September 11, 2008

A Moment of Failure

The hardest thing that happened to me this week didn't have anything to do with my actions, but with someone else's.  It's really hard for me  to watch someone spank and kick their grandkids right in front of me without saying something.  To set the scene a little bit, we were at a gathering with a bunch of extended family and there is one girl who is about 20ish I think.  She has a 28 month old daughter and a 17 month old son.  Her mother, their grandmother, was also there.  Every couple of minutes - for anything from touching something he wasn't supposed to or not listening, the little one was getting kicked or spanked on the butt.  The daughter got it too, but the little one got it more.  

It seemed like every three minutes, a harsh, loud voice often followed by a smack would catch my attention.  I tried not to jump every time, not to outwardly let on how uncomfortable the situation made me.  I don't know if I succeeded or not.

She would say 'no, don't touch' or 'don't grab' or 'be nice', then kick his little diapered behind.  I don't understand how you can hit a child and then tell them to be nice.  I know people's opinions differ on this, but personally I don't see how hitting a kid (or anyone for that matter) makes YOU a nice person.  She would smack his butt or arm and tell him no, then pick him up when he started to cry and say 'give me some love' or 'come over here and give me a hug'.  I feel like that is just teaching a kid that it's okay for someone to hurt them and then be forgiven because they've said they love you or given you a hug.  

Sometimes, I feel like I don't discipline Sam enough.  He does get told No, but he rarely gets time outs.  The thing is, I don't feel like he needs them.  He listens to me for the most part, and if he DOESN'T listen to my warnings, he does get a time out.  Sometimes he gets a talking to.  He just doesn't misbehave that often.  And even if he does, hitting him is not a consideration, and I will never do it.

At least that's what I thought.  A couple of weeks ago, after an hour long tantrum complete with kicking, hitting, throwing himself on the ground, screaming and crying, I couldn't take it anymore.  I took him outside the house we were in with friends and sat on the step watching him cry.  He was inconsolable.  He wanted something, but I just didn't know how to make him feel better.  I started to cry and put my head down in my hands.  The exhaustion and frustration overtook me and I felt like I was failing him.  As I rested my head in my hands, feeling my tears on my fingers, he HIT me.  He hit me on one of the hands covering my face.  And I hit him back.

I didn't hit him hard, by any means.  I swatted his arm, and told him no.  Ironic, isn't it, to tell a kid not to hit as you do the same back to him?  Remembering the look on his face, the way he placed his other hand on his arm, the way he looked at me so curious and hurt, breaks my heart.  It bring me to tears now, and maybe it always will.  I hate admitting that it happened.  I hate even thinking about it.

I felt like a failure, how could I do such a thing to my own child?  I apologized as he looked at me and we cried together.  I hope it was the first and the last time, that I'll never lose it like that again.  I know that some of you may be reading this thinking, what's the big deal, but to me it was a big deal, because touching someone in anger or frustration like that is NOT part of my values, nor is it a value I want to instill in my child.  I know that Sam won't remember this.  He may not even really remember it now, but certainly in a few years it will be just a faded moment of the past that doesn't touch him at all.  But I'll remember.  I will always remember.  And if I forget, I'll come back and read about it, to remind myself how much it hurt and how it totally wasn't worth anything good in our lives.

So when I see someone slap a 17 month old child on the butt, I wonder how that's instilling good values in their child.  All I can do is watch, and listen, and try to respect how they want to raise their kids.  But in my place, I feel glad that I don't behave that way, and hope that when my children become parents one day, they won't either.


The Laundress said...

It's very hard isn't it? This parenting thing?

I had a little girl pull something out of Fa's hand once in Mommy & know what her mother did?

She YANKED that toy out of her daughter's hand and said, I quote: "WE DON'T PULL THINGS OUT OF PEOPLE'S HANDS!!!!!!"


Some things are just more common sense than others.

You want to spank you kid, that's your business but at least make it be about something important. And spanking is way different than beating up. A constant "kick" GASP, or too much.

Immoral Matriarch said...

Don't be so hard on yourself. It happened, don't worry about it. Just move on and try to parent in the way that you want him to. :)

I hit my youngest back constantly. I tell her no at first, then I warn her a few times, and she keeps doing it, and I hit her back, and then she flips out. She asked for it!!! Dammit.

Jill said...

My blood was boiling reading the first part of your post. I don't think I could have stayed at that party and watched that kind of crap go on without totally freaking out.

I, too, have had moments where I have reacted to my kids in anger and immediately felt like a complete ass. I, too, have hugged them and apologized. I think as long as we're not making a habit out of our bad reactions, it's good for our kids to see that we have feelings too. And it's great for us to be able to humble ourselves before them and apologize. I think that's a good lesson for them.

I firmly believe that we should not hit our kids. I don't believe that spanking is a good teaching tool. Do we hit other adults when they anger us or mess up? No, we'd be arrested for assault. So why do people think it's ok to hit young children who are just learning how the world works? Makes absolutely no freaking sense to me. Ok, I'll step off my soapbox about hitting.

As for time outs, I don't think they are the most effective way to discipline. The ideal I hold for myself is not to punish my children. Punishment and discipline are NOT the same thing. To discipline means to teach. Do I always succeed? No. But I try my very best to teach without punishment.

A great resource for more info about gentle discipline and why punishments don't work is the Natural Child Project ( Tons of food for thought there.

Go easy on yourself. Just as Sam is learning what the world expects of him as a person, so you are learning how to parent a two year old. It's no easy task!

Jill said...

After reading over my comment, I just wanted to add that my rant about hitting/spanking was not directed at you, Rachael. There's a difference between hitting Sam back in a moment of frustration and feeling truly sorry for it and intentionally hitting/spanking for punishment's sake. You'll get no judgement from me on your mistakes as I've made MANY myself!

Rachael said...

Thanks for your comments Jill! I am definitely going to check out that website. Parenting IS hard, but even just getting these few comments make a huge difference! We're not alone, and it's a great reminder of that.

Mama Mel said...

Oh man! I hate the hitting! I also am determined not to hit my child/children. I didn't like it when I was little, even if it was deserved. What I don't understand is how do kids learn to hit when we parents don't hit them in the first place?! My son has started hitting me, throwing things at me, and I don't know what to do except say "NO", warn a couple times, then send him to time out. The worst part of it is, he comes back from time out and he's so gosh darn cute and smiley... how can any parent resist breaking down into a smile or laugh?! This journey will be tough, I fear... Good luck! :)

Deb said...

My favorite part of your post was the part about seeing your little boy hold his arm where you made contact. It broke my heart, too. I'm sure your son will forget all about it. But your readers will remember--and think twice before making the choice whether to spank their own kids in a given situation.

I consider spanking a last resort (which I haven't at this point used), after timeouts, taking away a favorite toy, or other consequences.

Glad to hear that your son is so well behaved--he's modeling being treated nicely by you. Keep up the great work.

"FINE"al thoughts... said...

Oh the pain of regret. It hurts us so badly and we wish we could rewind the clock and do it differently. With 10 years of parenting under my belt I have many moments I wish I could relive. But I think forgiveness applies in the family as well. Our children will forgive us and we must forgive ourselves. And I agree with the not spanking theory but coming from a home where spanking was a form of discipline it is a really hard habit to break so I can understand how it is passed on from one generation to another. And I also agree that 'spanking' should never be synonymous with 'hitting' or 'beating'. I guess we should just respect other parents and realize that their ways may not be our ways and feel at peace with that, as long as the children are not abused.