Parent Confessional. Hitting.

I'm going to confess something that parents never ever confess.
I'm ashamed of it and also proud of how I/we dealt with it.

So how do I say it:

I swatted Junia on the bottom.
I spanked her.
I hit her.

In a lot of circles we live in spanking, hitting, using physical force, losing control, having rage- are totally taboo.  We parents, in my slice of life (upwardly mobile, well educated, white middle class,) do NOT hit our kids.  And moreover we do NOT TALK about hitting our kids.  This was no CPS hit or anything but it was a power play.  Me using my size and power to put my child "in her place."

So how did I get there.  Very briefly there we were after 5 meltdowns in 45 minutes waiting in the ferry terminal for a boat.   I was about to miss a ferry and she was dawdling.  Seriously taking her sweet old time in the potty.  I was on the edge from the earlier meltdowns, the slow slow wiping and then when she washed her hands I helped her- and of course as any good three year old does she ended by screaming at me for getting her soap.

So in my stressed out, "oh my God I am going to miss a boat," way I swatted her bottom 2 times while she washed her hands.  It did not physically hurt her (at all). But it scared her.  It was a power play based on her size and my size.

When I finally hauled her out of the bathroom Sean was there.  I was done.
I handed the children over and raced off to my boat.  (Then  I realized the boat wasn't going where I thought it was.  So I was back with them waiting.)

And then, the flood of shame.
I felt like I had spent the morning looking at porn or something. I felt so wrong and dirty.
I had crossed the line. The taboo. The ultimate. The thing we don't talk about.

I knew I couldn't leave it there.
So I wen to J who at this time was fine and told her I was sorry.
"J, I'm sorry that my anger at you was so strong. I shouldn't have hurt you the way I did."
"Mama, that wasn't nice."
"You are right. You deserve to be treated better than that.  I should not have touched you that way.  Maybe next time when I need you to hurry you could try to hurry and I can try to be a good waiter."
"Yeah. That's a good idea."

and then, like that it was over for her.

A couple minutes later I was buckling her in the car and I told her, "J I am sorry I didn't respect your body. I am always telling you to respect M's body and sometimes even Mama forgets to respect yours. I am so sorry."

"It's okay Mama."

Seriously it was totally over for her.

I didn't tell Sean what had happened until 12 hours or so later.
I was too ashamed.
And, since he lives in the same cultural place I do- where hitting is taboo- I knew he would react.
We talked about it. I cried.
We talked to J about it.
And she was totally uninterested in it.
(seriously people discuss something interesting like birthdays or beaches or crackers)

And here's what I learned.

1. I did not hurt her.  I think we have this myth that a spank in anger is worse than a scream.  If I had yelled, "you are a piece of shit" at her I would have hurt her much more.  She does now have to sort out if she is still a valuable person or lovable or anything like that.

2. Apologies matter.   I really do believe that she needs to see me as imperfect and pliable.  I was that for her.  And she knows that people can screw up, be forgiven, and grow.  Why, because she has been part of that happening for the people around her.

3.  If we don't talk about this, as parents it gets worse and worse and worse.  That's why I'm blogging about this.  I'm not especially thrilled to share this with everyone in my life (yes, you judgers out there
) but out there are people who are beating themselves up emotionally for something that doesn't have to be the end of the world.

4. I have to let my partner have their own reaction.

5. I learned foremost that this is not the end of the world.  Of course not, I don't think that most things are black and white.  This is part of the grey of life.  Yup. Living in the stinking grey again.


  1. Love you all so very much. Standing up to shame to face the reality behind it all is hugely courageous, as shame can be such a debilitating force in these hard moments. Stinking gray indeed, but thank God for the gray. If it WAS all black and white, there would be so little hope.


  2. So are you against spanking ever or just spanking in anger and not in righteousness??

  3. Thanks K.

    Beth- I don't know if I am "against spanking." I think that my community of liberal middle class white parents in the PNW are "against Spanking." I honestly think that every parent has to do their best with the kid they have. I think that I am against me spanking my kids. But rage is also an emotion that is too familiar to me so it's a line I don't want to cross- for myself and my kids-...I think there are families it really does work for and kids that need to be communicated with in a physical manner.

    Thanks for the fodder Beth!


  4. Im scoopn' what your poopn'

  5. Thanks for posting this. I have spanked both of my boys out of anger and been frustrated with myself and disappointed in myself and hated that I did it. But I have also said things to both of them that I wish that I hadn't said and have had to apologize for those too. I appreciate your honesty in this! And your insight into Junia being bored by your apology - rest assured that this doesn't really change when they get older, as when we have serious talks with Caleb he also asks uninterested.

    Love you!



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