Yes, you read that right.
I am a Black, African-American woman, and I do NOT spank my children.
Now before you discount me as one of those Black people, let me be clear. I’m hambone-in-my-cabbage-Black. I’m hair-washed-in-the-sink-Black. I’m hot-combs-and-black-magic-Black. I’m Wednesday-Night-Bible-study-Friday-Night-Youth-group-Saturday-Morning-Choir-rehearsal-Sunday-school-Sunday-service-Sunday-evening-service-Black. I am proud of my heritage and my culture.
And I don’t spank my kids.
I don’t necessarily believe that spanking is automatically abuse, and there was a time when I thought pulling out the belt was not only my right as a parent, but also my responsibility as a good Christian woman. There was a time when it was my first line of discipline and I didn’t feel bad about it.
But, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, when you know better, you do better.
I know better now.
Recently, I saw a video on Facebook that showed a young boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old, being held by 4 or 5 grown men, while he cried, screamed, kicked and more trying to avoid getting his hair cut at the barber shop. The woman who appeared to be his mother, video taped the ordeal. As disturbed as I was about the process, I was more offended by the comments on the video. Everything ranging from how he should have been “beat” to his deserving to be “choked out”.
Seriously? He’s 6.
As a family coach, I work with children who have aggressive, defiant or disrespectful behaviors. I help parents make sure that their children get the educational supports they are entitled to and show them how to support and encourage appropriate behaviors at home.
Spanking is never necessary to achieve the desired results.
I also work with families on both side of the child welfare system. The parents and children working to repair relationships when abuse or neglect has separated them and with foster parents who are desperately trying to fill the void for kids who may never get to go home. When I tell them that spanking is not allowed, and give my list of alternatives, many of them ask me, seeing me as the quintessential Black mother, if I spank my children. I tell them what I already told you.
Yes, I’m Black and no I don’t spank my kids.
Then I tell them why.
There are lots of good reasons to not spank. Namely that it’s never been proven to be effective at decreasing “negative” behaviors. But, since most parents think it works for their kids, I also tell them that over the years, I’ve found many effective alternatives that don’t require me to put my hands on my kids. I tell them how I now know that some kids are more negatively effected by physical discipline than others. I tell them that I want my children to feel comfortable controlling their bodies and that I don’t want them thinking that adults can do things to them that hurt. I also tell them that modeling violence should never be a first choice.
Occasionally, I tell them that the research on spanking has shown lasting results that can range from increased rates of incarceration to decreased brain development. I also know that many times, the behaviors for which children are being spanked, may actually be developmentally appropriate. And even times when they are not, they are a signal of a need that we can address with other tools. Because of my experience working with children who have suffered abuse, I also tell parents it’s much easier than you might think for the “rod of correction” to take a turn for the worse, and it’s just not worth it.
I don’t always tell them that I also have rejected the historical context of spanking as it relates to African American culture, since I believe it to be a remnant of the twisted way scripture was used to mentally control slaves and their offspring. But that’s another good reason.
I get met with lots of responses.
- “I got spanked, there’s nothing wrong with me.”
- “Time-outs are for White people”
- “I will not raise weak kids”
- “The Bible says, spare the rod and spoil the child”
I get it. If it was good enough for momma, the first thought is that it’s good for you too. But are you living momma’s life? There are likely things that you’ve chosen to do differently. You don’t deny your children an IPhone because you didn’t have it. You don’t make your kids wash everything by hand because you didn’t have a dishwasher growing up. As your life has changed, you’ve made adjustments that make sense with the life you’re living now. In the past, there have been many reasons why parents needed to elicit immediate compliance from their children. If I’m trying to keep my child from being hung from the nearest tree, desperate times may call for desperate measures. If I’m disrespected in my community, I may be more sensitive to what feels like disrespect at home. If spanking is the only thing I know, I don’t have other options. Our parents and grandparents, may not have had many choices, but you do have a choice.
The biggest reason I choose not to spank, is because I want to have emotionally intelligent children. I want them to understand emotions, know how to tolerate them and change them when they choose to. I want my children to feel empowered to make thoughtful decisions and not think that they should deny feelings that they have. It’s unnatural to believe that someone who hits me, also loves me. For me, I couldn’t explain the hypocrisy of don’t let people at school hit you and then justify hitting them myself. I didn’t want my four daughters thinking that any man, not even their father, had the right to cause them pain.
I know mental health is not something that many in my community want to talk about, but contrary to popular opinion, mental health is not a White thing. There are more people of color suffering in silence through mental health crises because they have been taught that pain is necessary, asking for help is weak and feelings don’t matter.
While spanking may not directly cause all of these things, the concept that punishment is the best way to teach is a fallacy. Children can and do learn from appropriate discipline that doesn’t have to hurt. There are many things that spanking does teach and I personally don’t believe that the risks outweigh the rewards.
For the record, spanking is not a part of my heritage or the Black culture which I know and love. I can choose to love my Blackness and reject what doesn’t work for me. I am not weak or trying to be my children’s friend by choosing to not hit them when they make mistakes or even bad choices. I’d love to see a few more within my community talking about how destructive spanking can be. Not just the physical wounds or bruises but the emotional ones as well.