Viewpoints

But Then Again

Published: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 1:10:10 PM

Punishing parenting tasks

It’s not easy bringing up junior, given the current overload of information on what’s best for the little ones.

Parents these days are inundated with information about how best to bring up their children. They’re told that smacking is out. Instead, they are encouraged to use time-outs or deny privileges. They are also told to nurture their child’s self-esteem, and feed them nothing but nutritious food. 

This means keeping your cool when your child throws a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket aisle; refraining from calling them little sods when they refuse to tidy their room; and feeding them a gazillion servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

Things have come a long way since I was a child. When I was growing up, if I did something wrong and my parents found out, I just knew I was in for a dose of corporal punishment of some sort – usually a smack with a wooden spoon, or my mother’s slipper, or my father’s belt. That was the way my parents had been disciplined as children themselves. As such, they knew no other way.

Since my mother was the main disciplinarian, is it any wonder, then, that I had the odd nightmare featuring wooden spoons. I could cope with zombies, and poltergeists, and poison-spitting toads in my dreams, but wooden kitchen utensils would have me waking up in a cold sweat.

Years later, I adopted some of my parents’ child-rearing techniques, when I became a parent myself. For example, shortly after my son’s seventh birthday, I bought a small rattan cane, which I kept on top of a kitchen cupboard. 

I especially put it there, so I couldn’t reach it without the aid of a chair. Such a tactic meant that if I ever had cause to retrieve that cane, I would still have a few minutes to contemplate the possible repercussions of my actions.

I’m not a physically aggressive person, even squishing insects causes me angst. So that cane was only ever used when my children were behaving in a way that warranted a bit more than a mere “talking-to”. This meant that my children grew up without the threat of physical punishment constantly looming over them. I doubt they have ever dreamt about being caned.

I once used that cane on my son, when I discovered he was lying to me. And it wasn’t just the lie that got to me that day, it was the lie delivered with a disrespectful attitude. I think he was about nine. I dragged a chair into the kitchen, retrieved the cane and gave him a measured flick on the back of his leg. 

I knew exactly what that flick felt like, because I’d tried out that cane on my own leg the day I bought that cane. It stung. Or so it had felt to me.

My son is now a young man of 24, and if I could use only one word to describe him, it would have to be honest. I’m not saying that a flick from a cane made him an honest person, but it probably made him think twice about lying to me or anyone else.

I remember caning my daughter, too. However, I forgot why I ever had cause to punish her, so I called her recently to ask if she remembered being punished.

“Yes,” she said, “I remember one incident in particular. We were making a noise at the dinner table, and when you asked us to stop, I made fun of you and started laughing. I was being a bit of a brat.”

Reassured by her attitude towards my discipline techniques, I delved a little deeper. “Do you think that caning caused you some mental or emotional damage? These days, there are all sorts of evidence out there showing the negative impact of corporal punishment.”

She laughed. “Not at all. It wasn’t as if you were thrashing me. In fact, the way you caned us didn’t really hurt. We used to fake feeling the pain, and have a good laugh about it afterwards.”

“Are you saying that my caning wasn’t effective?”

“No. Even when you caned us ineffectively, we still got the message.”

“If you were to have children, would you punish them physically?”

“I know you did it, and it didn’t cause any harm, but I can’t even think about physically hurting another person. I’d rather punch the wall.”

With the benefit of hindsight, I now know using that cane, even occasionally, wasn’t the best way to discipline my children. Still, it’s good to know that each generation is striving to do a better job than the previous generation.

I still can’t look at a wooden spoon without thinking about those spankings.

> Check out Mary on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mary.schneider.writer. Reader response can be directed to star2@thestar.com.my.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, Family, parenting

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