Friday, November 7, 2008

Spare the rod

When I ride the subway to and from work everyday, it's generally pretty deserted since I'm going the opposite direction of most of the NY workforce. This leaves me a lot of time to sit and people-watch. Today, I was in a car with maybe 6 or 7 people, all spread out. To my left and across the aisle, in line with my peripheral vision, was a mother and son.

They were pretty ordinary, except that the son was whining for something or other. He looked like he was roughly 8 or 9 years old. I'm not sure what he was whining for, but he kept doing that "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" thing over and over again.

I know how super frustrating that constant whining is from kids. They don't know when to stop, and it really grates the nerves. This mom felt that way too, apparently. Because she was FUCKING LOSING HER SHIT. Conversation sample:

Child: Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!
Mom: Shut up! SHUT UP! You sound STUPID! You shut up NOW.
Child: Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!
Mom: I WILL PUT MY FIST IN YOUR MOUTH. SHUT UP.
Child: Mommy!!!! MOMMY!

At this point, the mom started slapping him. She started on the leg, with quick swats. When the kid didn't relent, she graduated to slapping him on the side of the head and face. I guess the kid is pretty used to this by now, because he was still pestering her. She did the old "cheek squeeze," where you grab the kid's cheeks between your fingers and squeeze their mouths into a fish face (My mom used to pull that one. That shit hurts). Between the bouts of physical violence, she threw in a bunch of physical threats (YOU WANT THIS HAND IN YOUR FACE?) and generally nasty comments (YOU SOUND STUPID, ARE YOU STUPID?)

I think it's safe to say that most of the people in the car were watching this peripherally. At one point, a guy on my side of the car made eye contact with me in a can-you-believe-this sort of way. But no one said anything, and eventually my stop came and I left the car.

I don't have anything too profound to say about the incident. I got hit a lot as a kid, and it's not like I never see parents being physically rough with their children in public. But it just made me sad. It made me think about the things that this mother inflicts on her child in the privacy of their home. It made me think about how I was witnessing a kid's life unravel, because his parent doesn't know how to properly respond to a nagging child.

I don't believe in spanking or using intimidation to raise kids. And I'm adamant about not using violence to raise my own potential offspring. Resorting to spanking/slapping is a quick fix, and it's a terrible example to set for your children. I think it breeds a lot of resentment between parent and child, and kills the potential for teaching moments and open dialogue. It fails to teach long-term consequences. And if you have a kid like I was, eventually it doesn't work. Eventually, you get a kid who doesn't give a shit how hard or how often you hit. So you hit harder and more often. And then your kid fucking hates you. So, you know, I just don't think it's a good idea.

I realize that alternative disciplinary tactics (I am thinking specifically of time-outs, reward systems, etc) take time. They take more patience than the average person possesses. They take more time to kick in. But when they do, they kick-in for the long haul. They create an environment in which the child can understand the ramifications of their behavior (rather than "because I said so"). And they teach the child to evaluate their actions beyond "will I get caught?" But let's get one thing straight: they don't "spoil" the child. If you are a grown-ass person and you think that failing to HIT a CHILD will spoil them, then do us all a favor and stay the fuck away from children. You fucking bully.

Once, in a college class, we were debating this very topic. One particular student made the claim that she had been spanked, and had turned out "okay." I would counter that her anecdote is not something that we can generalize to a larger population. I would also counter that her definition of "okay" is not the same as my definition of "okay." I would further counter that perhaps she could have "turned out better," had she not been hit. But we can't know that for sure, can we? So, the argument isn't valid.

I hope that mother somehow receives the help that she needs. Unfortunately, that kid is pretty much damaged goods already. It's likely that he'll grow up to treat his kids in the same way.
Cycle of abuse, blah blah.

Anyway, it just made me sad.

8 comments:

White Trash Academic said...

