Jim Shepard was raised by a mother who many of today’s parent advisors would say was abusive. Here’s a quote that might well have landed his mother in front of a judge. “The advantages of beating your children with a wooden spoon as opposed to a metal one.”
But in this essay, Jim Shepard on Mothers – Track of the Storm – Oprah.com, he also honors his mother with a tongue-in-cheek and affectionate tribute.
I wanted a picture of his mother, but couldn’t find one. I decided to settle for a picture of a wooden spoon. As I searched, I came across two stories about parents threatened with child abuse for using a wooden spoon to discipline their children. One woman was told she’d go to jail if she persisted. She had been turned into the child abuse authorities by a teacher when the daughter, a third grader, mentioned being hit by a spoon. The unanswered question in my mind was about when, where, and how hard.
A man was let off with probation for attacking his teenage son with a wooden spoon. The son was not doing his homework and had called his mother “Bitch.” In this situation, I suspect the father inflicted physical on his son, or he would not have been convicted and sentenced.
WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO?
First, what is my opinion?
I think there is a big difference between spanking, not sparing the rod, or hitting a child with a wooden spoon or even a leather strap, and child abuse. My brothers were strapped once that I can remember. I truly think it hurt my father to take his belt to them, more than it hurt either of my brothers.
The law makes it clear, any punishment that leaves a mark is assault and in the case of children abuse. No marks might mean no abuse. I do not know if my father’s belt left marks. I suspect not.
Here is another complicating factor. My brothers took their strapping as deserved and saw it as good parenting. Jim Shepard seems to have become a success despite his mother’s treatment of him and I suspect if asked he would say with all her abusive ways, she was a “good enough” parent.
Today’s equating of spankings, or raps on the fingers with a wooden spoon, or the strapping my brother’s got, with abuse, has hurt parents and children more than physically. The turning against punishment in general and mild physical punishments in particular has created a generation of kids who see themselves as victims of abuse when most likely most had good enough parents.
Moreover, parental neglect and abuse are blamed for problems that are not related to parental treatment. Here are the three main struggles that even the best of parents cannot always help a child overcome:
- Genetic predispositions or disorders—addictions, bi-polar disorder, depression, learning disabilities including activity levels, and schizophrenia to name the most devastating.
- Life blows that lead to trauma reactions. These can include bullying, sibling abuse, accidents, and various life threatening diseases.
- Challenges related to what the experts call “the goodness of fit.” A hyperactive and easily distracted child might make a great hunter, she will have a harder time adjusting to a classroom that demands sitting quietly and concentrating on what one person is saying.
Parents are people, we do the best we can, and so did our parents. Moreover, despite or perhaps because of parental flaws most children not only survive, but often thrive.
So here are a few things that can add to your child’s strength:
- Start with yourself. I suspect the father given probation was not in control of his anger. The same may be true of the mother. I know the one and only time I laid a hand on one of my kids, stress had eroded my emotional fitness. Parents who can control their negative emotions are ahead of the crowd in the ability to deal with the stresses and strains of raising children. Practice my daily dozen Emotional Fitness Exercises. Watch for the electronic releases of my book Parents Are People Too, An Emotional Fitness Program for Parents. Not only will the exercises be explained in more detail, but so will the six major Emotional Fitness Training Skills.
- A major Emotional Fitness Skill involves knowing and acting on what matters. Too often, parents and their advisers focus on keeping kids happy. I am not against happiness, but I agree with those who see it as a by-product of being kind and caring.
- Examine how you praise and punish. Punishment is not the dirty word some make it out to be. However, there is a science to the art of punishment. Rules should be reasonable, clear, probably written down, and the punishment for infractions should be known. A variety of punishments works better than just one for all things. There should be rewards for good behavior. Finally, praise and rewards should override criticism and punishment on a five to one ratio.
- Know when more is needed and do not be afraid to ask for help from professionals. More is usually needed when non-abusive punishments in a loving home are not working. It is then time to think about getting a competent professional assessment.
Share this post if you think it will aid another. The kindness will circle back to strengthen you even if the person rejects your effort to aid. Sometimes it takes a while for advice to sink in; sometimes others have to add their voice. Life is a journey and we are all on different parts of the path.
Stay strong, I work at it all the time.