I don’t think my own mother ever had this conversation with me. Certainly not while I was 8 going on 9 years old, just like Amanda. So to my utter surprise (and we parents get surprised often enough, thank you very much) this morning at breakfast, Amanda asked me, “Is it TRUE that parents are not allowed to smack their children?”
I hhhmmm-ed and haww-ed a good couple of minutes, trying to recall the most current piece of information I’d read on the topic of smacking, then when it seemed I could put off answering her no longer, said, “You’re not allowed to hit your children in anger but parents definitely have the right to discipline their children.”
If not, how could we, as parents, be accountable to society for our children’s behaviour?
I know that didn’t answer her question because she then said, “My friends say that parents are NOT allowed to smack their children. So how did grandma belt your sisters?”
This was a tough one. “How or why?” I asked.
“You have to understand a few things, Amanda. Smacking is perfectly acceptable in Asia. When I was growing up, it was normal for parents to slap, smack, whack, cane or even belt a child if he or she misbehaved. Grandma may have been heavy-handed with the belt, but she did so because she cared for my sisters.”
“To use undue force.” And this, I suppose, goes to the heart of the push to make smacking illegal in Australia.
But what is the right amount of force to get your point across? Some, little, or none? This brings to mind the speech a total stranger gave during my baby shower, a few months before Amanda was born. Since I had very few friends in Melbourne at the time, my host, HRH’s childhood friend’s wife, invited a couple of ladies from her church’s “cell-group”.
I distinctly remember this stranger saying, “I’ve always believed that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. I had the one cane which I used to whack my daughter if she misbehaved. After a while, I only had to show her the cane for her to remedy her behaviour. I always told her after I’d whacked her, that it hurt me more to have to do it, then for her to have been whacked.”
Curious to know the long-term effects of this method of discipline, I also remember asking her what became of her daughter. Did the girl turn out well? Does she still listen to her mother now that she’s grown and there is no threat of a caning?
“My daughter’s a neurosurgeon,” said the stranger. “We’re still very close.”
“So did grandma ever hit you?” asked Amanda, returning me to the present.
“Grandma slapped me, once.” Using her knuckles, she rapped me on my forehead a couple of times.
“Because I’d forgotten to bring home my swimsuit after changing out of it.”
I was Amanda’s age. I’d taken it off, put on my dry clothes and just walked off. That swimsuit had red and white stripes with a blue flower on the front; it was from Marks and Spencer and had been passed down from my eldest sister to my second sister to me. I guess it counted as a family heirloom. I never had another as good as it again. For the most part of my childhood, that slap cured me of forgetfulness.
Research may say smacking can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression, antisocial behaviour and substance abuse, but I can tell you that I have experienced or engaged in none of the above. People who know me personally can vouch that it hasn’t lowered my self-esteem or IQ in any way. Neither has it turned my sisters into social or mental retards.
Even HRH received many a hiding from his grandma and as you will know from reading my countless posts on him, he’s turned out just fine. He’s never been depressed, aggressive, antisocial or abused substances. He doesn’t even smoke. As for IQ and self-esteem, you’ve got to be kidding if you have to ask the question. Mind you, our caregivers didn’t just whack us for the sake of whacking us. They whacked us only when we were in the wrong and they made sure we understood what we were being punished for.
When I was growing up, not only did parents physically discipline their children, other adults – grandparents, uncles, aunts – also felt obliged to if they had care of the children. At the very least, they told us off. After all, you’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Now we have to suffer the behaviour of little tyrants who run amok or twist our arms if they don’t get their ways. Today I read of a teenager who stabbed her mother 79 times because she didn’t get her way. Would she have turned out this way if her parents had given her a couple of smacks? One report says her mother spoilt her.
“But I’ve never whacked you, have I?” I asked Amanda.
I have smacked her bottom with my hand for repeatedly drifting off into fantasy land in the middle of class. She said the experience was “humiliating.” I told her the definition of humiliation is being bested by people whose abilities are much less than yours.
After that episode, I resorted to withdrawing privileges instead of using my hand: where before she had access to the computer all week long, she can now only use it for 2 hours on the weekends. Violation of this rule or failure to hand homework in on time to her teacher will result in further cuts, cancellation of play dates and – she’s most afraid of this – permanent relocation to Perth. For now we’ll be here for another year. Given a choice between this and a smack, Amanda would gladly take a smack.