Wow. That would be very unsettling to watch. I too was hit and my Mother liked to use those metal fly swatters. That, along with lots of other stuff, made me an angry kid and I did learn to use violence to deal with frustration and anger. Sounds like this woman also is hitting to deal with her own anger and not really disciplining the child.

Lucy said...

How sad, those incidents are very awkward and no one is sure what they are suppose to do. That incident sounded awful. I cried just reading the post.

Parenting is hard (not excusing that lady) and quite frankly I would not want to be under a microscope because I know I have made mistakes along the way. I tell my children all the time to tell their psychiatrist "It's my mom's fault!" (lol)

redcatbiker said...

http://www.alice-miller.com/index_en.php

Child Mistreatment, Child Abuse

What is it?

Humiliations, spankings and beatings, slaps in the face, betrayal, sexual exploitation, derision, neglect, etc. are all forms of mistreatment, because they injure the integrity and dignity of a child, even if their consequences are not visible right away. However, as adults, most abused children will suffer, and let others suffer, from these injuries. This dynamic of violence can deform some victims into hangmen who take revenge even on whole nations and become willing executors to dictators as unutterably appalling as Hitler and other cruel leaders. Beaten children very early on assimilate the violence they endured, which they may glorify and apply later as parents, in believing that they deserved the punishment and were beaten out of love. They don't know that the only reason for the punishments they have ( or in retrospect, had) to endure is the fact that their parents themselves endured and learned violence without being able to question it. Later, the adults, once abused children, beat their own children and often feel grateful to their parents who mistreated them when they were small and defenseless.

This is why society's ignorance remains so immovable and parents continue to produce severe pain and destructivity - in all "good will", in every generation. Most people tolerate this blindly because the origins of human violence in childhood have been and are still being ignored worldwide. Almost all small children are smacked during the first three years of life when they begin to walk and to touch objects which may not be touched. This happens at exactly the time when the human brain builds up its structure and should thus learn kindness, truthfulness, and love but never, never cruelty and lies. Fortunately, there are many mistreated children who find "helping witnesses" and can feel loved by them.

Rj said...

I'd hate for something to quickly be labeled as child abuse--especially from the outside looking in. Also, I would be open to other suggestions that would be considered equally or more effective. I just caution, highly caution, to label everything as child abuse. And that's all I will say about that.

This dynamic of violence can deform some victims into hangmen who take revenge even on whole nations and become willing executors to dictators as unutterably appalling as Hitler and other cruel leaders. Beaten children very early on assimilate the violence they endured, which they may glorify and apply later as parents, in believing that they deserved the punishment and were beaten out of love.

That was a little extreme and generalized.

Velociraptor said...

so... you're saying you don't think it's okay that i beat the hell out of kids at work when they don't do what i say?

Phoebe Caulfield said...

Oh velociraptor, you can beat those kids all you want.

I'm going to have to agree with RJ. It's not fair to make an abuse label from a ten minute subway ride. Which is why no one says anything in situations like that. But it is, at the very least, a strong possibility.

I find the line about the children feeling "grateful" to their abusive parents particularly resonant, because it's true in many cases. Like a stockholm syndrome, almost. Very interesting quote, redcat.

redcatbiker said...

Alice Miller (the author of the quote I posted from her website that I linked to) is a German woman, who has written many books on child abuse, particularly how it is rooted in Christianity's fourth commandment (something about obeying one's parents). Also, she was a child during WWII; she was raised in Germany when it was under Hitler's control, so she does not write without knowledge of the how the German people came to willingly participate in the killing of the Jews and other groups.

I disagree with Rj's opinion that Miller's statement is "a little extreme and generalised." But, then again I have read her books, and I know that Miller is a respected authority on child abuse, and an anti-child abuse advocate, throughout Europe. Also, she, as do I, does not accept varying degrees of child abuse, such as spankings to teach a child to not touch a hot stove are acceptable and are not to be considered child abuse. Hitting a child, regardless of your reason for doing so, is abusive. (Click on the link in my previous post, which will take you to her website for more information.)

redcatbiker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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