked becoming an automaton. I will not thank you for ignoring my soul and my spirit. I will not thank you for not loving me enough to find a different way, and for not loving me enough to stop hitting me. And I bet that, when you get older, you will not thank me for all of the hard times I gave you because they gave you chances to learn and grow and become a better person. Do you know why? Because people who love each other and respect each other do not hide behind such ideas.
You say that it hurts you more than it hurts me. I hope it does. I hope it hurts you even half as much as it hurts me. I hope you carry around your embarrassment, your pain, your anger, your self-hatred, and your closed-minded unloving attitude with you for the rest of your life. I will not pity you for it, but I will have to decide whether or not to enjoy the fact that it hurts you as much as it does me. But you will never feel those things, because you do not care enough about what you're doing to ever take a step back and look in the mirror.
You say that you are hitting me out of love, not anger. But you look angry, you act angry, and you feel angry. Angry people hit each other and yell at each other and belittle each other. I thought that loving people somehow knew a better way. I guess I was wrong. I wonder how my own children will feel about this when I hit them out of love.
You say that violence is wrong, and yet you act violently toward me. Thank you for thinking so little of me as a person that you are willing to violate your own beliefs in order to make a point.
You say all of these things, and I simply say this: I do not believe you.
If you want the best for me, then listen to me so you can hear my ideas, dreams, visions, and goals. If you want me to change, then come to me with your questions, your patience, and your open mind. If you want me to do better, then inspire and encourage me, give me tools and ideas, and support me along the way.
But if you want want me to turn out like you, then keep hitting me. If you only knew how much you have already lost that you will never get back, and if you only knew that the majority of my life - and yours - will be spent with me as an adult, when I have the perfect amount of say over how much I let you into my life. Do not be surprised if you get nothing, since that may be exactly what you have given me.
I wish you would stop.
Last year, I wrote a post that covered a variety of things, but included this piece about parents who spank and the reason they sometimes give for doing it:
Instead of asking me to defend my decision to not spank my children, how about I ask you to defend the reason why you spank. Is spanking really the only way you can come up with to guide your children? Have you looked at other possibilities? Have you really considered what lies behind your need to have your children behave a certain way? Do you support hitting all people who behave contrary to your preference, or just the ones smaller and younger than you who have little or no standing in our justice system? How do you rationalize the difference between productive discipline and child abuse?
Hopefully, we as parents can take the time and love we need to examine all of our choices to see if they make sense and feel right. But we should also be sure to think about what our children would say if they had a voice - and then find ways to give them that voice as early as possible, listen to it, heed it, and allow them the freedom to express. And, hopefully, we will be able to live our lives in such a way that, with time, child abuse can be eradicated from our society.